Chinese national flags and the Republic of China (Taiwan) flags are seen in Taipei. Photo: Reuters

Taiwan’s Department of Justice’s has ignored an online petition to ban and criminalize the open display of the Chinese flag – and explained that people on the island are free to express their opinions.

The petition has garnered support from some 5,000 signatories to date, who have called for the authorities to prevent secessionist activities and inciting aggression.

The number is more than the threshold required for an official response from the governmental agency concerned.

The flying of the flag had lowered Taiwan’s guard against China over the past decade and would aid Beijing’s efforts to annex the island, the petition said.

A cyclist rides by Taiwan and Chinese flags displayed during a rally prior to Tsai Ing-wen’s presidential inauguration in 2016. Photo: Reuters

The Justice Department said on Wednesday that banning people from flying the flag would “infringe on people’s freedom of speech”, noting that if hanging the Chinese flag was deemed as an act of secession that could attract criminal punishment, it would be an obvious breach of the constitution, which protects freedom of speech.

In a statement, the department said that existing laws already stipulate punishment for people who attempt to undermine Taiwan’s sovereignty and subvert the government. But it had no plans to take action if someone merely displays foreign flags in demonstrations.

The island has seen a spike in pro-Beijing demonstrations backed by groups that advocate reunification with the mainland after the Kuomintang Party lost the 2016 presidential election to the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party.

President Tsai Ing-wen has since then disavowed her predecessor’s parol agreement that both Taiwan and the mainland belong to “one China”.

Chinese flags are usually seen at these rallies, in front of the Presidential Palace or at Taipei’s Liberty Square.

A low-point in cross-strait relations

The petition comes during another low-point in cross-strait relations with Chinese warplanes’ frequently circumnavigating the island, as well as high-profile arrests and trials on both sides in which spies from the other side have been named, shamed and jailed.

In a separate development, Taipei-based Liberty Times reported that a 15-second trailer produced by the mainland’s state broadcaster China Central Television has been shown on a big screen in Taipei’s bustling Ximending commercial precinct this week, causing some commotion among netizens.

The ad promotes a CCTV program named “Trust China”, about a century of letters written by people on both sides of the strait.

Some observers suspect that Beijing is now on a charming offensive with veiled, soft propaganda, along with its military saber-rattling, to try to install a pro-China, pro-reunification ideology among Taiwanese people.

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