Xi Jinping has talked loftily about his China Dream as a “great national rejuvenation”. In real terms it is about projecting national power and unification, as well as restoring China to the stature it enjoyed before the 19th century when foreign powers forced it to relinquish control of Hong Kong and Taiwan and cede ‘treaty ports’.
Xi’s surprise get-together this month with his Taiwanese counterpart will be seen by some in Beijing as bringing the island a little bit closer to reunifying with the mainland (see WiC303).
But it is in the criminal underworld that the cross-Strait divide seems to have been bridged most effectively – with news emerging of gangsters in the Greater China region working more closely together than ever before.
WiC reported in August that thousands of Hongkongers were hit by telephone calls from fraudsters posing as members of the Liaison Office of Beijing, the Party’s representative entity in the territory. In one notable case a renowned soprano was duped out of $3 million (see WiC292).
The phone scam, it turns out, was masterminded by a Taiwanese who hired and trained most of the scammers from the mainland. The syndicate operated from Southeast Asia and mainly targeted victims in Hong Kong.
Last week Chinese authorities sent four passenger planes to bring back 254 suspects from Indonesia and Cambodia to China. According to Xinhua, on October 19 the Chinese police, in collaboration with their counterparts from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Indonesia, busted eight call centres in Indonesia. The joint action captured 224 suspects including 86 from China and 138 from Taiwan. A similar transnational operation arrested another 168 suspects in Cambodia.
Before taking action, mainland police trawled through more than 45,000 phone calls that had been made since July and uncovered 453 suspected victims. One of the arrested men confessed to having worked nine hours a day on the scam. Each of the detainees was required to hand in the names of at least 150 victims.
Monthly salaries were Rmb10,000 ($1,567) – depending on how much was scammed from the unwitting. The China Daily reports that the trick was to find victims with guilty consciences – usually people who had relocated to Hong Kong from the mainland – and persuade them that their families were under investigation by anti-graft investigators. The scammers then said that the proceedings would be dropped if a bribe was paid.
It remains unclear if any Taiwanese suspects have been detained on the mainland – a sensitive issue as there is no repatriation agreement with Taiwan. However, the Ministry of Public Security said it is committed to improving enforcement cooperation with Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau police, especially in terms of intelligence exchanges.
The phone scam is not the only crime that has pointed to a closer collaboration between triads in different Chinese communities around the world.
Since last month Taiwan’s media has feverishly reported on a prostitution ring which procures starlets as “travel companions” for tycoons in mainland China and Hong Kong (as well as overseas Chinese), while Wong Kuan, the chairman of Hong Kong-listed investment firm Pearl Oriental, was rescued earlier this month by Taiwanese police after a 38-day abduction by gangsters from the island (see WiC302 for more details of the kidnap).
Crimes like these, Taiwan’s well known political commentator Nanfang Shuo suggests, indicate that the island’s triads have “upgraded” and are now engaging in transnational crimes. “The underworld in China and Hong Kong have converged. Now Taiwan has joined. The big convergence of triads in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong has begun,” Nanfang writes in Liberty Times.
There’s a political angle too. In 1993, the chief of China’s public security bureau Tao Siju caused uproar in Hong Kong when he echoed a remark by Deng Xiaoping (made in 1984) that triads could be a positive force. “As for organisations like the triads in Hong Kong, as long as these people are patriotic, as long as they are concerned with Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, we should unite with them,” Tao told reporters at the time.
So could the same apply to Taiwan? Possibly, yes. Chang An-lo, a self-confessed gang leader of the Bamboo Union, lived on the mainland for 17 years. Since his return to Taiwan in 2013, the White Wolf (Chang’s nickname) has become an active political figure. The name of his party is the China Unification Promotion Party.
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