Taiwan objects after China accuses Taiwanese activist of subverting its state power

Officials in Taiwan are protesting China’s arrest of a Taiwanese citizen on a subversion charge and demanding more information about his case, adding that the episode will further erode relations that were already deteriorating.

The state security agency in the southern province of Hunan had arrested Lee Ming-che, who since 2012 had set up illegal organizations and “developed an action plan” designed to “subvert the country’s state power,” the Chinese government’s Taiwan Affairs Office said late Friday.

On Saturday, the Taiwanese government said China should provide more details about Lee’s whereabouts and condition and ensure that the 42-year-old human rights activist and former worker in Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party gets legal help and be allowed a family visit.

“The relevant departments in mainland China totally haven’t publicized any related evidence,” the Taiwanese government’s Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement. Without evidence, the government said, it is “impossible” for the Taiwanese people or international community to be convinced that Lee had committed any wrongdoing.

The charge, which carries a possible penalty of five years to life in prison, follows more than a decade of occasional visits by Lee to China. He disappeared March 19 on a trip to the Chinese territory of Macau, people close to him in Taiwan say, and apparently has been in custody since that day.

Lee had used the WeChat social media service, popular in China, to tell at least 100 people there about Taiwan’s growth as a democracy, his associates say, and sometimes traveled to help Chinese lawyers involved in human rights cases.

China sees self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory and insists that the mainland and island eventually unite seven decades after a civil war. Relations have cooled since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in Taipei a year ago because she disputes Beijing’s condition for dialogue — that Taiwan acknowledge itself as part of China.

Incidents between the two sides have mounted since she took office. China has cut the number of group tourists and university students bound for Taiwan, analysts believe. This month it blocked Taiwanese officials from observing the World Health Organization’s annual assembly.

Lee’s case will further upset relations at least in the short term, analysts in Taipei fear. “I’m very sad to see things such as Mr. Lee happen at this moment,” said Liu Yi-jiun, public affairs professor at Fo Guang University in Taiwan. “So far [China-Taiwan ties] are not very good. The people here feel it’s more stressful, and that psychology will hurt relations.”

Chinese officials discourage their people’s exposure to democracy, concerned it could rattle Communist Party rule in Beijing and lead to greater autonomy for the island. Taiwan became a democracy in the late 1980s after decades of authoritarian rule, and Lee promoted democratic institutions.

“Lee Ming-che cared about democratic activities over the long term, earning people’s respect,” Taiwan’s ruling party said Saturday. “For mainland China’s relevant departments to use this heavily disputed method of arresting Lee Ming-che without publicizing any evidence and refusing to notify our government … makes people angry and dissatisfied.”

About one person a year gets detained in China for political reasons, says Taiwan’s semi-governmental Straits Exchange Foundation, but Lee’s case is apparently the first for a Taiwanese human rights activist.

In Taipei, Lee had worked for a community college and volunteered for a league of local human rights groups gathering information on international laws.

Jennings is a special correspondent.

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