Student protests against curriculum change ends before a powerful typhoon hits Taiwan as education ministry offers vague concessions; history textbook guideline revision convener says adjustments were made to ‘boost’ the KMT’s election campaign; PFP Chairman James Soong announces presidential bid; the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen still leads in the polls. Welcome to this week’s edition of the Insider.
► 2016 ELECTIONS
SOONG ANNOUNCES PRESIDENTIAL BID: Next year’s presidential election has become a three-way race with People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) announcing on Thursday that he was entering the race. Soong called for the establishment of a coalition government and joint efforts to find a way out for Taiwan regardless of one’s political affiliation.
This will be Soong’s fourth appearance on the presidential ticket — he ran for president in 2000 and 2012, and was a vice presidential candidate in 2004. In 2012, he only received 2.77 percent of total votes.
Analysts say Soong’s candidacy is expected to widen the split in the blue camp and likely ensure defeat for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in next year’s presidential and legislative elections. Soong has been vocal about his disappointment with the KMT’s “incompetence” and the selection of Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) as its presidential candidate. The 73-year-old could attract votes from pan-blue supporters who are frustrated with the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration and Hung’s conservative pro-China views.
According to the latest poll by the Chinese-language United Daily News conducted Thursday, 36 percent of respondents said they would vote for Tsai, 24 percent for Soong and 17 percent for Hung.
Following Soong’s announcement, KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) immediately called for solidarity among pan-blue forces, but that did not stop KMT legislator Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞) from withdrawing his party membership on Thursday afternoon. Lee, who is running in New Taipei City as a KMT nominee, dropped out of the legislative election and pledged his support to Soong. Rumor has it that Lee’s older brother, former interior minister Lee Hung-yuan (李鴻源), could be Soong’s running mate.
With Soong in the fray, the DPP estimates that chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) could face a 3 to 6 percent drop in support from independent and pan-blue voters. A large-scale survey conducted among 11,305 respondents between July 8 and August 4 by the Chinese-language CommonWealth Magazine showed Tsai enjoying a significant lead over Hung (41.9 to 16.7 percent).
Soong’s full speech is available here.
TSAI PLEDGES CLOSE BOND WITH US: During a Monday meeting with director of the American Institute in Taiwan Kin Moy, Tsai promised that if elected president, she would ensure that her party continued its close communication with the U.S. and promote bilateral trade and security relations.
► CURRICULUM DISPUTE
STUDENTS END SIT-IN: The student-led activists who were occupying the Ministry of Education (MOE) forecourt decided to end their protest against the ministry’s controversial high-school curriculum adjustments on Thursday night as Typhoon Soudelor approaches Taiwan. The students have vowed to continue to monitor the issue. Some student campaigners have also reported that they were harassed and put under police watch.
Three student leaders quit the leadership group on Wednesday to alleviate the pressure from recent frustration, including failed dialogue with Minister of Education We Se-hwa (吳思華). The MOE has refused to suspend or withdraw the revised guidelines. A DPP proposal last Friday to hold an extraordinary legislative session to end the curriculum dispute — ostensibly the only way to resolve the impasse — aborted during closed-door legislative cross-caucus negotiations on Tuesday due to opposition by the KMT caucus.
Nearly a thousand anti-curriculum advocates took the streets on Sunday to show their support for the protesters and Dai Lin (林冠華), one of the student leaders who committed suicide last Thursday.
KMT presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu on Lin’s death: “Kids sometimes do not have sufficient understanding of public issues.” For her part, Tsai Ing-wen made a low-profile visit and exchanged opinions with students late Tuesday evening.
MINISTER-STUDENT TALKS BREAK DOWN: Talks between the education minister and student protesters over the curriculum controversy on Monday came nowhere close to reaching a consensus. Frustrated with the minister’s “unyieldingness” and “evasiveness,” some of the students bolted out of the room.
Insisting that there is nothing “unlawful” about the curriculum guidelines, whose “China-centric” revisions and “opaque review process” sparked the dispute, Wu held his ground, saying that withdrawing or suspending the curriculum guidelines was out of the question unless evidence of irregularities is found. Wu evaded critical questions about the competence of the ministry’s pro-unification curricular adjustment committee convener.
MA BEHIND VETO ON EXTRA SESSION? The Chinese-language Next Magazine reported on Wednesday that President Ma Ying-jeou had masterminded his party’s veto on holding an extraordinary legislative session to end the current protest against the revised curriculum guidelines. According to the story, Ma did so despite Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and KMT chairman Eric Chu’s support for the solution. Chu on Tuesday denied the allegation that he was not consulted.
INTER- PARTY CAUCUS RESOLUTION FOR EDUCATION MINISTRY: Despite the vote against an extraordinary legislative session, a legislative cross-caucus meeting has advised the education ministry to immediately establish a “curriculum review committee” to examine senior-high school curriculum guidelines. Describing the consensus as a “breakthrough,” the DPP caucus said it was in favor of a suspension of the revised guidelines before the review is completed. The KMT, however, maintains that the issue has been “manipulated” by the DPP.
Following the resolution, the education ministry said it would delegate a supervisory committee formed last year to pick sub-committee members for the review. However, the arrangement has raised concerns that the committee members could be ideologically aligned with the ministry and therefore make an unbiased review unlikely. Protesters have therefore demanded the ministry make public the list of committee members. In response, the education ministry said it welcomed sub-committee candidates recommended by the students, but said that obtaining the permission of committee members was a precondition for disclosing the list.
