Should Supporters Of The Chinese Communist Party Be Allowed To Stage Demos in Taiwan? A Few Thoughts On The Limits Of Freedom Of Speech
On May 15 Taiwanreporter published a video (see below) showing people demonstrating against Taiwan independence and in favour of “peaceful unification” with Communist China. In Ximending one usually sees scores of supporters of Taiwan independence waving flags and banners, but apparently pro-Communist forces are now trying to counterbalance those demonstrations by staging their own.
The video shows a number of protesters waving flags of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). They seem to belong to the so-called Chinese Patriotic Association (中華愛國同心會), a group that supports the incorporation of Taiwan into the PRC according to the “one country, two systems” (一國兩制) framework that Beijing already used for Hong Kong and Macau. This is not the first such demonstration organized by “Chinese patriotic” groups. Taipei 101 used to be one of the patriotic association’s favourite spots, before an incident involving peaceful Falun Gong demonstrators led Taipei mayor Ke Wenzhe to intervene.
Taiwan-based blogger Jenna Cody argued that pro-Communist protesters have the right to demonstrate just like anyone else. “That’s not a reason to deny anyone freedom of speech, of course,” she wrote, “and they have the right to do this in public as much as, say, any of us have the right to demonstrate for Taiwanese sovereignty. I’m also not going to join the calls to ‘deport them back to China’ because, well, they are citizens too. I’d love to deport Ted Cruz to Canada but he is as much an American as I am. Every country has its jerks”.
I am not a big fan of Taiwan independence and all the fuss people make about identity, flags and names – as I believe that state-sanctioned identities, whether Taiwanese or Chinese, are per definition anti-democratic (I will explain this point in another post).
But while the Taiwanese independence movement is legitimate because it’s peaceful, the Chinese Patriotic Association and the like are not legitimate because they are violent. Their violent attitude is demonstrated by the incidents they provoke – like the Falun Gong incident I mentioned earlier or this one. Furthermore, they are violent because they justify Beijing’s threats to use force, instead of condemning them. What these groups want, is the subversion of the Republic of China (ROC), the incorporation of Taiwan into the PRC, either by force or by the threat of the use of force.
While a democracy should tolerate public debate, we should not forget that freedom should be granted only to those who respect other people’s freedom. After World War I, for example, the Communists and the Nazis of the Weimar Republic participated in democratic politics – but their aim was to destroy the Republican state, not to serve it. Therefore, they used freedom to abolish freedom.
Demonstrations should be allowed as long as they do not imperil democratic values. One would not allow supporters of ISIS or of Nazism to protest freely and to shout out slogans demanding the overthrow of the state. Similarly, pro-Communist groups should be prosecuted and banned according to law.
Let us remember one thing. Democracy doesn’t mean anarchy, and freedom must always be ordered freedom. Acting against groups which advocate violence is not anti-democratic, it is the only way to safeguard true democracy. If the Weimar Republic had banned Communists and Nazis, then Germany might have been spared two oppressive dictatorships, and the world would not have witnessed a second global war.