China’s legal warfare on Taiwan separatists: The death penalty and absentia trials

Image created from Public Domain Pictures by Oiwan Lam. License CC0 Public Domain

China issued a set of guidelines for its judiciary on handling crimes related to advocating Taiwan's independence last Friday, June 21 2024.  

The new guidelines, jointly issued by China’s judicial and security authorities, list out acts of secession and authorize absentia trials and the punishment of “diehard” Taiwan separatists with the death penalty and no statute of limitations. Although the Chinese courts have no jurisdiction over Taiwan, the guidelines state that security authorities can issue global warrants to go after suspects.  

After the Kuomintang (KMT), the then-ruling party of the Republic of China (ROC), was defeated by the Communist Party of China (CPC) in the Chinese Civil War and escaped to Taiwan in 1949, Taiwan became a de facto independent state with its own government, army, and passport. The ROC was China's representative in the United Nations until the PRC replaced its UN membership in 1971. The KMT and CCP agreed to abide by the One China Principle, and the consensus was reinstated in 1992, though their interpretations of One China are different. 

However, in recent years, the PRC has become more aggressive in its encroachment on Taiwan through military exercises, economic sanctions, and diplomacy to prevent Taiwan’s locally-born ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party, from proclaiming a de jure independence of Taiwan.

When Taiwan's newly elected President, Lai Ching-te, assumed office on May 24, 2024, Beijing greeted Lai, “the dangerous separatist,” with more heavy military exercises.

A change in guidelines

The current set of guidelines was announced soon after Chinese President Xi Jinping told European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that he would not take the US's “bait” to invade Taiwan.

The legal document provides a framework for implementing various mainland Chinese laws, including the Anti-Secession Law, which was passed in 2005 to prevent Taiwan from separating from China. It defines separatist acts as: 

(1) initiating or establishing a separatist organization, formulating a platform or a scheme for  “de jure independence” of Taiwan, or directing others to carry out activities to undermine national unity;

(2) attempting to change the legal status of Taiwan as a part of China through legislation or by means of a referendum. 

(3) advocating for Taiwan’s membership in international organizations restricted to sovereign states or engaging in official exchanges or military contacts with foreign countries. 

(4) distorting or falsifying the fact that Taiwan is part of China in the fields of education, culture, history, news media, etc., or suppressing political parties, groups, or persons who support the peaceful development of cross-strait relations and national unification;

(5) Other acts to separate Taiwan from China.

The punishment ranges from under three years imprisonment to a maximum death penalty. Separatists with foreign ties will have more severe sentences, while those who repent from their independent stand and assist in the police's investigation of the crime could be exempted from prosecution, the guidelines specify.

The guidelines also specify that Chinese security authorities could issue international warrants on suspects and take action to arrest them. The Chinese government has an extradition agreement with 65 countries. Between 1997 and 2022, more than 420 Uyghurs were extradited to China from the Middle East and South and Central Asia. Under the pretext of fighting Islamic extremism, reportedly, more than a million Uyghurs had been detained in Xinjiang internment camps as of 2020. 

On Weibo, many nationalists expressed support for the legal action and urged the authorities to arrest Taiwanese separatists who are based in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia Countries. 

In response to China’s threat, Taiwan's president, Lai Ching-te, remained calm and shared the following statement:

Lin Yu-chang, the secretary general of the ruling Democratic Progress Party (DPP), pointed out that under the new guidelines, all Taiwanese will become criminals, and he thus called for solidarity of all Taiwanese against China’s threat on Facebook:





China, under the Communist Party of China, is a country without human rights and democracy. Laws only serve the party’s purpose of creating a climate of fear to facilitate authoritarian rule. The tactic is the same with Guomingtang (KMT) [during the martial law period 1947-1987].

Chinese secret police have been abducting people overseas for years, and now Taiwanese have a high risk when entering China or passing by Hong Kong: their luggage, personal notes, and mobile phones would be checked. Even children can’t be exempted from the treatment. 

According to the Taiwan Affairs Office of China’s State Council, anyone who advocates for the sovereignty of the Republic of China (ROC) is pro-independence; the 23,000,000 Taiwanese who vote for their President would be considered Taiwan separatists. Hou Yu-ih of KMT, and Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party, who ran for the presidential elections of ROC, aren’t they also pro-Taiwan independence and be in China’s wanted list?

KMT’s lawmaker Weng Hsiao-ling recently advocated reclaiming the mainland in the Legislative Yuan [Taiwan's parlimentary body]. The statement should be considered secession from CCP’s rule, right? I don’t know what sentence she would get under CCP’s law (it would be heavy, right?) Absentia trials? She would be arrested directly when she steps into China. 

The sovereignty of ROC belongs to 23,000,000 Taiwanese, and we should all defend it regardless of our political standing. 

Some critics believed that the guidelines would result in a chilling effect and deter ordinary Taiwanese from expressing pro-independent views, as pointed out by Brian Hioe in the Taiwanese news outlet New Bloom:

The new guidelines also state that individuals who ‘extensively distort and falsify the fact that Taiwan is a part of China in the fields of education, culture, history, and news media’ also fall under the purview of the guidelines. This may be intended to silence media, academia, and commentary… 

On Facebook, many Taiwanese said that they would give up traveling to China and Hong Kong altogether. It is obvious that the guidelines will not help the peaceful resolution to cross-strait differences — a view shared by KMT and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), Taiwan's two major China-friendly parties.

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