The international community focuses on the fierce confrontation between China and the United States over the Taiwan issue and the military tension in the Taiwan Strait. Young people on Taiwan Island have been lured to Cambodia to engage in telecommunications fraud activities, and have even been imprisoned and abused, or kidnapped and sold them. , and there was much discussion.
Taiwanese media once reported that about 4,000 people were “missing” in Cambodia. The Taiwanese police department refuted the statement, but still confirmed that at least 120 people could not be contacted locally. The police specially went to the airport to stop and check and persuade the people who were going to go back to Cambodia, which attracted ridicule from the opposition parties and criticized the ruling DPP for its ineffective rescue.
Prior to this, the U.S. State Department released its annual Human Trafficking Report, which lowered Cambodia to the third-level watch list with the worst situation, causing strong dissatisfaction with the Phnom Penh government. The report explicitly charged that a Chinese-organized criminal group lured foreign workers into Cambodia to engage in wire fraud.
This transnational crime related to fraud and human trafficking has attracted public attention, and Taiwan’s “New Southbound Policy” and China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative have also been involved.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented on this on August 18, saying that the Chinese embassies and consulates in the relevant countries are maintaining close communication with the governments of the countries where they are stationed, and actively searching for and rescuing relevant personnel. The safety and legitimate rights and interests of overseas Chinese citizens in China”.
Many comments pointed out that the Cambodian Hun Sen government has followed the “one China” policy of mainland China for many years, and Taiwan cannot set up a representative office in Cambodia, which increases the difficulty of helping people stranded in Taiwan.
Cambodian scams hit by Covid-19
“He was invited to do game customer service operations, and he paid me $1,500 to $1,800 a month. The pictures they gave me were similar to hotel-level room photos and working environment.”
This is the beginning of Taiwanese Yang Weibin’s online fake recruitment campaign. He is 34 years old and used to work in massage, but the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic caused him to lose his job.
The General Accounting Office of the Taiwan Executive Yuan announced on August 10 that the average total salary in Taiwan in June 2022 was NT$53,068 (US$1,769), and the average salary after deducting bonuses and overtime pay was NT$44,324 ( $1477). The “game customer service” job advertisement that Yang Weibin encountered seemed very attractive.
In mid-March 2022, Yang Weibin came to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, alone.
Yang Weibin told the BBC Chinese reporter: “They will send a local person to pick me up. When the driver took me to the location, there was a small alley over there.”
“My work place is on the fourth floor. I was in one of the small rooms, with a group of mainlanders and Malaysians, as well as Taiwanese. Their job was very clear to me, money laundering.”
In the following time, Yang Weibin “worked” under strict surveillance. The criminal group set up a clever scheme, deducted wages through “training fees”, etc., and was not allowed to leave the “park” on rest days.
“There are several guards on 24-hour shifts over there, and then there are a lot of surveillance cameras, and then that iron gate, it’s basically impossible for you to climb out.”
“I knew from the next day that I had come to the wrong place, that this place could be very dangerous, not what I thought it would be.”
“Basically, I was under house arrest for 58 days.”
In the end, Yang Weibin found an opportunity to escape from the park in the early morning, but because he had no money, he could only linger in the Phnom Penh casino to massage gamblers to earn income. Later, by bribing the local police, he was able to complete the procedures such as reporting the loss of his passport, and then managed to complete the temporary documents and return to Taiwan.
The fraud routine encountered by Yang Weibin is called “killing pigs”. The semi-official China News Agency in mainland China explained that it means that criminals known as “butchers” trick the victims into investing, gambling, and online loans through online dating and other methods.
Today, “killing pigs” also seem to be used to trick people into working in fraudulent group teams. It is not an isolated incident for Taiwanese like Yang Weibin to lose personal freedom after coming to Cambodia.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that, according to the statistics of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, which is closest to Phnom Penh, from June 21 to August 10, a total of 222 Taiwanese people have received complaints that their personal freedoms are restricted when working in Cambodia; A Taiwanese media reported that “4,000 people lost contact,” but Taiwan’s Chief Executive Su Zhenchang and the Criminal Police Bureau of the National Police Agency rebutted separately, saying that only about 120 people could not be contacted in Cambodia.