CURRICULUM REVISION FOR KMT CAMPAIGN: The Saturday repost of an article published on the Chinese media Web site Guancha.cn featuring Wang Hsiao-po (王曉波), the controversy-prone convener of the education ministry’s curriculum adjustment committee, has caused fury. Wang said the curriculum adjustments had created a strong cohesive force among pan-blue supporters, which would benefit the KMT’s campaign for next year’s presidential and legislative elections and was “exactly what we aimed to achieve through the curriculum changes.”
Wang, a professor specializing in the history of Chinese philosophy and former vice chairperson of the Chinese Unification Union, asserted on a Taiwanese political talk show last Friday that “our country’s capital is Nanjing.” Wang compared student protesters to China’s Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, and has accused the DPP of “instigating” the protests.
UNIVERSITY PRINCIPALS INTERVENE: Five private university presidents issued a joint statement on Sunday urging students to withdraw from the protest, warning that “no companies would dare to hire an employee who constantly gets involved in protests.” However, Shih Chien University president Michael Chen (陳振貴), whose signature appears on the list, denies that he has endorsed the statement, saying that he personally lobbied the education minister to accept the appeal of the anti-curriculum campaign.
MOE TO DROP CHARGES: Minister of Education Wu Se-hwa announced on Wednesday that the ministry would drop charges against the students and reporters who were arrested for trespassing on the MOE property during the protest－ nearly two weeks after his decision to do so sparked widespread criticism. The Association of Taiwan Journalists echoed the demands for a MOE apology by the three reporters who faced prosecution for entering the ministry to cover the incident, insisting that the ministry should explain the arrests, which set “a bad precedent for the infringement upon press freedom.”
HACKERS LAUNCH DDOS ATTACKS AS SUPPORT: In ostensible support for the curriculum protests, a loose coalition of hackers and Internet activists known as Anonymous Asia launched a series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks last Friday, targeting Presidential Office, Ministry of Education, Ministry of National Defense, pan-blue political parties and several other government agency web sites.
► MARITIME DISPUTES
CHINA’S NEW AIRSTRIP ON DISPUTED REEF: Beijing could be preparing to build a second airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑礁), which could ultimately be used for combat operations, the Center for Strategic and International Studies has observed. Taiwan also claims the artificial island.
MND SAYS ITU ABA IMPROVEMENTS ‘HUMANITARIAN’: In response to speculation that renovations of the airport on Itu Aba (Taiping Island, 太平島) were in preparation for basing F-16 combat aircraft and P-3C anti-submarine surveillance aircraft, the Ministry of National Defense said on Tuesday that the improvements were simply for “flight safety purposes” and “humanitarian tasks.”
HOTLINE CONSIDERED FOR SOUTH CHINA SEA: The possibility of setting up a “hotline” for emergency situations in the South China Sea territorial dispute was discussed during a meeting of senior Chinese and ASEAN diplomats in China last week, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said on Sunday.
MA DEMANDS EX-PRESIDENT’S APOLOGY: President Ma demanded an apology from former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) on Monday for his “serious misstatement” in Japan’s Diet last month, during which the former president said that the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in the East China Sea belong to Japan rather than the Republic of China.
► ELSEWHERE IN POLITICS
US SHOULD ‘OPENLY’ DECLARE INTENT TO DEFEND TAIWAN: A commentary published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggested the U.S. should declare “openly and unequivocally” that it will defend Taiwan against any Chinese coercion or aggression by Beijing or attempt to forge significant cross-strait political bonds through economic integration. Joseph Bosco, the author and former China desk officer at the U.S. Department of Defense, said the clock has started running “on this particular scenario” since 2012.
MORE WEIGHT TO RELIEF WORK DESPITE CHINA’S OBJECTIONS: Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has urged Taiwan to be more effective in assisting with international disaster relief despite interventions from Beijing, by taking advantage of some international organizations’ charters that are “vague” on dealing solely sovereign nations. Glaser said Taiwan should find ways to join UN’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
TAIPEI-SHANGHAI FORUM TO CONTINUE: Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) confirmed on Wednesday that he will lead a delegation to this year’s Taipei-Shanghai forum in China next month, suggesting that the dispute over Ko’s refusal to openly endorse Beijing’s “one China” policy－regarded by China as a gesture of “greater goodwill,” has abated. Taipei and Shanghai have taken turns hosting the annual city forum since it was organized in 2010.
TAINAN MAYOR IMPEACHED: Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) lashed out at what he termed the “unconstitutionality” of the Control Yuan’s Tuesday decision to impeach him over his boycott of city council meetings since January until vote-buying allegations against KMT Tainan City Council Speaker Lee Chuan-chiao (李全教) have been addressed. Lai said his decision to not attend council meetings does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Control Yuan, according to the Constitution, and thus the impeachment would damage Taiwan’s democracy.
CHEN SHUI-BIAN PAROLE EXTENDED: Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who is serving a 20-year sentence for corruption and has been on medical parole since early January, is to have his parole extended for an additional three months, the Ministry of Justice said on Monday.
FLIGHTS FROM CHINA TO TRANSIT IN TAIWAN: Taipei’s proposal to allow the transit of international flights from China in Taiwan remains unsettled, the Mainland Affairs Council said on Sunday. Beijing is yet to set a concrete date for the beginning of the transit-flight service, and the issue remains stuck on its request for measures to “optimize” flight routes across the Taiwan Strait, the Chinese-language United Daily News reported on Sunday.
► MILITARY AND SECURITY
INTRUSION AT VITAL MILITARY FACILITIES: The military was criticized for its “dereliction of duty” and “lax security” after a suspect allegedly rammed a hatchback through a wire fence at a Patriot missile base in New Taipei City on Sunday. The suspect was able to drive around one of the nation’s most vital military facilities for more than three minutes before any effort was made to stop him.
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. Click here to subscribe to the Insider and receive it in your e-mail.
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