The deportation of 45 Taiwanese citizens to China is the latest example of how far Beijing is willing to go in order to enforce its “One China Policy,” which sees Taiwan under China’s control. Now, Taiwanese officials are demanding answers about what’s going to happen to their fellow citizens.
Their journey to China began in Kenya, where Kenyan authorities had accused them of being involved in a complex phone and Internet scamming ring. Later, all 45 were acquitted in Kenyan courts. When they returned to a police station in Nairobi to pick up their passports, however, they were detained.
They were then thrown in jail, had opaque black hoods placed on their heads, and forced onto a China-bound plane, where Chinese officers sat on either side of each individual.
According to Kenyan Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka, the Taiwanese were deported because they were in Kenya “illegally.”
But why deport them to China and not back to Taiwan?
“We followed international law and released them back to the court in which they came from,” Njoka told CNN. “We don’t have a relationship with Taiwan as a country, but we have a relationship with China.”
Beijing accuses the 45 Taiwanese of committing crimes against victims in mainland China.
“ … These criminals carried out their illegal activities abroad, and all the victims are residents of the mainland, the mainland naturally has legal jurisdiction,” said China’sTaiwan spokesman An Fengshan.
Taiwan isn’t buying it.
“This is just an allegation made by China,” said Taiwan’s Minister of Justice. She also said China has presented “no solid evidence” that the people deported were involved in fraud.
If such evidence exists, it’s being handled in China.
The Mainland Affairs Council, the agency responsible for communicating with Beijing, has been denied access to the prisoners. Even their families are having trouble communicating with the accused.
“None of them have contacted me,” said the mother of one detainee in an interview with CNN. “I don’t know when I can see my son. I just want him to come back safe and sound as soon as possible.”
Taiwan called the move a “gross violation of human rights.”
A grainy cell phone video allegedly shot in a Kenyan cell shows some of the detainees pressing their bodies against the cell doors trying to prevent Kenyan authorities from getting in. Police then use tear gas to drive the prisoners out and onto a plane, according to Taiwanese Foreign Ministry official Antonio Chen.
The deportation continued despite Taiwan and China’s joint crime-fighting agreement signed in 2009. About 20 official agreements have been signed under the Beijing-friendly government of Ma Ying-jeou. He will step down on May 20 and usher in the government of Independence-leaning president elect Tsai Ing-wen.
This case would give Taiwan’s first female leader another immense challenge in Taiwan-China relations. How she reacts would be crucial to her public image. Ordinary Taiwanese citizens’ support for unification, the beacon of the One China Policy, is at an “all-time, single-digit low,” according to J. Michael Cole, a fellow with the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute.
But, the issue extends beyond China and Taiwan. Activists from Hong Kong, Tibet and Uyghur can fear extradition to China based on whether their activities are “crimes” under China’s vague National Security Law.
“Coming in the wake of China’s alleged kidnapping of five Hong Kong booksellers, this outrage suggests that nobody is safe anymore and that Beijing will not hesitate to break agreements or international conventions to further its aims,” wrote Cole in an editorial for CNN.com