The place where these people are likely to be is Sihanoukville, a port city in southern Cambodia, commonly known as “Westport” by the Chinese.
Li Qiang, the founder of China Labor Watch in New York, USA, has been researching issues such as forced labor overseas by Chinese laborers for a long time. He told the BBC Chinese reporter that there are multiple economic development zones in the area, and each park can have dozens of fraudulent companies operating.
Li Qiang pointed out that the victims of deception and repeated trafficking in Cambodia are still mostly from mainland China, and Taiwanese victims are roughly estimated to account for about 5%, but the situation of Taiwanese being deceived to Cambodia is more serious after the outbreak of the new crown epidemic .
“Because after the closure of mainland China, many mainlanders can’t come out, and the entire fraud group is targeting Taiwanese – Taiwanese can still go to Cambodia freely.”
“His method of deception is ‘people deceive people’. He first deceived a Taiwanese, and then used this Taiwanese to deceive Taiwanese. So this is like a snowball method.”
The Chinese embassy in Cambodia issued an announcement in July, saying that several Chinese citizens were lured into Cambodia by a telecom fraud group, and were later illegally detained and extorted high ransoms. The embassy coordinated with Cambodian law enforcement and successfully rescued them. “Taking this opportunity, the Chinese embassy in Cambodia solemnly reminds Chinese citizens to come to Cambodia through formal channels, and do not believe in the lies woven by online gambling fraud groups.”
In the past few days, Taiwanese media reports have shown that there are many methods used by fraud groups to abduct Taiwanese to Cambodia, such as recruiting makeup artists, hairdressers, magicians, and online romance scams. When people are deceived into the local area, if they want to get out of control, they have to pay ransom to the fraudulent group. Li Qiang pointed out that the amount per person can reach 30,000 US dollars.
The BBC was unable to independently verify the claims.
However, Chen Shangmao, a professor at the Department of Public Affairs at Foguang University in Taiwan and director of the Nanxiang Office, believes that this reflects the urgency of the fraud group’s need for human resources.
Professor Chen Shangmao told the BBC Chinese reporter: “There is a saying in Taiwan called ‘grab alternately’, which means that if you want to leave, you can help me find a few more people. You can leave when I have enough people, not that you have to pay. I can go with the money. After all, you can see that the park is quite, quite large, and he needs a lot of people to support the fraud operation.”
The Nanxiang Office headed by Professor Chen Shangmao undertakes the internship business of our students to Southeast Asian companies. He believes that after more than two years of COVID-19, young Taiwanese who yearn to go out to work want to go abroad, but in the past, their willingness to work in mainland China decreased with the deterioration of cross-strait relations, and their willingness to go to Southeast Asia increased.
Do Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” and Tsai Ing-wen’s “New Southbound Policy” work together?
Chinese fraud groups have actually been operating in Cambodia for quite some time, and it is also one of the friction points in cross-strait relations. For example, in 2016, the Phnom Penh authorities repatriated Taiwanese fraud suspects to mainland China.
The situation in Westport is even worse: “The Diplomat” magazine (The Diplomat) described Westport as a member of the “casino fraud archipelago” in the Meijiang River Basin; Singapore’s “Lianhe Zaobao” described Westport as a “fraud paradise”.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Washington-based Human Rights Watch, told The Diplomat that human rights abuses in Westport, including fake recruitment, were “shocking”. , confiscation of victims’ passports or other identification documents, kidnapping, house arrest, forced labor, beatings and sexual assaults.
According to data from the Ministry of Commerce of China, the development of Westport can be traced back to 2008, when the Cambodian government established the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone. Until December 13, 2010, witnessed by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the two China signed the “Agreement on the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone” in Beijing.
