Taiwan tells agencies not to use Zoom on security grounds

(Reuters) – Taiwan’s cabinet has told government agencies to stop using Zoom Video Communications Inc’s conferencing app, the latest blow to the company as it battles criticism of its booming platform over privacy and security.

Zoom’s daily users ballooned to more than 200 million in March, as coronavirus-induced shutdowns forced employees to work from home and schools switched to the company’s free app for conducting and coordinating online classes.

However, the company is facing a backlash from users worried about the lack of end-to-end encryption of meeting sessions and “zoombombing”, where uninvited guests crash into meetings.

If government agencies must hold video conferencing, they “should not use products with security concerns, like Zoom”, Taiwan’s cabinet said in a statement on Tuesday. It did not elaborate on what the security concerns were.

The island’s education ministry later said it was banning the use of Zoom in schools.

Zoom did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Taiwan would be the first government formally advising against use of Zoom, although some U.S. schools districts are looking at putting limits on its use after an FBI warning last month.

Zoom Chief Executive Officer Eric Yuan last week apologized https://blog.zoom.us/wordpress/2020/04/01/a-message-to-our-users to users, saying the company had fallen short of the community’s privacy and security expectations, and was taking steps to fix the issues.

Zoom competes with Microsoft’s Teams, Cisco’s Webex and Google’s Hangouts.

Taiwan’s cabinet said domestically-made conferencing apps were preferred, but if needed products from Google and Microsoft could also be considered.

Zoom’s shares dipped 1% in premarket trading on the Nasdaq. They have lost nearly a third of their market value since touching record highs late March.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; editing by Patrick Graham)

In Taiwan, anger at China over virus drives identity debate

By Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Anger at being confused with China amid the coronavirus outbreak and Beijing’s stepped-up efforts to assert sovereignty is stirring heated debate in Taiwan about how to further distance itself from its giant and often threatening neighbour.

At its core is a debate about whether to drop “China” from the island’s official name, the Republic of China.

During the virus crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO), which considers the island part of China, has listed Taiwan’s far lower case number under China’s, and China has repeatedly insisted only it has the right to speak for Taiwan on the global stage, including about health issues.

Taipei says this has confused countries and led them to impose the same restrictions on Taiwanese travellers as on Chinese, and has minimised Taiwan’s own successful efforts to control the virus.

Taiwan has been debating for years who it is and what exactly its relationship should be with China – including the island’s name. But the pandemic has shot the issue back into the spotlight.

Lin I-chin, a legislator for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said in parliament last month that Taiwan should change its English name to “Republic of Chunghwa”, an English rendering of the word Taiwan uses for China in its name.

“Taiwan has been brought to grief by China,” she said.

On Sunday, the New Power Party, one of Taiwan’s smaller opposition groups, released the results of a survey in which almost three-quarters of respondents said Taiwan passports should only have the word “Taiwan” on them, removing any reference to China.

“During this epidemic period, our people have been misunderstood by other countries, highlighting the urgency of changing the English name,” it said in a statement.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry has given a cautious response to the passport idea, noting that according to the constitution, the official name is Republic of China and that the word Taiwan was already added to passport covers in 2003.

“In the future, if there is consensus between the ruling and opposition parties on this new name, the Foreign Ministry shall cooperate in handling it,” spokeswoman Joanne Ou said.

But the government is wary of a name change for Taiwan, saying there is no consensus for such a radical move.

Although the DPP supports the island’s independence – theoretically meaning the official formation of a Republic of Taiwan – President Tsai Ing-wen says there is no need to do so, as the island is already an independent country called the Republic of China. She often refers to the island as the Republic of China, Taiwan.

‘REPUBLIC OF TAIWAN’

Premier Su Tseng-chang has said changing the island’s name isn’t the most urgent issue facing Taiwan.

“If we want to change then it might as well be to ‘Republic of Taiwan’. Taiwan is more well known,” Su said in parliament. “But if there’s no national consensus, a name change isn’t the most important thing for now.”

Taiwan’s official name is a throwback to when the Kuomintang party fled to the island after losing the Chinese civil war to the Communists in 1949, and continued to claim to be China’s legitimate government.

“The Republic of China is a country, Taiwan is not,” Chen Yu-jen, a Kuomintang legislator from the island of Kinmen, which sits just offshore from the Chinese city of Xiamen, told parliament on Monday.

The statement drew a sharp rebuke from Su, who told reporters it meant Chen had no right to be a member of the legislature. Chen said she was simply stating the facts, and that Taiwan is a geographic name, not a national name.

China’s pressure on Taiwan diplomatically and militarily during the virus crisis has also reduced Beijing’s already low standing in the eyes of many Taiwanese.

A March poll commissioned by Taiwan’s China-policy making Mainland Affairs Council and carried out by Taipei’s National Chengchi University showed more than three-quarters of respondents believed China’s government was unfriendly to Taiwan’s, the highest level in a decade.

Any name change would infuriate China, which has a law mandating the use of force to stop Taiwan independence.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

U.S. increases support for Taiwan, China threatens to strike back

By Ben Blanchard and Yew Lun Tian

TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has signed into law an act that requires increased U.S. support for Taiwan internationally, prompting a denunciation by China, which said it would strike back if the law was implemented.

