Taiwan VP Lends Support to Sect Banned by China

By Angus Chuang, Reuters, Saturday 23 December 2000, 7:27 AM ET

TAIPEI (Reuters)—Taiwan Vice President Annette Lu, reviled by Beijing for her pro-independence stand, lent support on Saturday to China’s outlawed Falun Gong spiritual sect in a move certain to further anger the Chinese.

Lu, denounced by Chinese state media as the scum of the nation, attended a rally staged by about 1,000 Falun Gong practitioners from 15 countries in central Taipei in a show of support for the sect.

I wish you success in your character cultivation and martial art practice, Lu told the adherents who held fluorescent glow sticks to mourn mainland brethren either dead in Chinese custody or still languishing in prison.

There was no immediate comment from Beijing, which branded Falun Gong a cult and banned it in 1999 for challenging the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

Falun Gong—a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism, meditation and breathing exercises designed to harness energy in the body and heal—claims 100 million members worldwide. China puts its domestic membership at two million.

Human rights groups say dozens of Falun Gong adherents have died in custody after torture by Chinese police. About 50 have been sent to mental institutions.

The Chinese Communist regime is scared of us because of our huge numbers, Liao Chung-shu, a 47-year-old retired Taiwan soldier, told Reuters.

Political analysts said Taiwan risked further souring bilateral relations by letting Falun Gong stage the rally in Taipei, and allowing Chinese followers living overseas to visit. Taiwan restricts visits by mainlanders.

Beijing is deeply suspicious of Lu and her pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party and has threatened to attack if Taiwan were to declare statehood.

In Macau last week, Chinese President Jiang Zemin (news—web sites) issued a steely warning against dissent as police dragged off more than a dozen protesting Falun Gong practitioners.

Sect members say China has jailed 50,000 Falun Gong followers as part of a harsh government crackdown on the group. Many have been sent to labor camps to undergo re-education, administrative punishment that requires no judicial process.

Defiant practitioners have repeatedly staged bold protests on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, where the Chinese army crushed student-led demonstrations for democracy in 1989.

Beijing denies persecuting Falun Gong members, saying China is a country ruled by law. China says the movement has caused the deaths of about 1,400 adherents who tried to heal themselves by practicing Falun Gong instead of seeking medical help.

Zhu Jiang, a Chinese Falun Gong adherent who lives in the United States, dismissed the accusations.

I saw and heard master Li with my own eyes and ears. Many media reports are not true and fabricated, she said, referring to the group’s reclusive leader Li Hongzhi.

Li, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, insists Falun Gong is apolitical and poses no threat to Communist rule. He preaches salvation from a world corrupted by science, technology and decadence.

The sect shot to fame last year when 10,000 members caught Chinese police by surprise by sneaking up and staging a sit-down protest outside Beijing’s Zhongnanhai leadership compound.