Wed, Feb 07, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Analysis: China's acceptance of returning illegal immigrants signifies `warming ties'

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

China's willingness to accept the return of illegal immigrants from Taiwan is a sign of warming cross-strait relations, academics said yesterday.

On Monday, the newly formed National Immigration Agency (NIA), under the Ministry of the Interior, deported 152 illegal Chinese immigrants.

That operation followed a Jan. 26 handover of 218 illegal aliens to Chinese authorities, bringing the number of repatriated illegal Chinese immigrants to 370 since the agency was established on Jan. 2.

In a recent press release, the agency lauded itself for deporting illegal Chinese immigrants, saying it had set new records by repatriating 370 illegal aliens in just 11 days and lowering the number of illegal Chinese aliens in detention centers countrywide to 128.

The breakthrough in deportation operations is the result of the agency enhancing communication with Chinese authorities, the release said.

However, academics yesterday attributed the success to China's willingness to take back its illegal aliens and to improved geopolitical circumstances.

"If this can be considered a success, then it was the culmination of years of talks and interaction between the agency's predecessor, the Immigration Bureau, and Chinese authorities," said Liao Yuan-hao (廖元豪), an immigration expert and law professor at National Chengchi University (NCCU).

"Let's also not forget that the overall political situation in the strait has been positive," he said.

Huang Kwei-bo (黃奎博), a professor of diplomacy at NCCU, agreed, saying that China's willingness to take back the illegal immigrants is yet another sign of good faith.

He cited Beijing's agreeing to import Taiwanese fruit and leaving out any mention of violence in discussions on cross-strait unification in recent months as part of its "smiling offensive."

"This is part of its new, softer approach to the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP]-led government, and [China] is trying to win over the Taiwanese people," Huang said, referring to China's "sudden" willingness to accept its illegal immigrants from Taiwan.

According to the release, persuading China to accept illegal aliens was a longstanding problem that peaked in 1993, when nearly 6,000 illegal immigrants flooded detention centers countrywide.

Notorious for not cooperating with Taiwan in repatriating the immigrants, China turned a corner in 2004 when NIA Director Wu Chen-chi (吳振吉) began reaching out to the Chinese authorities as director-general of the Immigration Bureau, NIA Deputy Director Wu Hsueh-yen (吳學燕) told the Taipei Times.

"We've been enjoying good relations with our counterparts in China ever since," Wu Hsueh-yen said, adding that the recent warming of cross-strait relations has indeed been a major factor in persuading China to take back its illegal aliens.

Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator Liao Pen-yen (廖本煙) praised the agency in a phone interview yesterday, saying that its communication with China had resulted in Beijing's respecting Taiwan's sovereignty in the case of deportation operations.

"China is more willing to take [illegal immigrants] back now," Liao said.

Monday's operation took place on the island of Matsu, from which a vessel transported the illegal aliens, the release said. Observers from the Red Cross, Wu Chen-chi and other Taiwanese and Chinese officials were present to observe the handover.

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