Taiwan makes international headlines for the wrong reason with a second plane crash within a year that killed 31 of the 58 people on board a TransAsia Airways plane; the accident leads to the postponement of a cross-strait meeting; Constitutional reform is once again discussed; and Tainan Mayor William Lai remains vague on a potential bid in the Democratic Progressive Party presidential primary. Welcome to this week’s issue of the Insider.
► TAIPEI PLANE CRASH
SEARCH CONTINUES: Search and rescue efforts at the crash site of TransAsia Airways Flight GE235 continued in cold and rainy weather in Taipei on Thursday, with 12 of the 58 people on board still unaccounted for and the death toll at 31. Flight GE235 sent out a mayday message shortly after takeoff from Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) on Wednesday morning before clipping a guardrail of an expressway — as well as a taxi on the roadway — with its left wing before crashing into the river just a few kilometers from the runway. It was TransAsia’s second crash within a year’s time. Another one crashed on July 23 last year at a village in Penghu County, killing 48 and injuring 10 on board.
PILOT PRAISED, CAUSES A MYSTERY: Pilot Liao Chien-tsung (廖建宗), who died in the crash, was praised for his courage in the final moments by steering the aircraft away from buildings to avoid further casualties. The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) denied that the pilots of Flight GE235 had identified problems with the aircraft’s engines before they took off, adding that ground crew also did not let the flight leave with a bad engine to avoid government penalties for a flight delay. The CAA has barred TransAsia from participating in the allocation of international air traffic rights for one year.
CHINA TO JOIN INVESTIGATION: The Executive Yuan on Thursday said China would take part in the investigation of the crash, adding that the move, which raised questions by the public, is “in accordance with international conventions.” Thirty-one of the 53 passengers on board were Chinese. According to statistics from the Tourism Bureau, prior to this week’s crash, 29 Chinese tourists had died and 156 were injured in 10 major accidents since Taiwan opened its doors to Chinese tourists in 2008. Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) also addressed the accident in his remarks.
TAO DIRECTOR VISITING KINMEN: The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) and China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) announced on Thursday that TAO Director Zhang Zhijun’s (張志軍) scheduled two-day visit to Kinmen this weekend has been postponed indefinitely due to the plane crash as well as a lack of consensus on the contentious flight routes near Taiwan’s airspace. Zhang was scheduled to visit Kinmen on Saturday and Sunday (Feb. 7-8) for a string of meetings with MAC officials and local residents. Analysts said Zhang chose to hold the meeting on the outlying island to avoid meeting with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) mayors and “widespread resentment” of Beijing in Taiwan.
KMT/MA ADMINISTRATION PERSONNEL CHANGES: President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) will pull “his men” from Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) headquarters to make room for new party chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫), the Chinese-language Liberty Times reported. Former vice chairman Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權) is expected to serve his second stint as secretary-general of the Presidential Office and replace Timothy Yang (楊進添) while party spokesperson Charles Chen (陳以信) will be appointed presidential spokesperson. Chu also succeeded in securing honorary chairman Lien Chan’s (連戰) pledge to withdraw from the KMT think tank so that Chu would be able to re-organize the institute. Academics close to Lien also agreed to leave.
According to rumors, Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) was expected to resign after meeting the TAO’s Zhang later this week in Kinmen, but the meeting has been postponed.
LEE TENG-HUI ADVOCATES CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM: Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) advocated a two-stage constitutional reform is a speech to the Legislative Yuan Press Club and called on political parties to work together to make it happen as soon as the presidential election early next year. The first stage should include reducing the threshold for constitutional reform, rectifying the Referendum Act (公民投票法) and lowering the voting age to 18, Lee said. For the second stage, Lee said that more issues, such as the number of Legislative Yuan seats, the legislative electoral system and clear lines of accountability between the president and the premier, could be discussed. Lee said he would facilitate talks between political parties after the Lunar New Year. The full text of Lee’s speech can be accessed here.
LAI TO RUN FOR PRESIDENCY … OR NOT? Although Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) has said he will not run in DPP presidential primary, his supporters have not given up. Senior independence advocate Koo Kwang-ming (辜寬敏) personally guaranteed that Lai “would not be absent” in the primary, prompting speculation about a potential Lai bid.
