In a dramatic U-turn, Taiwan on Tuesday evening agreed to receive a Hong Kong resident wanted for strangling his girlfriend in Taipei in February last year, retracting an entry ban to the island slapped on him earlier this week.

Taiwan also offered to dispatch law enforcement officers to Hong Kong to escort homicide suspect Chan Tong-kai back to the island to stand trial. He is alleged to have murdered his girlfriend, who was pregnant to another man, while they were traveling in Taipei and then fled to his home in Hong Kong more than a year ago.

Taiwan had earlier said it would not allow Chan to enter unless Hong Kong agreed to offer comprehensive judicial and legal cooperation in the case, including providing all relevant evidence.

HK, Taiwan fight over jurisdiction

The 11th-hour decision by the island’s Tsai Ing-wen administration to allow Chan into Taiwan came before his release on Wednesday morning from a prison in Hong Kong. Chan walked free after serving a short term for money laundering related to the theft of his dead girlfriend’s money and processions.

Chan could have escaped prosecution for killing his girlfriend because despite his confession, prosecutors in Hong Kong could not indict him for murder because the city’s courts do not have jurisdiction over crimes committed beyond Hong Kong’s limits, according to the territoriality principle in the city’s common law system.

Nor could he be sent back to Taiwan as there is no extradition agreement on the rendition of suspects and wanted persons between the two jurisdictions.

However, the remorseful Chan reportedly wrote a letter to Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam last weekend, seeking help to liaise with Taiwan. He had made up his mind to turn himself in to Taiwan authorities soon after his release from jail.

His initial offer to surrender was at first turned down by Taiwan, which made a counter-proposal of a trial in Hong Kong as both the suspect and victim were from there.

Chan Tong-kai’s case led to Hong Kong’s extradition bill being proposed by the government to allow the rendition of persons not only to Taiwan but also mainland China. Photo: RTHK

Because of Taiwan’s lastest shift in allowing Chan to return to the island, many thought justice would finally be served. But that does not appear to be the case.

The bitter row between Hong Kong and Taiwan over jurisprudential powers and legal assistance – which also sparked Hong Kong’s protracted anti-extradition bill protests and chaos – is still not over.

A sternly-worded Hong Kong government statement issued in the early hours of Wednesday said Taiwan had no authority to send officers to escort the suspect.

“The government sees it as cross-jurisdiction law enforcement, which is a disrespect for Hong Kong’s jurisdictional power and is totally unacceptable,” the statement said. Taiwan has no law enforcement power in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong officials said Chan was wanted in Taiwan and his decision to surrender is voluntary. As he will be a free man after being released from jail, he could go to Taiwan and upon arrival, Taiwan can arrest him.

If Taiwan is willing to handle Chan’s surrender, it should immediately cancel the landing restriction. “The homicide case took place in Taiwan. The body of the deceased, key witnesses, exhibits and relevant evidence were all in Taiwan. Without doubt, Taiwan has jurisdiction over this offense,” Hong Kong officials said.

“Now that Chan is willing to surrender, Taiwan should receive him,” read the statement. It refuted Taiwan’s claims that Hong Kong had no intention to cooperate, adding that since he remained a wanted man in Taiwan, the case could be handled entirely outside any legal assistance regime.

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security John Lee also said that Taiwan had been trying to shift the blame to the Hong Kong government.

“They restricted Chan from entering Taiwan. They asked the Hong Kong government to illegally detain him after his release. They even suggest sending its officers to the city to take him back. It’s completely unacceptable and an utter disrespect for Hong Kong’s jurisdiction,” he said.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen insisted Hong Kong should first try Chan since he and the victim were Hongkongers, despite the fact that the murder took place in Taiwan. Photo: Handout

However, Taiwan’s Tsai vowed on Tuesday that everything her government had been doing was aimed at upholding justice and Taiwan’s sovereignty and Taiwan would not forfeit its right to try Chan.

Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang has also weighed in, stressing that Taiwan would review the case on the condition that Hong Kong formally extradited Chan through mutual judicial assistance, and that the island would not be “duped by China and Hong Kong,” which aimed to use the case to justify the withdrawn extradition bill intended to allow the transfer of people to not only Taiwan, but also the mainland.

Murderer walks free, for now

Chan’s release on Wednesday also received extensive coverage in Taiwan. Photo: Sanlih E-Television/screen grab

Chan was released from Pik Uk Prison at about 9am on Wednesday morning, having served an 18-month term for money laundering, a term shortened because of time already served and good behavior while in custody.

Speaking to a scrum of local and overseas reporters outside the prison, Chan bowed and repeatedly apologized to the victim’s family.

“I understand I’ve made an irreversible mistake … I’ve been feeling guilty all along. I’m willing to surrender myself to Taiwan and serve my sentence there for my mistake. I hope Hiu-wing’s [the victim] family will be relieved and Hiu-wing can rest in peace,” said a remorseful Chan in Cantonese.

He did not respond when asked if he was being used as a political pawn and left in a car said to be arranged by the Hong Kong police to protect and keep watch on him.

A chaplain who had been in touch with Chan and persuaded him to surrender himself said Chan would first stay in Hong Kong with his family for at least a few days before deciding the way forward.

Read more: Taiwan refuses entry to Hong Kong murder suspect Beijing accuses Taiwan as HK spirals into crisis