China claims democratic and separately ruled Taiwan as its own territory, and regularly describes Taiwan as the most sensitive issue in its ties with the United States.

While the United States, like most countries, has no official relations with Taiwan, the Trump administration has ramped up backing for the island, with arms sales and laws to help Taiwan deal with pressure from China.

The Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act, signed by Trump into law on Thursday with strong bipartisan support, requires the U.S. State Department to report to Congress on steps taken to strengthen Taiwan’s diplomatic relations.

It also requires the United States to “alter” engagement with nations that undermine Taiwan’s security or prosperity.

Taiwan complains that China is poaching the dwindling number of countries that maintain formal ties with Taipei and has prevented it from participating in bodies like the World Health Organization.

China says Taiwan is merely one of its provinces, with no right to the trappings of a state.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen posted a picture on her Twitter page of Taiwan’s flag fluttering next to the U.S. one under the words “Friends in freedom, partners in prosperity”, to welcome Trump’s signing of the law.

It was “a testament to Taiwan-U.S. friendship & mutual support as we work together to address global threats to human health & our shared democratic values”, she wrote in English.

‘RESOLUTE STRIKE’

China has stepped up its military drills around Taiwan in recent weeks despite the outbreak of the coronavirus, which emerged in a central Chinese province late last year and spread rapidly in China and beyond.

Taiwan says China should focus more on fighting the disease than menacing it.

China is already angry about U.S. accusations it poorly handled the coronavirus outbreak, and the new law adds to Sino-U.S. tension.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the U.S. act contravened international law, was a “crude” interference in China’s internal affairs and obstructed other sovereign states from developing normal relations with China.

“We urge the United States to correct its mistakes, not implement the law, or obstruct the development of relations between other countries and China, otherwise it will inevitably encounter a resolute strike back by China,” Geng said, without giving details.

One of the authors of the act, Senator Cory Gardner, said it was needed to respond to Chinese pressure on, and bullying of, Taiwan.

“This bipartisan legislation demands a whole-of-government approach to ramp up our support for Taiwan, and will send a strong message to nations that there will be consequences for supporting Chinese actions that undermine Taiwan,” he said in a statement.

The United States has been particularly concerned about China hiving off Taiwan’s allies in the Pacific and Latin America, areas of the world Washington traditionally considers its zone of influence.

Taiwan now only has diplomatic relations with 15 countries, almost all small and developing nations like Nauru, Belize and Honduras.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Taiwan school uses dividers during lunch to counter coronavirus

TAIPEI (Reuters) – A school in Taiwan’s capital Taipei is going to unusual lengths to protect its students from the coronavirus – putting up bright yellow dividers on their desks during lunch to reduce their risk of infection while eating.

While a growing number of countries have suspended classes until further notice to try and slow the spread of the virus, Taiwan’s schools are operating as normal, albeit with heightened bio-security measures.

Taiwan has won plaudits from experts for the way it has controlled the virus, and has only reported 50 cases, compared with more than 80,000 in its giant neighbor China. However the island is on high alert to ensure the virus is contained.

Students at the Dajia Elementary School are asked to disinfect their shoes and hands before entering the school’s premises, while a security guard takes their temperature.

What sets the school apart, though, is the bright yellow dividers erected on their desks at lunchtime when students take off the surgical masks they have to wear during class in order to eat.

“Schools have to make the most comprehensive preparations,” said school headmaster Li Chung-hui, who first came up with the idea to make dividers from affordable corrugated plastic board. One divider costs less than T$50 ($1.66).

The students don’t seem too fazed about having to eat behind the dividers.

“I think that we can prevent bacteria from coming close,” said Tu Yu-chieh, 6.

(Reporting by Fabian Hamacher; Writing by Ben Blanchard)

Taiwan says U.S. flies bombers near island after China’s drills

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Three U.S. Air Force planes, including two B-52 bombers, flew near Taiwan on Wednesday, the island’s defense ministry said, after Taiwan’s air force scrambled earlier in the week to intercept Chinese jets.

The United States is Taiwan’s most important international backer, even in the absence of formal diplomatic ties, and is also the island’s main source of arms.

Tensions spiked between Taiwan and China, which claims the island as its own, on Sunday and Monday, as Taiwan sent F-16s to shadow approaching Chinese bombers and fighters.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said one U.S. MC-130, a special mission aircraft based on the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, flew down the Taiwan Strait in a southerly direction on Wednesday.

The two U.S. B-52 bombers skirted Taiwan’s east coast, also in a southerly direction, the ministry added.

The U.S. Air Force has a major base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, which is near Taiwan.

Speaking in Singapore, a senior U.S. State Department official, Clarke Cooper, referred to the Chinese flights and told CNBC it was “completely inappropriate of China to take such an aggressive act.”

“That aggressive act is not just a reflection on China’s relationship with Taiwan, it certainly is reflective about how China may be looking at the entire region in total,” said Cooper, the assistant secretary for political-military affairs.

On Tuesday, a State Department spokeswoman said China should “immediately cease its coercive efforts” and resume dialogue with Taipei.

China has described its exercises on Sunday and Monday as actions to guard national sovereignty.

It has been flying what it calls “island encirclement” drills since 2016 when Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen first took office. Beijing believes Tsai, who won re-election last month, wishes to push the island’s formal independence.

