President Ma is accused of receiving off-the-book political donations and is set to engage in a legal battle against a political pundit; one of the Sunflower Movement leaders drops out of a by-election after revelations of sexual harassment; the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rebounds from the humiliating nine-in-one elections to score a convincing victory in local council speaker elections. Welcome to this week’s issue of the Insider.
MA ACCUSED OF TAKING UNDOCUMENTED DONATIONS: The Presidential Office said on Thursday that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would file a civil lawsuit in his personal capacity against political pundit Clara Chou (周玉蔻), who accused Ma of receiving a NT$200 million (US$6.2 million) off-the-books political donation from Ting Hsin International Group (頂新集團). The Special Investigation Division (SID) under the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office also summoned Chou for an evidence-gathering session on Friday.
During the past two weeks, Chou has accused Ma and his confidants — including Benny Hu (胡定吾), a friend of Ma and a board member of Taipei Financial Center Corp (TFCC, 台北金融大樓), the firm that operates Taipei 101, as a key person involved in the donations — of “covering up” for Ting Hsin in the aftermath of a nationwide food safety scandal. Chou also alleged that Ma had “improper interactions” with the company and singled him out in accusations that he took the illegal donations. KMT headquarters filed a lawsuit against her on Monday.
KMT SCORES BIG IN COUNCIL SPEAKER ELECTIONS: The KMT scored a big win in local council speaker elections on Thursday, sweeping 15 of the 22 council speaker seats, with surprising victories in Tainan and New Taipei City. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which was eyeing five speaker seats in five of six special municipalities, finished with only one special municipality, Kaohsiung, along with Chiayi and Yilan counties.
In Tainan, where the DPP councilors outnumber their KMT counterparts 29 to 16, it appeared that three to five DPP councilors voted for KMT candidate Lee Chuan-chiao (李全教), a violation of party chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) instructions that all members support the DPP candidates. In New Taipei City, Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) councilor Chang Chin-ting (張晉婷) also failed to honor a DPP-TSU agreement by voting for the KMT candidate. After two rounds of voting, the KMT’s Chiang Ken-huang (蔣根煌) and the DPP’s Chen Yung-fu (陳永福) were tied at 33 apiece; Chiang finally won in a draw.
Rumors of vote buying surrounded the elections; investigators have yet to launch a probe into the matter. The DPP and the TSU have said that members who violated party rules will be expelled. See complete results here.
STUDENT LEADER DROPS OUT OF MIAOLI BY-ELECTION: Sunflower Movement leader Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) on Thursday dropped out of the by-election for the legislative seat representing Miaoli County due to fears that past cases of sexual harassment would “overshadow” the political changes he has pursued.
Chen drew controversy with his revelations in an interview with the Chinese-language Liberty Times published on Tuesday that he had groped a female passenger’s chest and had “improper physical contact” with a female at a nightclub in the past. He was taken to a police station for the bus incident and underwent mental health consultation at the order of school administrators. Chen faced fierce criticism for the revelations, seen as a pre-emptive move to save his election campaign and deny his opponent the opportunity to exploit the controversy. However, another harassment case involving Chen when he was in high school surfaced on Thursday, one that he had not made public.
Heated discussion over the matter forced the DPP, which had decided not to nominate its own candidate so as to support Chen’s bid, to have second thoughts. The party is expected to finalize its position next week. A previous TVBS poll suggests that Chen would have defeated outgoing Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻), 40% to 35%.
NEW MAYORS, COMMISSIONERS SWORN IN: Newly elected mayors and commissioners nationwide were sworn in and began their four-year terms on Friday. Most notable among the new leaders are physician-turned-politician Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), an independent, and Lin Chih-chien (林智堅), the youngest mayor in the country at 39, of the DPP.
On Saturday, the DPP gathered its mayors and commissioners in Kaohsiung for a meeting with chairperson Tsai, who implored them to adhere to three principles of public governance — “transparency, cooperation and efficiency.” The DPP won 13 of the 22 cities and counties in the Nov. 29 elections.
ERIC CHU REGISTERS FOR ELECTION: New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) registered for KMT chairman election on Sunday as the sole candidate, thus confirming that he will become the new KMT chairman on Jan. 17. Chu pledged that the “peace dividends” of cross-strait engagement would be “fairly distributed” in future and that the KMT-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Forum would continue to be held under his watch. Chu also reiterated his proposal that would put a possible constitutional amendment on improving government accountability to a referendum in 2016, in tandem with a national election. However, the DPP said Chu was insincere about the constitutional reform and has sidestepped the KMT’s party assets issue.
JUSTICE MINISTER BLASTS FREE SPEECH: Minister of Justice Luo Ying-shay (羅瑩雪) on Thursday accused Taiwanese media and political pundits of “rampant abuse” of freedom of speech and making “unsubstantiated accusations,” amid widely reported allegations that President Ma and his campaign team had received off-the-books political donations. Luo said the Communication Security and Surveillance Act (通訊保障及監察法) should be amended to “eliminate smearing on the Internet.”
MAC HEAD, KO DEBATE ‘1992 CONSENSUS’: Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) and Taipei Mayor Ko held a debate on the “1992 Consensus.” Responding to Ko’s “2015 Consensus,” Wang said the proposal was not feasible. For his part, Ko said that Wang should better explain to the public what the “1992 Consensus” actually represents. Ko told an interview with the Central News Agency (CNA) on Monday that even if the “1992 Consensus” existed, it would be questionable to engage China based on a 22-year-old political idea and that it would be better to formulate a “2015 Consensus.”
