The Philippine government’s decision last week to abide by a request from Beijing and extradite 14 Taiwanese to China — despite a request by Taipei not to do so — is a situation that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration will have to handle with care.
The precedent set by Manila is a clear example of the difficult environment Taiwan continues to navigate despite improving relations across the Taiwan Strait. It highlights yet again the willingness of regional states beholden to Chinese money to toe the line on Beijing’s “one China” policy.
Prior to last week, pressure by Beijing — even when cross-strait relations were more strained — tended to be limited to symbolic matters, such as the name under which Taiwanese delegations attend artistic events. In more extreme cases it has resulted in the blocking of a Taiwanese trade office in Phnom Penh or the prevention of Taiwan from participating in regional organizations or UN agencies.
As the Chinese economy continues to grow and the region becomes increasingly attached to China, such behavior by third countries will likely become more frequent.
The forced deportation to China of the 14 Taiwanese takes us into completely new territory, where an increasingly confident China now believes it has extrajudicial rights over Taiwan.
The illegality of extrajudicial deportations aside, this case opens the gates into the slippery world of Chinese jurisprudence, where the definition of what constitutes a crime is often creatively determined by the authoritarian system in which it operates.
Even as Taiwanese law enforcement agencies strike agreements with their Chinese counterparts on joint crime-fighting efforts, Taipei readily admits, as it did in August last year when Chinese Vice Minister of Public Security Chen Zhimin (陳智敏) secretly visited Taiwan, to substantial differences in the use of legal terminology between the two countries. The gaps were wide enough that Taipei felt it necessary to add caveats to a tacit agreement signed during Chen’s visit on religious and political persecution.
However, not all countries cooperating with Beijing in law enforcement efforts may be as careful in ensuring the rights of individuals targeted by China’s vast security apparatus.
The case of Huseyin Celil, a Uighur and Canadian citizen, is a case in point. Celil, who grew up in China and obtained political asylum in Canada in 2001, was arrested by Uzbek authorities while visiting his wife’s family in 2006, and then deported to China, where he was sentenced to life in prison for “separating China and ... organizing, leading and participating in terrorist groups.”
Given all this, it is not impossible that, at some point, Taiwanese who are active in supporting Taiwanese independence — seeking to “separate China,” as Celil allegedly did — could be arrested somewhere and deported to China, where the judicial system, which serves the Chinese Communist Party more than it does the state, would be heavily stacked against them.
Not only could Taiwanese who did not break any law other than those conjured up by the authoritarian regime in Beijing face the threat of arrest and deportation within the region, but once deported they would be swallowed whole by a system that time and again has shown its willingness to rely on the harshest of interrogation techniques to break inmates and extract whatever “confession” is sought by state prosecutors.
Last week, a very dangerous precedent was established, and the Ma administration must immediately set red lines and seek the prompt return to Taiwan of its citizens. Any failure on this front would be an invitation for Beijing to ante up its so-called extraterritorial rights and launch its own program of extraordinary rendition.
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