China will officially launch the M503 flight route on March 29; KMT presidential contenders still unclear; President Ma makes an unexpected visit to Singapore; KMT legislators defend the Cabinet from opposition pressure on electoral reform. Welcome to this week’s edition of the Insider.
M503 ROUTE CONTROVERSY: China has informed Taiwan that the M503 air route close to the median line of the Taiwan Strait will be officially launched on March 29, a move that Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) has accepted on account of positive cross-strait relations, said MAC Minister Andrew Hsia (夏立言) has said.
Reiterating that the route would pose no threat to national security, Hsia said his meeting with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) will certainly take place in the first half of the year despite a request by opposition lawmakers that the meeting should not take place unless the route is canceled. The U.S. has praised the consensus reached by the two sides on the issue.
On Thursday, dozens of activists clashed with police after they staged a surprise protest at the MAC headquarters and called on Hsia to step down. National Security Bureau Director-General Lee Shying-jow (李翔宙) told lawmakers on the same day that the route means that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force would keep its patrols even closer to the Chinese coast, giving Taiwan more response time. Several lawmakers said Lee had adopted the Chinese side’s position.
MA VISITS SINGAPORE: President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) made a one-day trip to Singapore on Tuesday to pay his respects to the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who died on March 23 at the age of 91. Ma’s early visit was ostensibly to avoid an awkward encounter with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), who will be at the by-invitation-only state funeral on Sunday. The visit, which was not announced publicly even after Ma’s plane had departed, drew criticism from opposition lawmakers who said the way the Presidential Office had conducted the visit was not professional, as no one knew of Ma’s whereabouts for an extended period of time. Others praised the visit as a diplomatic success. Government officials offered ambiguous answers when asked in what capacity Ma had made the visit.
ELECTORAL REFORM: Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators blocked a motion by the opposition asking the administration submit draft amendments to legislation on thresholds for holding referendums and recalling public officials within two months. Executive Yuan Deputy Secretary-General Chien Tai-lang (簡太郎) denied reports that he opposes changes to the legislation despite support for doing so by KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫).
An open-air public forum was held outside the Legislative Yuan on Saturday, inviting participants to brainstorm on proposals for electoral reform.
CHEN CHU DENIES ‘1992 CONSENSU ISSUE’: Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) denied on Wednesday a media report that China had set her acknowledgement of the so-called “1992 consensus” as a prerequisite for her visit to the country next month, saying she had no current plans for a visit.
KMT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES: Uncertainty continued to surround the KMT’s presidential candidate nomination for the 2016 election as both party chairman Chu and Legislative Speaker Wang Jyng-ping (王金平) have kept their intentions close to their chest. ON Friday, about 40 KMT lawmakers — a majority of the party caucus — petitioned Chu to make a presidential bid. Another 40 former and current legislators subsequently urged Wang to run in the presidential race. Chu said on Wednesday that the nomination could be finalized any time before June.
SDP CANDIDATES DISCUSS SOCIAL, RIGHTS ISSUES: The Social Democratic Party (SDP) — a center-left political party set to be launched on Sunday — announced on Tuesday that it intends to field two prominent lesbian social activists to advocate for gay rights and the abolition of the death penalty in next year’s legislative elections. The two candidates will face off against incumbent conservative male KMT contenders.
EX-US OFFICIAL ON TSAI CHINA POLICY: Former American Institute in Taiwan managing director Barbara Schrage last Friday expressed doubt about Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) ability to handle cross-strait relations. Tsai, the party’s likely presidential candidate, subsequently said that keeping cross-strait relations stable was a shared objective, adding that all concerned parties should sit and negotiate a solution acceptable to all involved.
Separately, in response to a comment by former AIT director Douglas Paal on Tuesday that “one China” is Beijing’s bottom line on Taiwan, Tsai said that based on her understanding of the U.S. government, former officials only speak for themselves and do not represent the administration’s official position. Tsai added that the DPP was fully aware of Paal’s concerns.
DIPLOMACY WITH THE US: Taiwan needs to “reset” its representation with the U.S. to ensure that opportunities to strengthen bilateral ties are not wasted this year, Shirley Kan, an Asia specialist at the U.S. Congressional Research Service who recently retired, said last Friday. Kan added that U.S. trust in Taiwan had been hurt by a flag-raising incident at the Twin Oaks Estate in January.
FOREIGN AID MANAGEMENT: The Control Yuan urged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) to step up its efforts to improve transparency and accountability in its foreign assistance programs. The Yuan made its recommendation in investigative report issued after financial aid to Kiribati went missing.
TIFA TALKS: The U.S. is committed to holding the next round of talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) between the U.S. and Taiwan despite the latest deviation from schedule, the AIT said last Friday.
BEEF FOR TPP: Taiwan will never be allowed into the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement until it removes restrictions on the import of U.S. beef and pork, a former U.S. Congress staff member with decades of experience on U.S.-Taiwan issues has warned.
ASIAN INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT BANK: MAC Minister Andrew Hsia said Taiwan could consider joining the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) once the conditions for its participation become clear following discussions — to be concluded by June — of the banks’ terms among prospective member countries. The Ministry of Finance, however, said that Taiwan would be willing to join the AIIB if invited. Former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) did not respond to speculation that Taiwan’s participation could be discussed during his expected meeting with Chinese President Xi at the Boao Forum for Asia annual conference on Saturday.
ABORIGINALS NOT ZHONGHUA MINZU: Council of Indigenous Peoples Minister Mayaw Dongi described a plan by the New Party to take a group of young Aborigines to an ancestral worship ceremony in China as “ridiculous,” saying that Aborigines are not part of the Chinese ethnic group (Zhonghua minzu).
