Taiwanese grapple with questions over arrests by China

April 18, 2016 16:37
Taiwanese suspects are led down a plane after their arrest in Kenya. The Taiwanese are suspected of committing fraud on mainland citizens. Photo: Xinhua

Beijing wants to exercise sovereignty over Taiwan people abroad, treating them as its own citizens.

That was the rationale behind the deportation to the mainland last week of 45 Taiwanese suspected of committing fraud in China.

The manner of the removals has caused a political and social storm in Taiwan.

Of the 45, 15 were held in a police station. They protested vehemently against the deportation.

Three members of Beijing’s embassy in Kenya were at the station.

Armed with assault rifles, Kenyan police broke down a wall and used tear gas to force the 15 in a vehicle which took them to the airport.

A Taiwan representative chased them in his car and tried in vain to block the deportations. Images from inside the police stations have been all over social media in Taiwan, fuelling anti-mainland feeling.

The case is a complex one.

China’s Ministry of Public Security said that the Taiwanese had been falsely presenting themselves as law enforcement officers to extort money from people in the mainland through telephone calls.

“They operated out of Nairobi and are suspected of cheating people out of millions of yuan across nine provinces and cities in China,” it said in a statement.

“As most of the victims were in China, they would be prosecuted there.”

“Taiwan needs to view the case rationally,” said An Fengshan, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office.

“I hope the Taiwan side can give more thought to the victims when it looks at the issue.”

The Kenyan government regards Taiwan as part of China and has close economic and diplomatic relations with Beijing.

So it was easily persuaded to send the Taiwanese to the mainland and not their homeland.

While it is not the first such case, it is the biggest and the most publicised.

For Taiwan people, it raises an alarming prospect -- if they visit a foreign country and are detained by the authorities, could they also be sent to the mainland?

Their government has diplomatic relations with only 21 countries and the Vatican; few Taiwan people visit these countries.

Who has jurisdiction over Taiwan people overseas?

Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice released a statement on Saturday setting out its position in the case in an attempt to deflect criticism from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the public that it had failed to help its citizens in Kenya.

“As you all know, cross-strait ties are complicated. It is not like the other side [of the Taiwan Strait] will agree to whatever we say. Just like in Taiwan, not all students listen to their professors.

“Under the 2009 Cross-Strait Joint Crime-Fighting and Judicial Mutual Assistance Agreement, everything ranging from exchanging criminal intelligence resources and launching joint investigations to handing over evidence can only be carried out following cross-negotiations. The ministry is not entitled to make any unilateral decisions,” it said.

The government is embarrassed by the fact that those sent back are not model citizens.

“It is hard to present them as heroes to be saved,” said Wang Kuo-chiang, a Taiwan business consultant.

“Police in Indonesia, Egypt and South Korea are also holding Taiwan people suspected of telecom fraud in the mainland.

Such fraud no longer works in Taiwan, so they have taken their business to China. There are real victims who have lost large amounts of money.”

But there are other issues.

In parliamentary sessions, DPP lawmakers grilled government officials about the Chinese justice system.

“Many people in Taiwan are wondering if these people can get a fair trial in China,” said Lo Chih-cheng.

Rachel Liu, mother of one of those deported, said that a Kenyan court had acquitted her son.

“We hope any trial can be conducted in our own country no matter if guilty or not guilty.”

Taiwan people see the case as another example of how Beijing is treating them as its own citizens.

Since it does not recognise the Republic of China passport, it issues a mainland travel permit to Taiwan people to enable them to enter the country.

From July 1, 2015, holders of the permit are no longer required to apply for visas and can stay as long as they wish, up to the expiration date of the permit.

“Beijing is treating us as its own citizens, in the mainland and abroad,” said Wang.

“My government has offices all over the world but they do not have diplomatic status. Can they protect us if we get into difficulty? Will our representatives be informed promptly and soon enough to help?”

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.