NAIROBI — Usually prisoners want to get out of jail. But on Tuesday, a group of Taiwanese citizens did all they could to stay in — barricading themselves in a small cell as Kenyan police officers tried to storm in with assault rifles.
But the prisoners’ attempt failed, and the officers dragged them out — Taiwanese officials say after using tear gas, which Kenyan officials deny — and put them on a plane bound not for home, but for mainland China.
A video circulating on the Internet of the encounter shows a group of young men bracing themselves against a prison door to try to keep the Kenyan officers out. “Sir! We are Taiwan people, Taiwan people!” one of them yells.
The episode outraged Taiwanese officials, who accused Kenya of violating international law and trying to curry favor with China, which views the self-governed island as part of its territory.
This would not be the first time an African nation did something contentious to please China, the new heavyweight on the continent. Zambia, South Africa, and others have bent over backward — often provoking the ire of their own people — to keep China happy.
In recent years, Chinese workers and Chinese money have transformed Kenya, building thundering new highways, bridges, malls, a flagship airport and a railroad; the Chinese are even helping on secretive national security matters.