Tsai says Taiwan is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.

Taiwan has urged China to focus its efforts on fighting the new coronavirus rather than menacing the island.

Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said in a statement earlier on Wednesday that China’s military activities had only caused anger on the island and harmed the peaceful development of relations across the strait.

“Our government will continue to adopt a pragmatic and restrained stance, prudently handle cross-strait relations, and deepen cooperation with countries with similar ideals, including the United States, in response to the rising Chinese military threat,” she added.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard in Taipei and David Brunnstrom and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Catherine Evans, Andrew Cawthorne and Paul Simao)

U.S. and China clash at WHO over Taiwan participation

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States urged the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday to “engage directly with Taiwan public health authorities” in the fight against coronavirus.

Taiwan is not a WHO member because of China’s objections. Beijing says the island is a wayward Chinese province and not a country and is adequately represented in the organisation by China.

“For the rapidly evolving coronavirus, it is a technical imperative that WHO present visible public health data on Taiwan as an affected area and engage directly with Taiwan public health authorities on actions,” Andrew Bremberg, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, told the WHO’s Executive Board.

China’s delegation took the floor to express its “strong dissatisfaction” that some countries had raised the issue of Taiwan’s participation during the technical meeting.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Separatists will ‘stink for 10,000 years’, China says after Taiwan vote

BEIJING (Reuters) – Separatists will “leave a stink for 10,000 years”, the Chinese government’s top diplomat said on Monday, in Beijing’s most strongly worded reaction yet to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s re-election on the back of a message of standing up to Beijing.

Tsai was returned to office on Saturday by a landslide, in an election dominated by China’s growing efforts to get the island it claims as its own to accept Beijing’s rule.

Tsai said upon claiming victory that Taiwan would not give in to threats and intimidation from China and that only Taiwan’s people had the right to decide their own future.

Speaking in Africa, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said the “one China” principle that recognizes Taiwan as being part of China had long since become the common consensus of the international community.

“This consensus won’t alter a bit because of a local election on Taiwan, and will not be shaken because of the wrong words and actions of certain Western politicians,” Wang added, in an apparent reference to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In congratulating Tsai, Pompeo had praised her for seeking stability with China “in the face of unrelenting pressure”.

Wang, in comments carried by China’s Foreign Ministry, said “reunification across the Taiwan Strait is a historical inevitability”.

“Those who split the country will be doomed to leave a stink for 10,000 years,” said Wang, one of whose previous roles was head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, using an expression that means to go down in history as a byword for infamy.

China passed an anti-secession law in 2005 which authorizes the use of force against Taiwan if China judges it to have seceded. Taiwan says it is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.

Responding to Wang’s remarks, Taiwan’s government said the island had never been part of the People’s Republic of China and called on Beijing to respect the outcome of the election.

Wang “must face up to reality and stop believing his own lies”, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said.

China has been particularly angry by increased U.S. support for Taiwan. Washington has no formal ties with Taipei, but is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.

Meeting Tsai in Taipei on Sunday, the de facto U.S. ambassador in Taiwan, Brent Christensen, commended voters for taking part in “this sacred democratic process”.

“This election serves as a reminder that the United States and Taiwan are not just partners; we are members of the same community of democracies, bonded by our shared values,” he said, in comments released by the American Institute in Taiwan.

However the potential for renewed tension with China failed to rattle Taiwan’s stock market, which closed up 0.74%.

(Reporting by Huizhong Wu, Lusha Zhang and Judy Hua; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Giles Elgood and Angus MacSwan)

Don’t read too much into election results, Taiwan tells China before vote

By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Beijing should not see Taiwan’s elections as representing a win or loss for China, Taiwan’s foreign minister said on Thursday, days ahead of a vote overshadowed by Chinese efforts to get the island to accept its rule.

Taiwan holds presidential and parliamentary elections on Saturday. Its elections are always closely watched by China, which claims the island as its territory.

Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name, and the government has warned of Beijing’s efforts to sway the vote in favor of the opposition.

“I just don’t think China should read Taiwan’s election as its own victory or defeat,” Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters in Taipei.

“If China reads too much into our election … there might be a likely scenario that China will engage in military intimidation or diplomatic isolation or using economic measures as punishment against Taiwan.”

President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking re-election, has repeatedly warned Taiwan’s people to be wary of Chinese attempts to sway the election through disinformation or military intimidation, an accusation China denies.

Wu drew attention to China’s sailing of its new aircraft carrier into the sensitive Taiwan Strait late last year, calling the voyage “clear” evidence of Beijing’s attempts to intimidate voters.

“This is our own election. This is not China’s election. It is Taiwanese people who go to the voting booth to make a judgment on which candidate or political party is better for them,” Wu said.

“If China wants to play with democracies in other countries so much, maybe they can try with their own elections at some point.”

The issue of China has taken center stage in the campaign, especially after its president, Xi Jinping, warned last year it could attack Taiwan, though said he’d prefer a peaceful “one country, two systems” formula to rule the island.

Taiwan-China ties have soured since Tsai took office in 2016, with China cutting off formal dialogue, flying bomber patrols around Taiwan, and whittling away at its diplomatic allies.

China suspects Tsai of pushing for the island’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing. Tsai says she will maintain the status quo but will defend Taiwan’s democracy and way of life.

