DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen continues to lead in the polls while KMT presidential hopeful Hung Hsiu-chu tumbles on her cross-strait policies; chances of a three-way race are increasing; former vice president Annette Lu warns of a “diplomatic crisis”; the government’s response to a deadly water park fire prompts criticism. Welcome to this week’s edition of the Insider.
► PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS
STAGGERING CANDIDACY: Several Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) members have voiced their opposition to Hung Hsiu-chu’s (洪秀柱) nomination as the party’s presidential candidate and demanded she be replaced due to her controversial policies and diminishing support. The KMT said it did not rule out putting Hung’s candidacy to a vote during the party’s national congress scheduled on July 19. Various reports said that Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) could be tapped as Hung’s replacement.
Asked about the possibility of any change to Hung’s nomination, KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) said on Monday that ultimately the party had to respect the opinion of the majority of its representatives.
Hung’s recent remarks on cross-strait policy sparked anger and opposition within the party. In an interview last Thursday, Hung talked about her aim to have Beijing recognize the existence of the “government” of the Republic of China (ROC), rather than the “existence” of the ROC, as the latter would be tantamount to a “two-state theory.” The party headquarters has reportedly asked Hung to tone down her rhetoric after many construed Hung’s comments as her denial of the existence of the ROC. Hung has also proposed to replace the so-called “1992 consensus” with “one China, same interpretation” (一中同表), prompting critics and the public to brand her as an advocate of Taiwan’s unification with China.
Meanwhile, after her medical record was allegedly leaked to the media, Hung disclosed that she had undergone cancer treatment over four years ago.
HUNG AGREES TO TONE IT DOWN: Eric Chu on Tuesday attributed Hung’s declining support to “controversial issues” and advised her to “return to the KMT party platform” which centers on the “1992 consensus.”
Hung’s spokesperson Jack Yu (游梓翔) said on Thursday that Hung’s campaign office, after extended discussions with the party headquarters, agreed to stop using “one China, same interpretation” as her core policy and to replace it with “one consensus, three connotations” (一個共識，三個內涵), which stands for the 1992 Consensus plus the ROC’s existence, safeguarding the ROC, and opposing Taiwanese independence; as well as her vision for a cross-strait peace agreement.
TSAI MAKES STEADY GAINS: Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) maintained her lead in the latest presidential polls as People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) lags behind as a potential favorite for pan-blue supporters over Hung, who has been described as “the weakest” presidential contender. Various polls showed Tsai led by more than 20 percentage points in a head-to-head matchup with Hung and still leads by a comfortable margin if Soong entered the election and made it a three-way race. According to the survey by the Cross-Strait Policy Association published on Tuesday, Tsai had a lead of 39.6 percent, against Soong’s 21.4 percent and Hung’s 19.4 percent. In another survey published by the DPP on Monday, support for Tsai, Soong and Hung was 45.4 percent, 22 percent and 21.4 percent respectively.
TSAI’S RUNNING MATE: Central Bank governor Perng Fai-nan (彭淮南) was in the news on Tuesday after rumors in Chinese-language media “identified” him as Tsai Ing-wen’s top choice for a running mate. However, four years ago Perng said that his position at the Central Bank would be his final act of public service. Tsai said on Tuesday that she had not ruled out picking a non-DPP running mate.
The Chinese-language Next magazine reported last week that Tsai intended to put Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) on her ticket as running mate and would appoint Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) as premier if she was elected. The politicians named in the rumor all denied the report’s claims.
NEGATIVE CAMPAIGN: Tsai Ing-wen last Friday denied a report in the Chinese-language China Times Weekly magazine, which claimed that her father had illegally obtained a plot of land in Taipei that originally belonged to the military. Tsai said that similar accusations were made in the run-up to the presidential election in 2012 and that this was harmful to democracy.
► ELSEWHERE IN POLITICS
MA ON SOUTH CHINA SEA: Taiwan will “staunchly defend” its sovereignty over Itu Aba (Taiping Island, 太平島) in the South China Sea and its every right under international law, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said on Tuesday. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the same day issued a statement reiterating that the ROC owns and exercises effective control over islands in the South China Sea.
MA ‘JAPAN-FRIENDLY’: President Ma rejected the notion that he is either “pro-Japan” or “anti-Japan” and instead described himself as “Japan-friendly,” citing the 25 agreements that Taiwan has signed with Japan since he took office, the East China Sea peace initiative that he proposed in August 2012 to address disputes in the East China Sea region, as well as an open skies agreement in 2011 as examples of his stance and achievements. Ma declared his position at an international conference in Taipei marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1945, one of the World War II theaters.
Separately, Ma criticized China’s recent propaganda campaign that gave prominence to the communists’ role in fighting the Japanese, a device to strengthen Chinese nationalism that Ma described as “a distortion of history.”
MA ON AIIB BID: President Ma reiterated in an interview aired last Friday that Taiwan would join China-led AIIB under the name “Chinese Taipei” or would not participate in the financial institution at all.
