TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan said on Monday it was prepared to review a petition for asylum from a Chinese activist who left his tour group in Taiwan without notice last week.
Local media reported on Sunday that Zhang Xiangzhong, whose whereabouts remain unknown, has said he will make an asylum request on Tuesday with the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Taiwan’s China policy-making body.
“If he submits a political asylum request, we’re ready to review it,” MAC chairwoman Chang Hsiao-yueh told legislators in a parliament session.
“It is too early to say if we will allow it… We’re looking for him. He has not contacted any government agencies.”
Zhang, 48, is from Shandong province and was jailed for three years for participating in the New Citizensâ€™ Movement in China, the reports said. He was released in 2016.
China has jailed several people for involvement in the group, which advocates working within the system to press for change, including urging officials to reveal their assets.
Chang said Taiwan does not offer political asylum to Chinese, but that Taiwan can offer “long term stay”, providing a visa to remain in Taiwan without officially calling it “asylum”. Chang said the government will review any request with the immigration authorities.
Zhang has said that a source of inspiration for his asylum request was the wife of Taiwanese activist Lee Ming-che, local media reported. She has been attempting to free her husband currently being detained by China on suspicion of activities harmful to national security.
Lee’s detention and Zhang’s potential defection could further exacerbate tensions between Taiwan and China. Relations have strained since Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, whose party has advocated independence for Taiwan, took office in 2016.
China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, which it deems a wayward province.
(Reporting by Faith Hung; Editing by Michael Perry)