The deportation debacle and Philippines-Taiwan-China relations

Mainland China (PPP) — These past couple of weeks, the Philippine government has its hands full in dealing with two Chinese governments – the Beijing based People’s Republic of China and the Taiwan based Republic of China.

Last week, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III send Vice President Jejomar Binay to Beijing to personally plead for the lives of three Filipinos facing death penalty for drug trafficking. In an unprecedented and unusual act, the Beijing government decided to review the case of the three Filipino convicts and postpone their execution. Chinese government and Communist Party of China (CPC) leaders also expressed its interest to further strengthen bilateral relations, judicial cooperation, and combined police efforts in fighting transnational crimes, including drug trafficking.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu said “Since President Aquino came into office, through joint efforts; China-Philippine relations have entered into a new development stage with sound cooperation across the board.”

This week, President Aquino has tapped former Senator Mar Roxas, President of Aquino’s political party, to be the Philippine government’s emissary to Taiwan to help mend relations soured by the Manila government’s deportation to Mainland China of several Taiwanese citizens wanted for criminal activities by both Beijing and Taiwan governments.

President Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Roxas has a three-pronged mission “The mission of Roxas’ visit is to listen to the complaint of Taiwan, to raise the issue of OFWs, and to preserve the friendship between the two countries”.

Was the Philippine government right in deporting the Taiwanese citizens to Mainland China? Will Philippines be violating the One-China policy in sending Roxas to Taiwan? Will Roxas’ three-pronged mission be successful? What would be the ramification of this deportation debacle – to Philippines, Taiwan, and China?  Was the Philippine government right in deporting the Taiwanese citizens to Mainland China?

I think the Philippine government was right in deporting to Mainland China the suspected Taiwanese criminals for the following reasons:

1.   It is in accordance with the One-China policy of which the Philippines adheres to. The Philippines has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan though it maintains economic and cultural ties with Taiwan through the state-owned enterprise Manila Economic and Cultural Office.

2.    The deported suspected criminals weren’t able to show documents that they were from Taiwan. I’ve asked a friend of President Aquino the moment the deportation issue hit the media. He told me that the suspected criminals are carrying Chinese papers and so it was but natural for the Philippines to deport them to China.

3.     The Taiwanese government representative in the Philippines acted slowly in representing the deportees which they claim as their citizens. I am likely to believe what Taiwanese Legislator Tsai Huangliang said when he accused Donald Lee, Chief of Manila Economic and Cultural Office of neglecting his duty. Tsai said the Taiwanese were arrested by Philippine authorities in late December and Lee had 38 days to negotiate with Manila before they were deported to China. According to information Tsai had received from Taiwanese businesspeople in the Philippines, Lee played golf many times during that time. Had Lee acted swiftly things could have been different.

4.     It would be difficult to prosecute the deportees in the Philippines since their alleged victims are not within Philippine shores, but Chinese nationals in mainland China. In other words, the Philippines wisest choice is to deport them to their country of origin which according to the joint investigation of NBI and Interpol is Mainland China.

Nevertheless, the Philippine government through former Senator Roxas must fully explain why there seems to be haste in deporting the suspected criminals? Why was it that the Philippine Supreme Court, back in 1982, had ruled that Taiwan enjoyed jurisdiction over its nationals who committed crimes in China? Why was it that in December 2010 another group of 11 Taiwanese who were suspects in another fraud case were deported to Taiwan and not to China? What would he say on the apologies made by MECO Chairman Amadeo Perez to the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs? Will Roxas apologize as well? I hope Roxas was properly briefed as to what to say and not what to say in Taiwan.

Will Philippines be violating the One-China policy in sending Roxas to Taiwan? The answer is simply “No”. Roxas is not holding any government office in the Philippines and thus sending him to Taiwan would not be a violation of the policy. Besides apologizing to Taiwan was not part of Roxas’ mission unless Roxas do so. But it could have been wiser if President Aquino have chosen a non-political entity and other backchannels to soothe the feelings of Taiwan.

Will Roxas’ three-pronged mission be successful? Based on the three purposes said by Lacierda, I think Roxas mission would be short of being successful. The Taiwanese government would not agree with the reasoning of the Philippines. The livelihood of 90,000 Filipinos in Taiwan would be at risk. Taiwan will continue on having retaliatory measures against the Philippines and MECO would wait for a year or so before it can open its office again in Taipei. Surely, Taiwan would tell Roxas and the Philippines government to establish a Manila-Taipei agreement on mutual judicial assistance and Philippines would again be caught in the dilemma in the face of the One-China policy.

