A student protester commits suicide as protests against the government’s curriculum guideline changes intensify; KMT presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu snubbed by local party heavyweights in central Taiwan; PFP Chairman James Soong is expected to announce his decision on a presidential bid next Thursday; former president Lee Teng-hui’s remarks on the disputed Diaoyutai Islands spark controversy. Welcome to this week’s edition of the Insider.
► CURRICULUM DISPUTE
STUDENT COMMITS SUICIDE: The nation was shocked by the news that Dai Lin (林冠華), a member of the student-group Northern Taiwan Anti-Curriculum Changes Alliance, committed suicide on Thursday, his 20th birthday and seven days after he was arrested in a previous protest, at his home in New Taipei City.
Lin, who served as the alliance’s spokesperson, was among the students who were arrested on Thursday night last week for breaking into the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) compound to protest changes to the curriculum guidelines. Protesters have urged the ministry to withdraw the changes — which are to take effect on Friday — because of their “China-centric” focus and questionable approval process.
Politicians across party lines, including President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), extended their condolences to the family of the deceased but the Ma administration showed no signs of conciliation, refusing to withdraw the controversial guideline. Meanwhile, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) called out the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for its “political maneuvering behind the scenes.” The accusation received negative reviews from most observers, however.
STUDENTS STORM LEGISLATURE, MOE: Hundreds of students and protesters entered the MOE compound again early Friday morning and occupied the plaza to pay their tribute to Dai Lin as well as continuing protest against Minister of Education We Se-hwa (吳思華), who refused to step down and withdraw the controversial guideline despite strong urge from the protesters.
Guarding the main gate of the MOE building, Taipei City police were on alert without taking any action throughout the night as Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) ordered against making arrests.
Protesters issued Wu a deadline of 1am Friday to resign and later extended the deadline to 10am.
ARRESTS OF STUDENTS, REPORTERS SPARK CONTROVERSY: The Taipei City Police and Education Minister Wu Se-hwa initiated litigation last Friday against 33 individuals involved in an MOE compound incursion last Thursday night to demand the withdrawal of guideline adjustments.
Twenty-four students, three journalists and six other individuals who were detained on the night of the incident and released on bail the next day would therefore face prosecution, prompting concern over further threat to press freedom.
A reporter put under house arrest by the police on Thursday night said he felt the protest might be a repetition of the Sunflower movement.
The ministry said Wednesday that dropping the charges against student protesters “might be an option to consider,” provided that they are willing to acknowledge that their protest last Thursday had violated the law－a precondition which Wu insisted for “assisting the students to reform themselves and to start afresh.”
Meanwhile, the first student body to voice against the curriculum guidelines shifted its forum on the dispute to in front of the Legislative Yuan complex, requesting the legislature’s intervention in the ministry’s actions on the guidelines.
Ko Wen-je took the blame last Friday for what he cited as “infringement on press freedom” by the Taipei City Police, while he urged President Ma Ying-jeou and Premier Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) to make public their stance on the curriculum controversy. The city police department, however, released a report Tuesday that sparked more anger, as it insisted that the arrests were all made in compliance with law and rejected allegations of cellphone and camera confiscation from protesters and reporters on site.
POLITICIZATION LOOMS OVER STUDENT MOVEMENT: KMT presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) echoed her party’s support for the education ministry’s legal action against protesters and reporters present at the incident last Thursday, while accusing the DPP of instigating students to launch the curriculum protest across Taiwan and calling on “the party behind the protests” to “get its hands off” young people.
Hung on Wednesday further dared DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen to declare support for the disputed guideline adjustments, “if not, Tsai would be proving herself to be an advocate for Taiwan independence.” Hung vowed to implement the curriculum guideline revisions if she claims victory in the upcoming election, while regarding the “manipulated” student protesters, whom in her eyes were “pathetic,” as bearing “zero understanding” of the guideline adjustments.
Tsai reiterated on Saturday her party’s recommendation that the ministry－currently appealing a ruling by the Taipei High Administrative Court ordering it to release a complete list of the curriculum review committee members, along with meeting minutes and voting results－should halt the proposed implementation of the curriculum guidelines and withdraw the highly disputed charges.
CABINET PROMISES REVIEW OF DISPUTED SECTIONS: After five days of prevarication following the protest against the contentious curriculum guideline adjustments last Thursday, Executive Yuan spokesperson Sun Lih-chyun (孫立群) said on Tuesday that the government would re-examine the curriculum adjustments and that the issues under dispute in the new guidelines would not be part of standardized exams.
► PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS
HUNG SNUBBED: The absence of several key KMT politicians from KMT presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu’s campaign events in central Taiwan last Friday and Saturday －especially that of former Yunlin County commissioner Chang Jung-wei (張榮味) and his daughter, KMT legislator Chang Chia-chun (張嘉郡) －has led to speculation that some of Hung’s supposed compatriots are distancing themselves from her.
