TAIPEI, Taiwan – An activist who fled house arrest in China before moving to America last year got his first taste of Taiwan's democracy Tuesday when raucous lawmakers occupied the legislative floor while he delivered a speech in an adjacent room.
Chen Guangcheng said he considers the commotion often taking place on Taiwan's legislative floor a normal part of democracy.
Bickering lawmakers shoving and pushing each other in the midst of policy debates, he said, is better than "someone driving a tank to storm the streets," a reference to China's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy students on Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Chen, a self-taught lawyer who has been blind since birth, arrived in Taiwan Sunday for a two-week visit.
The activist, who had angered local Chinese officials by documenting complaints about forced abortions, escaped house arrest in his rural town in eastern China's Shandong province in April 2012 and sparked a diplomatic crisis when he fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Chinese officials later let him move to the U.S. with his wife and children. He spent the last year as a special student at New York University.
Chen caused a controversy last week when he said the university caved to pressure from China's Communist Party and asked him to leave. The university denied that, saying it had agreed to give Chen a one-year fellowship to assist his departure from China, and that he was leaving because the year was over.
In Taiwan, Chen has evaded questions about his criticism of NYU. NYU professor Jerome Cohen, who had arranged the fellowship and is accompanying Chen in Taiwan, said Tuesday that he was unaware of any Chinese influence.
"I'll never know," he said. "I've seen no evidence of China putting pressure on NYU. All the evidence I've seen goes the other way, that NYU has been supportive of Chen to the fullest extent."
Accompanying Chen on the trip, Cohen said the two had agreed to put the dispute behind for now so it would not overshadow the activist's events in Taiwan.
But Cohen noted the Chinese "were unhappy" about Chen's visit to Taiwan. "They blamed me as the black hand behind" for arranging the visit, he said, without elaborating.
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou does not plan to meet Chen.
Ma's spokesman did not give a reason, but Ma has been working to improve ties with Beijing. Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949, but relations have improved in recent years.
On Tuesday, Chen said China should practice democracy like Taiwan has for almost three decades and toss its authoritarian system into "history's trash bin."
"The very fact that Taiwan has a democracy system with rule of law had disproved China's lie that democracy shall not fit the Chinese," he said.