Taiwanese Falun Gong practitioner Bruce Chung (鍾鼎邦) was released and allowed to return home on Saturday after being detained in China for more than 50 days for activities that China said damaged national security. The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) and Straits Exchange Foundation attributed Chung’s release to the cross-strait crime-fighting and mutual judicial assistance agreement and insisted that the mechanisms set up under the agreement allowed the two sides to negotiate. The government will undoubtedly tout the release of Chung as a successful example of cross-strait cooperation and goodwill. In reality, what the case really illustrates is the wayward nature of China’s legal system and the secretive nature of cross-strait dispute resolution.
Chinese authorities arrested Chung on June 18 for allegedly helping hijack a Chinese TV station’s signal several years ago and posing serious risks to national security. The MAC and the Ministry of Justice said the two sides were in contact about Chung’s situation and that China abided by the judicial assistance agreement and informed Chung’s family members of his whereabouts within 24 hours of his detainment.
However, both the council and the Chinese authorities refused to discuss the case and Chung’s detainment did not raise much attention until Falun Gong practitioners launched protests against Chung’s detention during the cross-strait talks last week. When asked whether the Chung case was mentioned during the talks, council Chairperson Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) failed to answer directly, but said that the government had raised the issue with Beijing several times.
Government officials later privately acknowledged that, following the talks, China had agreed an under-the-table deal approving Chung’s release, as part of which it was agreed that freeing him would avoid shifting the attention of the cross-strait talks. It is a great irony that while it was still refusing to release Chung, China signed the cross-strait investment protection agreement and promised to safeguard Taiwanese businesspeople in China.
Taiwan failed in its attempt to put personal safety issues at the core of the agreement: Measures to protect the personal safety of Taiwanese businesspeople, including a notification system that requires Chinese authorities to inform family members of the arrest of any Taiwanese businessperson within 24 hours of them being detained, are now only included in a supplementary consensus document. The exclusion of the 24-hour notification system combined with China’s newly amended criminal litigation law, which stipulates that authorities do not need to inform family members of arrests of suspects involved in national security or terrorist acts, raises further questions about China’s willingness to implement the agreement.
President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration also failed to defend the rights of Taiwanese in cross-strait disputes. Chung’s wife met with her husband in China before his release thanks to the assistance of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Alex Tsai (蔡正元), rather than government officials.
Chung’s family members have only sought to ensure that he returned home safely. It is unacceptable for the Ma administration to brag about Chung’s release. The under-the-table deals and covert family visits demonstrate that even with the investment protection pact, Taiwanese will continue to suffer threats to their personal wellbeing.