Sokvy Rim, co-founder of The Thinker Cambodia, a local forum group, wrote in The Diplomat that there has been an influx of Chinese since 2013, when Chinese President Xi Jinping formally proposed the Belt and Road Initiative. Westport has grown from 80,000 in 2013 to 250,000 in 2019; in July 2019, local statistics showed that 90% of businesses in Westport were owned by Chinese.
In an exclusive interview with the “Freedom Times” online program, Li Yangji, chief of the International Section of the Criminal Bureau of the Taiwan Police Administration, said that many online gaming companies in Cambodia have been transformed due to the ban on gambling, and instead engaged in online love fraud and investment fraud. The target of the scam is Chinese speakers, and many mainland Chinese people have been recruited to the local area to engage in phone scams.
“Lianhe Zaobao” described a “fraud park” in Westport as follows: It consists of more than 20 buildings about 10 stories high. It looks like a very ordinary commercial building, but the park is surrounded by high walls and barbed wire. People are also almost isolated from the world. There are restaurants, clinics, barber shops, KTV and other service facilities in the park, but most of them are only open to park staff.
Sokvi’s article said that Westport has become a paradise for such criminal activities due to weak law enforcement, which has deepened the Cambodian people’s dislike of China; Professor Chen Shangmao of Foguang University pointed out to BBC Chinese that he believed that the fraud group chose to engage in closed The “fraud park” is to reduce the nuisance to the local Cambodian people, but as the Chinese owner obtained Cambodian citizenship through investment, and then colluded with local officials as a protective umbrella, “The park will get bigger and bigger, and it will be out of order. Behaviour will happen more and more.”
The Cambodian section of the 2022 Human Trafficking Report published by the U.S. State Department in July stated that, according to NGO allegations, the police “colluded” with other officials to allow these online fraudulent operations in places such as Westport; grassroots police tipped off in exchange for Bribes for money or sexual services that fail law enforcement against pornography-related human trafficking groups.
Chou Bun Eng, State Secretary of the Cambodian Ministry of Interior and Vice Chairman of the Anti-Human Trafficking Committee, criticized the US report as “unfair”, and the lowering of Cambodia to the third-level watch list is to obliterate the country’s anti-trafficking efforts.
Beijing did not respond to the allegations against China in the Cambodia section of the US report, but Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in response to the Chinese section: “The US is the world‘s number one human-trafficking country. No matter how much the US hides it, it cannot wash away itself.” The original sin of the slave-trading nation’s history.”
While Taiwan’s opposition Chinese Kuomintang continued to put pressure on the ruling DPP, there were voices in the party defending Cambodia. Lin Lichan, director of the Kuomintang Women’s Department and former legislator who is an overseas Chinese in Cambodia, posted on Facebook: “Actually, the Cambodian government and local police units have been working hard to crack down on crime, but it is really difficult for any government to eradicate all crimes at once. .”
“I want to emphasize that Southeast Asian countries are like any other country, and it is impossible to be completely free of crime problems, but I hope everyone will not exaggerate or exaggerate, and even stigmatize Southeast Asian countries because of this, which will only deepen the relationship between Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries. The misunderstanding and confrontation between the two sides is not conducive to the exchanges between the two sides, and it is even more detrimental to the government’s southward policy.”
Cambodian fraud cases also reported in Hong Kong and Macau
After news of Taiwanese being lured to Cambodia was widely reported by local media, Hong Kong media also exposed similar cases.
“Sing Tao Daily” reported separately that a man was imprisoned and beaten after he was suspected of being lured to Cambodia by an online romance scam. Another netizen claimed that he had been hired to work in a bank in Cambodia, but the DBS Bank (DBS Bank) mentioned in the job advertisement ( DBS) responded that there were no DBS branches in Cambodia.
