Taipei Times

Chinese exile urges Taiwanese to protect democracy

‘BEACON’: If Taiwanese can bring human rights to another level, it will have a positive influence on China, which will also promote Taiwanese interests, Yang Jianli said
Staff writer, with CNA, Sun, Aug 14, 2016
Taiwanese should work hard to protect democracy and improve human rights so that Taiwan can “shine as a beacon for the people of China,” exiled Chinese dissident and former political prisoner Yang Jianli (楊建利) said during a visit to Taipei.
The US-based democracy advocate said that there are many programs in Taiwan to help the pro-democracy movement in China, including allowing Chinese dissidents to tell their stories in Taiwan, in an interview with the Central News Agency earlier this week.
“I hope the programs will be expanded to help Taiwanese learn more about the situation in China and realize that democratization of China would be in the interest of Taiwan,” he said.
If Taiwanese can “protect democracy and bring human rights to another level,” it will have a positive influence on China, Yang said.
Yang’s visit came after four Chinese human rights activists were convicted on subversion charges and sentenced to prison terms ranging between three and seven years, in the latest move by Beijing to crack down on activists and lawyers in the nation.
When asked to comment on the deportations of overseas Taiwanese fraud suspects to China instead of their homeland, Yang described the suspects as victims of China’s unification policy.
Beijing wants to show the world that “Taiwanese are citizens of China” and that China has jurisdiction over their cases, he said.
It was a wake-up call to Taiwan’s government and its people, Yang said, adding that it also shows that the improvement of human rights and democracy in China can “actually work in the interests of Taiwanese.”
That is the case “whether Taiwan is a part of China or not,” he added.
One of the reasons for Yang’s visit is to help plan a Freedom Forum hosted by the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, where he serves as an adviser.
The forum seeks to bring together participants from around the world to discuss political freedom and democracy issues.
Yang, 53, is seen as a major actor in China’s democracy movement and one of the most important international advocates for China’s peaceful transition to democracy.
Born in Shandong Province, he left for the US to further his studies in the 1980s after he obtained a bachelor’s degree in China.
In 1989, he returned to China to support the pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Yang said he witnessed the massacre of thousands of people by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, which he said was a life-changing moment for him.
Yang barely escaped capture by Chinese authorities and returned to the US. After completing a doctorate in mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley, he pursued another doctorate at Harvard University – this time in the field of political economy.
After finishing his doctorate at Harvard, Yang returned to China in 2002 using a friend’s passport to help the labor movement there.
He had been banned from entering China following his involvement in the Tiananmen Square protests.
He was arrested for using fake identification documents and sentenced to five years in prison on espionage charges.
Despite an international outcry for his release, he insisted on finishing his jail term and was released in 2007, after which he returned to the US.
Once there, he formed the Initiatives for China, a pro-democracy movement advocating China’s peaceful transition to democracy.