The row between China and Taiwan over the latter's sovereignty took a bizarre twist when Kenya decided to deport 45 Taiwanese nationals to Beijing together with other Chinese nationals who were put on trial in Nairobi for their alleged involvement in cybercrime. One of those caught in the dispute reportedly includes a US citizen who also holds a Taiwan passport.
Kenyan authorities used tear gas to force the Taiwanese on board a China-bound flight on 12 April. The Taiwanese nationals included 15 who were charged for telecommunications fraud in 2014 but were acquitted on 5 April by a Kenyan court. Another group of Taiwanese were arrested on 8 April in a separate phone fraud case.
When the Taiwanese nationals found out that they were being sent to China instead of back to their home country, they refused to cooperate. Kenyan police, armed with assault rifles, had to use tear gas to force them out of the police station. The Taiwanese were apparently put on board a plane to Guangzhou, accompanied by Chinese police.
Taiwan's China Post quoted Antonio Chen, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Department of West Asian and African Affairs as saying that its nationals were put on board a China-bound flight despite efforts to have them repatriated to Taiwan.
Describing the repatriation to China as the "uncivilised act of abduction" which represents a "gross violation of basic human rights", the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that several government Ministries have launched cross-strait dialogue to push for the prompt return of its citizens.
At a press conference on 12 April, Chen admitted that with limited manpower, no official diplomatic relations with Kenya and no representative office in the African country, Taiwan had little leverage to convince Kenya not to send its nationals to China.
Video footage shown by Taiwanese media allegedly from the incident, shows a group of men trying to secure a door.
The repatriated group's lawyer Steve Isinta said that police had told the group held at the police station to get ready because they would be leaving soon. He later received a message from one of his Taiwanese clients saying: "It's not our people coming for us," referring to the fact that Chinese officials had arrived at the police station instead of Taiwan representatives. Isinta said he did not hear from them after that.
Isinta told Quartz: "It was illegal for them to be deported. To be deported you have to have broken the law. It's because of pressure from China."
Isinta said that most Kenyans do not understand the controversy behind the deportation, nor do they care. Isinta has filed a motion to take the country's attorney general and the police chief to court over the detention and deportation of his clients following their acquittal.
"It doesn't matter if Taiwan belongs to China or vice versa. That is for international law to answer. My issue is that these are people who were kept illegally."
Kenya Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka defended his country's actions. "They came from China and we took them to China. Usually when you go to another country illegally, you are taken back to your last port of departure."
Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed told Reuters: "We don't have official relations with Taiwan. We believe in the 'One China' policy. We have diplomatic relations with China," he said.
Zhang Zhijun, the director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office said he had spoken to his Taiwan counterpart Andrew Hsia. He explained that the Kenya deportees included fraudsters from Taiwan who had caused losses for people in China and that they "must be brought to justice." He did not give further details.
Only 22 countries recognise Taiwan as the Republic of China. Others, including Kenya have diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China. It does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
China considers Taiwan as one of its province. Taiwan however operates as an independent country, with democratic elections.