Zhuo Xiaoye, deputy director of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Security Bureau, confirmed on August 18 that since January 2022, at least 20 Hong Kong people are suspected of being lured to Southeast Asian countries, but 12 people have been confirmed to be safe; the convener of the SAR Executive Council and the Legislative Council Staff member Ye Liu Shuyi said that she received help from the public, saying that some relatives had been deceived into the “KK Park” in Myanmar. The park is said to be opened by She Zhijiang, a wanted Chinese criminal who was recently arrested in Thailand, and is suspected of engaging in human trafficking, live organ harvesting and fraud.
Yang Weibin, a Taiwanese who successfully escaped from the Cambodian fraud group, pointed out to the BBC Chinese that he also received private contact from Hong Kong people. The target has turned to Hong Kong.”
Yang Weibin urged the Hong Kong media to face up to the situation so as to prevent more Hong Kong people from being victimized.
The Macau Judicial Police Bureau of China also announced on the 18th that it had received three reports of suspected deception of Macau residents to engage in fraudulent activities in Southeast Asia. It has been confirmed that one person is in another country and is safe, and the other successfully persuaded the three to give up their travel to Cambodia.
One of the men was introduced by a friend to Laos as a casino publicist with a monthly salary of US$5,000, the police said.
The official Central News Agency and other Taiwanese media described the fraudulent activities in Westport as a legacy of China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, while the Kuomintang accused the Democratic Progressive Party, Tsai Ing-wen’s government, “New Southbound Policy” that led to the abduction of Taiwanese to Cambodia, “only for elections, without regard for life.” ——At present, all parties in Taiwan have been vigorously canvassing votes for the “nine-in-one” local elections to be held in November.
The Kuomintang’s claim seems to have some public support. The Economic Daily of the United Daily News published an editorial saying: “Cambodia has always been unfriendly to Taiwan… Cambodia has also accused the Tsai government of interfering in its internal affairs, and even pursued the ‘one China’ principle, but it has taken drastic actions, such as banning Taiwan in Cambodia. Taiwanese businessmen fly the flag of the Republic of China. Cambodia is one of the few countries that openly supports China at a time when the world has widely condemned China’s military exercises against Taiwan.”
“This incident shows that Taiwan not only has no official channels in Cambodia, but also lacks a strong civil network that can provide local assistance, which reflects the government’s blind spot in promoting the ‘New Southbound Policy’.”
Also based on the lack of official channels to assist local Taiwan residents, the Taiwan Chinese Human Rights Association also asked the Tsai Ing-wen government to “re-examine the effectiveness of the New Southbound Policy.”
The Chinese Human Rights Association also put forward: “The Human Snake Group is obviously taking advantage of the job-seeking difficulties of Taiwanese youths to lure them. The government should immediately expand the channels for job-seeking and unemployment assistance. At the same time, it should accelerate the pace of economic recovery, improve the domestic employment environment, and help Taiwanese youth get rid of unemployment or difficulties in making a living. It is an effective solution to slashing salaries from the bottom of the pile and clearing the source; as long as the employment environment in Taiwan is good, how can Taiwanese youth be willing to leave their hometowns and venture far to seek jobs and seek a living?”
According to data from the General Accounting Office, the unemployment rate for Taiwanese youth aged 15 to 29 is 8.8 percent in 2021, falling back to 8.3 percent in June 2022, but still more than double the overall unemployment rate.
Li Qiang, founder of China Labor Watch, agrees that one of the reasons why Taiwanese youths go to Cambodia is because job opportunities in mainland China no longer exist under the epidemic, but he believes that this is “not caused by the DPP’s policies.”
Li Qiang told BBC Chinese: “Even if the Kuomintang is in power at this time, this situation will also happen… Because Taiwan used to rely too heavily on mainland China, and it cannot be reversed in the short term.”
Professor Chen Shangmao, who is also working on the “New Southbound” in addition to teaching, agrees that there is a gap between the “New Southbound Policy” of Tsai Ing-wen’s second term starting from 2020 and the first term.
