Beijing has confirmed that it is drafting a list of pro-independence advocates in Taiwan, a move that some observers say reveals the Chinese government’s intention to criminalize what it calls “Taiwan secessionists” after an anti-secession example had been set recently in Hong Kong.
Some observers argue such a blacklist, however, will be toothless unless China finds ways to exercise long-distance influence over the self-ruled island.
And it could backfire and fuel the island’s anti-China sentiment, which is already at an all-time high, they add.
“The list will be a laughingstock [to Taiwan] unless harsh economic sanctions, be it travel bans, asset freezes or even [authorized] assassinations, would be imposed to show [China’s] claws,” Chang Ching, a researcher at the Society for Strategic Studies in Taipei, told VOA this week.
Hong Kong’s pro-China Ka Kung Bao newspaper, in mid-November, first uncovered Beijing’s plan to draft the list of names, saying those who blatantly support the separation of Taiwan from China will be punished under Chinese laws.
State media, including the Global Times, also picked up and suggested the inclusion of what it called “diehard secessionists,” including Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and her Premier Su Tseng-chang.
At that time, the Global Times noted in an editorial that “listees will be held criminally liable in their lifetime, which means that neither will they be allowed to visit China, Hong Kong and Macau, nor will their trips overseas be risk-free.”
In accordance with China’s constitution, and its criminal and national security laws, the penalty for offenses of secession is set at a minimum of three years to life in prison.
The punishment is now extended to the people of Hong Kong after China’s top legislature unilaterally enacted a new national security law for the city in July.
Price to pay
Last month, Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, confirmed for the first time that China is examining the list.
“Efforts by a few diehard Taiwan secessionists to incite antagonism and undermine peace across the Strait … will not be tolerated,” Zhu told a press conference.
“We will take precise measures to punish these separatists and their backers …There’s definitely a price for them to pay,” she added, without giving any other details or timeframe.
The office’s counterpart, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, however, responded by denouncing China’s move to “intimidate Taiwan and disrupt its democracy.”
“China's malign behavior not only fails to strike the slightest bit of fear in Taiwan's citizens, it adds to the hatred of the authoritarian Communist Party's ignorant bullying,” the council said in a press statement in response to Zhu’s remarks.
But Li Zhenguang, deputy director of Beijing Union University’s Institute of Taiwan Studies, disagreed. He said the list will send an effective warning even if there aren’t punishments until Taiwan is reunited with China.
“This list will conceptualize China’s Anti-Secession Law, whose Article 8 authorizes non-peaceful means to prevent Taiwan independence. These pro-independence supporters and backers will be alarmed now that we try to single them out,” Li told VOA this week.
China passed the Anti-Secession Law in 2005, which comprises 10 brief articles.
The law formalizes China’s long-standing policy of resorting to the use of force against the Taiwan independence movement in the event of a unilateral declaration of independence by Taiwan, or when China feels the hope for peaceful unification is lost, as stated by its Article 8.
The law doesn’t spell out any specific sanctions, however, for individual Taiwanese who are considered secessionists.
The law is widely condemned in Taiwan, where the majority was displeased with China’s unilateral passage of the law to infringe upon Taiwan’s sovereignty.
And its legality also has been called into question since Taiwan has never been under China’s jurisdiction, despite the Communist government’s claims that Taiwan is a part of China.
China will be taking a step further to enforce the anti-secession law on Taiwan once a list of pro-independence supporters is next attached, according to Chang Jung-kung, a former vice secretary-general of Taiwan’s Chinese Nationalist Party, KMT.
The move will come with consequences, though, fueling the island’s anti-China sentiment to reap electoral gains for the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government, Chang noted.
“This list will belong to the [anti-secession] law’s enforcement provisions. No doubt, I think, China will draft such a list. But I don’t think it will be made public,” he said.
Earlier polls in Taiwan showed the highest-ever support, at 54%, for Taiwan’s de jure independence –- signs of a sharp rebuke to Beijing and its repeated attempts to intimidate and cajole Taiwan into China’s fold.
Publishing the blacklist will further hurt the pro-China KMT’s prospects in Taiwan, said Arthur Ding, an adjunct research fellow at National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations in Taipei.
He said, as a whole, China will have little success in using the blacklist to divide Taiwan or weaken the DPP’s supporter base.
But he cautioned if it is determined, China will find ways to exercise its long-arm jurisdiction, which may put some of the island’s pro-independence activists at risks.
“For example, China may seek Thailand’s help to make arrests once they transit through Thai airports … I don’t think Thailand will resist the pressure from Beijing,” Ding told VOA.