CHINA CARRIED out a strange seizure in Kenya over the past week. While the circumstances are a bit murky, China appears to have grabbed two groups of Taiwanese who were suspected or accused of fraud in Kenya. Against their will, they were deported to China, provoking protests in Taiwan. The case speaks volumes about China’s growing power in Africa and might be another example of its pernicious practice of nabbing people beyond its borders.
Taiwan, a self-governing island, is considered by China a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland. Taiwan officials angrily accused Beijing of an “uncivilized act of extrajudicial abduction.” Overall, 45 Taiwanese were forcibly taken to China, in two flights on April 8 and April 12, some in hoods and handcuffs. Taiwan could do little but protest; it has no diplomatic relations with Kenya. China insists that nations cannot have diplomatic relations with both China and Taiwan.
According to news reports, some of the Taiwanese had been acquitted in Kenya on charges of cyber- and telecom fraud. Kenyan authorities discovered a house in Nairobi full of electronics and telecommunications equipment and then made arrests. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security said in a statement distributed by the state news agency Xinhua that many more people were involved — 77, including 45 Taiwanese and 32 mainlanders — all suspected of being part of a criminal syndicate in Nairobi, posing as law enforcement officers and making phone calls across nine Chinese provinces and cities, cheating victims out of millions of yuan, the Chinese currency. Kenya said the people involved had violated their visas, so the deportations were justified.
The incident is a sign of China’s growing clout in Africa. China is the continent’s top trading partner, and, while exporting commodities, it has poured billions of dollars into infrastructure — highways, bridges, malls and airports — in Kenya and elsewhere.
At the same time, the seizures appear similar to an increasingly frequent and objectionable Chinese practice of snatching people beyond the mainland. Last year, China reached across the border into Burma to nab the fleeing 16-year-old son of human rights lawyers who were detained in China. In 2002, Wang Bingzhang, a democracy activist, was abducted while on a trip to Vietnam and sentenced to life in prison in China. In Hong Kong, a former British colony turned over to China with an explicit promise that it could preserve its freedoms, booksellers vanished as they were preparing to publish a book that could have embarrassed President Xi Jinping. One bookseller disappeared from a beachfront apartment in Thailand.
Were the Taiwanese in Kenya the latest to be grabbed by China’s long arm abroad? Whether they are criminals or dissidents, the practice is unacceptable. A Taiwanese official said the seizures were “rude and savage.” It sure looks that way.