What would be the ramification of this deportation debacle – to Philippines, Taiwan, and China?

For the Philippines, the effect would be more on the economic side. With about 90,000 Filipinos mostly domestic helpers earning a living in Taiwan and contributing in keeping the Philippine economy afloat, the Taipei government has leverage. Taiwan has taken retaliatory measures to express its disappointment with the Philippines. It has started hiring foreign workers from other poor Southeast Asian countries to replace Filipino workers. It has also imposed some requirements that prolonged the processing period for Filipinos wanting to get a job in Taiwan.The last thing I wouldn’t like to hear from the government in Manila is this – “Well, if Taiwan doesn’t want to hire our domestic helpers any longer, Mainland wants them.”

For Taiwan, the effect would be more on the ruling party – KMT led by incumbent President Ma Ying-jeo. President Ma who is up for re-election next year is on hot seat as the issue of One-China policy is again brought to the fore of Taiwanese politics. Opposition parties are accusing President Ma of abandoning KMT’s original principles and becoming a pro-Mainland China leader by reacting weakly to the deportation issue and to the Philippines invocation of the One-China policy. Taiwan opposition parties assailed Ma as misrepresenting Taiwan’s sovereign entity as an independent country from the Mainland.

For China, this deportation debacle is a win-win situation. First, the deportation issue would be an important precedent in enforcing the One-China policy. Second, albeit symbolically, it would make its claim stronger that Taiwan as a renegade province. Third, China’s strategic plan to establish a robust economic, political, and military relationship with the Philippines would go to a new level with Manila appearing to ally more itself with Beijing.

It appears that Philippines whether she likes it or not would always pass through the sensitive and sometimes dangerous ways of forging diplomatic, political, economic, and military ties with China while maintaining economic and cultural ties with Taiwan. Can the Philippines do this while asserting its national interest? It would be tough but yes the Philippines can.

J. Sun E.

Sun, a Filipino based in China, writes PH.CN on ProPinoy, a weekly column on Philippines-China relations, politics, history, and current events. He studied Political Science, History, and Foreign Languages in Philippines and China. Follow him on Twitter @phdotcn

  • UP nn grad

    GMAnews reports, and I hope this is true — that Malacanang has committed to “In the event that officials are found to have been involved in wrong doing, the Philippine authorities will act accordingly, including the possibility of punitive action, which for the Taiwan side would signify a kind of apology” —

    and that Malacanang makes a similar commitment to Pinoy-in-Pinas so that when Malacanang cabinet-members, UseCs, captains-and-above for AFP and PNP and other”…officials are found to have been involved in wrong doing, the Philippine authorities will act accordingly…” like relieving the erring official and taking away their target-shooting or twittering privileges and the practice of charging their own or their spouse’s personal expenses to their respective departments.

    • UP nn grad

      I wonder if Taipei had clarified what Malacanang means by “…found to have been involved”. When would it mean “..hard evidence found, submitted to courts, and courts conclude “guilty”!!!!” and when would testimonies before Congress or in front of tv-cameras or even pictures of dinners at LeCirque become good enough?

  • GabbyD

    umamin na pala si pnoy na nagkamali sila.

    hay naku. why didnt they wait for the “facts”? what are these “facts” anyways?

  • Bert

    “2. The deported suspected criminals weren’t able to show documents that they were from Taiwan. I’ve asked a friend of President Aquino the moment the deportation issue hit the media. He told me that the suspected criminals are carrying Chinese papers and so it was but natural for the Philippines to deport them to China.”-Mr. Sun, the author

    That is very confusing. If that is true, what is it that Taiwan is complaining about? Is the Taiwanese government that dumb, claiming Chinese criminals as their own citizens without any proof that they’re Taiwanese?

    Someone is doing a spin, I’m sure of that.

  • GabbyD

    and now i learn that there was a habeas corpus on the taiwanese? geez. someone screwed up.

  • GabbyD

    good article.

  • UP nn grad

    Noynoy administration disregard of Pilipinas rule of law again shows. As the history-dude blogger now speaking from Mainland China has revealed, “… the Philippine Supreme Court, back in 1982, had ruled that Taiwan enjoyed jurisdiction over its nationals who committed crimes in China…. that in December 2010 another group of 11 Taiwanese who were suspects in another fraud case were deported to Taiwan and not to (Mainland) China.”