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Interview: "People in Taiwan Are Much More Vigilant"

2021-04-09 -- Huang Jie, a municipal councilor in the southern Taiwanese port of Kaohsiung since 2018, was subjected to a bid to unseat her earlier this year, after she spoke out against a draconian crackdown on political opposition and peaceful dissent in Hong Kong, which China has held up as a model under which it wants to take control of Taiwan.

Huang shot to fame in Taiwan in 2019 after she rolled her eyes at then-Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu as she questioned him during a meeting, earning herself the media nickname "Goddess of the Eyeroll."

Huang won plaudits from people concerned about Han's plans for a trade agreement with China for pinning Han down in a bid to figure out exactly what such an agreement would entail.

Han, who was elected on a pro-China, pro-business platform for the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), went on to lose his job in 2020 to a voter recall campaign, in which more than 97 percent of those who voted wanted him gone.

The recall came after Han lost the January 2020 presidential election to Tsai by a margin of two-and-a-half million votes after Tsai campaigned to lessen Chinese influence and attempts to undermine the island's democracy, citing Beijing's treatment of Hong Kong as an example.

But in February this year, Han's supporters launched an unsuccessful bid to recall Huang, based on her alleged violation of a draconian national security law imposed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on Hong Kong.

Huang wept public tears of joy at the time. But her view of the campaign is much more sobering, two months after the event.

"I think it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry, actually," Huang told RFA in a recent interview. "We live in a free society, but they use its privileges to strike a blow for totalitarian rule."

"Now I think I can say with much greater certainty that I didn't do anything wrong," she said. "The majority of people stood by me, so we should keep working to promote that philosophy."

Awakened to dangers

She said the jailing of most of Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp and the banning of speech linked to the 2019 protest movement had woken Taiwan's 23 million people up to the potential dangers of cooperation with China.

"Such huge changes have taken place, not very long after the [1997] handover of Hong Kong," Huang said. "People in Taiwan are much more vigilant."

"It's so easy for freedom and democracy to just disappear one day, so we should increase our efforts to guard this last bastion of democracy," Huang said.

Huang has never been to Hong Kong, and now that she has spoken out against the crackdown, she is unlikely to risk arrest by going there in future.

But she is at peace with her decisions, and called on more people to be outspoken about China's human rights violations.

"If everyone is afraid, then nobody will be willing to speak out about such things," Huang said.

Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was occupied by the 1911 Republic of China under the Kuomintang (KMT) as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal with the allies.

It has never been controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China, but Beijing insists it will reclaim the island, by force if necessary.

Public opinion polls have shown that the violent suppression of Hong Kong's anti-government protest movement last year fueled fears for Taiwan's national security and democracy, and that only around 4.5 percent of Taiwan's 23 million people welcome the idea of Chinese rule.

The island began a transition to democracy following the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.

Reported by Man Hoi Yan for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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