Kenyan Repatriation and the Broken Window Effect
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 16, 2016
Executive Summary: The 1992 Consensus enabled the Ma Xi summit. But "maintaining the status quo" cannot ensure the repatriation of scam artists to Taiwan. Tsai Ing-wen cannot afford willfulness during her administration. Perhaps it is not too late for her to change her mind.
Full Text Below:
If cross-Strait relations were a building, it would now have a broken window. The Kenyan government arrested a number of Taiwanese scam artists. Beijing had them extradited to the Mainland, provoking condemnation from both the ruling and opposition parties. But on closer examination, this is more than just a simple criminal case. It is one loaded with political repercussions.
Beijing has adopted smoke screen tactics. In distant Africa, it has repeatedly released smoke screens. First it resumed diplomatic relations with Gambia. Then it arrested Taiwanese scam artists in Kenya. Because these incidents occurred far away, the psychological impact on Taiwan should have been more muted. But they may have exceeded Beijing's expectations. The Internet reaches far and wide. Images of Kenyan police breaking into houses were conveyed to millions of homes on Taiwan via cell phone. Many on Taiwan experienced the tension of the scene as if first hand.
Gambia was purely a diplomatic incident. Beijing choose a country that had already severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan two years ago. It was a relatively mild warning. The Mainland rattled its sabre ever so slightly as a deterrent. But the Kenyan case was far more substantial and real. First, eight Taiwanese scam artists were extradited. Then another 37 were caught in the dragnet. Kenya was more than saber rattling psychological intimidation.
Beijing's moves were not intended as justification for applying pressure to Taiwan. Resumption of diplomatic relations with Gambia could be interpreted a number of ways. Beijing could deny that it was issuing a warning to recently elected Taiwanese leaders. It could say the same about the extradition of Taiwanese scam artists. After all, Beijing was investigating a crime. Many of the victims were from the Mainland. It would be easy for the Mainland to argue that it was simply seeing justice done. When the Taiwan Affairs Office published the names of the victims during its press conference, it was arguing just that.
Here is the problem. Five years ago the Philippine government arrested a number of Taiwanese scam artists. Taipei and Beijing had an understanding. Taiwanese criminals would be returned to Taiwan. Mainland criminals would be returned to the Mainland. Now that understanding has been shattered. This is a new cross-Strait scenario. Even the man in the street gets it. This change in the political climate hinges on the 1992 Consensus. Since early March, Xi Jinping and a long line of Mainland leaders appeale to the new regime. But Tsai Ing-wen ignored them. She refused to respond. She refused to answer. Perhaps this is why Beijing is turning the screws.
Why has Beijing allowed this "broken window" in cross-Strait relations? Does it expect Tsai to recognize the 1992 Consensus in her inaugural address? Is this a way of applying pressure? Or has it given up on Tsai altogether, and resorting to drastic measures? When it comes to this issue, a miss is as good as a mile.
The "broken windows theory” says that once a single window is broken, eventually every window will be broken. This principle applies not just to crime. It also applies to politics. Beijing has been making moves for nearly half a month. In particular, it has shattered precedent by arresting Taiwanese criminals. Appeals regarding Mainland victims may move people. But the arrests have nevertheless provoked anger over ROC sovereignty, human rights, and jurisdiction. Tsai Ing-wen is about to be inaugurated. Yet Beijing has escalated confrontation in advance. Why not allow Tsai Ing-wen to comment on the 1992 Consensus first? Has it make it more difficult for Tsai Ing-wen to reverse her position?
What is Beijing's logic? Did Beijing anticipate the condemnation and grief emanating from Taiwan beforehand? Is this their cross-Strait "new normal"? If so, then Beijing has amended the "peaceful development" strategy it has practiced for the past few years. If so, then it intends to add conflict to peace, and give Taiwan a taste of the razor's edge. Tsai Ing-wen has yet to show her hand. If Beijing acts too hastily, it could make the problem worse. After all, President Ma is still in office. When the Mainland extradites Taiwanese to the Mainland, even Ma Ying-jeou must condemn its action, and Tsai Ing-wen will follow suit. Is the Mainland not concerned about the pros and cons?
Let us leave the domestic uproar aside for the moment. The Kenyan case involves crime, jurisdiction, emotions, hatred, even disputes over sovereignty. All of them bring us back to the 1992 Consensus. For the past five years, the Mainland has returned Taiwanese scam artists to Taiwan, because the 1992 Consensus provides for separate jurisdictions vis a vis criminal prosecutions. Now Beijing has suddenly reversed itself, all because Tsai Ing-wen persists in being evasive about the 1992 Consensus.
The 1992 Consensus enabled the Ma Xi summit. But "maintaining the status quo" cannot ensure the repatriation of scam artists to Taiwan. Tsai Ing-wen cannot afford willfulness during her administration. Perhaps it is not too late for her to change her mind.