Taiwan return of China dissident seen as bid for better ties

Taiwan return of China dissident seen as bid for better ties

Bush was one of 44 academics and former United States officials who signed a joint open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) urging him to assist in the speedy release of Lee and ensure his safe return to Taiwan ("Open Letter to Chinese President Xi", April 17, page 8).

Taiwan's government says a Chinese dissident who meant to apply for political asylum has voluntarily flown back to China, potentially averting a diplomatic tussle.

After discussions with immigration officials, Zhang made a decision to return to China, said the vice-chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Taiwan's China policy-making body.

Zhang abandoned his package tour group last week and said he meant to seek asylum on the self-governing island as a political refugee.

Prior to his apprehension, local media had reported that Zhang meant to seek political asylum in Taiwan. The official added, that authorities were deciding whether to deport him or provide him asylum - a move that could further strain relations between the two countries.

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The council, which is responsible for cross-strait matters, said that after carefully reviewing his case it determined Zhang did not meet the requirements for long-term residency in Taiwan. "He was on board a plane back to China departing at 0210 GMT", said Chiu Chui-cheng, vice chairman of the MAC. He then applied for political asylum in Taiwan, according to the island's National Immigration Agency.

Reports suggest that according to a bilateral agreement between Taiwan and China, there is no such thing as "political asylum".

Wary of provoking Beijing's ire, Taiwan does not officially offer asylum to Chinese, but occasionally allows "long term" stays for political refugees.

Zhang, who is from Shandong province in eastern China, was jailed for three years for participating in the New Citizens' Movement in China - a group that calls for civic spirit based on freedom, justice and love.

Bush, who is now the director of the Brookings Institution's Center for East Asia Policy Studies in Washington, said he hoped that the Chinese authorities "just decide that they've talked to him [Lee] enough and they let him go".

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