The luggage of a diplomatic passport holder is generally not checked by law enforcement officers. However, for Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen a breach in this protocol – in Taipei itself – has provoked unwanted controversy.
Tsai made an overseas trip last month to visit the island’s four remaining diplomatic allies in the Caribbean, also making stops in the United States. The tour was designed to rally support as she seeks a second term in the island’s presidential election in January.
However, a scandal broke shortly after she returned home: agents of the National Security Bureau (NSB) accompanying her on the visit were caught attempting to smuggle nearly 10,000 cartons of cigarettes back into Taiwan.
According to Taipei Times, NSB official Wu Tsung-hsien ordered the cigarettes (worth about $200,000) and hid them in a China Airlines duty-free storage area. Returning from the trip with Tsai, Wu tried to use his diplomatic passport to bypass customs but was arrested at the airport’s VIP lane.
The embarrassing revelation completely overshadowed Tsai’s tour and led to the NSB boss tendering his resignation. Tsai has tried to shift the public’s scorn by blaming the opposition KMT Party. “The improper conduct of National Security Bureau agents’ mass purchase of duty-free cigarettes reveals long-term bad practice,” shei wrote in a Facebook post, suggesting that smuggling cigarettes had become an illicit trade for NSB agents when the KMT was in office.
However, that strategy may not have worked: the gap in approval ratings between Tsai and her most likely challenger, the KMT’s Kaohsiung mayor, has widened to a 12-point deficit in one recent poll. Adding to Tsai’s woes, Beijing announced on Wednesday that it will stop issuing individual travel permits to people from 47 mainland Chinese cities to visit Taiwan – a move that will hurt tourism and the struggling Taiwanese economy.
“In view of the current cross-strait situation, such visits will be temporarily restricted until further notice,” the Ministry of Culture and Tourism said.
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