17 December 2018
The Kenya “kidnapping” could be just a prelude to a more heavy-handed crackdown by Beijing on Taiwan in the days ahead. Photo: Xinhua
The Kenya “kidnapping” could be just a prelude to a more heavy-handed crackdown by Beijing on Taiwan in the days ahead. Photo: Xinhua

Is China bullying Taiwan in the Kenya case?

Recently, the Kenyan authorities deported 45 Taiwanese who had been convicted of telephone fraud against mainland Chinese and sent them back to China on a Chinese flight at Beijing’s request.

The deportation immediately provoked a strong backlash from Taiwan. Many Taiwanese people regarded it as an abduction in broad daylight of their fellow citizens by Beijing that transgressed Taiwan’s sovereignty.

From an international relations perspective, cross-border law enforcement and judicial cooperation have always been delicate issues.

This case is even more complicated as it involves the sovereignty dispute between Beijing and Taipei: While Taipei regards itself as an independent sovereign state, Beijing sees it as just a renegade province, and therefore it believes it has every legitimate right to exercise sovereignty over Taiwanese people abroad.

The Kenyan authorities were simply caught between the long-standing historical dispute between Beijing and Taipei, and out of diplomatic and economic concerns, Nairobi has chosen to side with Beijing.

Kenya has been strengthening its ties with Beijing in recent years and has concluded numerous bilateral agreements on infrastructural investment, energy and loans.

To Nairobi, Beijing is a powerful friend that it cannot afford to antagonize.

Besides, Nairobi has neither official diplomatic relations nor extradition agreement with Taipei. It is almost a no-brainer that Nairobi would eagerly handle the Taiwanese convicts the way Beijing wanted it, even against Taipei’s will.

However, according to Professor Julian Ku of the Hofstra University in the United States, even though this time Beijing might have given an impression that it was throwing its weight around and forcefully placing Taiwanese nationals in a third country under its jurisdiction, it hasn’t necessarily violated any international law.

When it comes to joint efforts against international crimes, overlapping jurisdiction has always been a contentious issue.

There is no clear stipulation or established mechanism in international law on how countries should settle their differences over the jurisdiction issue.

In most cases, involved parties rely largely on bilateral or multilateral agreements to resolve the predicament.

In this case, although the crime took place in Kenya, the victims are mostly Chinese nationals in the mainland, and since Nairobi greenlighted Beijing’s request to send all the convicts back to China through a bilateral agreement, technically speaking Beijing didn’t violate any international law.

Recently, Beijing appears to be hardening its stance on Taiwan’s international status during the run-up to the inauguration of the independence-leaning President-elect Tsai Ing-wen. It snatched Gambia from Taiwan and established formal diplomatic relations with the tiny African country despite Taipei’s protest.

It seems Beijing is determined to further belittle Taiwan in the international scene to curb its pro-independence cause, and the Kenya “abduction” could be just a prelude to a more heavy-handed crackdown in the days ahead.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 21.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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