Taipei, Oct. 21 (CNA) Taiwanese officials on Monday said the government's decision to bar a Hong Kong citizen wanted for murder in Taiwan from turning himself in was a political decision and that Taiwan would not fall into China's trap.
National Security Bureau (NSB) Director-General Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) admitted Monday that the decision was made in consideration of political factors surrounding the case, especially coming at this "sensitive time."
Chiu said Taiwan's Ministry of Justice and the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) had repeatedly asked the Hong Kong side since February 2018 to send the suspect -- Chan Tong-kai (陳同佳) -- to Taiwan to answer questions but the Hong Kong side never offered an official reply.
Now, however, there was suddenly news that Hong Kong was willing to hand the suspect to Taiwanese authorities following months-long protests on its streets, he said.
"At this particular time, our government was forced to take political factors into considerations (in barring their visits)," Chiu told lawmakers during a legislative session.
Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) went a step further, reiterating the MAC's allegation a day earlier that Chan's decision to turn himself in was backed by the Chinese government.
"Taiwan won't fall into China's trap in the matter," he said Monday.
Chan is the chief suspect in the alleged murder of his girlfriend Poon Hiu-wing (潘曉穎) when the pair were traveling in Taiwan in February 2018.
Chan returned to Hong Kong before police in Taiwan had a chance to investigate the crime, but once Taiwanese authorities identified him as a suspect they issued an arrest warrant and sought his return to face trial in Taiwan.
The lack of an extradition treaty between Taiwan and Hong Kong made that impossible, however.
In Hong Kong, Chan was sentenced to 29 months in jail for stealing from his late 20-year-old girlfriend, who was also from Hong Kong.
But due to a lack of evidence in the murder case, he is set to be released from prison on Oct. 23 after his sentence on the theft conviction was cut short due to a plea bargain.
Rev. Canon Peter Douglas Koon (管浩鳴) of the Hong Kong Anglican Church recently told CNA that Chan is willing to return to Taiwan to assist with the murder case investigation and that he would accompany him.
Taiwan is suspicious of Koon because he is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a political legislative advisory body to China's government.
That has helped fuel Taiwan's belief that Chan's expressed willingness to turn himself in is fishy and has an ulterior motive.
The MAC said in a statement late Sunday that Chan may be under indirect pressure from China (through people like Koon) to turn himself in as part of Beijing's politically motivated ploy to rationalize its decision to come up with the controversial extradition bill.
Partly in response to the murder case, Hong Kong authorities proposed the bill in February 2019 that would have allowed Hong Kong to extradite criminal suspects to China, Taiwan and Macau.
It was efforts to pass that bill that triggered massive protests in Hong Kong starting in early June, with many there concerned it could undermine human rights by subjecting suspects to China's arbitrary judicial system.
Although Hong Kong authorities announced in September that the bill has been withdrawn, demonstrations in Hong Kong have continued with demands for greater rights, including universal suffrage.
Taiwan's government did not elaborate on the political considerations that have led it to bar Chan from entering Taiwan or the "trap" China was setting up.
Legislator Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) argued, however, that if Chan were to come to Taiwan, it would be tantamount to Hong Kong's "extradition bill without an extradition bill."
If Chan could be forced to go to Taiwan to turn himself in, then Hong Kong people could similarly be forced to surrender to China in the future without any need for even an extradition bill, Lo said.
Amplifying the administration's suspicions of a Chinese plot, the premier suggested it was illogical for Chan to voluntarily turn himself in since he would soon be released without having to face murder charges in Taiwan.
The government's decision to not accept the suspect's offer to turn himself in angered many members of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT).
In a Facebook post, KMT presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) accused the current DPP administration of contradicting itself by refusing to allow Chan to visit the country despite previously demanding that he do so.
He also accused the DPP of giving up the country's judicial sovereignty over the murder case.
"People who commit murder in Taiwan should be sent back to the country for trial, period," he said.
The MAC said Sunday, meanwhile that it would not lift the ban on Chan unless the Hong Kong authorities agreed to share more information on the case.
It has repeatedly rejected the withdrawn bill because it hinted that Taiwan is part of the People's Republic of China like Hong Kong and Macau.
Instead, Taiwan is demanding a separate judicial cooperation mechanism, like those Hong Kong has signed with 30-plus countries around the world, in dealing with similar judicial cases in the future, the MAC said in its statement.
Justice Minister Tsai Ching-hsiang (蔡清祥) echoed the MAC's demands.
He said Chan just turning himself in to Taiwanese judicial authorities would not help solve the case because the Hong Kong side needs to provide interview transcripts related to the case and other evidence, especially on how he arranged the alleged murder in Hong Kong before he and Poon visited Taiwan in February 2018.