HONG KONG - A Hong Kong man wanted in Taiwan for murder, whose handover caused a rift between the two governments after the suspect offered to surrender himself to the self-ruled island, is due to be released from prison on Wednesday (Oct 23).
In a surprise about-turn on Tuesday (Oct 22), Taiwanese authorities, who had earlier said they would not accept Chan Tong Kai's surrender, said they have asked Hong Kong for help to allow their officers to bring the suspect back from the Chinese territory.
Taiwan has sent a letter through existing communications channels asking for Hong Kong to assist in handing over Chan, as well as any relevant evidence, said Mr Chiu Chui-cheng, vice-chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, a Cabinet-level ministry.
"We cannot stand idly by and watch when a wanted man walks free," he told a media conference in Taipei.
He said Taiwanese police officers would be willing to fly to Hong Kong to bring Chan back to the island.
Asked about Hong Kong's earlier offer to facilitate Chan's surrender, Mr Chiu said the territory's government had not "properly detailed how" they would follow through with the handover.
It marks an about-turn from earlier in the week when Taiwan said it would not accept Chan's surrender, instead calling for the handover to be done through a mutual legal assistance framework and asking Hong Kong authorities to cooperate. Taiwan added that it would not allow Chan into the island on a tourist visa.
In a late night statement on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s Department of Justice called on Taiwan to accept Chan’s surrender.
“It is the responsibility of every civilised society to bring those who break the law to justice. Justice could be served by the suspect surrendering himself voluntarily in response to an arrest warrant and facing the legal consequence willingly,” it said.
“Refusing to let the suspect surrender is not only in defiance of justice but also an irresponsible act contrary to the rule of law.”
On Tuesday, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, the No. 2 official in Hong Kong, called on the Taiwanese authorities to facilitate Chan's transfer to ensure justice is done.
"I really want the Taiwan authorities, hope that they won't complicate a simple issue, and also don't use politics, really, do not try to exploit politics in order to achieve certain gain at the expense, particularly, of justice," he told journalists ahead of an executive council meeting.
Taiwan is gearing up for elections in January, when President Tsai Ing-wen, who is pro-independence, is gunning to be re-elected.
"It's a complex and troublesome case now because the Taiwanese have to keep in mind the elections, which means that they want to tread carefully in matters like that, especially when it has to do with One Country Two Systems," said Associate Professor Alfred Wu of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
Chan, 20, is accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend in February last year while on holiday in Taiwan. He avoided arrest simply by returning home to Hong Kong because the two governments do not have an extradition agreement, but was jailed in Hong Kong on money-laundering offences stemming from his use of his dead girlfriend's credit card.
The Hong Kong government used the case as an example to push for an extradition law, which would allow for the easier handover of fugitives to jurisdictions the city does not have existing agreements with, including mainland China. But this led to fears of Beijing's increasing influence in the city, which enjoys freedoms unseen in the rest of the mainland such as an independent judiciary and the right to free speech.
It resulted in nearly five months of on-going mass protests that resulted in the Hong Kong government withdrawing the Bill, but which have since evolved into an outpouring of anger against the authorities and calls for greater democracy.