Fourteen Taiwanese alleged fraud suspects, deported from the Philippines to China in early February, are soon to return home to face the music. However, they are not the only ones who should face some intensive questioning.
The Chinese government agreed to hand the 14 over after months of effort to secure their return by Taiwan, the Mainland Affairs Council said late on Thursday. It said the suspects were being returned in accordance with the Agreement on Joint Crime--Fighting and Mutual Legal Assistance Across the Taiwan Strait, which was signed by the Straits Exchange Foundation and Beijing’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait in 2009 (but only “referred” to the legislature for lawmakers’ reference, not approval).
However, the low-key nature of the announcement should raise questions about just what kind of groveling went on behind the scenes, especially after Government Information Office Minister Philip Yang (楊永明) quoted Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) as saying the controversy surrounding the 14 should not be labeled an issue of sovereignty. Instead, Wu apparently said that people should be more concerned about crime-fighting efforts because focusing on sovereignty would be “unfavorable for international cooperation in investigating and cracking down on crime.”
So what are people to think about all the administration’s blustering, posturing and pontificating back in February and early March, with demands for an apology from the Philippine government, sanctions imposed against Filipino migrant workers (albeit temporarily) and warnings that Taipei-Manila ties had been severely damaged? Remember President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) agreeing — although with “a heavy heart” and only because “the friendship and cooperation between the Republic of China [ROC] and the Philippines are important” — to meet a Philippine envoy, former senator Manuel Roxas II? Ma told Roxas that the Philippine officials had “lied openly” about the matter and the nation had not behaved the way a democratic country should.
Meanwhile, several legal experts pointed out — in this paper and elsewhere — that while Taiwan could ask China to hand over the 14 Taiwanese suspects, based on Item 6 of the cross-strait crime-fighting pact, it was very unlikely Beijing would accept the possibility of a not-guilty verdict in any trial in Taiwan and so it would be likely to demand that Taiwan agree to several conditions before repatriating the suspects. The Republic of China’s Criminal Code states that a citizen who commits a crime abroad is only liable for prosecution in Taiwan if the offense warrants a jail term of three years or more. China’s Criminal Code, however, covers any criminal act that is committed in China or has consequences in China. After all, Chinese prosecutors do have a long tradition of almost 100 percent conviction rates.
The 14 Taiwanese, and their 10 Chinese codefendents, are suspected of complicity in an international fraud ring both Beijing and Manila said targeted people in China and Hong Kong, as well as Taiwan, and netted the ring an estimated US$20 million. However, the majority of the victims appear to have been Chinese, not Taiwanese.
So just what was discussed in all those cross-strait negotiations on the return of the 14 suspects? What promises were made? So far, the 2009 pact has been used largely to repatriate fugitives wanted by Taiwan to stand trial for crimes committed in Taiwan or those who fled after their convictions to avoid imprisonment. Taiwan appears to be entering new territory with the return of the 14 suspects. Let’s just hope it is not a territory labeled “Taiwan, Province of China.”