Taiwanese businessman allowed to leave China for Japan ‘relieved’ to be free


Lee Meng-chu promised state security police he would delay his homecoming until after Taiwan’s presidential poll.

Taiwanese businessman allowed to leave China for Japan ‘relieved’ to be free

Lee Meng-chu, shown in this 2019 photo, “disappeared” in Shenzhen, China, in 2019 after taking photos of a gathering of armed police and sending them back to contacts in Taiwan. Credit: Pingtung County Fangliao Township Office via AP

Taiwan businessman Lee Meng-chu, also known as Morrison Lee, has been allowed to leave China for Japan after serving nearly two years in prison for “spying,” on condition that he doesn’t go home to Taiwan until after the 2024 presidential elections in January, Radio Free Asia has learned.

Lee told RFA that he was a political hostage targeted due to anger in Beijing over Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s vocal support for the Hong Kong protest movement, and her government’s criticism of the Hong Kong authorities’ response.

He remained under restrictions last year despite having been released at the end of a one-year-10-month prison sentence for “espionage,” prompting calls for his freedom to be fully restored. 

Lee, who “disappeared” in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen in August 2019 after taking photos of a gathering of armed police and sending them back to contacts in Taiwan, said he had promised the state security police he would stay in Japan instead.

He flew out of Beijing on July 24, despite expressing concern in a brief video statement before traveling to the airport that he could be stopped at the border.

Lee told Radio Free Asia from Japan that he had gone along with everything the state security police asked of him.

“They were worried I might influence the presidential elections,” Lee told Radio Free Asia in a recent interview. “I think if my case is a little sensitive, it’s better not to annoy them for now.”

He said he had made the promise after being called to a meeting with China’s state security police prior to the lifting of the restrictions.

“I was very scared,” he said. “They are under a lot of pressure right now, and if I wasn’t careful, they could try to … offload that pressure [onto me].”

‘This should never have happened to me

Lee didn’t specify what kind of retaliation the police could engage in now that he has left the country, but China’s “long-arm” law enforcement has been expanding around the world in recent years, and can include targeting loved ones and business associates in China.

Now he is in Japan, Lee feels relieved, “but I still feel that this should never have happened to me.”

“I also know why it did — I was carrying the burden of cross-straits relations at the time.” 

Lee, a former worker in Taiwan’s Hsinchu Science Park, had originally only planned to stay for one day in Shenzhen when he landed there on Aug. 20, 2019, at the height of the Hong Kong protest movement.

“I went to Shenzhen on a business trip, and planned to stay for one day,” he said. “After my meeting, I took the samples and left.”

On his way out, Lee happened to take photos of the People’s Armed Police, who appeared to be gathering in the same hotel.

Lee said he was utterly unprepared for what followed.

“I lost my freedom without any psychological preparation, that was the hardest part, mentally,” he said. “I’m not like some of those former democracy activists in China or even Taiwan [under the authoritarian rule of the Kuomintang].”

“They may have been prepared for what happened, but I was completely innocent, and totally unprepared,” said Lee, who now suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome linked to his experience.

During his sentence, the pandemic hit, and ruling Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping plunged the country’s 1.4 billion population into three years of grueling lockdowns, mass testing, compulsory quarantine camps and constant digital surveillance.

Taiwan warns travelers

Lee has spent time since his release traveling around China, where he has now visited around 100 cities, taking photographs.

“I didn’t go to Xinjiang,” he said. “I wanted to, but my mainland compatriots told me that it is much more sensitive there, and that I too was in a sensitive situation.”

“But I almost got as far as Xinjiang, because I traveled through Guazhou in [the western province of] Gansu,” he said.

Overall, Lee got the impression that there is far more going on in China than meets the eye of a casual observer, and plans to publish a book based on his travels there.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council issued a news release on Thursday warning the democratic island’s 23 million residents to take care when considering travel to China.

Warning of “frequent violations of personal freedom and safety, as well as unfriendly treatment by the other side,” the Council said the risk of arbitrary detention and interrogation was high.

“Just a few days ago, a university lecturer invited to China on an academic exchange was detained by airport personnel and interrogated for four hours,” the statement said, adding that the authorities had taken his phone and laptop for unknown purposes. “He was eventually allowed to enter the country, but the experience was a huge physical and mental shock to him.”

The statement called on the Chinese authorities “to immediately stop the vile and unreasonable detention of our people who have been invited for exchanges.”

Last month, the Council warned Taiwanese traveling to Hong Kong to avoid carrying electronic tealights, wearing T-shirts referencing the 1989 Tiananmen massacre or possessing news materials relating to the city’s 2019 mass protest movement.

To avoid running afoul of a national security law imposed on the city by Beijing to clamp down on several waves of popular protest in recent years, Taiwanese traveling to Hong Kong have also been warned to avoid “seditious” publications referencing the protests, banned slogans and even songs linked to the movement.

The national security law – imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong from July 1, 2020 – ushered in a citywide crackdown on public dissent and criticism of the authorities that has seen senior journalists, pro-democracy media magnate Jimmy Lai and 47 former lawmakers and democracy activists charged with offenses from “collusion with a foreign power” to “subversion.” 

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

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