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Agencies instructed not to adopt interpretation of PRC nationals as ROC citizens

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Taiwan's Executive Yuan earlier this week instructed government agencies to stop invoking a 30-year old legal interpretation from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) which defines nationals of the People's Republic of China (PRC) as citizens of the Republic of China (ROC), with immediate effect.

The legal interpretation made by the Ministry of Justice more than 30 years ago, is outdated and not in accordance with the law of the ROC, the formal name of Taiwan, Premier Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) said Thursday.

In a letter to Cabinet-level agencies dated Wednesday, Cabinet Secretary-General Li Men-yen (李孟諺) stated that residents of mainland China, namely the PRC, do not have ROC nationality, nor are they nationals of the ROC, and as such, they do not have the same rights or obligations as ROC citizens.

The legal interpretation should be revoked immediately and should not be invoked anymore, the letter said.

The purpose of the proclamation, Chen said, is to prevent unnecessary disputes regarding the obligations owed by peoples on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to their society and government and to avoid confusion as to the nationality of the two peoples in the international community.

The move came amid public debate over the decision by a court to award the family of a Chinese national surnamed Qian (錢), who was electrocuted and killed by a faulty street light in Kaohsiung, about NT$4.63 million (US$150,000) in state compensation.

Qian died after being electrocuted on Aug. 16, 2018, during a cycling trip around Taiwan. His family sued Kaohsiung Public Works Bureau's (PWB's) Maintenance Office for state compensation, claiming NT$11.65 million for related expenses and compensation.

Taiwan Kaohsiung District Court in September 2021 ruled in favor of Qian's family as judges determined that the electrical problem with the street light was first noticed about six months prior to Qian's death, but the PWB's Maintenance Office failed to take action.

The ruling was upheld by the Taiwan High Court's Kaohsiung Branch Court in February, finding against an appeal by the PWB's Maintenance Office, that Qian was not an ROC citizen.

In response to public debate over the eligibility of Qian's family to claim state compensation, the high court said in February that it had consulted with the MOJ and the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) on the issue before it applied the State Compensation Law to the case.

The MOJ and the MAC had assured the family's eligibility, citing the said legal interpretation, according to a statement from the high court in February.

It is not immediately clear how the Executive Yuan's decision instructing government agencies not to use the legal interpretation will affect Qian's case in the Supreme Court.

Chen's decision was slammed by legal experts and the opposition.

According to the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, pursuant to the ROC Constitution, which refers to the jurisdiction of the ROC and that of the PRC as the "Taiwan area" and the "mainland area," peoples on both areas are ROC citizens, Hung Yung-chih (洪永志), an attorney told CNA on Friday.

The Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area was the law the courts referred to in applying the State Compensation Act to Qian's case, Hung said.

The court's decision cannot be overruled unless the relevant provisions of the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area are changed, Hung said.

On Friday, Kuomintang (KMT) Legislator Lee De-wei (李德維) criticized Chen for disregarding the ROC Constitution and related laws and overstepping his political authority in revoking the legal interpretation backed by the courts.

It is the power of the grand justices to interpret the Constitution and that of the judiciary to interpret laws not politicians, Lee said, according to local media.

Chen's decisions could constitute a violation of the ROC Constitution, Lee added.

Separately, the MOJ said on Friday that the ministry has put forward an amendment to the State Compensation Law to entitle foreign nationals to claim state compensation regardless of their nationality to align it with international norms on human rights.

Currently, the provisions under the State Compensation Law regarding the eligibility of foreign nationals are based on the principle of reciprocity.

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