Taiwanese Legislator Detained at Vietnam Airport

Taiwanese Legislator Detained at Vietnam Airport
Photo Credit: othree CC BY 2.0

What you need to know

A Taiwanese legislator was held up by Vietnamese officials at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi for nine hours. She was on her way a Formosa Plastics plant that has been blamed for causing serious pollution. Is this a sign of jitters for Taiwan's pivot to Southeast Asia?

A legislator from Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) yesterday said that Vietnamese authorities had confiscated her passport and refused to issue her a boarding pass to travel on to Vinh City, where a Taiwanese steel plant at the heart of an ecological disaster is located.

Legislator Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬), who was on her way to visit a Formosa Plastics steel plant that has been blamed for causing serious pollution, was held at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi for nine hours.

In a Facebook post, Su wrote that airport officials had issued boarding passes to the rest of her team before confiscating her passport and preventing the entire group from boarding.

Tran Duy Hai (陳維海), a representative from the Vietnam Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei, said Su was held at the airport because she had not applied to visit the steel plant. As the visit was not relevant to tourism, it was in breach of tourist visa rules, the official said.

With assistance from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Vietnam, Su and her group were later released but were only allowed to travel to Vinh City by bus.

Commentators have suggested that Vietnam may have been retaliating for the environmental disaster, which caused mass fish deaths and angered local residents. They added that the incident could also slow the progress of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) New Southbound Policy, which aims to reposition Taiwan’s economy by lessening its reliance on China and leveraging growth in Southeast Asia.

However, Executive Yuan spokesman Tung Chen-yuan (童振源) said the incident would not affect the implementation of the Southbound Policy, adding that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) was in contact with the Vietnamese government about the situation.

DPP Caucus secretary Cheng Ting-fei (陳亭妃) said the government would continue to push its Southbound Policy and that neither the US$500 million fine given to Formosa Plastics nor Su’s case should be interpreted as Vietnam pushing back against Taiwan.

Su Chiao-hui (蘇巧慧), another DPP legislator, said the case shows the Southbound Policy needs to incorporate relationship-building between Taiwanese and Southeast Asian officials, as well focusing on broader economic and trade ties.

MOFA Spokeswoman Eleanor Wang (王珮玲) said Su and her group have arrived at Vinh City and were scheduled to visit the steel plant this afternoon (Aug. 2).

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole