TAIPEI — The new accord between Taiwan and the United States on privileges and immunities for diplomatic staff is a “breakthrough” in bilateral ties, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday.
The agreement on privileges, exemptions and immunities was signed by King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), Taiwan’s representative to the U.S., and Barbara Schrage, managing director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), in Washington on Feb. 4 (U.S. time). It took effect immediately.
The AIT represents U.S. interests in Taiwan in the absence of official diplomatic ties.
Bruce Linghu (令狐榮達), director-general of the ministry’s Department of North American Affairs, described the agreement as a “breakthrough” and said it will ensure better protection of Taiwanese and U.S. diplomatic staff stationed in each other’s country.
Under the reciprocal agreement, diplomatic personnel will enjoy the same privileges and immunities as those working for countries with formal diplomatic relations, Linghu said at a news conference.
The previous agreement, signed in 1980, gave U.S. and Taiwanese diplomatic workers “immunity from suit and legal processes equivalent to those enjoyed by public international organizations in the United States.”
That immunity was generally limited to “official acts immunity,” or acts performed within the scope of authorized functions.
The updated agreement maintains all of the privileges, exemptions and immunities granted in the 1980 accord.
But it also gives diplomatic staff at Taiwan’s de-facto embassy in Washington — the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States — broad diplomatic immunity, similar to that enjoyed by diplomatic staff at other foreign embassies in the U.S.
The diplomats and their families cannot be arrested or detained, even for offenses outside their official duties, and they will be exempt from testifying in court.
The directors and deputy directors of Taiwan’s 12 other representative offices in the U.S., will also see their diplomatic immunity extended to beyond acts outside their official duties under the new agreement.
As with other consular officers from other countries, the directors and deputy directors can be arrested or detained pending trial only if it is a severe offense with a jail term of at least one year or more.
The agreement was inked after more than a year of discussion, Linghu said, adding that the ministry will soon make public its English and Chinese versions.
Taiwan and the U.S. agreed to review the agreement in the wake of the detention of a Taiwanese diplomat on labor fraud charges in November 2011.
Jacqueline Liu (劉姍姍), former director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas City, was detained for overworking and underpaying two Filipino housekeepers.
The case sparked a dispute between Taiwan and the U.S. over the application of diplomatic immunity.
Taiwan argued that Liu should be granted immunity from prosecution, while the U.S. maintained that Liu’s status was similar to that of a consular officer, which meant that she had immunity only for acts performed within the scope of her authorized functions.
The Foreign Ministry would not comment on whether Liu would have been arrested had the new agreement been in place at the time.