Thu, Apr 30, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: The devil in the detail

Before signing agreements with a country that regularly expresses animosity toward Taiwan, and which dreams day and night of annexing it, nothing could be more prudent than looking out for the devil in the detail.

The latest agreements signed by Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) and Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait on cooperation in fighting crime are a good example of this. Lacking due care and strategic acumen, the government has failed to enunciate its stance on the matter, instead deferring to China’s agenda.

At a glance, the cross-strait agreement on crime appears wholly beneficial to both sides. They have agreed to repatriate criminals and suspected criminals and to jointly act against criminal organizations and individuals. The pact has been hailed as a success as China has long been a place where Taiwanese criminals and criminal suspects can find shelter.

According to the agreement, all criminal acts are subject to cross-strait jurisdiction, particularly noting (a) major crimes such as murder, robbery, kidnapping, smuggling of arms and other items, and drug and human trafficking, (b) white-collar crimes such as embezzlement, breach of trust, money laundering and counterfeiting, (c) corruption, bribery and professional negligence, and (d) terrorist crimes such as hijacking aircraft or boats.

However, a closer look at the pact — the fifth clause, to be precise — offers the skeptical observer cause for alarm by foreshadowing chilling changes that would complement Beijing’s agenda.

In Beijing’s eyes, violations of its “Anti-Secession Law” constitute a criminal offense. Such violations include advocacy of Taiwan’s independence or firmer actions in that regard, as well as any number of other “separatist” activities.

Two simple examples can clarify this. Should the Dalai Lama set foot in Taiwan again, China could regard his presence in Taiwan to be an offense under the terms of the fifth clause and request that Taiwan extradite him. If Chinese dissident Wang Dan (王丹), the prominent Tiananmen Square Democracy Movement student leader, visits Taiwan again, China could cite the fifth clause and request repatriation.

Some may rush to dismiss such scenarios as far-fetched, especially given that any extradition requires the other government’s agreement, but the truth is that the fifth clause has now given room for those in Taiwan’s government who oppose independence or other political agendas to act against their compatriots or threaten to do so.

The list could go on: What about Falun Gong practitioners? Tibetan expatriates and sympathizers? Or labor activists?

Taiwan has long been praised as a beacon for democracy in Asia, and the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has often touted Taiwan’s democracy as an accomplishment that Taiwanese should be proud of. But talk is cheap.

The Ma government must address by word and by deed the brittle credibility of the judiciary and strengthen its stance on human rights and freedom of religion and expression everywhere.

This would help assure Ma’s many skeptics that Beijing’s penchant for skulduggery can be prevented from corrupting fundamental Taiwanese values of openness and diversity.

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