Under exceptional circumstances or between trusting allies, countries will sometimes exchange police, customs inspectors, military personnel and intelligence officers to fulfill liaison requirements. When the situation warrants it, or when allies are especially close, those officers will sometimes be granted extraterritorial powers — in other words, the right to enforce the law on another country’s territory.
Such a measure was launched in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US amid global efforts to combat the proliferation of dangerous weapons. In 2002, for example, the US and Canada launched talks to place customs inspectors on each other’s territory to inspect the millions of tonnes of cargo that arrive at North American ports each year. A similar move, known as the Container Security Initiative, was made by the US Department of Homeland Security whereby US inspectors were placed at major ports around the world to look for chemical, biological and nuclear material.
In every case, the postings were made possible either as the result of high levels of trust between the participating countries, or for immediate security considerations based on a serious threat.
News last week that Taiwan’s Crime Investigation Bureau (CIB) may be considering an initiative in which Chinese police officers would be deployed in Taiwan — and vice versa — could be rationalized in the light of such global initiatives.
The problem, however, is that the level of trust necessary for this measure to be undertaken is lacking and crime-fighting in the Taiwan Strait does not threaten security to the extent that it would make this move imperative — not to mention the odious symbolism of the presence of Chinese police on Taiwanese soil.
Another factor that, in other scenarios, makes officer exchanges possible is mutual recognition of sovereignty among all participants and the limits on extraterritoriality that this implies.
When it comes to China, however, the fact that it does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state and claims it as its own poses additional problems. Among these are the specters of the application of Chinese law on Taiwanese territory and the reinterpretation of Taiwanese laws that could stretch the definition of crime to include “splittism” and speech on topics that are illegal in China.
The initiative also raises questions such as whether Chinese police officers would have power of arrest or be limited to working as liaison officers. Would they be allowed to carry weapons? To investigate? Collect intelligence on dissident groups in Taiwan? Which chain of command would they answer to? If they overstepped their responsibilities, would they be subject to reprimand, or be demoted based on Taiwanese law or China’s?
Despite the need for cross-strait cooperation in fighting crime, the problem is not serious enough and Beijing not trustworthy enough to require the presence of Chinese police in Taiwan. While liaison officers would be acceptable, anything more would be catastrophic for the sovereignty of this nation and should be vigorously opposed. Otherwise, given Beijing’s non-recognition of Taiwan and the risk that these personnel could be used as fifth columnists, allowing Chinese police to operate in Taiwan would be akin to the Czechs welcoming Soviet police to their country prior to the invasion in 1968.