The government is making preparations for Taiwan and China to establish representative offices on each side of the Taiwan Strait, a goal set to be completed by the end of the year, Mainland Affairs Council Deputy Minister Chang Hsien-yao (張顯耀) told a press conference yesterday.
Taipei and Beijing recently decided to enter formal talks on the issue after two informal meetings had been held, Chang told a press conference following a Cabinet meeting.
At the meeting, the Cabinet approved a draft bill governing the establishment of an office in Taiwan by the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), the counterpart of Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF).
Both semi-official agencies are entrusted by their respective governments with handling cross-strait affairs.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) instructed Cabinet members to discuss concerns lawmakers may have with the project to get the bill passed by the legislature before the current session ends in the middle of the year, Executive Yuan spokesperson Cheng Li-wun (鄭麗文) said.
The representative offices are to be established by the SEF and ARATS and designated as branches of those institutions.
Under the bill, the ARATS branches in Taiwan and staff at the offices would be granted certain special rights for them to carry out their duties without legal interference.
Included in the rules are that no one would be allowed to enter the branches without the permission of those offices; their property and assets would be immune from search, confiscation or expropriation; and documents and archives would be inviolable.
The offices would not fall under Taiwan’s jurisdiction in civil, criminal or administrative matters, unless the circumstances indicate otherwise, such as following the abandonment of such rights, employees are defendants in a counter-claim filed in an original case, or are involved in business litigation or lawsuits related to real estate, the bill says.
The bill stipulates that Chinese staff at the ARATS offices in Taiwan would enjoy immunity from Taiwan’s jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in the exercise of their functions, and would have certain tax exemptions and other privileges to be decided at the discretion of the Cabinet.
Chang said that provisions under the draft bill were the principles by which the government would base the negotiations with China over the establishment of SEF branches in China as both sides need to “sustain an equal and reciprocal relationship.”
An ARATS branch in Taiwan would never be like the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong, an organ of the Central People’s Government of China, or Xinhua news agency’s branch in Hong Kong, the successor of the Liaison Office before Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule, Chang said.
The cross-strait relationship and the relationship between Hong Kong and China before and after 1997 are not comparable, Chang said.