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The prodigal son
Publication Date : 13-03-2013
Justin Lin is a celebrity in China. He is a member of the National People's National Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which met last week to formalise the election of Communist Party General-Secretary Xi Jinping as president of the People's Republic of China.
Lin used to be a senior vice president of the World Bank. He is also honorary director of the China Center for Economic Research at Peking University. In Taiwan, where he was born in 1952, however, he is a military deserter and a fugitive.
While attending the meetings of the two Chinese congresses, Lin took time out to call a press conference where he declared that he is a Taiwanese who wants only to return home to Yilan to sweep the tombs of his parents during the Qingming Festival. Known also as Tomb Sweeping Day. Qingming falls on April 4. In the week before and after the day, filial Chinese are expected to visit the tombs of their ancestors.
“By listening to me while I am speaking, you know I am a native of Taiwan,” Lin told Taiwanese reporters in Beijing. “And I wish to go back to Taiwan, just as a 'little son of Taiwan' to sweep the tombs of my deceased father and mother during the coming Qingming Festival.” Lin begged Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu to let him fulfill his humble wish.
Lin had to. For General Kao was his battalion commander on the offshore island of Quemoy when he deserted as a company commander, swimming across a narrow strip of water to Amoy and defecting to the People's Liberation Army on May 17, 1979. Now as the defense minister, Kao insists that the defector has to be brought to military justice if he ever sets foot on Taiwan. Lin is wanted for treason, and has to be court-martialed, according to Maj. Gen. Luo Shao-ho, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense (MND).
On the other hand, Lin feels like a pawn in the game between the two major parties in Taiwan. When the Democratic Progressive Party was in power, the Kuomintang opposed his return to his hometown. Now that the Kuomintang is in power, the DPP is against his homecoming because the opposition party leaders think the ruling party is letting him return to curry favour with China. He doesn't want to be the pawn, and hopes Kao will not insist on serving him with an arrest warrant on account of the expiry of the statute of limitations.
For many times in the past decade or so, Lin has applied to return home, and there was a time when these were approved by the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC). The council's spokeswoman, Wu Mei-hung, said last Thursday that if Lin applies now, “the applications will be processed according to law, though he has to settle his problem with the MND.” That means MAC will permit Lin to come to Taiwan not as a criminal - as long as the military's top brass agree not to prosecute him. Hence Lin is calling upon Kao to let him come home as a prodigal son by not insisting on a court-martial.
It's not difficult for Kao to do so. All he has to do is not let his judge advocate general toil or delay the expiry of the 30-year statute of limitations. A limitation period begins running upon accrual of action, which is subject to interpretation by judges. As a matter of fact, the warrant was issued in 2002 for Lin's arrest for treason, the punishment for which is death, life imprisonment or more than 10 years in prison. It's limitation period is 30 years. In other words, Lin won't be a free man until 2032. But the limitation period can start running from the day of his defection to China in 1979. If the limitation period is considered to have begun running in 1979, Lin could not be prosecuted after May 16, 2009.
To err is human, to forgive divine. Kao should welcome Lin back home like a prodigal son who, however, hasn't repented because his believes that he has done nothing wrong as his defection to China was a “historical inevitability” and his “optimal choice.”