On Wednesday, Koo did not hide his dislike for DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who appears to be the sole candidate in the presidential primary, saying that Tsai’s doubling as party chairman and candidate in the primary was “unfair.” He added that “English proficiency does not necessarily equal a better global perspective.” Koo reiterated Tsai’s “failed test” during a visit to the U.S. in her 2011 presidential campaign when the presidential candidate “did not address every question posed by the Americans.”
A survey conducted by the Taiwan Brain Trust think tank, founded by Koo, found that 76.6% of respondents were optimistic about the DPP’s chances in the 2016 presidential election.
US OFFICIAL VISIT FOR TRADE ISSUES: Senior U.S. official for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Robert Wang (王曉岷), who served as deputy director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) between 2006 and 2009, discussed trade and economic issues with Taiwanese politicians during a recent visit. In addition to APEC affairs, Wang also met with DPP Chairperson Tsai. According to the DPP, Tsai reiterated the party’s intentions to “normalize” cross-strait economic and trade relations, adding that the party’s think tank had established a taskforce on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to promote Taiwan’s accession to the regional trade group.
MA’S DARK PAST? Citing Taipei City Government documents it obtained, the Chinese-language Next Magazine reported that in addition to former mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) “favoring” Farglory Land Development Co (遠雄建設) in the Taipei Dome contract, Ma Ying-jeou may have done so as well when he was Taipei mayor.
CHEN SHUI-BIAN PAROLE EXTENDED: The Ministry of Justice on Wednesday extended former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) medical parole for three months until May 4 after evaluating the recommendations of a medical panel. Chen was released on Jan. 5 for a one-month medical parole.
MAC REAFFIRMS ‘ONE COUNTRY, TWO REGIONS’: Responding to lawmakers’ questions in an interpellation session, MAC Deputy Minister Wu Mei-hung (吳美紅) cited the Constitution as saying that the status of cross-strait relations is “One Republic of China (ROC), two regions” (一個中華民國，兩個地區), adding that the position had remained the same for more than two decades under three presidents.
CHU SAYS WILL SERVE FULL TERM: New Taipei Mayor and KMT Chairman Eric Chu told the city council’s KMT caucus on Tuesday that he would “serve his full term” of four years as mayor, remarks that would again confirm that he will not run in the presidential election next year.
PARTIES AT ODDS ON COMBINING ELECTIONS: The KMT and the DPP have different views toward a planned combination of the legislative and presidential elections next year, with KMT Chairman Eric Chu arguing that the merger would create an extended caretaking period for the current administration. Noting that it was the KMT that had insisted on the merger in 2008 despite the DPP’s warnings of a four-month caretaking period, the DPP said it preferred an institutionalized mechanism and urged the KMT to re-assess its “inconsistent” position.
LIEN CHAN’S WEALTH QUESTIONED: KMT honorary chairman Lien Chan was listed by Hurun Global Rich List 2015, released on Tuesday, as one of the richest Taiwanese with estimated assets of US$1 billion (No. 1,911 in the global ranking) The report described Lien as “the first Taiwanese politician to crack the ranking,” but the public began questioning the origin of Lien’s wealth, since he has been a lifetime public servant.
With his wealth of US$10 billion, Want Want China Times Group Chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) is the richest man in Taiwan. A total of 49 Taiwanese made the list.
CROSS-STRAIT PACTS LITERAL PEACE ACCORD? The agreements that have been signed between Taiwan and China can be seen as “peace pacts” in a broad sense, because they would not have been possible without a peaceful environment across the Taiwan Strait, Ma said on Tuesday.
PRO-INDEPENDENCE PARTY IN THE MAKING: Taiwan independence advocate Tsay Ting-kuei (蔡丁貴) said he was considering establishing a new political party that openly advocates Taiwanese independence and left-wing ideology, saying that such a party would be necessary as the DPP has been “inconsistent” in its China policy. If established, the party could be yet another party founded by members of civic groups as lawyer Lin Feng-jeng (林峰正) last week announced the establishment of the New Power Party (NPP) and Taiwan Citizen Union (TCU) president Fan Yun (范雲) is reportedly planning to found a new party next month.