ST. LUCIA TO OPEN EMBASSY IN TAIWAN: St. Lucia will open an embassy in Taipei by the end of June, according to a MOFA official.
CROSS-STRAIT AGREEMENT OVERSIGHT: Civic groups on Saturday continued to call for close scrutiny of a proposed cross-strait agreement oversight bill last Saturday, following nationwide commemorations of the Sunflower Movement. 76.1% of respondents in a MAC survey agreed that the legislature should settle the bill as soon as possible.
NATIONAL POLICE HEAD APPOINTED: Commissioner of the New Taipei City Police Department Chen Kuo-en (陳國恩) has been appointed the new chief of the National Police Agency, the Ministry of the Interior announced Thursday.
TSAI ON NATIONAL SPATIAL PLANNING: DPP Chairperson Tsai said that government plans for new special municipalities appeared to be driven by political considerations rather than to ensure balanced regional development.
CHIANG STATUES RELOCATION: Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) defended his administration’s removal of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) statues from city schools on Sunday, saying the relocation was a step toward transitional justice by restoring political neutrality on campuses. The move sparked KMT anger. DPP Legislator Pasuya Yao (姚文智) has proposed taking similar measures nationwide, as well as replacing Chiang’s image on coins and the NT$200 bill.
SUNFLOWER CRACKDOWN: Youth activists held a silent procession around the Executive Yuan compound last Sunday top pay homage to the protesters who were injured in the bloody crackdown at the site on the night of March 23-24 last year.
SUNFLOWER ACTIVISTS ON TRIAL: A trial opened at the Taipei District Court on Wednesday for Sunflower Movement activists, most of whom pleaded not guilty by asserting their right to protest against a government that was unresponsive to people’s opposition to the cross-strait service trade agreement.
NATIONAL IDENTITY: Nearly 90 percent of younger people identify themselves as Taiwanese, with about 40 percent of them wishing to maintain the “status quo” across the Taiwan Strait while retaining the option to declare independence, according to a survey by the China Youth Corps.
► MILITARY AND SECURITY
SOUTH CHINA SEA POLICY CHANGE? Taiwan’s stance on strengthening infrastructure and military capabilities on the Itu Aba (Taiping Island) in the South China Sea appeared to have shifted after NSB Director-General Lee told lawmakers on Thursday that bolstering military capabilities “probably isn’t a good thing” for regional peace and stability.
NAVY WARSHIPS: The Panshih supply vessel and Tuo Jiang-class 618 stealth missile corvette will be commissioned into service on March 31, with President Ma attending the ceremony, the Ministry of National Defense has announced.
► MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS
FAREWELL TO TAICHUNG BRT: Taichung Mayor Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) announced on Monday that the city’s problem-plagued Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, launched in July last year, will be abolished and replaced with “optimized, dedicated bus lanes” starting July 8.
DEAL WITH FPG QUESTIONED: The Yunlin County government has come under fire from environmental activists over its closed-door discussions with Formosa Plastics Group (FPG, 台塑) last Friday on the future of several power plants at the nation’s sixth naphtha cracker complex. Its permits to burn petroleum coke and coal will expire in June.
FUKUSHIMA FOOD BAN: Minister of Health and Welfare Chiang Been-huang (蔣丙煌) acknowledged on Wednesday that the ministry was considering lifting a ban on food product imports from five Japanese prefectures near the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, following discovery that at least 294 food products manufactured in the five areas had illegally entered Taiwan under counterfeit origin labels.
FOOD SAFETY: Close to 4,000 tonnes of seaweed-based products processed using hazardous industrial-grade ammonium aluminum sulfate and ammonium carbonate solutions have been sold to traditional markets across central and southern parts of the country over the past 10 years, prosecutors said on Tuesday.
LOW WAGES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE: The average youth earnings per month is about NT$28,925, with an increase by NT$1,500 from 2012 and a slight decrease from the average figure of 2006, according to a survey by the Ministry of Labor released on Wednesday.
DEADLY ACCIDENT AT FPG VIETNAM: A scaffold collapse in a steel complex that has investment from the Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) killed at least 14 people and injured another 30 on Wednesday.
SOUTH KOREA UNION REPRESENTATIVES’ PROTEST: Union representatives from South Korea’s Hydis Technologies launched their latest protest in Taipei on Tuesday, calling on Taiwan’s E Ink Holdings Inc (EIH, 元太科技) — of which Hydis is a subsidiary — to revoke its decision to shut down two factories in South Korea.
LABOR RIGHTS: Former highway toll collectors staged a long march to the Executive Yuan last Saturday, accusing the government of employing at least 70,000 people as short-term contractors to cut expenses and skirt labor rights.
MORE WATER RATIONING DESPITE DOWNPOUR: Heavy rainfall on Monday was of little help resolving an ongoing drought, and new water rationing measures will be implemented on April 1 as scheduled. Among the measures, water supplies to Taoyuan and three districts of New Taipei City will be cut off two days a week. A former Central Weather Bureau official warned on Tuesday that the nation’s ability to store water has dropped significantly.
DRIVER BAN TO FIGHT AIR POLLUTION: Driving could be banned in several municipalities on days when dangerous levels of air pollution are detected. Environmentalists, however, argued that the authorities should instead prioritize monitoring high-pollution industries and their facilities for effective measures to combat air pollution.
CROSS-STRAIT TOURISM: Statistics showed that cross-strait travel reached nearly 10 million visits in 2014.
SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: Same-sex marriage advocates protested on Monday against a plan by the Taipei City Government to hold a separate event for LGBT couples hoping to participate in the city’s United Marriage Ceremony. City officials said that allowing gay couples to take part in the ceremony could be “in conflict with current laws.”
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. Click here to subscribe to the Insider and receive it in your e-mail.
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