DIPLOMATIC CRISIS FORETOLD? Former Vice President of Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) warned of possible severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan by its Latin American allies — a potential “domino effect” after next year’s presidential election, as Taiwan’s diplomatic relations in the region remain “precarious” since Ma proposed his “diplomatic truce” of 2008 to end the cross-strait tussle over diplomatic partners. Lu said that all the presidential candidates should make public how they intend to prepare for such a “crisis.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied Tuesday any sign of any underlying diplomatic crisis, citing Ma’s upcoming trip to the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Nicaragua this month as an example of his administration’s efforts to consolidate diplomatic relations in the region.
TPP PARTICIPATION: In a meeting with the American Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Premier Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) promised to take measures to accelerate Taiwan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and emphasized that its entry could supplement other trade efforts by the country.
US NAMES PRO-TAWAN ADVISER: Abraham Denmark, an Asia expert who supports Taiwan’s entry into the TPP, an expansion of its international space, as well as an increase in its defensive capabilities, has been named U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia.
ANALYST URGES ARM SALES TO TAIWAN: In an article published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Asian security affairs expert Shirley Kan, who recently retired from the U.S. Congressional Research Service, has called on U.S. President Barack Obama to sell more arms to Taiwan.
THIRD POLITICAL FORCE: Time is running short for the Social Democratic Party, the New Power Party (NPP) and the Green Party Taiwan to jointly propose a list of legislator-at-large candidates to increase the chances of the “third political force” to reach a stipulated threshold for legislator-at-large seats in next year’s legislative elections. However, further negotiations required for the partnership of small political parties do not appear to be on the agenda in the near term. The NPP announced on Wednesday that its cross-strait policy would center on demonstrating that Taiwan and China are two separate nations.
TEXTBOOK DISPUTES: Amid controversy over what critics describe as “China-centric” adjustments to high-school curriculum guidelines by the education ministry, student groups across the country threatened to stage further rallies if the ministry failed to respond to demands for the withdrawal of proposed curriculum changes in line with the new guidelines by Friday. A student protester was handcuffed and briefly detained by police in Monday’s demonstration. Minister of Education Wu Se-hwa (吳思華) on Thursday rejected demands to withdraw the new guidelines before the expiration of the student protester-imposed deadline on Friday. Confronted by students on Wednesday, President Ma said the changes contained “at most” 100 items in dispute, which were “minor” and thus made withdrawal “unnecessary.”
MAC MINISTER TO VISIT US: Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister Andrew Hsia (夏立言) is scheduled to visit the U.S. between July 11 and 19, during which he will meet with U.S. Congressmen and officials in Washington and New York, the state-run Central News Agency has reported.
NUCLEAR PLANT: In an interview aired last Friday, President Ma said that the controversial Fourth Nuclear Power Plant could be activated at any time in the future, although the process to mothball the plant began last Wednesday.
GOVERNMENT SLAMMED OVER FIRE RESPONSE: Ten days after a fire accident at a water park in New Taipei City accident claimed the lives of three victims and left 235 people in critical condition, President Ma convened a national security meeting to discuss the matter. DPP Legislator Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) criticized Ma’s response as “arriving too late” Meanwhile, Premier Mao’s proposal to grant paid leave to civil servants who are immediate relatives of the victims prompted criticism that this could be unfair on victims’ relatives who are not civil servants. KMT chairman and New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu said on Tuesday that he could consider allocating corporate donations to cover the paid leave for non-civil servants who are taking care of the victims.
Separately, the Ministry of Health and Welfare last week cited legislation that prevented foreign doctors from working in Taiwan to reject the offer of support by Japanese doctors for overworked medical staff struggling to care for burn victims of the accident. However, it announced on Tuesday that the Japanese medical specialists could “assist” local doctors. The turnaround followed widespread criticism of the ministry’s “bureaucratic” initial response.
WAGE HIKE FOR FOREIGN DOMESTIC WORKERS: After an initial request to Indonesia and the Philippines that they suspend demands for a raise in the minimum wage for domestic workers from those countries, the Ministry of Labor Affairs on Monday said that the wage raise was “inevitable.” The ministry had initially claimed that a concrete government response would only be available by the end of the year at the earliest. Despite the about-face, the ministry did not say how much wages would be raised and said it hoped to finalize the matter through bilateral negotiations within two months.
Placement agencies for workers from the two countries unilaterally adjusted the pay from NT$15,840 (US$512) to NT$17,500 on July 1 and said that it would not consider applications by prospective Taiwanese employers that is inconsistent with the new policy. The standard pay for foreign domestic workers had been stagnant for 18 years.
WORST CONTRACTION IN SIX YEARS: Dropping demand for electronic components and devices by all major trade partners has resulted in Taiwan’s worst contraction since 2009, with a 13.9 percent decline in exports last month from a year earlier, the Ministry of Finance announced on Tuesday, saying that the drop was “quicker than expected.”
TRAVEL ADVISORY FOR S KOREA ADJUSTED: The Centers for Disease Control on Tuesday lowered its travel advisory alert for South Korea to level one following the recent abatement of the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in the country.
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.