‘EVERY BALLOT HAS POWER’

In a front-page election advertisement in the mass circulation Liberty Times on Thursday, Tsai appealed directly for people to cast their vote against China.

“In the face of China, every ballot has power,” the advertisement read, next to a picture of Tsai wearing a camouflaged military helmet and flak jacket.

Tsai’s main opponent is Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party, which ruled China until 1949, when it was forced to flee to Taiwan after loosing a civil war with the Communists.

Han says he would reset ties with Beijing to boost Taiwan’s economy, but not compromise on the island’s security or democratic way of life.

In a Facebook post later on Thursday, Tsai wrote that China would be happiest if the Kuomintang got back into power.

“The elections should make Taiwan’s people happy, not the Chinese government,” she added.

But Kuomintang Chairman Wu Den-yih said Tsai was the real threat, pointing to an anti-infiltration law she championed and passed late last year to tackle Chinese influence. The Kuomintang says the law seeks to effectively outlaw all contacts with China.

“Don’t let Tsai Ing-wen destroy the Republic of China’s democracy, liberty and rule of law; just take down Tsai Ing-wen,” the party cited Wu Den-yih as saying, referring to Taiwan by its official name.

Overshadowing the elections have been allegations in Australian media from a self-professed Chinese spy about China’s efforts to influence Taiwan’s politics and support Han, who, along with Beijing, has denounced the accusations as lies.

(Reporting By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

China rattles saber – and offers friendship – days before Taiwan’s elections

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) – With just days to go before Taiwan’s elections, its giant neighbor is trying a push-and-pull strategy on the island Beijing claims as Chinese territory, rattling its saber while trying to coax electors with outwardly friendlier policies.

Taiwan, which says it is an independent country, has long been wary of Chinese attempts to sway its elections in favor of candidates who may look more kindly upon Beijing.

Fear of China has become a major element in the campaign, boosted not only by the anti-government protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong but also by a speech Chinese President Xi Jinping gave in January outlining China’s “reunification” agenda, including threats of force.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and her team are pressing home a message that people need to “protect” Taiwan from China when they vote in the Jan. 11 presidential and parliamentary election.

On Thursday, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said China had sailed another carrier group through the Taiwan Strait just weeks after the last mission.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu quickly took to Twitter to denounce it.

“There it goes again!” he wrote. “Military threats like this only toughen Taiwan’s determination to defend itself and preserve regional peace and stability.”

A few days before that, retired but influential Chinese General Wang Hongguang outlined at a state-media organized forum in Beijing how China could bring Taiwan to its knees by invading its outlying islands and “terrifying” Taipei into submission.

At the same time, China has rolled out policies promising better treatment for the Taiwanese business community, which has invested billions in China, and on Saturday revised a law to give those promises a firmer legal basis.

China has also encouraged Taiwanese abroad, even in places where Taiwan has its own representative offices, to seek consular help from Chinese embassies.

Taiwan says China has sinister intentions, and it must defend its freedoms.

Taiwan only enjoys democracy now after decades of struggle, Tsai’s running mate, William Lai, told supporters on Saturday.

“How can we go backwards, and become a second Hong Kong or Tibet?” he said.

China has ramped up pressure on Tsai since she won office in 2016, cutting off talks and flying bombers around Taiwan, believing she wants to push for the island’s formal independence.

Tsai says Taiwan is already an independent country: the Republic of China, its official name.

China may have overreached recently, said one senior foreign envoy in Taipei, describing Xi’s January speech as effectively “Xi campaigning for Tsai” because of how badly it was received in Taiwan.

‘WE WOULD WIN’

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Beijing doesn’t see it that way.

Jin Canrong, Deputy Dean of the School of International Studies at Beijing’s elite Renmin University and a government adviser, said Xi’s speech marked a shift in policy away from preventing independence to actively promoting “reunification”.

China is confident that it could successfully use force against Taiwan, he added.

“China really does have the military ability, which is the say the armed ability, to resolve the Taiwan issue,” Jin said. “Although we would pay a price, in the end we would win.”

Any invasion would be bloody and difficult, as Taiwan’s military is well-armed, though the island could probably not hold out for long unless U.S. forces came quickly to their aid, military experts have said.

Opposition presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT) party, which favors close ties with China and who is trailing in the polls, says the best way to deal with China is to talk to Beijing and stop demonizing the Chinese for electoral gain.

Han adviser Su Chi, a former general secretary of Taiwan’s National Security Council, said he believed Xi was actually a “dove among the hawks” when it came to Taiwan and wanted a peaceful solution.

“There are loud voices in the mainland for using force to reunify Taiwan, especially in the People’s Liberation Army. I think he (Xi) doesn’t really want this,” Su said.

But Tsai’s returning to office would not necessarily mean relations with China would continue to worsen, as Beijing may realize it must talk to her, said senior legislator Lo Chih-cheng of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

“If our party or our president continues to be in power, eventually China has to come to terms with the incumbent government. They refuse to talk to the DPP because they believe the KMT had a chance to come back,” he told Reuters at his campaign office in a Taipei suburb.

