Human rights activist detained in China, sparking tensions with Taiwan

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China has detained human rights activist Lee Ming-cheh this past week. Mr. Lee went missing while en route from Taipei to Macau across mainland China. The discovery that he is being held in China ignited tensions in Mr. Lee’s native nation of Taiwan. Bad feelings already exist between these two countries as Taiwan regards itself as independent, while China views the nation as part of its own territory.

The incident with Mr. Lee has added to the bad blood between the two nations. He is being held under charges of threatening Chinese national security. This move is an indication that China is coming down on outsiders who are working with China’s own human rights groups. The Chinese government failed to specify the exact nature Mr. Lee’s activities.

Still, it is highly likely that Mr. Lee’s contacts in China are the root of these accusations. The humanitarian was known to use social media as a platform for discussing Taiwan’s transition to a democracy. Furthermore, Mr. Lee gave money to the families of imprisoned human rights lawyers while visiting friends in China. Mr. Lee’s detention is widdely regarded as a warning sign to foreigners working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), especially as the incident comes on the heels of the passage of a new related law in China.

At the beginning of this year, lawmakers in China passed new regulations that have limited the activities of overseas NGOs. Mr. Lee’s detention could also be linked to his political activities. Tensions have been on the rise between China and Taiwan. Last year, Tsai Ing-wen took presidential office in Taiwan.

A member of the Democratic Progressive Party, he has been working to reduce ties with China in order to emphasize his nation’s independence. Mr. Lee was a member of this Taiwanese political party. Mr. Lee’s wife has been outspoken about her husband’s detention. She has issued statements demanding to know her husband’s location in China as well as asking for his release, emphasizing he is not a threat as his trip to the country was solely for the purpose of visiting friends. The serious moves taken by China against Mr. Lee are a signal that regulations are tightening in China.

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