TAIPEI - The non-citizen children of Taiwanese with mainland Chinese spouses have been temporarily banned from entering the island as medical care and resources are stretched thin amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The move, announced by the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) on Wednesday (Feb 12), reversed a decision made just a day before by Taiwan's Cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) to allow such children to enter the island.
MAC's announcement on Tuesday had drawn a fierce backlash on social media from Taiwanese, some of whom have framed the issue as one of non-citizens fighting for scarce medical resources with them.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung, speaking at the same press conference on Wednesday where the CDC also provided updates on the outbreak, said: "One should shoulder the responsibilities that came with your choice of nationality back then."
"Our highest priority is the well-being of our citizens."
MedPartner, a medical information site run by a group of physicians, nurses and nutritionists, said it supported the policy U-turn.
"In a critical time like now, it is completely reasonable to protect people with our nationality first," said MedPartner in a statement.
However, the CDC said that children of Taiwanese with mainland Chinese spouses who are already in the island can apply for an extension of their stay.
According to Taiwan's cross-strait relations laws, children born in mainland China but with Taiwanese parents can apply for Taiwanese citizenship even if they are raised in China. For those who have one Chinese parent, parents can choose to apply for Chinese citizenship - which is what many Taiwanese businessmen have done for their children living in China.
It is unclear how many children will be affected by the entry ban, the first of its kind in cross-strait policy history, although MAC said on Tuesday that roughly 2,000 children qualify for entering Taiwan from China under its set of requirements.
On Wednesday, MAC issued a public apology for causing panic and misunderstanding over its decision.
Taiwan has banned all Chinese visitors from entering the island from Feb 6, just days after the first group of Taiwanese were evacuated from Wuhan city.
There had been public outrage then after MAC confirmed that Chinese spouses without Taiwanese citizenship were granted seats on the flight, even though the government had negotiated with Chinese authorities to put Taiwanese on the list of evacuees first.
Amid the calls to put Taiwanese first ahead of non-citizens on evacuation flights, opposition Kuomintang legislator Wang Yu-min said President Tsai Ing-wen and her administration should be more forgiving on the basis of humanity.
"It's not the children who chose their own nationality, they didn't get to choose," she said.