- (Photo: REUTERS/Pichi Chuang)
Blind Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng arrived in Taiwan on Sunday to begin an 18-day visit, the purpose of which is to bring attention to the human rights abuses inflicted on his fellow Chinese by Beijing, as well as to study Taiwan's democracy.
Chen, who has long been a critic of China's botched human rights record, sought to encourage China to follow the example of Taiwan's democracy at a press conference on Monday in Taipei.
"The democracy and rule of law in Taiwan show that democracy is not an institution that is unique to the West," Chen said at the press conference, as reported by The New York Times. "The success of democracy in Taiwan also exposed the Chinese government's lie that democracy does not work for the Chinese."
According to The Associated Press, Chen went on to assert that China's eventual democratization could "spell the end of dictatorship for the entire humankind."
Chen also sought to thank Taiwan for its support and concern for China's human rights violations, telling reporters at the Taipei airport upon his arrival: "Your support has been very important to us."
While visiting Taiwan, Chen will meet with opposition politicians, speak at universities and meet with the country's legislature, the Taiwan Association for China Human Rights, which organized the visit, told AP.
As of Monday, Taiwan's president, Ma Ying-jeou, had not scheduled a meeting with Chen.
Multiple media reports indicate Chen's visit to the Asian island puts Ma Ying-jeou in a difficult position, as he is currently seeking to better relations with mainland China.
Taiwan, an island located off the mainland of China, is known for its encouragement of freedom of the press and has been described as one of the most thriving democracies in Asia.
Taiwan and mainland China have long had a testy relationship; following the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, the Republic of China set up an autonomous government in Taiwan, while the People's Republic of China set up their government on mainland China.
Mainland China still claims Taiwan as its official territory, and any bad public relations, such as hosting a human rights activist critical of China's policies, would upset the mainland government.
Those living in Taiwan have argued, however, that improved relations between Taiwan and China could result in the loss of autonomy for the island state.
During his Taipei press conference on Monday, Chen neglected to answer questions regarding his recent controversy with New York University, in which he accused the private institution of ending his fellowship studies there because the school wished to improve its relations with China in preparation for opening an abroad campus in Shanghai.
New York University denied Chen's claims, saying in a statement that Chen's fellowship was only meant to last one year and had nothing to do with the school's plans to build a campus in Shanghai, a project which it claimed was finalized months before Chen arrived in the U.S.
New York University professor Jerome Cohen alleged days after Chen's original accusation that iPad and iPhone products given to the Chen family by ChinaAid, a Christian group seeking to help underground churches in China, contained spyware software intended to allow outside parties to detect Chen's movements.
ChinaAid has denied these claims, telling Reuters it was unaware of any spyware on the technological devices given to Chen.
Cohen, a law professor at NYU who helped Chen escape China and maintain a fellowship at NYU in 2012, said in a statement that he is pleased Chen avoided the topic of NYU while speaking in Taiwan.
Cohen told the New York Times that he didn't want the controversy with NYU to "become a distraction."
"We could have talked about did N.Y.U. succumb or not, we could have talked about spyware, but however important that is, we would lose focus. Who wants to give Beijing the satisfaction of seeing us squabble?" Cohen, who has now joined Chen in Taipei, added.
Chen, a self-taught lawyer focusing on women's rights and the rights of the poor in China, was put on house arrest in 2010 for filing a class-action lawsuit against China's controversial one-child policy, an attempt at population control which restricts each household in China to one child only, often resulting in forced abortions and human rights abuses against women seeking to have multiple children.
After intense negotiations between Beijing and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chen was able to flee his house arrest situation in May 2012 and arrive safely in New York City, where he began his fellowship with NYU.
Chen is now reportedly considering offers of new fellowship opportunities from two U.S. universities, including one from Fordham University Law School, also located in New York City.