Despite an internal public health crisis, Beijing seemed to have realized that it effectively has just held thousands of foreign nationals hostage as it locked down Wuhan, the province of Hubei and beyond. Countries with which China is interested in maintaining friendly relations were able to evacuate their citizens easily. Washington, which paused its pummeling of the Chinese economy after signing a phase-one trade deal with Beijing on January 15th, was able to get its diplomats and nationals out first. Countries like France, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, and many others either plan to or have evacuated their citizens.
But these on-going requests continue to depend on the Chinese government for approval. And there appears to be a correlation between how much the Chinese government is appeased and how fast these requests are processed.
Taiwan seems to be getting the shortest end of the stick, after voting for president Tsai Ing-wen instead of the pro-Beijing mayor of Kaohsiung Han Kuo-yu in the January election. Taiwanese businesspeople are reporting to the Mainland Affairs Council that medicine continues to run short as the Chinese government cooperates reluctantly.
It appears that elements of the pro-Beijing opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) played a role in backchannel negotiations over the first flight to evacuate Taiwanese people from Wuhan. Taiwan’s government offered to charter a flight but that was apparently not accepted.
The attempt to retrieve Taiwanese nationals appears to be obstructed by opaque layers of backchannel conversations, which includes a seven-person task force within the KMT. The existence of a KMT backchannel group was revealed by the party itself as it sought to take credit for the initial apparent success of the evacuation effort.
A China Eastern Airlines (not to be confused with Taiwan’s China Airlines) flight was dispatched to evacuate Taiwanese citizens on January 3rd. But some Taiwanese nationals prioritized for evacuation, such as the elderly, children, and the sick, were not evacuated on this flight. Instead, up to fifty PRC-national spouses of Taiwanese businesspeople were transported to Taiwan as a part of the evacuation effort, according to Next Magazine.
The middle man coordinating the evacuation between China and Taiwan, Hsu Cheng-wen, is also a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). CPPCC is a PRC state apparatus for united front work. Hsu reportedly had control over the list of passengers on the flight, but handed the list to Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council only an hour before the flight’s departure.
Though more evacuation flights were originally expected, the Mainland Affairs Council appears to have put a pause to the effort, in a press release expressing frustration at China’s unexpected manipulation of the entire process.
Other foreign nations are given the opportunity to evacuate their citizens with charter flights using national airlines. Taiwan was forced to concede these rights in an attempt to retrieve its nationals. China continues to act reluctantly, careful to ensure that it takes no action that could be interpreted to recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state.
Full report by Milo Hsieh: