Ugly politics as Tsai slams trial door

Editorial | Mary Ma 21 Oct 2019

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said it was a relief that murder suspect Chan Tong-kai was willing to hand himself in to Taiwan after finishing serving his sentence for a lesser crime in Hong Kong next week.

That's a most unwarranted statement from Lam.

The case has been a total tragedy, not only for the victim Poon Hiu-wing and her parents, but for Hong Kong as a whole.

Poon was allegedly killed by her boyfriend Chan during a holiday in Taiwan last year. Both were Hong Kong citizens.

Despite Lam's words, nobody is feeling any relief at all after watching how Hong Kong has been battered by more than four months of violence between protesters and police.

Lam was too early to express relief for another reason: Chan may be unable to go to Taiwan at all to stand trial there because of concerns over political implications that his case could mean for Taipei.

A few days after the SAR administration revealed that Chan was willing to voluntarily surrender himself to Taiwan following his release from prison later this week, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council indicated strongly that Chan - and his counsellor, Hong Kong Anglican Church's secretary general Peter Koon - may be barred from entering the island.

This may have caught Lam by surprise, but it has everything to do with cross-strait relations that have been in a state of animosity since the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party came to power in Taiwan in the last presidential election.

It seems Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen may not want Chan to set foot on the island during the final months of the current presidential election period, in which the DPP president is leading in nearly all the polls ahead of Kuomintang candidate Han Kuo-yu.

Officially, the Taiwan council insisted that: first, Chan should be tried in a Hong Kong court and Taiwan investigators would be ready to forward their findings to the city; and, second, the background of Koon as a political adviser to Beijing despite his official religious clerical duties would require stringent scrutiny prior to admission to Taiwan.

What the council stopped short of saying probably involved political concerns over what Chan's trial in Taiwan would mean to the electoral balance that is currently favorable to the pro-independence camp.

After all, rows over a proposed bill related to Chan's case have plunged Hong Kong into a fiery hell for months.

It's a question of uncertainty. I suspect that Taipei would be prepared to give the green light to Chan standing trial there if Tsai wins re-election on January 11.

But one doesn't have to be Taiwan's former president Ma Ying-jeou to see the mistake in politicizing a criminal case for reasons other than judicial justice.

The rationale should be simple. Chan allegedly murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan. Although both were from Hong Kong, the crime scene was in Taiwan.

Because of the common law system practiced here, mainstream legal opinions have been that Chan cannot be tried in Hong Kong courts.

For the sake of justice, Taiwan should accept Chan's standing trial there.

The hurdle unnecessarily created by Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council will backfire on Tsai's re-election attempt.

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