Up to 45 Taiwanese citizens have been flown against their will from Kenya to mainland China, heightening cross-straits tensions and sparking a diplomatic crisis.
In a grainy cellphone video allegedly shot inside a Kenyan jail, a group of men barricade the cell door as a woman’s voice warns them to be careful of the armed police outside.
“Sir! We are Taiwan people, Taiwan people!” one shouts.
The police later used tear gas to force the prisoners out of their cell and onto a plane to China, Taiwan Foreign Ministry official Antonio Chen told reporters Tuesday.
Taiwan has denounced the “extrajudicial abduction” of its citizens as a “gross violation of basic human rights” and accused Kenyan and Chinese officials of ignoring a local High Court’s injunction against the deportations.
Acquitted, then deported
The alleged abductions come after a protracted legal affair in Kenya involving both Chinese and Taiwanese workers in the country who were accused of running a complex phone and internet scamming operation.
A Kenyan court acquitted the Taiwanese of all charges after which they were released. But their freedom was short lived, according to Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, which said in a statement that the workers were detained by police when they attempted to retrieve their passports on April 5.
Dozens of those detained were then “forcefully taken to a passenger plane of China Southern Airlines and sent to the mainland,” the Ministry said.
According to Chen, the Foreign Ministry official, one of the people deported to China is a dual Taiwanese-U.S. citizen.
The incident is the latest flare up between Taiwan — officially the Republic of China — and the Beijing-ruled People’s Republic of China.
Relations have been strained in recent months following the landslide election of Tsai Ying-wen as Taiwan’s next president.
Tsai is the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party, which has traditionally leaned in favor of greater independence from China, especially in comparison to the incumbent Nationalists, who built up ties with Beijing, leading to protests and unrest in Taiwan.
Under the “one China” policy, both governments claim sovereignty over mainland China and Taiwan — but crucially neither recognizes the other’s legitimacy.
However, the majority of countries — including the U.S. — only recognize the People’s Republic of China, and maintain only limited diplomatic relations with Taiwan, or none at all.
Asked about the alleged abductions in a regular news conference, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang said that “the one China policy is an important precondition for bilateral relations with China and other countries. We commend Kenya for implementing this policy.”
What happens next?
According to a statement from China’s Ministry of Public Security, Kenya is in the process of deporting 32 Chinese and 45 Taiwanese workers, all of whom it is sending to mainland China.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman An Fengshan suggested they would face further prosecution in China, despite being acquitted in Kenya. An also defended China’s right to charge the alleged fraudsters.
“As these criminals carried out their illegal activities abroad, and all the victims are residents of the mainland, the mainland naturally has legal jurisdiction.”
He added that the incident would be “beneficial to the peaceful development of cross-strait relations.”