“The focus of the policy is to emphasize two-way talent exchanges. The lack of talent exchanges under the epidemic has indeed caused obstacles.”
In addition, Professor Chen Shangmao also believes that the foreign policy focus of the Tsai Ing-wen government has also changed. He told the BBC Chinese: “You can see that the second term she is probably talking about the Indo-Pacific strategy, focusing on the United States, Japan and other countries with the same democratic concept as ours. So under this situation, most of the resources are diverted. Going over there… Southeast Asia will naturally be ignored a little bit.”
Chen Shangmao said that the Taipei government needs to learn lessons from this incident and study how to do better when dealing with Southeast Asian countries in the future.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs refuted the Kuomintang’s claim, denying disregard for life, and said that in 2021, the total trade volume between Taiwan and the New Southbound countries will reach 149.1 billion US dollars, an increase of 38% over 2020; Ten thousand people, an increase of 10% year-on-year, “the effect is obvious to all”.
Escape from danger, folk self-help
Observers have noticed that the incident of Taiwanese being lured to Cambodia one after another has caused a lot of uproar. It is related to the fact that non-governmental organizations and even Internet celebrities took the lead in rescuing the trapped people. Among them, the Global Anti Scam Org (GASO), an organization founded by survivors of scams in Singapore, reportedly provided intelligence to law enforcement agencies in Taiwan and Malaysia, and sent personnel to the places to rescue many victims.
Meanwhile, Thai police announced the arrest of She Zhijiang, a Chinese illegal online casino suspect with Cambodian nationality, pending an extradition application from China. The tycoon, also known as She Lunkai, was also accused of transferring the “fraud park” originally located in Westport to Myawaddy, Kayin, Kayin State, Myanmar. further exposure.
Taiwanese police are clearly feeling the pressure. On August 17, the Criminal Bureau of the National Police Agency announced the establishment of a special task force to inspect hotels, homestays, and daily-rental suites throughout Taiwan within two weeks, arresting 24 people and rescuing 31 victims.
The Criminal Bureau went to Taoyuan International Airport for several days in a row, and held up a sign saying “Beware of Fraud” at the check-in counter for the flight to Cambodia, and actively contacted outbound passengers to Cambodia to persuade them to return. Taipei Mayor Ko Wenzhe ridiculed the move as “too funny,” but the Criminal Bureau said it was quite effective and had persuaded nearly 30 people to return.
However, Li Qiang of China Labor Watch pointed out that in addition to the inability of the Taiwan authorities to rescue the trapped people through diplomatic channels, the difficulty in verifying the authenticity of the victim’s information is also a problem.
In February 2022, Li Yayuanlun, a man from Jiangsu, China, claimed to have been abducted to Cambodia to become a “blood slave”. The Chinese embassy notified the Cambodian police unit for investigation, but the result was found to be false and fabricated by the Cambodian police. Chen Baorong, the captain of the China-Cambodia volunteer team who assisted him, and others were taken away by the Cambodian police for investigation, while Li Yayuanlun was repatriated to China in June. Li Qiang said that Chen Baorong had indeed helped rescue many people. “He was arrested, and no one paid attention to this matter anymore.”
Professor Chen Shangmao also said: “It is already difficult to identify victims.” He believes that under the international political reality that Cambodia has a good relationship with mainland China, it is more difficult for the Taiwan government to rescue the stranded people, relying on The help of local Taiwanese businessmen is a way out, but the resistance brought by the activities of Taiwanese gangsters in Cambodia cannot be ignored.
Chen Shangmao also pointed out that if the problem of human trafficking continues to deteriorate, it will cause great harm to the image of Cambodia. Prime Minister Hun Sen is expected to hand over the baton to his eldest son Hong Mane in the 2023 general election, and Southeast Asia will hold a series of meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit and the Group of Twenty (G20) in November 2022. G20) summit, the Phnom Penh government is expected to make a friendly response at that time.
Additional reporting: BBC Chinese video reporter Li Luo