Progress made on hijackings
TAIWAN and China began five days of unprecedented talks in Taipei yesterday, during which the two sides smoothed out a large part of their differences on the thorny hijacking issue.
At the opening of the conference, the first official talks between the two sides to be held in Taipei in 44 years, the two sides agreed to repatriate the hijackers. But there were still differences on the types of hijackers to be repatriated.
''We agreed in principle to . . . not repatriating certain hijackers who committed air piracy'' for political, religious and military reasons, said Sun Yafu, chief negotiator of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS).
China has asked for the return of air pirates within 15 days after the crime occurs, but Taiwan has said it cannot set a specific number of days since there are judicial procedures to consider.
Taiwan says it has the jurisdiction to handle all hijacking cases and has the right to decide what to do with the hijackers.
The repeated hijackings of mainland planes by Chinese people to Taiwan - nine since April - has become a new source of friction between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. But in the past several years they have reduced their hostility and have tried to mend broken ties.
A positive atmosphere was evident at the opening session, and the degree of progress at yesterday's session should determine whether Tang Shubei, vice-chairman of ARATS, could visit Taiwan to sign an agreement on the issue later this week.
The talks form the third round of follow-up negotiations on practical issues agreed to in April by Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) chairman Koo Chen-foo and ARATS chairman Wang Daohan.
The first two rounds were held in Beijing in late August and in Xiamen in early November, but failed to reach an agreement on key issues including the hijackings, illegal immigration and fisheries disputes.
Mr Sun was the first Chinese representative to land in Taiwan on Friday afternoon. Hsu Hui-yu, deputy secretary general of Taipei's SEF, leads the host delegation.
''We hope that we can solve the hijacking issue and do something positive for relations between the two sides,'' Mr Sun said in his opening address.
Mr Hsu said the two sides would make efforts, but added: ''We hope the result can be viewed calmly.'' After the press was cleared from the room, the two sides exchanged draft proposals on an agreement for the repatriation of suspected hijackers and apparently made substantial progress in discussion on the issue.
''We found that the atmosphere was good,'' Mr Sun said, speaking after the morning session. Mr Hsu later said: ''Obvious progress was made compared to the talks in Xiamen.'' Both sides agreed on a name for the proposed ''Agreement on Repatriation of Cross-Strait Hijackers''.
Taipei agreed with the Chinese request that the agreement should cover the hijacking of civilian cargo, as well as passenger aircraft.
They also agreed that the country in which the hijacked plane lands would have the right to apprehend and interrogate the suspected hijackers, an apparent concession to Taipei's claiming legal jurisdiction under the Hague Convention, and the separation of plane and hijacker principle.
The two sides further agreed suspected hijackers would be sent back to their place of origin after preliminary investigation and interrogation was completed.
Local analysts say this formulation contains concessions by both sides as it will involve repatriation before the formal legal process begins, but without delineating a specific time period. In a statement after November's talks in Xiamen, ARATS had demanded that hijackers be sent back within 15 days.
However, Mr Hsu reported consensus had not yet been reached on possible exceptions or repatriation. Mr Hsu reiterated Taipei's position that suspects who hijacked aircraft for political, religious or military reasons, or who were Taiwanese nationals should not be repatriated, but tried in Taiwan courts.
Mr Hsu said ARATS had suggested exceptions to repatriation could be made ''in consideration of special reasons'', but added that Taipei hoped to secure a clearer statement to avoid possible future disputes.
Finally, Mr Hsu said both sides agreed to notify the other if hijackers were charged with additional crimes besides the charges made by the arresting side, for humanitarian reasons.
The fate of 12 hijackers involved in the piracy of nine mainland aircraft to Taiwan this year may rest on whether they have been indicted.
Judicial Yuan president Lin Yang-kang said he was personally opposed to immediate repatriation of suspects whose cases had already ''entered court procedure''.
Such suspects, if convicted, should serve their sentences in Taiwan before being repatriated, unless the Legislative Yuan passed a special statute to the contrary, Mr Lin said.
Six of the 12 have already been indicted or convicted in first trials. Six suspects were still being investigated and could be subject to repatriation before trial under the current lines of the proposed pact.
If the two sides can agree on language for the hijacking protocol, the door will be open for a visit by Mr Tang, a high-ranking career diplomat and Communist Party official.
Mr Lin also said in a separate meeting yesterday he opposed immediate repatriation of the hijackers or those who had been under trial and serving jail terms in Taiwan for air piracy.
''This involves our jurisdiction power . . . and unless Parliament enacts a law to allow immediate repatriation or repatriation of those people still on trial or still serving jail terms, I oppose this kind of arrangement,'' he said.
Huang Kun-huei, chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, said there was a need to resolve the thorny issue.
He said if the two sides reached any agreement on the hijacking and other issues, he would welcome a visit to Taipei by Mr Tang to sign the accord.