KMT lawmaker Chen Ken-te (陳根德) disparaged Hung’s cross-strait policies, which have earned her the label of “pro-China” presidential candidate, adding that the KMT’s legislative candidates might as well “all go to hell” following the party’s strategy of joining next year’s legislative and presidential campaigns.
In related news, Hung spokesman Jack Yu (游梓翔) said on Sunday that he would leave his position in Hung’s campaign team next month, just a little more than one month after he assumed the role.
Hung on Wednesday reiterated her resolve to stay in the race despite concerns within the KMT that she is running a “doomed” presidential campaign.
WANG DISMISSES BID WITH SOONG: Rumors persisted last week that the KMT could drop Hung its presidential candidate, as her poll numbers remain low. Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), who was the object of speculation as a potential alternative to Hung, last Saturday dismissed reports that he would pair up with People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) to run in next year’s presidential election.
Meanwhile, arrangements for a proposed discussion between KMT chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) and Soong for possible collaboration between the two parties in next year’s elections, which political observers said could involve talking Soong into giving up any intended presidential bid, have come to a halt due to the two sides’ differences on whether the meeting should be open to the public.
Soong is expected to announce his decision on the presidential bid next Thursday, according to local media reports. The veteran politician appears to be gathering steam in terms of popularity and now stands a few percentage points above Hung.
► MARITIME DISPUTES
DIAOYUTAI ISLANDS SOVEREIGNTY: Former president Lee Teng-hui’s (李登輝) remarks in Japan’s Diet last week to the effect that the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known as the Senkakus in Japan, belong exclusively to Japan, sparked strong criticism from the President Ma Ying-jeou administration, the Chinese government, and the pan-blue camp. China, Taiwan and Japan have overlapping sovereignty claims to the islands.
The Presidential Office last Friday described Lee as having “humiliated” the nation and “forfeited its sovereignty.” Later the same day, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang (陸慷) labeled Lee as a “stubborn Taiwan splittist” and chided Japan for becoming involved in “Taiwan separatist activities” by rendering assistance to Lee’s visit. Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) also accused Lee for causing “extreme harm” to the peaceful development of cross-strait relations with his comments, bashing Lee as “disgraceful.”
KMT chairman Eric Chu on Saturday said that Lee’s viewpoint was “unacceptable” while the KMT legislative caucus said it planned to rescind the preferential treatments Lee has been entitled to as the nation’s former president. New Party Chairman Yok Mu-ming (郁慕明) also filed charges of treason against Lee on Tuesday.
The DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday reiterated her her party’s stance that the islands belong to Taiwan.
CHINA EYES NEW CRUISE LINK TO DISPUTED ISLANDS: Chinese authorities plan to launch a second cruise ship link to the disputed Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) in the South China Sea before the end of the year, the state-run China Daily reported on Monday, in a potentially provocative move to Taiwan and Vietnam that also claim the islets.
► ELSEWHERE IN POLITICS
MA’S DISPLEASURE OVER PROGRESS WITH CHINA, PLA DRILL: During an interview with the BBC last Friday, President Ma expressed his disappointment that despite his efforts to improve cross-strait relations, Beijing is still sitting on a face-to-face meeting between him and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平). In addition, Ma voiced his displeasure over footage aired by state-owned China Central Television (CCTV) earlier in the month showing the a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military exercise involving an attack of a replica of Taiwan’s Presidential Office building, while stressing that Taiwan’s defense principle is to create a scenario in which neither side changes the “status quo” through unilateral or non-peaceful means.
CHINA LIVE-FIRE DRILL IN SOUTH CHINA SEA: China is staging a large-scale live fire military drill in waters around disputed South China Sea islands, according to the Chinese-language Global Times. The peak of the drill, which started from July 22 and will end on Friday, was carried out on Tuesday by over 100 frigates, tens of aircraft and its Second Artillery Corps to simulate China’s response to an antagonistic situation, according to the newspaper.
ABE HIGH ON JAPAN-TAIWAN RELATIONS: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe affirmed on Wednesday that Taiwan is an important partner that should be cherished by Japan. Abe made the remarks in an interpellation session of the Special Committee on Peace and Security of the Senate when replying to questions raised by senators of the opposition parties.
SUPPORT FOR UNIFICATION AT RECORD LOW: Support for unification with China has hit a record-low of 9.1 percent, while only 3.3 percent regard themselves as Chinese－also an all-time low－according to the latest poll of a study conducted regularly since 1992 on Taiwanese people’s political attitudes by the National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center.
