TAIPEI BRIEFING
Taipei Briefing
by

Time to allow 'traitor' Lin to come home

Top economist who defected to the mainland should be allowed to pay respects to late father

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2014, 4:41am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2014, 5:32am

Taiwan's government watchdog, the Control Yuan, has asked the Council of Grand Justices to study whether it is still right for the military authorities to view top economist Justin Lin Yifu as a traitor for defecting to the mainland.

The move raises fresh hopes for Lin, 61, a former chief economist and senior vice-president at the World Bank, that he might fulfil his long-running dream of visiting his home for the first time since he defected to the mainland 35 years ago.

The debate over whether to allow Lin to return to Taiwan to pay respects to his late father has stirred much controversy on the island and overseas over the past decade.

In 1979, Taiwan-born Lin swam to the mainland coastal city of Xiamen from the outlying island of Quemoy, where he was stationed as an army officer.

He left his pregnant wife and three-year-old son behind, who were to join him years later in the United States.

Instead of identifying him as defector, Taiwan's defence ministry reportedly covered up the case by declaring him "missing" and issued pension funds to his wife.

While on the mainland, Lin studied economics and later became a successful economist after earning a PhD in the field at Chicago University.

It was not until 2002 that Lin's full story became public.

Believing his case had long passed the 25-year statute of limitations, Lin applied to return to Taiwan to attend his father's funeral. This led Taiwan's military to formally seek his arrest.

The army said Lin should be prosecuted because of his defection to a "rebel organisation".

Taiwan and the mainland were once bitter rivals after Nationalist forces fled to the island after losing the civil war in 1949.

Taipei had treated the communist government in Beijing as rebels for "stealing" the mainland until it revoked anti-communist regulations in 1991.

The military has insisted that Lin is still a traitor because he is "still in the act of defection" by continuing to join Communist Party organisations, including the national committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

But the Mainland Affairs Council, the island's top policy planning body on relations with Beijing, plus some legislators in the governing and opposition parties, have called on the military to allow Lin to visit Taiwan to pay his respects to his late father on humanitarian grounds.

Some argue there is nothing wrong with the military remaining tough on the issue as any pardon might serve to encourage others to follow a similar course as Lin.

But from a political standpoint, times have changed and Taiwan no longer views the mainland as a rebel government.

With cross-strait relations drastically improved since Ma Ying-jeou became president in 2008 and adopted a policy of engaging Beijing, Taiwan and the mainland have ceased to be sworn enemies.

Lin's case is one of the many tragedies in the aftermath of the civil war on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

As President Ma is eager to promote human rights, he should take a closer look into Lin's case. He should ask whether Lin has really done any harm to Taiwan, before granting him the most basic right of visiting his home.

lawrence.chung@scmp.com