Leave Chan alone on path to surrender

Editorial | Mary Ma 24 Oct 2019

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has made a U-turn in her handling of the case involving Chan Tong-kai, whose release from prison yesterday has brought to a head the need for a settlement of the differences that Taipei and Hong Kong have over how the murder suspect may surrender himself.

Everyone's interest is best served if Chan can just get on a flight headed for Taipei, by himself or in the company of someone with no official links to Beijing.

Will Taipei have the gumption to stop him from doing so or turn him back at the airport? I don't think so.

All that bickering between Taipei and Hong Kong is making the case unnecessarily complicated.

Clearly Tsai, usually such a savvy politician, made a wrong call in the first place when her administration said - after the SAR broke the news Chan would turn himself in to Taiwanese authorities and that the administration would be pleased to help him do so - it could not accept a surrender on such terms.

Any such surrender would see Chan face trial for allegedly murdering his pregnant girlfriend Poon Hiu-wing during a holiday in Taiwan last year.

Tsai then made another mistake when her cabinet ministers insisted on judicial cooperation that, in the absence of approval from Beijing, put it on a de facto state-to-state footing and made any assent by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor impossible as it would contravene the "one-China" policy.

Tsai's handling of the issue has received bad press in Taiwan as the case is rather straightforward - it involves a young man accused of murdering a young woman in Taipei and that's a matter that has to be tried in a Taiwanese court.

Any argument involving sovereignty or some fuzzy political conspiracy on Beijing's part to upstage Taiwan's upcoming presidential and Legislative Yuan elections will be way too complicated for ordinary minds to understand.

The double blunders by Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party has created a little room for the Kuomintang to tap the Tsai-Lam spat for potential to claw back some of the imminent losses the opposition party expects in the January general elections. Even if KMT presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu can't oust Tsai, the party wants to win a legislative majority to clip Tsai's wings.

Tsai's U-turn wasn't accidental. She must have realized the longer the spat over Chan's case lasts, the greater the damage that would be done to her and the DPP electorally.

Had Lam acted just as decisively and reversed her stance at the start of the anti-extradition bill protests, she would not be in the political minefield that she finds herself in now and Hong Kong's situation would have been a whole lot better.

Legally speaking, Chan is a free man following his release from Pik Uk prison. With the SAR government insisting it no longer has the authority to impose restrictions on him, perhaps the best thing the government can do from now on is to stop commenting on this explosive case, as has been its practice in all other looming criminal cases.

One cannot but be concerned that Chan may be scared off by the Hong Kong-Taiwan vitriol and change his mind, especially given that a death sentence cannot be ruled out.

Chan has apologized to Poon's family, but one's sympathies cannot but lie with the Poons, not with Chan.

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