China criticizes President Ma ahead of the APEC summit over his support for Hong Kong democracy; Washington may be backing away from helping Taiwan’s submarine program; tensions could rise again after lawmakers and officials inspect Itu Aba; countdown begins for the Nov. 29 elections with another wiretapping incident. Welcome to this week’s issue of the Insider.
CHINA SLAMS MA AHEAD OF APEC: In an editorial on Monday, China’s state-run Huanqiu Daily lambasted President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) for comments in his National Day speech supporting the democratic movement in Hong Kong. The editorial came ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing. In a surprisingly harsh tone, the article described Ma as a “local chief” and his governance as “off-putting.” It also warned that “China does not owe Ma anything.” This was the first time in Ma’s six-plus year tenure that a state-run Beijing mouthpiece used such strong language against Ma.
In response, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said Ma’s comments showed “goodwill and concerns” since both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one Zhonghua minzu (中華民族). The council also urged China to interpret Ma’s comments “wisely and rationally.” Ma himself addressed the issue on Wednesday, reiterating his support for Hong Kong’s democratic movement and calling for Beijing to create a win-win situation in Hong Kong.
TAIWAN’S APEC PARTICIPATION: Former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), who will represent Taiwan at the APEC Summit in Beijing, is expected to raise two issues — Taiwan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Taiwan’s insistence to engage in bilateral relations on the basis of the “1992 Consensus” and “One China with different interpretations” — with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in a scheduled meeting on Sunday. The meeting will occur one day before the two-day economic leaders’ meeting takes place.
The Taipei Times quoted Washington sources saying that the issue of U.S. arm sales to Taiwan — as well as the Nov. 29 elections in Taiwan — could be raised in U.S. President Barack Obama’s meeting with Xi in Beijing after the conclusion of the APEC summit.
US SUPPORT AFTER THE MIDTERM ELECTIONS: Local media reported that Republican victories in the U.S. midterm congressional elections were expected to increase support for Taiwan on Capitol Hill since new Republican senators appeared to be more sympathetic to Taiwan. New legislation calling for increased arms sales could be introduced and support for Taiwan’s entry into the TPP is expected, according to the report.
STRONG SUPPORT FOR TAIWAN’S SOVEREIGNTY: A public opinion poll conducted by the pro-independence Taiwan Brain Trust think tank showed that support for Taiwan’s status as a sovereign country (70.1%) and Taiwanese identity (87.9%) had reached record-highs. The poll also found that 67% of the respondents would support independence if the “status quo” could not be sustained.
SURVEILLANCE AGAINST SOCIAL MEDIA? The National Police Agency (NPA) denied accusations by a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker on Monday that it had begun monitoring user activities on Japanese-made smartphone application LINE, one of the most popular online chatting software in Taiwan, as part of its “political surveillance.” The agency said it would only request user data from the company for investigation into fraud cases.
FORMER MA AIDE SENTENCED FOR CORRUPTION: The Taipei District Court on Friday found Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Lai Su-ju (賴素如) guilty of bribery and sentenced her to 10 years in prison. Lai, a former confidante and lawyer for Ma, was accused of receiving kickbacks in the Twin Tower project in Taipei. Currently running for re-election as an independent after being dismissed from the KMT, Lai said she would appeal.
DPP BLOCKS PROCEDURE ON CROSS-STRAIT PACT OVERSIGHT: The DPP caucus blocked a KMT attempt to send proposals for a cross-strait agreements oversight mechanism to a subcommittee by requesting votes on more than 400 agenda-changing proposals in the Legislative Yuan on Friday. The tactic means that the disputed proposal is not likely to be discussed before the Nov. 29 elections.
CAR RAMS PRESIDENTIAL RESIDENCE GATE: A 60-year-old man crashed his sedan into gate No. 3 of Ma’s residence at around 7am on Tuesday as a protest to draw attention to what the man said were cases of “major medical malpractice.” No one was injured and the gate remains intact. The driver, Chen Ping-sung (陳柄菘), a former executive at a biomedical foundation, was arrested and later released on NT$20,000 bail.
INDEPENDENCE SUPPORT DWINDLING, MA SAYS: In a meeting with foreign media at the Presidential Office, Ma said on Tuesday that the support for Taiwanese independence had decreased compared with 30 years ago when he was studying in the U.S., adding that the pursuit of Taiwan independence is “unrealistic.”
KO’S OFFICE BUGGED? Independent Taipei mayoral candidate Ko Wen-je’s (柯文哲) campaign office said it had found suspicious electronic devices in the office of the campaign’s policy department on late Tuesday night. An investigation has been launched. Police and Chunghwa Telecom Co have confirmed that the devices are used for wiretapping.
While supporters and several political commentators immediately pointed fingers at KMT candidate Sean Lien’s (連勝文) campaign and described it as a “Watergate-esque incident,” Ko’s campaign has refrained from making accusations against Lien. However, that did not stop people from suspecting KMT lawmaker Alex Tsai (蔡正元), Lien’s campaign director, as Tsai had recently posted “confidential” information related to Ko’s campaign — such as his itineraries and list of consultants — on his Facebook page.
At a press conference, Ko’s spokesperson asked prosecutors and police to investigate the matter immediately and demanded that Tsai reveal the source(s) of his information.
FIRST KO-LIEN DEBATE: Taipei mayoral candidates Ko Wen-je and Sean Lien will participate in a head-to-head televised debate tonight (Friday) at the Sanlih TV studios. Both will begin the 90-minute debate with an opening statement, followed by a question-and-answer session with civic groups before wrapping up with concluding remarks.
