Imagine this: after being acquitted of a crime in a foreign country, you not released. Instead, you are deported, without your consent, to a country with a poor human rights record where your citizenship is not even recognized. This happened to 23 Taiwanese last week in Kenya.
On April 5th, half of a group of 76 of Chinese and Taiwan citizenship were acquitted on charges of cybercrime in Nairobi, Kenya. The acquitted were to be released and given 21 days to leave Kenya.
However, before Taiwan officials could react, Kenya acquiesced to Chinese pressure and illegally deported 8 of the acquitted Taiwanese men to the city of Guangzhou in mainland China (along with two Chinese citizens) on April 11th. This has become in personal nightmare for the Taiwanese involved as well as a diplomatic headache for the new government of Taiwan, which will assume leadership this May.
Yin Gang/Xinhua, via Associated Press
On Tuesday, April 12th, the rest of the acquitted Taiwanese, including 15 more Taiwanese citizens, were sent to China, despite resisting and barricading themselves inside their cells when Kenyan police came to extract them. “The episode outraged Taiwanese officials, who accused Kenya of violating international law and trying to curry favor with China” (New York Times).
The Kenyan authorities stated that all of the acquitted had violated Kenya’s visa policies. Mwenda Njoka, the spokesman for Kenya’s Interior Ministry, “insisted that they were deported, along with 12 Chinese suspects, to mainland China simply because the Kenyan policy is to return people to the country they flew from, and that all the Taiwanese had traveled to Kenya from China” (New York Times). It is important to note that China has invested significantly in the public infrastructure of Kenya in the past few years, and has even aided the government in developing its own national security.
On Wednesday, the Chinese government announced their rationale for the deportations: they planned on persecuting the men, despite their acquittal in Kenya, on charges of telecommunications fraud. However, Taiwanese cannot help but see this as a challenge from China towards the newly elected Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen. Truly, the “the deportations underscore the limited leverage of Taiwan’s government. Even though China and Kenya do not have an extradition treaty, Kenya has no diplomatic relations with Taiwan” (New York Times). Now in China, two of the men have apologized on Chinese television, in a confession akin to coerced confessions of Chinese “criminals” (such as human rights activists or critics of the ruling Communist Party) in the past.
This is not the first time that this has happened. “In February 2011, the Philippines deported 14 Taiwanese involved in an investment scam to China alongside 10 Chinese nationals, sparking anger in Taipei. Manila refused to apologize for the incident” (The Diplomat). A strong concern is that this will set an international precedent for other countries when dealing with criminals with Taiwanese citizenship. Thankfully just yesterday, Malaysia announced that it would not deport dozens of Taiwanese fraud suspects to China. However, it remains a shocking display of diplomatic impunity on the part of Kenya and China. What remains ambiguous about this grave incident is China’s motivation – is their perceived threat toward Taiwan real, or should their words be taken at face value? Interpreting these signals seem to be growing not only more challenging for the Taiwan administration, but also more dangerous as well.