Taiwan sends 3 Chinese nationals back to Malaysia

The trio had been seeking political refuge in the island while they awaited resettlement elsewhere
By Hsia Hsiao-hwa and Gu Ting for RFA Mandarin
2024.02.01
Taiwan sends 3 Chinese nationals back to Malaysia Three Chinese nationals, from left to right, Tian Yongde, Wei Yani and her son Huang Xingxing, flew from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Taiwan's Taoyuan Airport on the 30th, and jumped off the plane to seek emergency temporary relay asylum from the Taiwan government.
(Provided by Tian Yongde, left, and Wei Yani)

Three Chinese nationals who fled to Thailand in November and sought political asylum in Taiwan have been sent back to Malaysia, Radio Free Asia has learned.

Tian Yongde, Wei Yani and Huang Xingxing all hold temporary refugee cards issued by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, or UNHCR, in Bangkok. They arrived in Taiwan on a flight from Kuala Lumpur on Jan. 30 and declined to board an onward booking to Beijing.

Tian, 53, said the trio had hoped to be allowed to wait for resettlement in a third country in Taiwan rather than Thailand, where the authorities have repatriated a number of dissidents wanted by China in recent years.

But Taiwan’s Immigration Department confirmed on Thursday that all three people had been sent back to Malaysia on the morning of Feb. 1.

"Foreign passengers transiting through Taiwan should proceed to their onward destination, according to their original itinerary," the department told RFA. 

"Anyone not proceeding to their onward destination, and who doesn't hold either a valid visa or permit to enter Taiwan, will be returned to their previous destination in accordance with international aviation practices and existing laws," it said.

While Taiwan's government has been a vocal supporter of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, the island's record on offering a safe haven for dissidents and refugees has been patchy, amid growing calls for legislation governing the treatment of refugees. 

Previous cases

Chinese dissident Chen Siming, who refused to board a flight to China while transiting through Taiwan in September, was granted political asylum in Canada and arrived in Vancouver in October. 

Chen, an outspoken activist who recently published an open letter commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen massacre – a banned topic in China – fled from China in July to Laos, and then traveled on to Thailand. Fearful he would be arrested by Thai police, he bought a ticket to Guangzhou routed through Taiwan, and refused to take the second flight.

When asked by reporters why Chen was allowed to go to Canada while the three deported were deported back to their country of departure, an immigration official said that it was because Chen had contacted Canada to request asylum before he reached Taiwan.

In another case, Guangdong dissident Xiao Yuhui said earlier this month that he had been in Taiwan for a year after fleeing in a small boat by night to the Taiwan-controlled frontier island of Kinmen, where he served a three-month jail term for "illegally crossing a border." 

While Xiao wasn't sent away following his release, he said he is now stuck in Taiwan without a passport, unable to seek work and unable to leave.

"Taiwan doesn't have a refugee law, nor does it have diplomatic ties with countries like the United States and Canada," he said, adding that he had only been released to live in Taiwan because human rights groups there had offered to act as his guarantors.

Xiao made his name as a rights activist fighting for the rights of parents of second children born in breach of the "one-child" family planning policy, which ended in 2015.

ENG_CHN_TaiwanRefugees_02012024.2.jpeg
Xiao Yuhui said he fled mainland China and went into exile overseas to get rid of tyranny and seek freedom. Xiao, show in this undated photo, is stuck in Taiwan without a passport, unable to seek work and unable to leave. (Provided by Xiao Yuhui)

He told RFA that he helped families file nearly 300 administrative lawsuits against the government in a bid to win official status for these children.

He has been told by third countries that he needs to present himself on their soil in order to be considered for political asylum there. "I have no choice now but to leave Taiwan," he said in an interview with RFA Mandarin on Jan. 11.

Zeng Jianyuan, chairman of the overseas-based New School for Democracy, said Xiao is stranded due to the lack of legislation on refugees in Taiwan.

He called on the Taiwanese authorities to remedy the situation.

"I think Taiwanese should understand that we're not extending some kind of mercy-like favor to Xiao Yuhui and the small number of refugees who come here," he said. "A country founded on the principles of human rights should shoulder its international obligations."

Accused of leaking secrets

Tian, who is now back in Malaysia, is also rights activist who has previously volunteered for the 64 Tianwang Rights website, whose founder Huang Qi is currently serving a jail term for "leaking state secrets," as well as the Weiquanwang and Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch websites, both of which track rights violations by the ruling Communist Party.

Chinese authorities began keeping tabs on Tian in 2005 when he visited the home of ousted former Premier Zhao Ziyang who was removed from power in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and kept under house arrest for 16 years.

After that, Tian was prevented from earning a living and was repeatedly hauled in for questioning by police for writing articles or taking part in street protests and other forms of activism.

RFA was not immediately able to verify the account of Tian and his traveling companions, but they forwarded images of the identification cards provided to them by the U.N. refugee agency.

“I was arrested twice for ‘subversion of state power’ in 2009 and 2011,” Tian said. “The first time, I gave materials to petitioners, and I was said to be illegally holding state secrets.”

The other two people – 53-year-old Wei Yani and 17-year-old Huang Xingxing – are mother and son. They are unrelated to Tian, and only met him once they arrived in late November in Thailand. They eventually made plans to travel together.

Wei said she was imprisoned four times in China for a total of 10 years for petitioning for basic rights for herself and for friends. Authorities accused her of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” and “subverting state power,” she told RFA.

She said she had trouble finding work after she was released from prison in June, and also had one more criminal trial pending.

Tian's removal came after he recorded a video at Taiwan's Taoyuan Airport, in which he said he felt safer in Taiwan than in Thailand.

Chinese journalist Li Xin and human rights defender Tang Zhishun were kidnapped in Thailand and Myanmar respectively, while Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai was taken from his holiday home in Phuket.

Another Chinese national, Wang Jianye, was executed after being extradited from Thailand in 1995 despite assurances that he wouldn't face the death penalty.

And in July 2018, authorities in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing jailed rights activist Dong Guangping and political cartoonist Jiang Yefei after they were sent home from Thailand as they were awaiting resettlement as political refugees, prompting an international outcry.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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