TAIPEI BRIEFING
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'Hsieh's Sina case shows lip service'

Taiwanese decry suspension of ex-premier's microblog account as censorship, saying that political differences make reunification unlikely

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2013, 5:09am

People have been unable to access former Taiwanese premier Frank Hsieh Chang-ting's newly opened account on the mainland's popular Sina Weibo microblogging site since last Wednesday due to an "unknown reason", his office says.

The apparent suspension of the microblog has become the talk of Taiwan, with many people seeing it as another act of censorship by the mainland authorities, and one that would make more Taiwanese back away from Beijing's call for reunification of the two sides.

The microblog became inaccessible a day after Hsieh, also a former chairman of Taiwan's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, posted a message on his microblog. It said: "Whether or not there is freedom of speech does not depend on how freely you speak when you criticise high officials or people in power, but whether you lose your freedom after you speak."

The message attracted many responses from mainland internet users.

Hsieh's office confirmed that attempts to access his microblog a day after his posting had been met with a message saying "not available at the moment". That was also less than 24 hours after Sina verified him as "former DPP chairman".

Hsieh, who in October became the first highest-level DPP official to visit the mainland, said he had asked Sina Weibo to explain why his microblog was inaccessible but only received a response days later from the website operator, saying it was "still checking what has happened".

"There could be something fishy or it might just be [a] technical problem after all," he said.

His calm reaction, in contrast to his usually "sharp-tongued" style, indicates that he might want to avoid making a big deal out of the incident because that could disrupt the efforts he has made to build relations with Beijing.

But many Taiwanese internet users, especially those from southern Taiwan, the home base of the island's pro-independence camp, said the incident showed that differences in basic freedom of speech on either side of the Taiwan Strait would only make reunification impossible.

"A case like this indicates that the mainland leadership's claim to be looking after the welfare and benefits of Taiwanese people is merely lip service, serving only to deceive Taiwanese people in order to get their support for so-called reunification," one internet user in Taipei said.

DPP chairman Su Tseng-chang also used the incident to mock the mainland leadership, saying its gimmick of wooing Taiwanese with sweeteners had hit a snag. "From this incident, we can appreciate the value of Taiwan's freedom and democracy as well as the difference between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait," he said, adding that Taiwanese people should truly value what they have and "never hold the wrong expectations of China".

The mainland authorities have time and again assured the Taiwanese that their interests would be taken care of, reminding them that people on both sides of the strait are from the same Chinese race and should co-operate to pave the way for reunification.

In a meeting with Lien Chan, honorary chairman of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang, in Beijing on Monday, Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping vowed to push forward with the peaceful development of relations between the two sides and advance the cause of peaceful reunification.

He also told Lien that while the new leadership in Beijing would stick to the baseline of Hu's peaceful cross-strait policy, it would also explore new ground, including increased social and cultural exchanges.

Wang Kung-yi, a specialist in cross-strait relations at Tamkang University in Taipei, said Xi was expected to push for "more social integration", putting more emphasis on reaching out to people in southern Taiwan.

But Hsieh's case has made that task more difficult in the pro-independence heartland.