Wang on Wednesday ridiculed Ko’s cross-strait policy of the “Four Mutuals” (四個互相) — “know each other,” “understand each other,” “respect” and “cooperate” — and the “2015 Consensus,” saying they could not replace the “1992 Consensus.” Wang added that Ko did not fully understand the consensus. Ko responded that Wang should have explained the consensus to the public if he was such an expert.
POLL TO DECIDE 2016 ELECTIONS TIMETABLE: The Central Election Commission (CEC) said on Tuesday that it would solicit public opinion through an online poll on whether to hold the 2016 presidential and legislative elections on the same day.
POLL ON TAIWAN IDENTITY AND OTHERS: Among the respondents in a public opinion poll conducted by pro-independence Taiwan Brain Trust think tank, 61.6% identified as Taiwanese. If given only two choices — Taiwanese or Chinese — 88.7% chose Taiwanese. The same poll showed DPP Chairperson Tsai had an approval rating of 65.5%. More than one-third (39.3%) did not think Eric Chu would be able to carry out the necessary party reforms after he becomes chairman. Additionally, 66.1% said they supported constitutional amendments.
TBT founder Koo Kwang-min (辜寬敏) said that Taiwan and China should reassess their cross-strait policies following the nine-in-one elections. Soochow University professor Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明) said the DPP’s success in the local elections could become Chairperson Tsai’s bargaining chip in the party’s dialogue with Washington and Beijing.
CHINA SHORT-SIGHTED ON TAIWAN, BUSH SAYS: Former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) chairman Richard Bush, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., told a conference that China’s efforts to block Taiwan’s economic liberalization will ultimately undermine Beijing’s unification goals.
== MILITARY AND SECURITY
‘CARRIER-KILLER’ VESSELS COMMISSIONED: Taiwan’s new indigenous stealth missile corvette, the Tuo Jiang, began service on Tuesday. Military officers touted it as the fastest warship in Asia and with the most firepower. The vessel can carry 16 Hsiung Feng II and Hsiung Feng III anti-ship missiles. According to the original design, the corvette has a maximum speed of 38 knots (70.4kph), but reached 44 knots during sea trials.
VIETNAM, CHINA DEPLOYMENT THREATENS ITU ABA: Military officials said China and Vietnam have been strengthening their military presence on islands around Taiwan-held Itu Aba (Taiping Island) in the South China Sea and could create “serious security threats.” Vietnam has deployed shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and various artillery guns on Sand Cay, which is located only 11km away from Itu Aba. According to a Ministry of National Defense report to the Control Yuan, the ministry has fleshed out necessary contingency plans to deploy troops in the South China Sea in case of armed conflict.
Meanwhile, the government announced plans to add a lighthouse by the end of 2016 on Itu Aba, where it is expanding a runway and building a port.
NO MISSILE TEST IN US: Taiwan does not intend to test-fire its Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles in the U.S., Defense Minister Yen Ming (嚴明) said during a legislative committee meeting on Wednesday after KMT lawmaker Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) said Taiwan’s military had asked him to convey to the U.S. its wish to have the weapons tested after their arrival in Taiwan.
CHINA’S MILITARY BASE ‘NEAR’ DIAOYUTAIS: Japan’s Kyodo News Agency reported that the Chinese military was building a large military base on islands about 300km from the Diaoyutai Islands, which are claimed by China, Taiwan and Japan (which refers to them as the Senkakus). Several landing strips have been paved on the main Nanji Island, Kyodo reported. The islands are about 100km closer to the disputed territory than the main island of Okinawa, which hosts about three-quarters of the U.S. bases in Japan.
WAR OVER TAIWAN COULD BE NUCLEAR: An analysis in the National Interest by Center for a New American Security fellow Elbridge Colby said Chinese military expansion means that the U.S. would have to fight “harder, quicker, nastier, deeper and longer” to protect Taiwan. Colby said such a conflict could quickly go nuclear.
LATEST ON LAFAYETTE SCANDAL: The government has asked Switzerland to help return NT$10.4 billion (US$330.44 million) from frozen Swiss bank accounts that were obtained as illegal kickbacks in the 1991 procurement of Lafayette-class frigates from France, prosecutors said on Saturday. Meanwhile, former navy captain Kuo Li-heng (郭力恆), 61, who has already served 20 years in jail for taking kickbacks in the purchase, will have to go back to jail for six more months because he claimed he did not have enough money to pay the NT$200 million fine, Taichung prosecutors said on Friday.
== ELSEWHERE IN TAIWAN
INVESTIGATION ON ALSTOM BRIBES: The government is to launch a comprehensive inspection of all major transportation projects to determine if officials had accepted bribes from the French company Alstom, Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) said on Thursday. A U.S. investigation showed that between 2000 and 2010, Alstom had paid more than US$75 million in bribes to secure US$4 billion in contracts around the world, including in Egypt, Indonesia and Taiwan.
GOVERNMENT EYES HSR TAKEOVER: The government is ready to take over operations of the high-speed rail system if the financial restructuring plan submitted by Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC) is not approved at Legislative Yuan by the end of this month, the Bureau of High Speed Rail said on Monday. The bureau said the government would assume the company’s debt of more than NT$300 billion (US$9.5 billion).
UNEMPLOYMENT AT 7-YEAR LOW: Unemployment rate fell to a seven-year low of 3.89% last month, from 3.95% in October, as companies increased headcount amid an economic recovery at home and abroad, the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) said on Monday.
POSTAL FUND STAYS IN TAIWAN: The postal savings fund will not be used to invest in Chinese markets, Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh said on Monday. The plan had been heavily criticized because Taiwan has not signed a financial supervision agreement with China, which could have put the investments at high risk.
The Taiwan Insider is a weekly feature prepared by the Thinking Taiwan Foundation’s Chris Wang and staff members. Comments? Leads? You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.