Taiwanese Activist Held in China Enflames Sino-Taipei Relations

Somewhere in China, a Taiwanese activist and former philosophy student is believed to be held on suspicion of endangering national security. Back home, that’s all his colleagues and family is hearing and they’re demanding answers.

Lee Ming-Che has not been heard from for 23 days. On Monday, China revoked his wife’s travel permit shortly before she got on a flight to Beijing where she was planning to speak with authorities about her husband’s whereabouts.

According to China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Lee is being held on suspicion that he engaged in activities that endangered national security. But Taiwanese officials want to know more.

This conflict further damages the already strained, nearly non-existent, relationship between Beijing and Taipei. Neither party has formally recognized the other for more than 70 years and China still regards Taiwan as a breakaway province under its control.

“We urge the mainland Chinese side to look at this issue correctly and respond immediately including with a speedy disclosure of the real reasons and location of detention as well as let family visit as soon as possible to avoid complicating matters and even causing impacts that neither side wants to see,” Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement Monday.

Lee is long-time activist, a philosophy scholar, and a former worker for Taiwan’s ruling party – one that many critics view as independence leaning, even though President Tsai Ing-wen never publicly endorsed autonomy. China and Taiwan have not exchanged official dialogue since she took office last May.

Lee’s colleagues say he went missing on March 19 after taking a flight from Taipei to the Chinese territory of Macau. They say he was on his way to Guangzhou to visit friends and buy Chinese medicine for his mother in-law.

But his activities in Taiwan were quite extensive, according to some of his contacts. One fellow human rights worker said he visited China once a year in the past decade to assist Chinese lawyers in human rights cases. Since July 2015, Chinese authorities have targeted more than 200 human rights lawyers and activists in a nationwide crackdown, says the advocacy group Amnesty International.

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