“After seeing the probable defeat of the KMT, leaders in Beijing may believe that in the foreseeable future the KMT may not come back to power again,” he added. “So it might be reasonable or sensible for them to come to terms with the DPP government.”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei and Gao Liangping in Beijing. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Special Report: How murder, kidnappings and miscalculation set off Hong Kong’s revolt

By David Lague, James Pomfret and Greg Torode

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says the plan that ignited the revolt in her city was born of a straightforward quest for justice.

While on a trip to Taiwan, a Hong Kong man strangled his Hong Kong girlfriend, then returned home and confessed. The city lacked an extradition pact with Taiwan, and Lam argued the only way to send him back for trial was new laws that also would enable sending criminal suspects to mainland China. She dismissed fears about the proposal – which would mean Hong Kong residents could face trial in China’s Communist Party-controlled courts – and pushed ahead.

As protests raged this summer, even in private Lam kept to her story that she, not Beijing, was the prime mover, driven by “compassion” for the young victim’s devastated parents. “This is not something instructed, coerced by the central government,” she told a room of Hong Kong businesspeople at a talk in August.

A Reuters examination has found a far more complicated story. Officials in Beijing first began pushing for an extradition law two decades ago. This pressure to extend the arm of Chinese law into Hong Kong’s independent British-style legal system intensified in 2017, a year before the slaying and two years before Lam’s administration announced its extradition bill. The impetus came from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the Communist Party’s powerful internal anti-corruption body, which has been spearheading Chinese President Xi Jinping’s mass anti-graft campaign.

Xi’s crackdown spilled over dramatically into the streets of Hong Kong in the early hours of January 27, 2017. Among the targets of CCDI investigators at the time, two mainland Chinese officials with knowledge of the probe told Reuters, was a Chinese billionaire living in the city named Xiao Jianhua. A businessman with close ties to China’s political elite, Xiao was abducted that morning from his serviced apartment at the luxury Four Seasons Hotel. Unidentified captors whisked him out the entrance in a wheelchair with his head covered, a witness told Reuters.

The sensational kidnapping, widely reported at the time, was assumed by most people in this city of 7.5 million to have been the work of Chinese agents; Beijing has never commented publicly on the matter. Frustrated at the lack of legal means to get their hands on Xiao, the two Chinese officials told Reuters, the CCDI that same year began pressing mainland officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs about the urgent need for an extradition arrangement. The CCDI wanted a less politically damaging method than kidnapping for snaring fugitive mainlanders in Hong Kong, the officials said.

The two sides failed to strike a deal, but the killing in Taiwan would provide a new opening.

Pro-Beijing lawmakers in Hong Kong championed the calls for justice of the victim’s grieving parents, arranged an emotional news conference for them and pushed Lam’s administration to find a way to extradite the killer. One of China’s top officials for Hong Kong affairs pressed a senior Lam adviser in a private meeting in Beijing on the need to pass the proposal. Early in the crisis, when Lam privately proposed withdrawing the bill to quell the protests, senior Chinese officials rejected the move, only to relent months later as public fury mounted.

The extradition law would have been a boost to Chinese interests, a senior mainland official told Reuters, by eliminating the need to resort to kidnappings or other controversial extrajudicial acts in Hong Kong. The move would have helped us “avoid such problems,” he said.

This account of how the extradition bill was launched, promoted and ultimately unraveled is based on more than 50 interviews with mainland officials, current and former Hong Kong government officials, members of Lam’s cabinet, associates and friends of the Hong Kong leader from her days as a student activist, and current and former lawmakers and police officers. Reuters also drew on the public record of debates and correspondence regarding the bill in the city’s legislature, the Legislative Council.

One finding that emerges is how out of touch the mainland leadership and the people it has hand-picked to run Hong Kong were with public sentiment. When China reclaimed Hong Kong from British rule in 1997, it guaranteed under a “one-country, two-systems” formula that the city would keep its treasured freedoms for 50 years. In effect, the promise postponed a decision on how an authoritarian one-party state would absorb a liberty-loving capitalist city. After two decades of determined grassroots political work by Beijing to win hearts and minds, some of the bill’s leading supporters admit they were stunned by the hostility of so many Hong Kong citizens to Chinese rule.

“I was shocked to discover that in fact a very large proportion of us, people in Hong Kong, do not really feel at all comfortable with one-country, two-systems,” said Ronny Tong, a member of Lam’s top advisory body, the Executive Council, in an interview with Reuters. “How do you deal with this lack of confidence if not outright hatred about Beijing? How do you deal with it?”

In a written statement to Reuters, Lam’s office said the bill “was initiated, introduced and taken forward” by her administration. The central government in Beijing “understood” why the bill had to be introduced, the statement said, and “respected the view of the Chief Executive” and “supported her all the way.”

Chinese government authorities did not respond to questions for this article.

THE ‘MYSTERY’ OF CARRIE LAM

The city’s revolt has dealt a major setback to Xi Jinping, coming as he contends with a damaging trade war with the United States. And in a blow to China’s dreams of reunifying Taiwan with the mainland, the crisis appears to have boosted the popularity of Taiwan’s independence leaning President, Tsai Ing-wen, who faces the polls in January.

For Carrie Lam, 62 years old, the miscalculation has been crushing.

