Saving Li may require a low-key approach

By Stephanie Chao, The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Detained Taiwanese human rights activist Li Ming-che and his wife, Li Ching-yu, have made waves in the media since he went missing in mid-March. Mainland China’s Taiwan Affairs Office confirmed on March 30 that Li, a former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) staffer, had been detained for “endangering national security.” His disappearance and the revelation of his detention have captivated the national and international media. Press conferences hosted by Li Ching-yu and Taiwanese NGOs urging Beijing to release Li have been packed to capacity. In addition, international NGOs have stood up loudly to get behind local groups’ petitioning efforts, another indication that much of the world is watching the Taiwan Strait and, in the process, examining how ties between the two sides have stagnated since President Tsai Ing-wen took office last May. However, the attention from foreign news outlets and international NGOs may prove a double-edged sword for Li Ching-yu and Li’s family if they wish to get him back. Beijing has traditionally sought low-key dealings regarding issues related to Taiwan, often with the ultimate goal of shrinking the country’s international space. Moreover, while China has yet to detail the charges it detained Li Ming-che on, it has said that he could be the first overseas NGO worker to be detained under China’s new law regulating the registration, activities, reporting and monitoring of these groups, which went into effect this year. Undoubtedly, maintaining a low profile — by Li Ching-yu, NGOs and the DPP government alike — could benefit their cause. Negotiations through the Cross-strait Joint Fight against Crime and Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement (海峽兩岸共同打擊犯罪及司法互助協議) for the possible disclosure of Li Ming-che’s location or even his release could begin and succeed only on amicable terms. Before she was recently barred from traveling to China, Li Ching-yu said her trip was not intended to cause a ruckus; rather, she said, she simply hoped to bring her husband home by appealing to the values of freedom and dignity.

However, freedom and dignity are not values shared by Beijing, thus her and NGOs’ bid to secure Li Ming-che’s return based on these will be difficult.

It may be time for a more pragmatic approach — the noise about Li Ming-che’s whereabouts and fate will only prolong his detainment.