Grasping Overseas, China Risks Backlash

China’s increasing assertiveness in reaching across borders to apprehend or pressure overseas activists and critics was brought into the spotlight again this week by the forced deportations of 45 Taiwanese citizens from Kenya to China, allegedly out of pressure from Beijing. While Taiwanese officials have accused Kenya of violating international law in an effort to score points with Beijing, Chinese officials have praised the Kenyan government for respecting the One-China policy, “a necessary basis for all countries in the world in developing relations with China.” At the South China Morning Post, Lawrence Chung relays analysis of the situation from experts on both sides of the strait on the legality of the deportations, and on how Beijing could have better handled the situation:

Despite the fact the crime was committed in Kenya, the victims are in mainland China. Therefore the mainland’s jurisdiction is recognised by the territorial principle in , in which the state can exercise its jurisdiction based on the nationality of the victims,” Xue Lei, an expert at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said. “It is the common handling of transnational criminal cases like this in .”

His view was echoed by Justin Chen, vice-president of the ­Taipei-based Cross-Strait Policy Association, who said it was natural for Kenya to deport the suspects to the mainland as Nairobi, which has diplomatic ties with Beijing, considered Taiwan part of China.

“Kenya and China, both of which are parties of the Palermo Convention, have the obligation to cooperate in [transnational] organised crime,” said Simon Young, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong. [Source]

But at CNN, J. Michael Cole the Tsai-affiliated Thinking Taiwan website situates the deportations into mounting cross-strait political tensions, arguing that moves like this will only serve to further alienate the people of Taiwan:

Although such action risks being counterproductive in terms of winning the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese, this is possibly a case where ideology is driving policy in China, perhaps the result of domestic developments that are forcing President Xi Jinping’s government to adopt a harder line on Taiwan and other “peripheries.”

[…] The alleged abduction of the Taiwanese workers casts serious doubt on Beijing’s willingness to maintain a constructive relationship with Taiwan a little more than a month before a new administration is sworn in in Taipei.

[…] Besides the consternation that has pervaded Taiwanese society upon seeing their compatriots nabbed by Kenyan police and shoved, black hoods on their heads, onto a China Southern airplane, politicians from all sides are now calling into question the eight years of rapprochement under President Ma Ying-jeou, who steps down on May 20.

The “status quo” that has served as the foundation of cross-straits ties, as well as the different interpretations of “one China” that have provided the necessary flexibility for the two sides to co-exist, now seem under assault by Beijing.

[…] Beijing’s behavior will only succeed in alienating ordinary Taiwanese, among whom support for unification is at an all-time, single-digit low. For President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, this incident creates a challenge, as she will have to continue negotiating with a regime that has no compunction in breaking the rules and which is keen to extend the reach of its laws to include Taiwanese citizens, wherever they are. [Source]

The Kenya-China deportations come after Beijing has attracted criticism for reaching outside of its political jurisdiction to detain critics abroad. Five Hong Kong publishers known for releasing salacious titles on China’s top leadership emerged in China after disappearing from Hong Kong or Thailand late last year. Last October, 16-year-old Bao Zhuoxuan—the son of Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, both detained amid Beijing’s “Black Friday” crackdown on rights lawyers and activists—was detained from a guesthouse in Myanmar and placed under house arrest in China, allegedly in an effort to gain leverage in authorities’ negotiation with his parents. Last November, dissidents Jiang Yefei and Dong Guanping—both already granted official refugee status—were sent back to China by Thai authorities, allegedly on the urging of Beijing. (The Thai government has also helped to return journalists and would-be Uyghur refugees to China.)

In addition to urging  from foreign governments, Beijing has also been known to pressure overseas critics by orchestrating online smear campaigns, or by targeting members in China. In 2014, three Xinjiang-based brothers of D.C.-based Uyghur journalist Shohret Hoshur were detained. (Two of the brothers have reportedly been released, while a third is serving a five-year sentence for endangering state security.) Following the publication of an open letter calling for Xi Jinping’s resignation last month, U.S.-based dissident Wen Yunchao reported that his family had been “kidnapped” by authorities in effort to extract a confession to Wen’s involvement in the penning of the letter, which he denies.

Germany-based journalist , who criticized the detention of a China-based colleague over the letter, also reported that family members had been detained and threatened in Sichuan. In an op-ed for The New York Times, Chang Ping provides an update on the status of his family members, explains how these pressure tactics are part of a broader effort to influence the global media narrative on China, and justifies his refusal to comply with Chinese demands in terms of his journalistic duty:

These harsh acts are the offshoot of an ongoing attempt by Beijing to control the global conversation about China. Thousands of hackers backed by the Chinese government troll overseas websites and attack articles critical of Beijing. The Chinese government has invested in radio stations and newspapers in Western countries [see prior CDT coverage].

[…] In March, the police released my younger brother after a day and ordered him to contact me. Over the phone, he passed on three demands made by the police: recant my kidnapping accusations against the authorities in Sichuan; withdraw my recent Deutsche Welle article relating to President Xi; and pledge not to write any commentaries critical of the Chinese government. If I agreed, my brother said, the police promised they would release our siblings and drop the arson charges against our family.

[…] I decided not to cooperate. I posted online the text of my interaction with my brother to expose the government’s behavior, and I blocked his email address.

My story gained international attention. As pressure mounted, the police released my family on March 29 after they paid 33,000 yuan, or nearly $5,100, in bail money. Then the authorities arranged for my father and brothers to meet with the press and recite a “personal statement” that denied they had been kidnapped and to denounce me for publishing articles that were critical of the Chinese government. The authorities then officially opened a criminal investigation into my family over the arson charges.

Several friends who have been in touch with my family said they are angry with me. Some relatives have cursed me, calling me “unfilial.” But I believe my work, and the work of other journalists, is too important to abandon in the face of intimidation — even when it’s directed at our families. [Source]