Her failure to grasp the public’s suspicion of the mainland’s legal system has shattered a reputation for competence built up over a 39-year career in public service. In the past she was sometimes referred to by admirers as Hong Kong’s Iron Lady, for a resolute manner reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s. Now, some say a combination of her willfulness and her decades at the top levels of Hong Kong’s insular public service blinded her to the political danger of the extradition bill.

“The one mystery, the one puzzle is, how is it possible that Carrie Lam didn’t see the implications of such a proposal?” said Margaret Ng, a barrister who was a longtime lawmaker in the pro-democracy camp.

Born into a working class family, Lam grew up in a small apartment in the suburb of Wan Chai on Hong Kong island. Like many of the city’s government elite, she is a Catholic, educated in the city’s Catholic schools, and she remains devout. At St. Francis’ Canossian School and then St. Francis’ Canossian College, she was a star student.

In a 2013 radio interview, she revealed a glimpse of a fierce competitive streak. Lam told her interviewer of an enduring memory of her school days: The single occasion she failed to finish at the top of her class in a big exam. She said she cried.

When she began studying at the University of Hong Kong, Lam intended to be a social worker. Lee Wing-tat, a former lawmaker from the pro-democracy camp, was a fellow student. He recalls Lam was an activist in those days, taking part in protests. A citation when she was awarded an honorary degree in 2013 described how Lam had campaigned for better treatment for poor Chinese fishing families from the British colonial government.

She was intensely interested in welfare for the underprivileged, Lee said. And she was already a talented organizer. “You give her a job and she will deliver results,” Lee said.

In 1979, as post-Maoist China was opening up, students from Hong Kong were invited to send a delegation to Beijing to visit elite universities, Lee said. The Democracy Wall movement was in full swing there, with big posters calling for political and social reform appearing on a long brick wall. The Hong Kong students wanted to meet prominent liberals and soak up the atmosphere, Lee said. Lam was involved in negotiating the visit with the tough Communist bureaucrats at Xinhua News Agency, then Beijing’s unofficial mission in the British colony.

“They made it very difficult for her,” Lee recalls. “They didn’t want us to meet them.” The visit went ahead, and a highlight was a banquet Lam attended where a leading liberal journalist was a guest.

“At that time, Carrie was not so conservative,” Lee said. “She was a democrat. Just like me. After government, things changed.”

Lam abandoned plans to become a social worker and joined the colonial Hong Kong government in 1980 as an administrative officer, the elite cadre of officials who are given broad exposure to different government roles as preparation for promotion to more senior posts.

In the Hong Kong civil service, well paid administrative officers have traditionally enjoyed considerable power and prestige in a political system without the scrutiny public servants receive in a full democracy. Lam rose fast and embraced challenging roles. Her critics say she also became arrogant and dismissive of advice from peers and subordinates.

“She has never been known to be a team player,” says retired civil servant Anson Chan, who served as Hong Kong’s deputy leader before and after the handover. “That has a lot to do with her character and was also instrumental in her spectacular downfall.”

Lam’s office declined to respond to “speculations or third parties’ comments” about her.

Others paint a different picture. Veteran social activist Ho Hei-wah, director of the Society for Community Organization, said he began working closely with Lam in the 1980s, when she led successful efforts to reunite Hong Kong families with mainland relatives. “She is a caring person,” he said. “From the beginning until today.”

Ho said he helped persuade Lam to become deputy to the city’s former leader, Leung Chun-ying, in 2012. She had planned to retire to spend more time with her mathematician husband and two sons, Ho said, but agreed to take the post because she felt she could continue to serve the city.

Hong Kong had been under mainland rule for 15 years. Xi Jinping was about to assume power. And Beijing was about to begin flexing its muscle more forcefully.

In the final months of British rule, Hong Kong had passed laws barring the extradition of suspects to the mainland as an added protection to the freedoms promised under the one-country, two-systems formula. Beijing began making demands to reverse these provisions almost immediately after the handover, according to the Hong Kong government officials involved in talks about the issue. They say their mainland counterparts regarded it as an affront that the newly recovered territory would allow extradition to some foreign countries – even to America and Britain – but not to the motherland.

The discussions went nowhere, and on Leung and Lam’s watch, China began taking matters into its own hands.

A BILLIONAIRE VANISHES

One of the first major extralegal arrests to gain public attention was the disappearance in 2015 of five booksellers of local publisher Mighty Current.

The publisher specialized in muckraking books on the private lives and business dealings of China’s top leadership, including Xi himself. It later emerged that two of the men had been kidnapped – one in Hong Kong, one from Thailand – and taken to the mainland. A third later detailed how he was grabbed by Chinese agents while visiting southern China and held captive for eight months. He fled to Taiwan this April as Lam’s government sought to ram through the extradition bill.

Hong Kong leaders knew about these extralegal detentions but were unwilling to publicly call out mainland authorities over them. Lam herself was closely informed about one case.

In 2013, a Hong Kong resident, Pan Weixi, and his wife were grabbed off the street in the city and smuggled to the mainland by speedboat. The family wrote to Lam describing the abduction in detail and appealing for her help in obtaining the businessman’s release, according to people with knowledge of the case. Hong Kong police confirmed to Reuters that they sent officers to Guangdong who helped secure the wife’s freedom and escorted her home. The family later learned that Pan was sentenced to 16 years in jail in Guangdong Province. A Hong Kong police investigation into the case remains open.

