Taiwan Government and International – August 2019

The massive protests in Hong Kong have been closely watched by people in Taiwan. Photo: Kevin Wang

Protests in Hong Kong Over Extradition Law

In June, mass protests erupted in Hong Kong in opposition to a proposed extradition law that would have allowed accused criminals to be sent to China (as well as Taiwan) for trial. The bill was introduced following the murder of a young woman at the hands of her boyfriend while they vacationed in Taiwan. Upon returning to Hong Kong, the man admitted committing the crime, but he could not be tried in Hong Kong courts as the deed occurred in another jurisdiction.

After nearly 2 million residents took to the streets to protest, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam suspended the bill, but demonstrations continued on the grounds that the bill had not been completely withdrawn. Finally Lam stated on July 9 that “the bill is completely dead.”

 A rally in Taipei in support of the Hong Kong protesters attracted an estimated 6,000 attendees. In addition, President Tsai Ing-wen strongly condemned the extradition bill in several speeches during June. She pledged that as long as she is President, she will not accept a “one country, two systems” solution for Taiwan and China.

President Tsai Visits Four Caribbean Allies

President Tsai Ing-wen visited four of Taiwan’s Caribbean allies between July 11 and 22 – Haiti, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Lucia. She met with senior leaders from each country. During a four-hour stop in Haiti, Tsai promised to “accompany Haiti on its development path,” though no new projects were announced. Her four days in St. Kitts and Nevis represented the first time a sitting Taiwanese President had gone to the island nation.

Tsai’s trip came at a time of heightened Chinese pressure on other countries to switch diplomatic recognition to Beijing. In 2017, Panama, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan, while Honduras and the Solomon Islands have signaled that they may soon follow suit. Currently, only 17 countries still maintain formal relations with Taiwan.

Stopovers Includes New York, Colorado

Trips to Central or South America enable Taiwanese presidents to make politically useful transit stops in the U.S. On this trip, President Tsai spent two nights in New York en route to the Caribbean. In a speech to students and faculty members at Columbia University, she stressed Taiwan’s democratic development and strategic importance, calling for greater international support for “free and democratic Taiwan.”

Taiwan has “been able to successfully adapt to the challenges of the U.S.-China trade war not despite our democracy, but rather thanks to it,” she said. She noted that Taiwan’s democratic system makes it open to diverse ideas, giving it the flexibility to “break the mold when the mold no longer fits.”

The U.S. stopover on the return leg of the journey brought Tsai to Colorado, the first time a Taiwanese president has gone to the Western state. In Denver she met with Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, one of Taiwan’s strongest supporters in Congress, and attended a banquet attended by some 700 Taiwanese-Americans.

As usual, China complained that it was a violation of the “One China” principle for the U.S. to receive a Taiwanese president, although the U.S. government does not accept that interpretation.

$2.2 Billion U.S.-Taiwan Armament Sale

China had another reason to voice unhappiness with Washington in July: the U.S. government’s confirmation of a US$2.2 billion arms deal with Taiwan that includes 108 M1A2T Abrams tanks, 250 Stinger surface-to-air missiles, as well as mounted machine guns, armored vehicles, and other equipment. Describing the deal as a “serious violation of international law,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang went beyond China’s previous complaints about U.S. military sales to Taiwan by threatening to impose sanctions on American companies that supply weapons to Taiwan.

The Abrams tanks are made by General Dynamics and the Stinger missiles by Raytheon. American companies are generally prohibited from engaging in military sales to China.

Rupert Hammond-Chambers, chairman of the Washington-based U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, said that “these tanks and missiles will provide the Taiwan army with a modern capability to deter and complicate the operational planning of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces that coerce and threaten Taiwan. They will also offer new opportunities to engage in cooperation with the United States in both the deployment and operations phases, and to maximize the effectiveness of the equipment.”

Taiwan is still waiting for response from the U.S. regarding its request to purchase 66 F-16V jet fighters to strengthen its air defenses.

Korea Returns Fraud Suspects to Taiwan

South Korea in July repatriated to Taiwan 22 Taiwanese nationals who had served sentences or been paroled after being convicted of telecom fraud, despite Beijing’s request that they be sent to China because the victims of the scam were Chinese. In similar cases, a number of other countries have transferred Taiwanese suspects to China.

On return to Taiwan, the 22 were charged by the Taichung District Prosecutor’s Office with violating the Organized Crime Prevention Act and were released on bail pending trial. The fraud ring was uncovered through cooperation between the Taiwan and Korean police.

Skating Competition Moves to Hong Kong

Apparently due to pressure from Beijing, the International Skating Union (ISU) has changed the venue of an Asian figure skating competition from Taipei to China, just months before the event was due to take place October 30 to November 3. The Chinese Taipei Skating Union (CTSU) blamed “invisible international pressure” as making it impossible to continue to hold the Asian Open Figure Skating Classic in Taipei. Although the ISU re-assigned the right to host the event to the Hong Kong Skating Union, it said the competition would actually take place in Dongguan in southern China. 

The CTSU came in for sharp public criticism for failing to strongly object to the sudden change in venue. Minister of Education Pan Wen-chung said he has asked the organization and the government’s Sports Administration to jointly appeal the ISU decision.