In general Taiwan is pretty safe, back in 2015 it was even declared as the 2nd safest country in the world. You can walk around alone day and night and sit together in parks without any worries. Just until a few decades ago everything had been different: Taiwan was infamous for a lot of brutal gang activities, crime related hazards were a daily routine. Still, sometimes topics pop up about minor assaults, politicians being gang members, bid-rigging and drug trafficking, and so on.
If you want to find out more about general safety or dangerous wildlife here in Taiwan, follow the links. In this article I’ll give you a general overview about crime related hazards here in Taiwan, and everything you need to know.
The topics will be:
In general the biggest danger for foreigners are pick-pockets. It rarely happens, but like in every other country in the world, it’s easy to stay unnoticed in big touristic crowds and especially in safe countries, people feel secure and don’t worry too much about their stuff getting stolen. Sometimes you can find foreigners having experienced minor assaults and having problems getting the criminal properly prosecuted for just something minor. But those are just exceptional cases.
Serious assaults are not only crimes against society, but also against their culture and honor, which explains why the rarely happen. The only two reason why foreigners or expats get seriously hurt in Taiwan, is, because of traffic accidents or because they go hiking and overestimate their skills. They leave the marked way, maybe step on a hornets nest and don’t find their way back.
There is also another risk for expats, namely the small businesses owned by street gangs. There are various dodgy businesses, which are pretty easy to spot, so just stay away from them. For example, if a barber shop is closed up and you can’t see him cutting hair through a window, just walk by. Same with “massage parlors” without windows or shady bars and night clubs. It’s easy to stay safe as a foreigner, so just do it.
Drugs, including Marijuana, Cocaine and Meth are highly illegal in Taiwan. If you get caught with even just a tiny amount of anything, you face prison time and if they suspect you of drug trafficking, you can even get put on death penalty. Dealing and trafficking drugs get done most of the time by local street gangs and not the OC networks, those get raided regular and are not a real danger as long as you don’t get in their way.
Jonathan Adams wrote in Global Post: “Like their counterparts the world over, Taiwan’s gangsters boast colorful nicknames and truck in drugs, gun-running, prostitution, human trafficking, construction firm kickbacks, petty extortion and other racketeering. But what sets Taiwan’s wise guys apart from their Sicilian or Japanese brethren is the extent of their open involvement in political and religious life. “Some gangsters aren’t so bad, and have close relations with political parties and local religious factions,” said Chiu Hei-yuan, a sociologist at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica. “That’s a part of Taiwan society.”
There are reports saying, that gangsters finance temples, strongly support their home communities and only “hunt” or do something illegal in urban areas. Plus, according to the Ministry of Justice, between 5 and 10 percent of the members in parliament have gang affiliation. According to one Taiwanese political scientist, around 40 percent of Taiwan’s local council members had criminal records and about a third had ties with organized crime. Some politicians openly admit their links to gangsters, most of them Kuomintang members(Chinese National Party).
As Jonathan Adams also said in the Global Post: “In Taiwan, gangsters don’t just “buy” politicians, they become them. About 15 to 20 percent of local township and county councilors and township heads are gangsters”. There have also been various accusations of politicians working together with gangsters for bid rigging and other scams. For example, a multi million-dollar expansion of the international airport was delayed after a bid rigging scam was exposed. Some politicians hire gangsters to “get out the vote” using threats and intimidation. There have been mob attacks, murders and kidnapping and several beatings involving local officials and gangsters.
The “Black Gold” is the triangle of organized crime, politics and business. Politicians accuse each other of collusion and downplay their own role in the triangle. This results in law enforcement officers finding themselves utterly powerless to break into these structures, and crime bosses brag about how much they serve society by settling disputes and even bid-rigging. It is said that most politicians are willing to have close relationships with organised crime, because they are good vote-getters (for others and themselves) especially in rural areas because of their “grassroots personality”, their “influence”, their “generosity”, their ability to obtain construction funds for their constituency and because voters want to protest against the “establishment”.
The four major OC-Gangs, who are also said to have a lot of international connections, are United Bamboo Gang, Four Seas Gang, Celestial Path Alliance Gang and Songlian Gang. It is not certain, how big exactly and how much influence they still have nowadays. But as Timothy Ferry wrote in his report about OC in Taiwan Business Topics: ” Taiwan society has changed, and the gangsters have either disappeared or become more sophisticated, depending on who you ask. “
The United Bamboo Gang is said to be the largest one operating in Taiwan. They are known to simply call themselves “businessmen”, but in reality, are also involved in organized killings and drug trafficking. They don’t view themselves as criminals, but instead as patriots. They participate in many illegal activities like security services, debt collection, loan sharking, gambling dens, hostess clubs, restaurants, and small businesses. It is known internationally for drug smuggling, human trafficking, and silencing journalists as far away as Northern California.
One thing is certain, there are no more unnecessary gang wars endangering innocent people. Assaults only happen once in a blue moon and if there are some dangerous, shady places you can avoid them by using common sense and not entering suspicious, dubious buildings. Drugs are despised and which results in Taiwan having an overall small drug problem. There is said to still be a relative high influence from OC gangs on politicians and businesses, but who knows for sure.
But honestly, who knows how much influence in general those Gangs, Mafias, Cartels or however you want to call them, have on all of our governments and our global economy. If there’s good, there’s bad in the world, the one can’t exist without the other, we all can decide for ourselves in which it should go a bit more. For Taiwan it’s easy to say, as long as you don’t look for trouble you won’t find it (in 99 out of 100 cases).