The Justice Ministry denied Thursday that Taiwanese residing in Japan are subject to Chinese law when it comes to matters of determining citizenship.

The legal conundrum was raised by allegations surrounding Renho, the first female lawmaker to be elected president of the main opposition party.

The Taiwanese-Japanese politician, who goes only by one name, was elected head of the Democratic Party on Thursday.

Some believed Renho likely renounced her Taiwanese citizenship automatically when she chose Japanese nationality in 1985, as required by the Nationality Law, when she was 17. This likely happened because citizens of Taiwan, which is not part of the United Nations and has no official diplomatic relations with Japan, are theoretically subject to Chinese law, which stipulates that Chinese abroad automatically lose their nationality if they obtain another citizenship by choice.

During campaigning, Renho, who was born to a Taiwanese father and Japanese mother, at first denied possessing Taiwanese nationality and claimed she relinquished it at the age of 17. But on Tuesday — just two days before her party’s presidential election — she reversed herself and said she still has Taiwanese nationality after all.

While the Nationality Law does not ban people with dual nationality from becoming politicians, it curiously bans them from becoming diplomats, presumably to prevent conflicts of interest. Taiwan is one of two countries that lay claim to the Japan-held Senkaku Islands, which it calls Tiaoyutai. The other is China.

Justice Ministry official Yuri Watanabe on Thursday emphasized that Taiwanese who obtain or strive to acquire Japanese nationality are subject to the Nationality Law, not the laws of China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province.

“We have received many inquiries from anxious Taiwanese (in Japan) who have questioned whether Chinese laws would apply to them,” she said. “We regret that our explanation has come up short.”

The Nationality Law requires residents with dual nationality to make a “declaration of choice” before reaching the age of 22.

If they choose Japanese citizenship, they must either file an official document proving that they renounced the other nationality, or declare their desire to retain Japanese citizenship. In the latter scenario, they are mandated to “strive to” abandon any other citizenship they have.

The law operates on a best-effort basis because some countries, such as Brazil, do not allow their people to renounce citizenship, Watanabe said.

Since Japan doesn’t have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, documents renouncing Taiwanese nationality cannot be endorsed by Tokyo as official documentation.

Still, the action of requesting and turning in the document can be considered a “sign of volition” to renounce Taiwanese nationality, Watanabe said.

Watanabe declined to comment specifically on Renho’s case.

“I cannot say whether it is legal or illegal,” she said.

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