by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: N509FZ/WikiCommons/CC

THE ISSUE OF Taiwanese extradited to China from abroad for criminal charges, instead of being sent back to Taiwan, has been focused on in the media as of late. In particular, the issue has become more widely discussed after a report by NGO Safeguard Defenders.

According to the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), 666 Taiwanese nationals have been extradited to Taiwan around the world, though the MAC did not specify what period of time that these extraditions took place within. The Safeguard Defenders report stated that over 600 Taiwanese nationals had been extradited to China from 2016 to 2019. 

Many of these extraditions took place because Taiwanese were accused of engaging in crimes while abroad, as part of mass arrests. Most commonly, these are telecom fraud rings operating abroad, sometimes involving a combination of Taiwanese and Chinese. Countries from which extraditions or deportations have taken place include Armenia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Kenya, the Philippines, Spain, and Vietnam. 

The cover of the Safeguard Defenders report

In recent comments, the Taiwanese government has sought to highlight that the extraditions took place without any consultation with Taiwan by the countries that conducted them. Such countries have extradition treaties with China, but not with Taiwan. 

Such Taiwanese may have genuinely committed crimes abroad, though some claim to have been tricked into working in telecom rings, and having their passports confiscated, preventing them from returning to Taiwan. Sometimes such telecom rings are primarily targeting Chinese nationals. 

It is not unusual for individuals to be extradited to the countries where the victims of their crimes are. Nor is it unusual for individuals that have committed crimes to be extradited to the countries that they originally transited from. 

Nevertheless, according to the report, the extraditions picked up in pace after 2016, once the Tsai administration took power, suggesting that China was using the extraditions as a means to pressure the Taiwanese government even if responding to what may have been real crimes.

In particular, Minister of Justice Chiu Tai-san stated that most individuals extradited to China were later sent to Taiwan. Chiu asserted that this took place because it would prove difficult for China to seek compensation for such incidents of fraud otherwise, since the funds were usually sent back to Taiwan. As such, compensating the victims of such fraud would be difficult without cooperating with Taiwanese authorities. 

Chiu’s claim, then, would be to suggest that Chinese extraditions were primarily performative and meant as a show of intimidation directed at Taiwan, since in reality, it would be difficult for Chinese law enforcement to compensate victims without working with Taiwan. Nevertheless, Chiu’s comments were probably aimed at demonstrating that cooperation is possible between Taiwan and China regarding law enforcement, if the latter is willing to conduct this on an equal basis. 

Indeed, there has been increasing concern about China’s use of international law enforcement mechanisms to pursue its political aims in past years. The Safeguard Defenders report was released shortly after another report on Chinese influence in Interpol, with fears that China uses Interpol to conduct politically-motivated arrests. One also remembers the international spectacle that ensued when Interpol head Meng Hongwei, a Chinese national, was secretly arrested in September 2018, disappearing from the public eye without warning. Meng was later sentenced to thirteen-and-a-half years in jail in January 2020. 

Lee Ching-yu, Lee Ming-che’s wife, in Taoyuan International Airport during a failed attempt to visit Lee in China in January 2018. Photo credit: 尋找李明哲/Facebook

In this way, it would not be surprising that China might seek to use Taiwanese who have committed crimes abroad to pressure the Tsai administration. To this extent, one notes that a number of Taiwanese are currently held in China on politically-motivated charges. This includes human rights NGO worker and activist Lee Ming-che, who has now been held in China for close to five years. 

China has suggested in the past that it may ban Taiwanese independence advocates or seek to use international law enforcement mechanisms against advocates of Taiwanese independence. China has taken a similar tack regarding the Hong Kong National Security Law, which is global in scope; to this extent, the extradition bill that sparked the 2019 protests stirred up fears in Hong Kong because of the possibility that it would be used to extradite Hongkongers to China to face charges for democracy advocacy. At the same time, one notes that other Taiwanese currently detained in China on political charges include pro-unification advocate Tsai Chin-shu and KMT member Shih Cheng-ping, indicating how more than independence advocates may be targeted. 

According to the MAC, 149 Taiwanese have gone missing in China since 2016. However, not all may be imprisoned by China, others may have met with accidents or simply be unable to be contacted. Yet whether in China or abroad, it may be that the long arm of the CCP proves a threat for Taiwanese. 

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