24 hours ago, Sina Weibo, China’s leading microblogging service, verified that Frank Hsieh, former presidential nominee of Taiwan’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), opened an account @謝長廷 on China’s most prominent social media platform. 24 hours later, the account has already been deleted, including two rumored re-opened accounts @謝謝-長廷 and @臺北謝氏.
Ever since the beginning, many Chinese netizens suspected that Hsieh’s Weibo account won’t last long. In the very few posts Hsieh had on his Weibo page, he talked about liberty, constitutionalization and, guess what, freedom of speech.
“Whether there is freedom of speech does not depend on whether one has the freedom to criticize officials or those in power, but on whether one loses his freedom after doing so,” Hsieh said on his Weibo. A few hours later, He lost his freedom to speak on Weibo.
It’s still not clear who ordered the removal of Hsieh from Weibo (not sure by Sina or by higher authority in the government yet).
Interestingly though, not long after Hsieh first showed up on Weibo, Global Times, the official voice of the Chinese government, featured the news and commented that Hsieh “is trying to shorten his distance between netizens at the other side of the strait.” The move to delete Hsieh’s Weibo account is like a “in your face” response to his above post on freedom of speech. Like many Chinese netizens commented, Hsieh uses his own experience to demonstrate to millions of Taiwan people that the mainland indeed doesn’t have freedom of speech.
Chi-Chang Tsai, current legislator of Taiwan’s DPP, commented on Hsieh’s sudden disappearance from Weibo: “I believe many netizens who follow me or Hsieh [on Weibo] do so in the hope to hear some authentic voices from Taiwan. Weibo is a platform through which we are able to interact with ordinary people [in mainland]. We don’t feel sorry about our posts being deleted when we speak the truth, but we do feel sorry that they [Chinese government?] tolerate zero voice of truth.”
Many netizens see the removal of Hsieh from Weibo as a major setback in Beijing’s efforts to re-unite with Taiwan. Netizen 王维嘉 pointed out: “If the decision was made by the propaganda department, their sole job is to censor “inappropriate” conversations and thus don’t care about cross-strait relationship at all. But a simply deletion may cost 20 years of work by the United Front Work Department (Chinese government body in charge of efforts to re-unite with Taiwan).”
老徐时评, a popular Weibo critic, asked: “Frank Hsieh is a politician. He knows what he should or shouldn’t talk about. And yet he is not allowed to even speak on Weibo. How on earth will this help persuade Taiwan people that reuniting with the mainland is a good thing? Who is afraid of reunification?”
Does the Chinese government indeed fear that a pro-independence Taiwan politician grow too popular in mainland? After all, Taiwan has long been seen by Chinese netizens as a possible model for democracy in China. Chinese netizens are never shy to express their envy of the freedom (both online and offline) that Taiwan people are able to enjoy. The irony is that the quick deletion actually helps push many netizens to side with Hsieh – now they are all victims of China’s censorship.
According to netizen 资本力, since first being verified on February 19, Hsieh’s Weibo followers increased at a rate of more than 900 an hour. By noon of February 20, Hsieh already had more than 63,000 followers. Two hours later at 2:30 pm, the account was deleted.
ETtoday, a Taiwan news outlet, interviewed Hsieh about his sudden removal from Weibo, and here is his response: “It’s not a big deal. I can always open another account.” But to no one’s surprise, @謝謝-長廷 and @臺北謝氏, two accounts that have been rumored to be the “reincarnations” of Hsieh’s original Weibo, have also been deleted already.
Hsieh’s response makes the paranoid decision to remove him from Weibo look even worse. Like netizen 爱幻想的小猪 commented: “We immediately know which [mainland or Taiwan] produces better politicians.”