TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Chinese pro-democracy activists who traveled to Taiwan to observe the island's presidential election said Sunday that the reelection of independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen gave them cause for hope despite Beijing's quashing of dissent on the mainland.
More than a dozen dissidents, many exiled from communist-ruled mainland China, said at a forum in Taipei that Saturday's landslide win for Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party has important implications for relations among China, the U.S. and Taiwan, and for Chinese everywhere.
At a time when the government of Chinese leader Xi Jinping has tightened surveillance and controls to the extent that dissent appears to be utterly wiped out, underground groups and protests persist, the dissidents said.
Taiwan's election results are the clearest indication that there is still hope for democracy in China, said Wang Min, leader of the U.S. branch of the outlawed China Democracy Party.
Taiwan's democracy “shows the mainland Chinese a path for the future," Wang said. “The light is always shining before us."
Shao Jiang, a former student leader in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement that ended with a violent military crackdown that killed hundreds, possibly thousands, of demonstrators, said the strong backing for Tsai, who has adopted a tough stance toward Beijing, shows great confidence by the Taiwanese in their democracy.
“This is a very clear message to the Chinese authorities, which is that the Taiwanese people want their own right to decide," Shao said.
Many attending the seminar concurred with Tsai's stance that Taiwan's democracy should serve as a model for communist-ruled China and Hong Kong, where months of anti-government protests have reinforced doubts over Beijing's “one country, two systems" approach for governing the former British colony, let alone Taiwan.
A year ago, Xi renewed overtures for Taiwan to accept that model for joining with Beijing. Just months later, the Hong Kong protests broke out, undermining support for such a strategy.
“Xi Jinping has decided to use the ‘one country, two systems' model," but the events of 2019 have shown it doesn't work, said Ren Songlin, a leader of the Chinese Alliance for Democracy, an overseas opposition group. “Tsai Ing-wen has her own model," he said.
Ren said he expected that Beijing might find a way to resume dialogue with Tsai's government within the next year.
Looking from a longer perspective, there's hope that the democratic values that have taken hold in Taiwan could be shared further in Asia, said Teng Biao, a Chinese legal scholar and human rights activist who now lives in the U.S.
“I hope to bring Taiwan's democracy back to China," Teng said.