Repatriations from China must be through proper channels: premier

02/06/2020 03:14 PM
Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌)/CNA file photo
Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌)/CNA file photo

Taipei, Feb. 6 (CNA) Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said Thursday that there will be no more repatriations of Taiwanese nationals stranded in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak, unless such arrangements are made through the established communication channels between both sides of the Taiwan Strait rather than private groups.

Su said that the Feb. 3 return of the first group of more than 200 Taiwanese was carried out without government approval or oversight and that such an incident should never happen again.

He noted that one of the 247 evacuees from the capital city of Hubei Province later tested positive for 2019-nCoV, becoming the 11th person in Taiwan to be diagnosed with the virus.

Many of those who returned to Taiwan in the group were not on a priority list the Taiwan government provided to the China side.

The premier reiterated the government's stance that China should provide a complete list of the people to be evacuated at least one day before they are flown back to Taiwan, instead of only an hour beforehand, which is what happened with the Feb. 3 evacuation.

The government requires that priority should be given to people with chronic diseases, those who need regular medication, the elderly and children, and those who are in Wuhan on short business trips, Su said.

He also said that negotiations on possible future evacuation charter flights should be carried out through Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and its Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS).

Such negotiations should not be undertaken by private middlemen in the future, he added.

Su was referring to Hsu Cheng-wen (徐正文), a Taiwanese businessman and opposition Kuomintang Central Committee member involved in arranging the first charter flight.

Hsu, who formed a self-help group to help stranded Taiwanese, stands accused of being responsible for compiling the final list of those who returned to Taiwan Feb. 3.

Local Chinese-language Next Magazine said Wednesday that at least 20 percent of the 247 evacuees are not Republic of China nationals but the Chinese spouses of Taiwanese citizens who have permanent residency in Taiwan.

Hsu admitted Wednesday that his rescue association originally listed only a total of 244 to be evacuated in the first batch and said he did not know how the other three that were not on his group's original list were able to board the plane. One of the three was the patient who later tested positive for coronavirus.

Hsu said Thursday in a Facebook post that his rescue association did not have the final say on the list of people who came back to Taiwan.

He said that he only formed the rescue group Jan. 29 after the governments on each side of the strait failed to reach a consensus on how to repatriate Taiwanese stranded in China.

Hsu said his association is also preparing a list of the remaining Taiwanese stranded in Wuhan that will be submitted to both the Taiwanese and Chinese governments in the hope that they can be brought back to Taiwan as soon as possible.

According to the Taiwan government, the SEF officially contacted ARATS Jan. 26 in the hope that both sides could come up with a mechanism to send back Taiwanese stranded in Wuhan after the city went into lockdown Jan. 23 to prevent the further spread of 2019-nCoV.

The Chinese side, however, did not make an official response until Feb. 1, when Hsu held a press conference saying that his rescue association group was planning to help Taiwanese return to Taiwan.

Hubei Province's cross-strait affairs office then finally said it was making arrangements to help to repatriate the stranded Taiwanese.

A spokesperson for the office said Wednesday that there are still 900 Taiwanese people in Hubei who have applied to the province for transportation assistance and are waiting to return to Taiwan.

(By Ku Chuan, Yu Hsiang, Miao Zong-han and Joseph Yeh)

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