Published: Fri, April 21, 2017
World | By Paul Elliott

Taiwan Return of China Dissident Seen as Bid for Better Ties

Taiwan Return of China Dissident Seen as Bid for Better Ties

Taiwan said yesterday that a mainland activist who tried to seek political asylum on the island had voluntarily returned home, ending a dilemma for Taiwanese authorities over how to deal with the case.

Bush was one of 44 academics and former USA officials who signed a joint open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) urging him to assist in the speedy release of Lee and ensure his safe return to Taiwan ("Open Letter to Chinese President Xi", April 17, page 8).

"After we talked with Zhang and explained to him about the situation, he fully understood what we had told him and agreed to leave Taiwan along with his tour group at the end of their trip in line with the regulations stipulated by the cross-strait travel agreement", Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said. Local media reported that he had disappeared without informing anyone as he wanted to allegedly promote democracy on the Chinese mainland by staying in Taiwan.

After discussions with immigration officials, Zhang chose to return to China, said the vice-chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Taiwan's China policy-making body. "We know how to do that", Bush told reporters after a seminar organized by the US-based Global Taiwan Institute after being asked if he thought the USA would involve itself in Lee's case. The official added, that authorities were deciding whether to deport him or provide him asylum - a move that could further strain relations between the two countries.

Officials declined to say whether the 48-year-old Zhang had formally requested asylum, but his case comes at an awkward time as ties with China have been strained since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in Taiwan last year. "He was on board a plane back to China departing at 0210 GMT", said Chiu Chui-cheng, vice chairman of the MAC.

"It is hard to recognise that the person matches with the existing regulations for long-term residence for special cases", the council, Taiwan's top policymaking body on China, said.

Self-ruling Taiwan, which China sees as a renegade province awaiting reunification, does not grant political asylum to Chinese citizens but instead offers "permanent residence for political consideration" in special cases.

At present, there could be around 10 such people living on long term in Taiwan.

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