After the bookseller abductions sparked an outcry, Hong Kong officials revealed in May 2016 they were in discussions with Beijing over formal extradition procedures. The talks failed, according to lawyers involved, because Beijing was unwilling to accept human-rights and legal safeguards.

Then, in early 2017, came the brazen abduction of Xiao, the billionaire who was a target of the powerful anti-graft agency CCDI. A Hong Kong government official said Xiao had crossed the border with the mainland. The city was scandalized.

These controversies didn’t impede Lam’s rise. As Leung’s deputy, she was closely involved in the government’s handling of the Umbrella Movement, a 79-day campaign of civil disobedience in 2014 in which protesters demanding full democracy occupied major thoroughfares. The movement got its name from demonstrators’ use of umbrellas to ward off police. Lam made conciliatory gestures, meeting protesters for talks, but that failed to produce a breakthrough. Police eventually cleared the protesters, and some key leaders were later prosecuted.

In March 2017, Lam was handpicked as China’s candidate to succeed Leung and easily won election by a committee of about 1,200 mostly pro-Beijing figures. She won plaudits in China for pushing through some unpopular policies. Within weeks of taking office in July 2017, her administration announced a controversial plan to let mainland officials stationed inside a Hong Kong train terminus enforce Chinese laws on travelers passing through.

Critics said this and other moves further eroded the city’s autonomy. Lam’s office rejected the criticism, saying the terminus arrangement made for more convenient travel.

Xi later praised Lam for her courage in taking on “difficult challenges,” after the two met in Beijing in December 2018, state media reported.

Two months later came the killing in Taiwan. The two young Hong Kongers – Poon Hiu-wing and her boyfriend, Chan Tong-kai – quarreled while on a trip to Taipei. Furious, Chan bashed Poon’s head against a wall and strangled her, packed her body in a suitcase and later left it at a park in the Taiwanese capital, according to a Hong Kong court judgment. Chan was arrested in March after returning to Hong Kong and confessed. He was convicted and jailed for crimes committed after his return, including using Poon’s ATM card to withdraw money. But because the slaying took place in Taipei, he would need to be sent to Taiwan to be tried for the killing.

Chan’s lawyer didn’t respond to questions for this article.

Lam later told a news conference that since the killing, her government had been spending “quite a bit of time” devising extradition proposals. In the meantime, Beijing’s political allies in the city started agitating for change.

The initial moves were low-key and attracted little attention. On May 4 last year, a pro-Beijing lawmaker, Priscilla Leung, called on the city’s Legislative Council to consider discussing judicial cooperation with Taiwan and “other places,” according to the minutes of a panel session in the council. Leung, a law professor, chairs a legislative panel on judicial affairs. She had no comment.

Within days, Leung’s proposal got a push from two lawmakers with strong links to Beijing. Starry Lee and Holden Chow went further in a letter to Leung, calling on the government to begin moves to conclude an extradition agreement with Taiwan “as soon as possible,” council records show. Lee heads the city’s biggest political party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, which hews closely to Beijing’s official line. Chow is a vice chairman and the party’s highest-profile young leader.

‘THIS WILL DESTROY HONG KONG’

The next month, one of Lam’s top lieutenants dropped a clue that changing the law on extradition was under consideration.

In answer to a written question from Starry Lee about the efforts to return the killer to Taipei, Secretary for Security John Lee said Hong Kong was studying how to handle the case. And he reminded her that under the law, the city was barred from sending suspects to any region of the People’s Republic of China. Hong Kong shares Beijing’s view that Taiwan is part of the PRC. Taiwan vehemently disagrees.

Lee, 62, was a 33-year veteran of the Hong Kong police. He joined the government’s Security Bureau, which oversees the police and other law enforcement units, as deputy head in 2012 and was promoted to lead the bureau when Lam took office. Cops who served with him describe Lee as a shrewd and incorruptible crime fighter who was trusted with sensitive investigations before and after the handover. As security chief, Lee is responsible for liaison with the mainland’s powerful law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Poon’s family was begging for justice. Their pleas reached Lam. The chief executive said she was moved and promised to help. Lam later gave a tearful television interview to local broadcaster TVB in which she said Poon’s heartbroken father had been persistent, writing five letters to the government seeking justice for his daughter.

“That’s why I told John Lee that you can’t just write a letter back to them and only say, ‘Sorry, Mr. Poon, there isn’t a legal basis for this, sorry’,” Lam said. “I said you must find a way, and not let any possibility go.”

Poon’s father declined to comment.

Starry Lee and Holden Chow continued rallying support for the Poon family and for changing the extradition law. In mid-February, they appeared at a press conference with the mother.

“Even though it’s been a year since my daughter was murdered, my husband and I can’t accept this reality,” Poon’s mother, Kui Yin-fun, said, sobbing. “I always think of this cold-blooded and cruel scene. How the murderer dragged a suitcase, and moved the corpse, and then left it in the open, so that wild dogs could eat it.”

The only way to help her daughter now, Kui told the media crowd, was justice: extradite the killer. Then Holden Chow and Starry Lee took questions. Asked whether amending the law was the sole way to deal with the case, Starry Lee said: “In principle, without this amendment of the legislation, this cannot be done.”

