New Taiwan-U.S. diplomatic immunity pact a positive move: scholar

02/05/2013 08:34 PM

Taipei, Feb. 5 (CNA) The signing of an updated agreement between Taiwan and the United States Monday on privileges, exemptions and immunities for diplomats stationed in each other's country represents a significant step forward in bilateral relations, a scholar said Tuesday in Taipei.

Tamkang University professor Wang Kao-cheng said the revised pact shows reciprocity and goodwill on the part of the U.S. toward the Republic of China, and recognition of Taiwan's diplomatic status.

This can be seen as a "breakthrough," he said.

The arrest of a Taiwanese diplomat in the United States in 2011 gave rise to a review of an agreement between the two sides on the privileges, exemptions and immunities originally agreed on in 1980, Wang noted.

He was referring to the case of Jacqueline Liu, former director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas City, who was arrested in the U.S. in November 2011 on charges related to overworking and underpaying two Filipino housekeepers.

With the signing of the new agreement, "the exchanges between the two countries will become more normalized," Wang said.

Under the revised agreement, officials stationed at Taiwan's representative office in Washington, D.C. and their families have been given diplomatic immunity from criminal jurisdiction.

This means they cannot be arrested or detained and will be exempt from testifying in court.

At Taiwan's 12 other offices in the U.S., only the directors and deputy directors have been granted immunity from arrest or detention, except in the case of crimes that carry a prison sentence of a year or more.

Former Foreign Minister Chen Chien-jen said that when Taiwan signed the first agreement in 1980, it asked "for treatment on par with international organizations."

But there were many deficiencies in the agreement and "we continued over the past three decades to seek better treatment," Chen said.

He said Liu's case highlighted the sovereignty issue, adding that "it is preposterous for a diplomat to be treated like that."

The updated agreement indicates that both sides understand the practical requirements and have acted accordingly, "although there is still much room for improvement," Chen said.

The Republic of China's representative office in the United States said the updated agreement provides more comprehensive protection for diplomats with regard to criminal jurisdiction.

Liu was charged with an offense that carried a prison sentence of more than a year, which means she still would not have obtained immunity under the new agreement.

(By Liu Li-jung and Lilian Wu)

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