Sun, Nov 06, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Defection to freedom ... and then to prison

Even though Taiwan no longer rewarded Chinese citizens who defected, 10 successful hijackings of Chinese planes to Taiwan took place in 1993

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A chart showing all 12 hijackings from China to Taiwan between April 1993 and June 1994.

Graphic: Han Cheung, Taipei Times

Nov. 7 to Nov. 13

In February 2008, Wang Zhihua (王志華) was deported back to China after completing his second stint in a Taiwanese prison. He was first sentenced to 10 years for being one of 16 Chinese citizens who successfully hijacked a whopping 12 commercial planes to Taiwan between April 1993 and June 1994. Almost all such hijackings took place during that span — three even took place in the same week — with only two other cases in history in 1988 and 1998.

A 2008 Southern Weekend (南方周末) feature provides the most extensive account of Wang’s saga. Wanted in China for embezzlement, he made his escape on Nov. 8, 1993 by faking a bomb with soap and a wire on a Zhejiang Airlines plane headed to Fuzhou. Out of the 12 hijackings, seven used fake bombs and the others used knives and daggers, which were actually allowed on planes back then.

The report stated that back then most airport staff weren’t trained to handle hijackings, so nobody suspected or reported the visibly shaking Wang as he boarded the plane.

He was promptly arrested after landing in Taichung. After serving six years, he was paroled and scheduled for deportation along with a number of other Chinese who illegally entered Taiwan through various means. During the flight to Kinmen, one of the deportees used a hidden knife to hold one of the officials hostage, forcing the plane to turn back to Taiwan. The report states that while Wang did not actively participate, security later also found a knife on him, earning him his second sentence.

Due to this second “hijacking,” Wang remained in Taiwan longer than any of the 16 hijackers who were eventually all deported.

NO LONGER HEROES

Why were there so many hijackings in those 14 months? It would make sense if it were during martial law, when Chinese defectors to Taiwan were treated as anti-communist heroes and heavily rewarded by the government for “defecting to freedom.” Most of these were People’s Liberation Army pilots who flew their MiGs across the Taiwan Strait, but in May 1988, Zhang Qingguo (張慶國) and Long Guiyun (龍貴雲) became the first Chinese to hijack a commercial plane directly to Taiwan.

Although initial media reports described the act as a “defection to freedom,” the political climate had changed and the two were eventually charged for violating the Civil Aviation Act (民用航空法) and sentenced to three years and six months in jail. They were paroled after serving 18 months and allowed to remain in Taiwan.

It should be noted that military defections were still rewarded at this time, with the last one being Jiang Wenhao (蔣文浩), who flew his plane to Kinmen in September 1989. However, he received far less money than his predecessors and was assigned a relatively low rank in the Republic of China Air Force. In 1991, this practice officially ceased as then president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) renounced the “period of mobilization for the suppression of Communist rebellion.”

There seemed to be no more incentive for people to hijack planes — but then came the 1993-94 craze.

The Southern Weekend reported that most of these hijackers were having trouble in China, and many were wanted criminals like Wang. As Chinese law carries much harsher punishments than Taiwan’s — to this day people can still be sentenced to death for embezzling — perhaps it was a desperate move for Wang, who reportedly attempted suicide after hearing that he was scheduled to be deported.

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