Asked about his championing of the bill, Chow told Reuters the plan was introduced “to deal with the Taiwan murder case and to provide the victim’s family justice.” Unfortunately, he added, the Lam administration was unable to explain the human-rights protections contained in the bill and persuade the public to embrace it. Starry Lee didn’t respond to a request for comment.

There was broad support for the Poon family in Hong Kong. But that didn’t translate into support for extradition to the mainland.

That same week, a Legislative Council agenda included an item on judicial cooperation with Taiwan and “other places.” The next day, the government showed its hand, revealing in an official briefing note that to resolve the Poon case, it was proposing amendments that would remove the ban on extraditions to other parts of China. The ban, it said, had created “loopholes,” allowing the city to become a haven for criminals.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok was outraged. The next day, he confronted security chief John Lee in a meeting room at the Legislative Council.

“I told him don’t do this,” Kwok told Reuters. “I told him it is a crazy idea. I lost my cool with him. I said this will destroy Hong Kong. Don’t do it!”

Lee ploughed ahead, telling reporters in March that the restrictions on extradition to other parts of China were a “chain that has been put on my feet.”

Chinese leaders publicly began throwing their weight behind the effort. In March, Chen Zhimin, a former vice minister of public security, linked the bill to Xi’s crackdown. He told Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK a pact was needed because there were more than 300 fugitives on China’s wanted list hiding in the city. Chen also revealed that before he left his post in 2017, mainland officials had been discussing an extradition pact with their Hong Kong counterparts – including John Lee.

In a statement to Reuters, Lee said it was “totally unfounded and erroneous” to suggest that the mainland and pro-Beijing parties were the driving force behind the bill. The alleged abductions of billionaire Xiao and others were irrelevant, he said: The trigger was the Poon killing, which exposed gaps in the law. The central government, he added, respected Lam’s views and “supported her all the way.”

By May, higher officials – including a member of the Party’s top decision-making body, the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee – were publicly backing Lam’s bill. Chinese leaders were also mobilizing support behind the scenes.

One was Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, the body that coordinates Beijing’s policy for the city. In May, Ronny Tong, the influential Lam adviser and top barrister, led a delegation of his political allies to the Chinese capital. In a 90-minute meeting, Zhang explained the importance of the extradition bill to China and Hong Kong, according to two delegation members. Zhang took a “hardline” position, they said, telling the visitors it was urgent that Hong Kong pass the measures.

Chinese authorities didn’t respond to questions about the roles of Zhang, Chen and other top leaders.

Outside of Lam’s circle, alarm was spreading through Hong Kong. Even the normally pro-Beijing business community was unnerved by the bill. People began coming out to protest by the hundreds, then by the thousands, then tens of thousands and more. On June 9, the government was shaken when an estimated one million people took to the streets in a peaceful protest. Demonstrations later turned violent.

On June 11, lawmakers were preparing for a second reading of the bill, scheduled for the next day. Pro-Beijing lawmakers had the numbers if the bill came to a vote. That day, protesters began surrounding the Legislative Council building in an effort to block the session.

With the demonstration snowballing, the Hong Kong liaison office, China’s official representative body in the city, had unwelcome news to report that night. According to two Chinese officials with knowledge of the matter, the office informed the CCDI in Beijing that the encircling protesters made it impossible to hold the debate the following morning. The CCDI suggested that lawmakers be assembled at another venue to vote, the officials said.

The protest had effectively shut down the legislature, however, preventing the second reading. Soon after, Lam crossed into the mainland and paid a call at Bauhinia Villa, a resort in the suburbs of Shenzhen where the Chinese leadership had set up a secret command center to manage the crisis.

There, Lam met with one of China’s highest leaders – Vice Premier Han Zheng, the Politburo Standing Committee member who had earlier signaled support for the bill. As Reuters reported last month, she proposed suspending the legislation. After consulting with other leaders in Beijing, Han agreed.

On June 15, Lam announced she was freezing the bill. The protesters, unmollified, insisted on a total scrapping. On July 1, a crowd smashed its way into the Legislative Council and ransacked the building.

The pressure began telling on the city leader once lauded by Xi for her steeliness. In August, at times choking up, Lam told a private meeting of businesspeople that she would quit if allowed to do so.

“Hong Kong has been turned upside down, and my life has been turned upside down,” she said, according to an audio tape obtained by Reuters. The bill was “very much prompted by our compassion” for the Poon family, “and this has proven to be very unwise.” It turned out, she said, that there was “this huge degree of fear and anxiety amongst people of Hong Kong vis-a-vis the mainland of China, which we were not sensitive enough to feel and grasp.”

In late August, Reuters revealed that officials in Beijing had rejected a proposal from Lam to scrap the bill altogether earlier in the summer and defuse the crisis.

On September 3, Lam declared the bill would be formally withdrawn. But the protests continued as the movement morphed into a broad pursuit of democratic rights.

Chan Tong-kai was released after serving 19 months in prison in Hong Kong. On October 18, five days before walking free, he revealed there was no need for an extradition deal in his case. In a letter to Lam, Chan said he was volunteering to return to Taipei to face justice. He remains free in Hong Kong while Lam and Taiwan wrangle over the details.

(Reporting by David Lague, James Pomfret and Greg Torode. Additional reporting by Anne Marie Roantree and Clare Jim in Hong Kong. Editing by Peter Hirschberg.)