Chinese dissident Chen Siming, who refused to board a flight to China while transiting through Taiwan, has been granted political asylum in Canada.
In an exclusive interview with Radio Free Asia after arriving in Vancouver on Oct. 5, Chen said he hopes to adapt to life in Canada as soon as possible and find a job to make a living. If he takes good care of himself, he said he will be more powerful to help the pro-democracy movement and overthrow the power of the Chinese Communist Party.
“After I got out of the airport [in Vancouver], I was very happy, my heart was at peace, and I was in the free world,” said Chen, an outspoken activist who recently published an open letter commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen massacre – a banned topic in China.
The Hunan province native fled from China in July to Laos, despite a travel ban imposed on him. He arrived in Laos just as the Chinese human rights lawyer Lu Siwei was detained by the local authorities, and was subsequently repatriated to China. A fearful Chen therefore headed to Bangkok, but remained concerned he would be arrested by Thai authorities who have previously sent Chinese political refugees back. So he bought a flight ticket for the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, routed through the democratic island of Taiwan on Sept. 22.
Chen remained under the care of Taiwan’s Immigration Department for more than 10 days at the airport in Taipei. A few days after arriving in Taoyuan airport, Taiwan’s New School for Democracy sent someone to check on his daily living needs and help him apply for a temporary entry permit as he awaited asylum in a third country.
At the same time, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees contacted him to help find a country that would officially accept him. Chen said he received backing from U.S. and Canada-based activists such as Sheng Xue, Jie Lijian and Wang Dan, which helped him arrive in Canada in a record 14 days.
While Chen felt uncertain about the future when staying in Taiwan, he was not worried. “The first is not to be deported to mainland China, and the second is not to be deported to Thailand. It doesn’t matter if the [waiting] time is longer. In Taiwan, I feel very safe, even in prison, let alone the immigration office.”
China’s long arm in Southeast Asia
Human rights lawyer Lu is now being held in the Xindu Detention Center in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan. He was repatriated to China in early September after being arrested in Laos en route to join his family in the United States.
His detention in Laos and subsequent repatriation is another example of transnational “long-arm” law enforcement by Beijing, rights activists and commentators have warned.
A number of prominent activists have also been sent back from Thailand to China, which has increased the pursuits of dissidents and peaceful activists even when they have fled overseas.
Chinese journalist Li Xin and human rights defender Tang Zhishun were kidnapped in Thailand and Myanmar respectively, while Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai was taken from his holiday home in Phuket, Thailand.
Another Chinese national, Wang Jianye, was executed after being extradited from Thailand in 1995 despite assurances that he wouldn’t face the death penalty.
And in July 2018, authorities in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing jailed rights activist Dong Guangping and political cartoonist Jiang Yefei after they were sent home from Thailand as they were awaiting resettlement as political refugees, prompting an international outcry.
Chen received the good news on Oct. 2 when Taiwanese authorities informed him in the morning that Canadian officials would come to him later with a Canadian visa. Despite his excitement, he also took to heart Canadian officials’ caution that he didn’t disclose the information to the outside world until he landed in Canada to avoid causing complications.
He arrived at Vancouver airport on the evening of Oct. 5, and the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia immediately arranged for him to stay in a hotel. Chen was worried that he would not be able to pay.
When he learned that the bill would be taken care of, “I felt relieved and even more touched.” But he said that he isn’t wasting a minute even though he could relax.
Apart from eating and sleeping, he spent most of the time reading the Bible and learning English. He wants to become stronger and contribute more to China’s democratic movement.
“The challenges I will face in the future are not small. For example, I need to learn English and find a job. I must first arrange my life. Only after these things are arranged can you participate in some democracy movement activities.”
Chen said that the tens of thousands of human rights fighters in China are in his mind, and he hopes that they can all work together, within and outside the wall to overthrow the totalitarian dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party.
“I hope our friends at home will take care of themselves first and wait for opportunities. We will do whatever we can abroad. Let’s work hard together for China’s freedom and democracy and the progress of China’s civilization.”
Chen also thanked the Taiwanese and Canadian governments, human rights organizations and pro-democracy activists.
Translated by Elaine Chan. Edited by Mike Firn.