[My editor at South China Morning Post (HK) allowed me to post this article I wrote together with SCMP’s Taipei correspondnt Lawrence Chung. I am posting this is in the hope that it will contribute to discussions on this hotly debated issue.]
Taipei, Manila in talks on deportations
Raïssa Robles in Manila and Lawrence Chung in Taipei
Taiwan has quietly begun lobbying Philippine lawmakers to back an agreement that will protect its residents against being summarily deported to the mainland, where they often face harsh criminal charges.
Officials in both Manila and Taipei confirmed this to the Sunday Morning Post.
A Philippine official familiar with the discussions said the Foreign Relations Committee under the House of Representatives had set up a team to look into the issue.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry deputy spokesman Steve Shia also confirmed that the two sides were working on an agreement ‘to institutionalise the judicial co-operation mechanism between Taiwan and the Philippines’.
Taipei is pursuing similar arrangements with other countries.
Analysts in Taiwan believe Taipei has already reached a tacit understanding with the mainland over the deal. They expect Beijing will not make too much noise over it.
‘Improvement in the cross-strait relationship since Ma Ying-jeou took office has made this possible. Opposing a deal like this will only give the pro-independence camp ammunition to attack Ma’s engagement policy,’ said political analyst George Tsai Wei, a professor at the Chinese Cultural University in Taipei.
He noted that Beijing did not block Taiwan’s effort to join the World Health Assembly as an observer and made no objection when the self-ruled island signed visa waiver agreements with other countries. All these events happened after Ma took office.
On Monday, Ma told a group of visiting Canadian congressman that ‘improvement in cross-strait relations has helped Taiwan expand its participation in international affairs’.
Liao Yu-lu, chief of the department of criminal investigation at Taiwan’s Central Police University, said signing the 2009 cross-strait agreement on crime-fighting with Beijing meant Taiwan could now go ahead with formalising its judicial co-operation with other countries.
Just last month, the mainland and Taiwanese authorities worked with Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand on the arrest of 598 phone-scam suspects in their respective areas. All the Taiwanese suspects were repatriated to the island.
Still, many Asian governments see the issue as a delicate one, fearing it may anger Beijing.
The Philippine working group handling the issue said it had made a recommendation to the government on how to handle the negotiations: adhering to the ‘one China’ policy but working actively with Taipei within that framework to enhance trade, economic, investment, education and cultural ties between the two sides.
It noted that neighbouring Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam had ‘astutely deepened and expanded their relations’ with Taiwan, without objections from Beijing.
The need for an agreement between Taipei and Manila was raised after the Philippines repatriated 14 suspected Taiwanese criminals to the mainland earlier this year. The move was criticised in both Taiwan and the Philippines as inappropriate.
Shia said before the incident, Manila had regularly repatriated suspected criminals to Taiwan. He said the controversy prompted Ma’s administration to seek a formal mechanism with the Philippines. Shia said the two sides would make public the agreement as soon as the negotiation was complete and the pact signed. Ministry officials said the two sides set up their negotiation teams in early May for initial working function-level talks.
In the Philippines, congressman Roilo Golez, vice-chairman of the House of Representatives defence committee and a former national security adviser, said that finding a mechanism with Taiwan would need Beijing’s co-operation. He noted that the Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement between Manila and Hong Kong was authorised by Beijing.