TAIPEI – Prominent Chinese human rights advocate Chen Guangcheng, who has lived in the United States since leaving China last year, said he expects China will try to interfere with his planned trip to Japan.
“There is no doubt that an authoritarian regime exerts pressure, but the form it will take is hard to predict,” he said in an interview late Monday during a visit to Taiwan.
“The basic principle of a dictator is that he does not have any principle at all, but they must realize that they cannot block the trend of democracy,” Chen said.
While Chen expressed plans to visit Japan, the self-taught lawyer said no date for a trip has been set. As Japan plays a leading role in many areas, including economy and technology, Chen said it is only natural that it takes the lead in helping advance the protection of human rights.
He added he has noticed Japanese media have begun to pay closer attention to human rights in China, which helps protect Chinese activists and exposes Beijing’s persecution of them.
“It is a sign of maturity,” he said. “I predict Japan, along with Taiwan and South Korea, will have a significant impact on advancing democracy in Asia and the world.”
Chen encouraged Japanese nongovernmental organizations to engage their Chinese counterparts, especially on in the field of human rights, so that if China is democratized, Japan will have a place in history for having assisted it with improving its human rights record.
“The key, however, lies in the political will to do so,” he said.
On closer ties between Taiwan and China, Chen said the exchanges between Taiwan’s Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party are not in the best interest of the Taiwanese public.
As Taipei has developed a closer economic relationship with Beijing since President Ma Ying-jeou’s election in 2008, Chen said it is bound to impact the island’s democratic development to a certain degree.
“Economic overreliance on China can be problematic in the long run,” he said. “You cannot simply satisfy a dictator’s appetite all the time because they always want more.”
Defining “overreliance” as “giving up principles to please the other” party, Chen said he thinks Taiwan “sort of fits the profile.”
Taiwanese Parliamentary Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, who originally planned to meet Chen on Tuesday, canceled the meeting at the last minute, citing time constraints. The Presidential Office said Ma welcomed Chen’s visit but decided not to meet with him.
Chen said he thinks the Taiwanese public is aware of the consequences of economic integration with China and that it will, and should, exert pressure on Taipei to change course to a more balanced relationship across the Taiwan Strait.
Commenting on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s new slogan of a “Chinese dream,” Chen said China’s human rights record and the situation for Chinese activists have not changed much since Xi took charge.
“I personally don’t think we should harbor any expectation for an interest group that does not allow party politics and enslaves its own people, nor for a corrupt person to fight corruption,” he said.
Chen was jailed in China between 2006 and 2010 for helping people forced to have abortions or sterilization and was subsequently detained at his home in northeastern Shandong province for 18 months, until a dramatic escape in April last year that ended in his taking refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Following days of negotiations, the Chinese government agreed to let Chen and his family leave the country.
Chen, who arrived in Taiwan on Sunday and is scheduled to return to the United States on July 11, spoke at the legislature and National Taiwan University on Tuesday. He will also speak at other universities, launch a book and visit nongovernmental organizations and politicians during his stay.