By Shih Hsiu-chuan / Staff Reporter
The government has made little progress in its demands that the US release a high-ranking Taiwanese representative arrested on fraud charges because of a disagreement over the scope of immunity enjoyed by Taiwanese diplomats under bilateral agreements, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official said yesterday.
The arrest of Liu Hsien-hsien (劉姍姍), director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas, on Thursday by FBI agents for allegedly violating US federal law in the hiring of her Filipino housekeeper sent a shockwave through the government, which lodged a strong protest with the US, demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the representative.
“We are still at odds over the scope of immunity, which may be restricted to authorized functions only, and the definition of authorized functions,” said Bruce Linghu (令狐榮達), director-general of the ministry’s Department of North American Affairs.
After the US severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979, the two sides signed the Agreement on Privileges, Exemptions and Immunities the following year.
The agreement states that: “Designated employees of each sending counterpart organization shall be immune from suit and legal processes relating to acts performed by them within the scope of their authorized functions.”
“With the agreement, we considered that diplomatic immunity applies to Liu and that Taiwan retains its jurisdiction over its diplomats in the US,” Linghu said.
Taiwan’s representative to the US Jason Yuan (袁健生), who is in Honolulu, Hawaii, attending the APEC forum meeting, told reporters that Taiwan insisted that the issue be dealt with through diplomatic channels because Liu enjoys diplomatic immunity.
Liu remained in custody yesterday pending a federal detention hearing on Wednesday.
Asked about the US Department of State’s position, American Institute in Taiwan spokesman Christopher Kavanagh said by telephone that all questions regarding the case “have to go to the US Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Missouri,” which is in charge of the case.
Kavanagh said the agreement only extends to official authorized functions.
Former representative to the US Chen Chien-jen (程建人), who attended the negotiations on the agreement in 1980, said it was modeled after Article 31 of the Vienna Convention, which applies to countries with diplomatic ties.
“Despite some differences in wording between Article 31 of the Vienna Convention and the agreement, basically, Taiwanese diplomats enjoy the same diplomatic privileges the US grants to employees of international organizations,” Chen said.
Chen urged the US to sit down with Taiwan to discuss their disagreements over “the scope of authorized functions,” because the article itself “has plenty of room for interpretation.”
“Taiwan and the US have a friendly relationship. The US State Department should have told Taiwan about the case. There are many ways to talk about the matter, and the FBI just acted in a blunt way,” Chen said.
A Central News Agency report yesterday said that “NBC cited Cynthia Cordes, the prosecutor in charge of the case, as saying that as the US does not recognize the sovereignty of Taiwan, Liu does not qualify for diplomatic immunity.”
Linghu dismissed the reported statement, saying that if someone had said this, it was because of a “lack of understanding of the situation.”
“Despite a lack of diplomatic relations, the Agreement on Privileges, Exemptions and Immunities shall be abided by,” he said.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday stressed the nation’s sovereignty following Liu’s arrest and instructed the ministry to conduct negotiations while protecting the rights of foreign representatives.
Although the nation has no diplomatic ties with the US, Washington should treat Taiwan as a foreign government in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) signed in 1979, Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi (范姜泰基) quoted Ma as saying.
The spirit and content of the regulations concerning diplomatic privileges and immunity signed by Taipei and Washington in the 1980s also granted foreign representatives the same privileges as diplomats, he said.
Commenting on the matter, Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday said that according to the TRA and other related agreements, Taiwanese diplomats should have diplomatic immunity and that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should do everything possible to negotiate with the US as the issue concerns the nation’s sovereignty.
Additional reporting by Mo Yan-chih and Rich Chang