by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Xinhua

CHINA’S APPARENT lack of interest in recovering money stolen by Chinese fraud victims by Taiwanese criminals illustrates that cross-strait relations have apparently taken precedent over settling questions of justice for China. If the Tsai administration is smart, it will leverage on this fact.

Namely, in the year since the Tsai administration took office, there have been many incidents of Taiwanese criminals who commit telephone fraud against Chinese citizens while operating telephone fraud rings outside of Taiwan being deported to China, rather than Taiwan. This occurs despite protests from Taiwan, as a result of which issue has been framed as China “kidnapping” Taiwanese citizens in many news reports.

In truth, by the standards of international law, China is fully within its rights to deport Taiwanese criminals who have committed crimes against Chinese citizens to China. This occurs because it is standard procedure to process criminals in the country in which the victims of their crimes reside—not because, as is sometimes reported, because they may have transited into the country from which they were deported from China.

As part of its justification for deporting Taiwanese citizens to China rather than Taiwan, apart from the question of China’s claims of sovereignty over Taiwan, China claims that Taiwanese criminals would get off with lax punishment in Taiwan. Unfortunately, it is true that Taiwanese criminals who commit fraud while abroad sometimes do get off with light sentences. Telephone fraud committed by Taiwanese criminals abroad is a problem that Taiwanese authorities need to address. This is particularly true because of the damage to Taiwan’s reputation as a country which upholds rule of law, unlike China in many cases, something Taiwan leverages upon in efforts to distinguish itself from China.

However, it also is the case that China uses the issue as a way of threatening Taiwan to comply with its wishes. Again, China may be within its legal rights to deport Taiwanese citizens to China according to international law, if the individuals who they have committed crimes against are Chinese. This entirely different from cases in which China detains Taiwanese citizens within China illegally and without explanation, such as ongoing detention of human rights activist Lee Ming-Che. Nevertheless, it would be quite surprising if China does not to use the opportunity of arrested Taiwanese criminals who have committed crimes against Chinese citizens as a way to flex its muscles abroad in terms of its ability to force the countries in which Taiwanese criminals have been arrested in to deport these criminals to China instead of Taiwan, drowning out the voices of protesting Taiwanese officials.

In truth, such actions probably only push Taiwan further away from China, because despite the fact that China is acting within its legal rights when it comes to Taiwanese criminals. China’s willingness to forcefully ensure that these criminals are departed to China instead of Taiwan generates the opposite perception, that China does not uphold rule of law and that it is breaking international law in its actions. When China then does kidnap Taiwanese citizens who have not done anything wrong illegally, such as Lee Ming-Che, this just adds further to negative views of China in Taiwan and the view that China’s actions are illegal. Indeed, with authoritarian regimes as the Chinese government, the use of harsh means to frighten dissent into silence sometimes simply leads to greater distrust of the regime.

Nevertheless, through acting in good faith, such attempting to return money stolen from Chinese victims by Taiwanese criminals or taking steps to ensure that Taiwanese criminals who commit crimes against Chinese victims do not get off with light sentences, the Taiwanese government can show that it is different from China in the way it conducts itself internationally.

In other words, the Tsai administration could seize the opportunity to take the high moral ground in acting in a more just and more transparent manner than the Chinese government. This should be how it conducts telephone fraud cases committed by Taiwanese criminals against Chinese victims in treating Taiwanese and Chinese equally—without attempting to allow Taiwanese criminals to get off easy simply because they are Taiwanese. Indeed, if China acts differently in refusing to assist in efforts to return Chinese money because of the deterioration of cross-strait relations, no matter the effect on Chinese victim, this could be an opportunity to distinguish Taiwan and China in how they handle crime case and regarding whether questions of international justice are subject to the politics of cross-strait relations.

And so the Tsai administration’s handling of attempts to return money to Chinese victims of Taiwanese telephone could be an example for future action. We will see if the Tsai administration is intelligent enough to seize on this opportunity, however, or, as with many cross-strait matters including backing away from actively pushing for Taiwan’s participation in international organization, it simply lets this opportunity pass by.

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