Two years ago, 14 Taiwanese were arrested in the Philippines in connection with a fraud investigation and were sent to China to stand trial.
This move by the Philippine government caused widespread anger in Taiwan and the government vigorously protested against the actions of its Philippine counterpart, demanding that China return the suspects to Taiwan.
There were a number of flaws in the government’s reasoning when it lodged its protest with the Philippine government.
The alleged crimes were committed on Philippine soil and, although Taiwan could request that the perpetrators be sent back to Taiwan, such a move would have required a transfer of jurisdiction and this would have involved sovereignty issues.
An extradition treaty would have been needed to return the suspects and as the Philippines adheres to the “one China” principle, it only has an extradition treaty with China, and cannot have another one with Taiwan.
President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has consistently maintained the notion of “one China, with each side having its own interpretation” in its dealings with Beijing.
In 2009 Taiwan signed a cross-strait crime-fighting and judicial mutual assistance agreement that was regarded as an inter-regional, as opposed to an international, agreement.
In light of this agreement, Taiwan’s status was effectively downgraded to parity with that of Hong Kong and Macau, which was tantamount to relinquishing sovereignty.
Therefore, it was reasonable for the Philippines to send the suspects to China.
In addition, after signing the mutual assistance agreement, the request for the prisoners to be sent to Taiwan further showed that we had fallen foul of Beijing’s machinations to turn us into one of its regions.
Since then, the government of Taiwan has pursued negotiations with the Philippines on a law enforcement and judicial mutual assistance agreement. A deal was inked on April 19, which apparently addresses the problems caused by the extradition spat two years ago.
Nevertheless, this agreement was signed on the understanding that it did not in any way broach sovereignty.
As such, questions can be raised about just how effective such an agreement can be, especially considering that legal jurisdiction is, in itself, a mark of sovereignty. It is difficult to see how secondary issues, such as judicial mutual assistance, can be discussed when one has dropped the ball on sovereignty.
Taiwanese are sure to get hot under the collar the next time Taiwanese investigators go to the Philippines as part of this law enforcement and judicial mutual assistance agreement and find themselves snubbed by Philippine authorities.
It is not surprising that the Philippine government might take this attitude. As the Philippines does not recognize Taiwan as a national entity, the agreement is not worth the paper it is written on.
This sorry state of affairs brings into cruel focus the tragedy of our leaders’ implicit acceptance of the “one China” principle over the past few years.
Wu Ching-chin is an associate professor of law at Aletheia University.
Translated by Paul Cooper