The figures gathered last month show that 33.7 percent of respondents identified themselves as both Taiwanese and Chinese, a slight increase from 32.5 percent last year.
SUNFLOWER LEADER ANNOUNCES BID FOR LEGISLATIVE SEAT: Academia Sinica researcher and New Power Party Acting President Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌)－a leader of last year’s Sunflower Movement－officially declared his bid to run in next year’s legislative election with his party, saying that DPP election campaign strategy committee convener Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) had promised that the DPP would not nominate any candidate in the constituency from which Huang is contesting.
KMT VICE CHAIR WINS LEGISLATIVE PRIMARY: Public polls on Sunday showed that KMT Vice Chairman and former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin’s (郝龍斌) enjoyed a lead over other KMT rivals, ensuring him the nomination by his party to run in next year’s legislative election.
In related news, the KMT estimated that the party would take 50 out of 113 seats in the upcoming legislative elections－less than required for the ruling party to secure its majority, the Chinese-language China Times said on Wednesday.
BRIBERY PROBE LINKED TO WATER PARK INFERNO: Seven New Taipei City inspectors are suspected of accepting bribes from the Formosa Fun Coast Waterpark in exchange for safety approvals, which prosecutors said could have contributed to the June 27 deadly explosion that claimed nine lives and injured nearly 500 people. New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu, whose administration has been under criticism for its handling of the accident, vowed to scrutinize the case.
Separately, prosecutors launched a search into the residences and offices of former New Taipei City deputy mayor Hsu Chih-chien (許志堅), previously a close aide of Chu, on account of his suspected involvement in a bribery scandal when attending to an urban renewal project.
ECONOMIC STIMULUS PROPOSED TO REJUVENATE EXPORTS: In response to lackluster exports, the Cabinet has outlined measures to expand public investment, possibly setting up a sovereign wealth fund and a proposal to provide NT$500 billion (US$15.84 billion) in loans to “non-small and medium-sized enterprises.”
Taiwan’s exports last month dropped 13.9 percent from the previous year, marking the fifth consecutive month in which shipments to overseas destinations contracted year-on-year. In the first six months of this year, exports declined 7.1 percent from a year earlier.
Meanwhile, Taiwan submitted its official notification to join the expanded tariff elimination program of the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement (ITA), which adds 201 technology products to the zero-tariff list, in a bid to benefit Taiwan’s foreign trade. Taiwan’s flat-panel products are not included in the scheme.
ENTREPRENEUR VISA LAUNCH: Taiwan is to begin taking applications for entrepreneur visas from foreign nationals starting on July 31 in a bid to attract innovative entrepreneurship in the Asia-Pacific region, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Tuesday. The program’s initial trial stage excludes entrepreneurs from China.
WAGE RAISE FOR FOREIGN DOMESTIC WORKERS: Taiwan is still negotiating with Indonesia and the Philippines on their “unilateral” decision on domestic helpers’ pay raise in Taiwan, with talks scheduled for early August in Taipei, bringing together labor officials from Taiwan and the Philippines and further discussion with Indonesia through existing channels, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday. Authorities who place workers from the two countries unilaterally adjusted the aforesaid pay from NT$15,840 to NT$17,500 on July 1. However, no application by Taiwanese employers inconsistent with the new policy will be considered. The standard pay for foreign domestic workers has been stagnant for 18 years.
► MILITARY AND SECURITY
CHINESE MISSILES A THREAT, CAUSE RESENTMENT: China’s medium and long-range ballistic missiles pose a threat to Taiwan, even though they may be deployed to target other countries, the Ministry of National Defense remarked on Tuesday in response a report by the People’s Liberation Army Daily the day before detailing the strategic missile forces under China’s Second Artillery Corps. The ministry described the report as “purposely published to intimidate the Taiwanese people” and warned of its “adverse effects” of provoking resentments in Taiwan.
OFFICERS’ COMMUNICATIONS BUGGED BY CHINA: China may have put e-mails, cellphone calls and text messages to and from Taiwan’s senior military officer under surveillance to facilitate its evaluation and selection of “candidates” for clandestine political warfare campaigns, according to a new study written by former Pentagon official Mark Stokes in Washington.
In related news, the Taiwan Solidarity Union legislative caucus on Tuesday warned of national security concerns over the use of a messaging app that was initially branded as locally developed and not widely adopted in government agencies on account of its alleged technology transfer to a company affiliated with the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission investment－an allegation that both the cabinet and the Investment Commission of the Ministry of Economy dismissed as groundless.
RETIRED ARMY COLONEL CHARGED OVER MILITARY DEAL: Prosecutors filed charges against a retired army colonel for allegedly “double-dipping” by being paid a monthly salary by private firms which took advantage of his influence and insider knowledge of military procurement programs to secure contracts, while also receiving a military pension.
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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