On February 17, the Spanish government approved the extradition of about 200 Taiwanese people to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on telecom fraud charges. This act represents the latest in a series of deportations of Republic of China (ROC) citizens to the PRC and conducted in tandem with the marginalization of Taiwan in multilateral organizations and in its formal diplomatic relations. The extrajudicial deportations conducted by the PRC against private citizens of Taiwan are a dangerous subversion of international norms meant to intimidate Taiwan’s government and its people.
The first wave of deportations began in April 2016, when the PRC escalated from marginalizing Taiwan in international organizations to essentially kidnapping Taiwanese citizens from Kenya. On April 5, a group of Chinese-speaking foreigners were acquitted of cybercrime charges in Nairobi. The group included 23 Taiwanese citizens, eight of whom were deported to China against their will on April 8. The remaining 15 were then deported to China on April 12. By the end of April, 45 Taiwanese citizens were in custody in the PRC, though it remains unclear as to where the other 22 were arrested. Shortly after the deportations from Kenya, Beijing sanctioned a loan for $600 million.
Similar deportations took place across the world. Earlier in March 2016, 52 Taiwanese were arrested in Malaysia for charges of telecom fraud. Of those arrested, 20 were returned to Taiwan in April and later released, much to the PRC’s anger. The remaining 32 Taiwanese, however, were deported to China in May with a larger group of PRC citizens when Malaysia succumbed to pressure from China. Next, the Cambodian government deported 25 Taiwanese in June and another 13 Taiwanese in September to the PRC. Armenia followed suit in September, deporting 78 Taiwanese suspects of telecom fraud. Vietnam was the first country to follow this trend in 2017, deporting four Taiwanese in January. If the past year is any indication, we can only expect to see more extrajudicial deportations of Taiwan’s citizens to the PRC.
Taken in isolation, the deportations would be alarming enough—that they are occurring in tandem with diplomatic measures by the PRC to further isolate Taiwan only underscores their significance. The first diplomatic attack came in March 2016, when China played its hand and re-established ties with The Gambia, three years after the African nation formally recognized the “One-China” policy. It was a less-than-subtle symbolic action signaling to Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen of things to come if she did not make a commitment to the so-called “1992 Consensus,” the agreement formed between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Nationalist Party (KMT) that each side of the Strait could hold its own interpretation of the “One-China” policy. In December, Beijing reinstated formal ties with São Tomé and Principe.
Apart from picking off formal diplomatic partners, Beijing squeezed Taiwan’s ability to join multilateral organizations throughout 2016. Although Taiwan is not recognized as a “nation” by the UN, Taiwan has attended the annual World Health Organization’s (WHO) assembly as an observer since 2009. However, for the first time in May 2016, Taiwan was invited under the auspices of the “One-China” policy. In the same month, Beijing cut off official communications with Taiwan shortly after President Tsai’s inauguration, probably because she did not explicitly “accept” the 1992 Consensus in her speech, although she did acknowledge the fact that the meetings took place. In September, Taiwan was snubbed from the important International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) global safety meeting because Beijing claims it as an “inseparable part of China,” in the words of Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang (陸慷).
Banning Taiwan from participating in multilateral forums such as the ICAO, and limiting its role in the WHO jeopardize the security of Taiwan’s populace, and also the world population. Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) oversees the Taipei Flight Information Region, which covers 180,000 nautical miles (nm). For the last 40 years, Taiwan has not had direct access to the safety regulations of the ICAO, and yet it handles the safety of 58 million travelers annually and is connected to 135 cities. Globally, Taiwan ranked 12th in volume of international passengers in 2016 (for perspective, the highest ranking US city was New York at 16th). All this is to say that the exclusion of Taiwan does more harm than good for everyone, except the PRC government.
Taken together, the deportations of accused Taiwanese and the strategic reduction of Taiwan’s diplomatic partners demonstrate Beijing’s aggressive “diplomacy warfare” against Taiwan. International organizations and the foreign policy community have been conditioned to accept a certain level of bullying from China against Taiwan. However, if the PRC is not held accountable for its actions regarding the deportations, a dangerous precedent will be set. China will be emboldened to continue taking actions against Taiwan’s private citizens and violate other international norms to meet its foreign policy interests. If we extend Beijing’s logic for the deportation of Taiwanese citizens to the PRC, any person of interest who carries a ROC passport could be “claimed” as a PRC national. As Kenya’s Home Affairs Ministry spokesman, Mwenda Njoka, said, “[The suspects] came through China, so let them go back there. Let them deal with China. That is their problem.” Other countries, reliant on the PRC for trade, investment, or development aid, have already begun to adopt similar approaches to please their patron-state.
Following Spain’s deportation ruling, China defended its actions, saying that the deportations “[have] won widespread international approval.” Though there is no evidence of international praise, there also has not been enough of an outcry. The complicity of the countries involved in sending private citizens to a third-party country is disturbing. The people accused of crimes may indeed be guilty, but without even having a trial in the country where the crimes were committed, they are being transported to China, whose judicial system is notoriously corrupt. Or, in the case of Kenya, even if they are acquitted by the country’s court, they may still be sent to the PRC. The power-play by the PRC demonstrates its superior international influence and threatens the personal safety of Taiwan’s citizens who, while traveling abroad, may suddenly find that their host country considers them citizens of the PRC, subject to its government and law enforcement.
In the subsequent articles of this curated GTB issue, readers will learn and hopefully appreciate how Taiwan’s government and policymakers work to address issues for the betterment of its people, and the international community. As the US struggles to adapt its national security policies to handle unconventional threats such as cyber warfare and sophisticated non-state actors such as ISIS, it is imperative to maintain the integrity of international laws designed to enhance cooperation and reduce violent conflict. If any state openly uses a heady combination of investment and development to bribe other states into violating due process and capturing private foreign citizens, the security concerns become overwhelming. Thus, the deportations of accused Taiwanese criminals is not an internal issue or a regional spat about judicial procedures, but a series of acts that harms the integrity of international norms.
The main point: Taiwan’s international space and the freedom of its civilians were increasingly threatened throughout 2016 by the PRC government. Deporting Taiwanese from third-party countries to the PRC involved complicity by host countries as well as a violation of international norms by China. The US and other nations should work to preserve and expand Taiwan’s international participation because of its ability to contribute to solutions for global challenges that impact the world.