LIN LEADS IN GREATER TAICHUNG: A public opinion poll conducted by the Chinese-language Liberty Times showed that DPP candidate Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) leads incumbent Jason Hu of the KMT by more than 20 percentage points (45.18% to 25.02%), with 29.79% undecided. The survey found that 29.71% of those who voted for Hu in 2010 said they would support Lin this time around.
MA’S UNWELCOME STUMP: Ma’s second stump for KMT Taipei mayoral candidate Sean Lien ended prematurely on Saturday after a speech of less than two minutes at Taipei’s East District. Ma began stumping for Lien on Oct. 29 in the busy Ximending District (西門町), a move that sparked strong criticism after people in the business district were pushed around by secret service agents surrounding the president. At least six protests occurred during Ma’s campaigning activity.
FORECAST COMPANY RAIDED: Police raided the office of Xfuture.org, an election forecast website, on Wednesday following allegations that it has been running underground gambling on the Nov. 29 local elections. Hung Yao-nan (洪耀南), chief executive of Xfuture, was released in the evening after hours of interrogation. He denied the accusations and said the search may have been politically motivated.
An electronic exchange at the Center for Prediction Markets at National Chengchi University that uses a methodology similar to that used in futures markets, Xfuture.org was also forced to suspend its services during the 2012 presidential campaign after receiving warnings from prosecutors.
TENSIONS ON ITU ABA AFTER DRILL, INSPECTION: Accompanied by Defense Minister Yen Ming (嚴明) and Coast Guard Administration (CGA) Minister Wang Ginn-wang (王進旺), a pair of legislators inspected Itu Aba (also known as Taiping Island) in the Spratlys on Wednesday. Members of the media and Ministry of National Defense (MND) spokesperson David Lo (羅紹和) attended the one-day trip. The main objective for the inspection was to assess the progress in construction of military installations on the island, including the expansion of port facilities to accommodate armed naval vessels of up to 3,000 tonnes, and the reinforcement of an airstrip for military transport aircraft. The NT$3.3 billion (US$108.28 million) project began this spring and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2015.
Lawmakers reached a resolution last week demanding a MND evaluation over the permanent deployment of missiles, Navy and Coast Guard vessels on the island given rising tensions in the South China Sea.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that an annual live-fire drill conducted by the CGA on Itu Aba has angered Vietnam, which also claims the disputed islands as its territory.
AIR FORCE BUYING NEW TRAINING AIRCRAFT: The Air Force is planning to purchase next-generation T-6C military trainers equipped with ejection seats, an official said Friday.
US BACKS AWAY FROM SUB ASSISTANCE? Citing the Washington Times, local media reported that Washington may be backing away from helping Taiwan buy or build diesel-electric submarines on concerns of “upsetting” China. The White House has agreed to help Taiwan develop mini coastal submarines as a “halfway measure,” according to the report.
NUMBER OF GENERALS CUT BY 100: A plan to trim the size of the Taiwanese military was finalized on Saturday, with the number of soldiers cut down from 275,000 to 215,000 and the number of generals going from 393 to 292.
SPY SUSPECTS ON BAIL: Retired Air Force officers Ma Po-le (馬伯樂) and Sung Chia-lu (宋嘉祿) were released on bail on Saturday after being questioned by prosecutors for allegedly leaking military information on Taiwan’s Mirage 2000 fighter jets and radar stations. More here.
SINGAPOREAN TROOPS TURN TO CHINA? Singapore sent 70 soldiers to China on Sunday for an eight-day joint exercise with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), prompting concerns that the 40-year military cooperation between the city-state and Taiwan (Taiwan and Singapore signed the Project Starlight agreement in 1974) could be at stake.
Military officials said China’s decision to allow Singaporean soldiers to train with the PLA in the Nanjing Military District, which would play a major role in any military operations against Taiwan, was “provocative.”
== OIL SCANDAL AND SOCIETY
The oil scandal continued to expand in the past week, with new companies joining the long list of “victim companies” that purchased questionable lard-based products which may have been mixed with animal feed-grade oil. Consequently, an even greater number of vendors and restaurants were forced to review their products (here and here). The oil was also reportedly contaminated with ingredients used in Agent Orange.
The KMT has tried to pull the DPP into the mix, especially after a document leak by a government official was found in DPP-governed Pingtung County. Meanwhile, KMT caucus whip Alex Fai (費鴻泰) said it was DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) who brought investment by Ting Hsin, one of the main companies involved in the scandal, back to Taiwan when she was vice premier. The DPP called Fai’s remarks mud slinging and false. At the same time, DPP lawmakers accused government officials of “covering up” for immoral businesspeople by delaying tests, investigation and actions.
THREE SYRIAN NATIONALS DEPORTED: The National Immigration Agency’s (NIA) Border Control Corps deported three Syrian nationals, two men and one woman, who arrived on forged Greek passports. The three said they were Kurds from Syria who were using fake passports to escape Islamic State (ISIS) in their homeland.
NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS DECOMMISSION UNLIKELY: The Atomic Energy Council (AEC) told lawmakers on Monday that the scheduled decommissioning of the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 nuclear power plants was not likely to be implemented given the suspension of construction at the No. 4 Nuclear Power Plant. Such a move would mean that Ma’s campaign pledge to create a nuclear free homeland by 2025 will probably not be realized.
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 email@example.com.