by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: UDN
DEPORTATION OF Taiwanese nationals from Kenya to China, rather than Taiwan, provokes anger. The Taiwanese nationals were arrested on charges of telecoms fraud, along with 54 Chinese, though this has also been variously reported on as operating telecommunications equipment without a license and cybercrime. Originally ordered to leave the country within 21 days, despite having previously been acquitted, eight of the arrested Taiwanese were then deported to China rather than Taiwan after pressure from the Chinese government. After a period of time in which their fate was unclear, the other 37 subsequently were also deported to China.
It is reported that force was used against fifteen Taiwanese when they attempted to resist being deported to China. This was with the use of tear gas and being threatened with assault rifles. The deportation of Taiwanese nationals to China rather than Taiwan has been referred to as the “kidnapping” of these individuals. A total of 45 individuals have been deported to China.
Video of the arrested. Film credit: UDN
What has provoked shock would be the total superseding of Taiwanese authority by Chinese authority which we see in the actions of Kenyan authorities. Taiwan is, of course, de facto independent of China, but lacks de jure recognition. That is to say, Taiwan is not legally recognized as independent of China by the international community despite it having a government altogether separate from that of China and otherwise being a self-ruled nation.
But it is that Taiwan’s de facto independence only holds up as its juridical existence as separate from that of China is also de facto recognized by the international community in some sense. For example, if one were to try and conduct business with Taiwanese companies, it would not be possible to try and claim Chinese laws as applying to Taiwan and superseding Taiwanese law, given that Taiwan has its own legal codes as completely separate from those of China and Chinese authority has no say over Taiwanese government within Taiwan. Nevertheless, this seems to be a case in which China claims its legal authority as superseding that of Taiwan, in line with its claims to rightful territorial sovereignty of Taiwan and authority over Taiwanese nationals.
It would be that, under pressure, Kenya has sided with Chinese authority. Taiwan does not have formal relations with Kenya, given that Kenya recognizes the People’s Republic of China rather than the Republic of China. Chinese investment in Kenya is high, as we see in the signing of multibillion dollar deals with the Kenyan government for Chinese infrastructure building projects. If China has sought to strengthen political and economic ties with Africa in recent years, as a way of extending Chinese influence into Africa, the Kenyan government has been a welcome partner. It is reported that the decision that the arrested Taiwanese nationals did not need to be face trial in Kenya came from the Kenyan Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
President Xi Jinping of China shaking hands with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya. Photo credit: News.cn
So it is not altogether surprising that China has been able to have its way where the deportation of the Taiwanese to China rather than Taiwan is concerned, with the total disregarding of Taiwanese authority by the Kenyan government. China is quite often able to effectively marginalize Taiwan in the international community by throwing its political and economic weight around. But this would seem to have been taken to another height altogether, if China is now able to influence another nation to completely disregard Taiwanese authority where the rights of its nationals abroad are concerned. If China is able to influence more nations to simply start disregarding Taiwanese legal authority and treat Taiwanese nationals abroad as though they were just Chinese citizens, this would be deleterious for Taiwan’s ability to maintain itself as a de facto independent nation-state.
Why would these kidnappings occur in the present? Some have pointed to the kidnappings as intended to send a warning to Tsai Ing-Wen, the incoming DPP president of Taiwan. China is wary of a DPP presidency leading to Taiwan drifting further away from unification, the DPP often being perceived as a pro-independence party. This would certainly be one explanation for the kidnappings, putting a damper on predictions of improved cross-strait relations under a DPP presidency through Chinese acceptance of the Tsai presidency. Yet this is in part why the kidnappings seem so inscrutable as an action of Chinese foreign policy, seeing as Taiwanese wariness of China has only been set on edge again by present events.
The kidnappings have led to strong reactions. Even Hung Hsiu-Chu, recently elected chairperson of the KMT, would see fit to denounce Kenya, though it remains opaque as to the KMT’s views on China. Andrew Hsia of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council and Zhang Zhijun of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office would spend fifty-five minutes on the cross-straits hotline discussing the issue today.
However, we might note that the kidnappings fit with the broader pattern we have seen as of late, with kidnappings of nationals from in territories and countries that China claims as part of itself. The kidnapping of five Hong Kong booksellers who published tabloid-style exposes on Chinese Community Party leaders and their reappearance within China for televised public confessions of guilt recalls present events. This is especially so in the case of Gui Minhai, who was kidnapped while in Thailand—which seems very unlikely to have happened without cooperation of the Thai government with the Chinese government.
It seems that China has taken the strategy of acting as though it has absolute freedom to do whatever it pleases to the nationals of countries and territories it claims as part of its territory, as though they were already Chinese citizens, and then forcing other governments to conform to this. Certainly, this is an effective strategy of psychological warfare against what China deems to be “separatism” in Taiwan or Hong Kong, if it seems unlikely that this would heighten pro-unification sentiment in any way, rather than lead to increased wariness of China
China has attempted in the past to extend Chinese legal authority to Taiwan in bizarre manner, for example, by attempting to issue orders to Kaohsiung police. This has not worked, of course, because Chinese authorities has no way of enforcing authority over Taiwanese authorities within Taiwan. Yet outside of Taiwan, China is able to infringe upon Taiwan to a much greater degree.
There is the obvious fact that Taiwan is excluded from many international organizations, as a result of the fact that recognition of the ROC and PRC is mutually exclusive. But Taiwan’s overall de facto independence in international relations only holds up so long as other countries continue to regard Taiwanese governmental authority as having de facto authority separate from that of China—without Chinese authority superseding that of Taiwan to the extent that Taiwanese authority can be disregarded. This what seems to be threatened in the present.
Against the claim that Taiwan will be able to normalize relations with the rest of the world under the present framework of the ROC, this would be another means by which the mutually exclusive nature of recognition of the ROC and PRC becomes a choke point for the PRC to inveigh upon and ultimately override Taiwanese sovereignty. From the response of the Kenyan government, we can also see from present events how within the framework of 1992 Consensus of “One China, two interpretations” between the ROC and PRC governments, the “One China” aspect almost always overrides the “two interpretation” aspects as the 1992 Consensus is understood by the international community. So present events go back to larger, more systemic issues where the relation of Taiwan and China is concerned.
New Power Party press conference calling for the release of the kidnapped individuals. Photo credit: New Power Party
Political parties within Taiwan such as the New Power Party have been strong in expressing disapproval of the treatment of the kidnapped Taiwanese and called for their release. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also issued a strongly worded statement of disapproval. But where do answers remain to be found? Ultimately, such threats to Taiwan remain present as long as fundamental questions of Taiwan’s lack of international recognition are unresolved and as long as Taiwan remains yoked to the stranglehold of “one China.” Unless such questions are resolved, China would always be able to inveigh upon Taiwan autonomy or even supersede Taiwanese autonomy altogether. In this sense, the kidnapping of Taiwanese nationals in Kenya is a dangerous sign of the future.