BEIJING MAY FORCE CONCESSIONS: China could try to win concessions on Taiwan’s sovereignty before President Ma leaves office, a Washington conference was told, the Taipei Times reported.
MAN IN PO ATTACK SENTENCED: Truck driver Chang Te-cheng (張德正) was sentenced to five years and 10 months in jail on charges of attempted murder for driving his truck into the Presidential Office Building in January last year, the Taipei District Court said on Thursday.
DALAI LAMA VISIT? The DPP on Friday denied a report by Storm Media, an online news website, which said that DPP chairperson Tsai had had sent former National Security Bureau director Tsai Der-sheng (蔡得勝) as an emissary to India to extend an invitation to the Dalai Lama for the Tibetan spiritual leader to visit Taiwan in May.
► MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS
KO TOPS MAYORAL SURVEY: Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) and Tainan Mayor William Lai were the top three in all categories — satisfaction rate, credibility and likeability — in a public opinion poll conducted by TVBS on the eve of the one-month anniversary of the inauguration of six special municipality mayors.
KO COMMENTS ON COLONIALISM DRAWS FIRE: Ko again made waves in the past week after telling an interview with U.S.-based Foreign Policy magazine published on Jan. 29 that “the longer the colonization, the more advanced a place is.” Ko was referring to the four Chinese-speaking centers of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and China. He added that he would prefer to describe cross-strait relations as “Two countries, one [democratic] system” rather than the “One country, two systems” insists on.
Critics blasted Ko for “glorifying Taiwan’s colonial past” while the Beijing mouthpiece Global Times threatened to terminate the annual Taipei-Shanghai forum, saying that Ko had been “arrogant” in his interpretation of cross-strait relations. Meanwhile, Ko blamed the controversy on mistranslation, forcing the magazine to release the audio recording of the interview. However, an online survey conducted by the Global Times found that 71% of respondents, most of whom were likely Chinese netizens, believed that most Taiwanese supported Ko’s views on colonialism.
LAI TROUBLES IN TAINAN: KMT city councilors lashed out at Tainan Mayor William Lai on Thursday over his refusal to attend council meetings, and decided to refer him to the Control Yuan for impeachment. Following Tainan Council Speaker Lee Chuan-chiao’s (李全教) indictment early last month for vote buying, Lai said he would boycott all council meetings as long as Lee remained in his position.
► ECONOMY AND TRADE
CHINESE YUAN SERVICE QUESTIONED: Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) legislators on Friday questioned a plan by convenience store chain 7-Eleven to launch currency exchange services for the yuan (RMB), saying it might lead to loss of Taiwan’s currency sovereignty. As an increasing number of Chinese visitors come to Taiwan, 7-Eleven — which is operated by President Chain Store Corp — announced that it would provide currency exchange services for the yuan at three of its stores beginning this month.
STOCK TRADING LIMITS RELAXED: The Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) on Tuesday unveiled stimulus measures to boost the nation’s equity market, including the expansion of the daily stock trading limit from 7 percent to 10 percent. The new trading rule will take effect on Aug. 3. It will be the first relaxation of the trading rules since the limit was raised from 5 percent to 7 percent 25 years ago.
► MILITARY AND SECURITY
NEW DEFENSE MINISTER LISTS PRIORITIES: New Defense Minister Kao Kuan-chi (高廣圻) said on Jan. 30 that an internal protection mechanism against espionage and the military’s core mission of strengthening its combat readiness and defense capabilities were high on his priority list.
MISSILE CORVETTE STATUS: The Navy denied on Wednesday that its new indigenous stealth missile corvette Tuo Jiang had been suspended due to design flaws, saying that the ship was conducting “in-harbor” training. A former Navy officer wrote in the Liberty Times that the Tuo Jiang, billed as the fastest warship in Asia with the most firepower, was had buoyancy problems because it carried “too many weapons.”
WEI’S BAIL UPHELD: The Changhua District Court on Wednesday rejected an appeal from prosecutors and upheld its decision to grant bail to former senior Ting Hsin International Group (頂新國際集團) executive Wei Ying-chun (魏應充), but raised the amount from NT$100 million last week to NT$300 million. Prosecutors said they would appeal again.
CHINESE SPOUSES GET HEALTHCARE COVERAGE: The National Health Insurance Administration (NHIA) on Sunday dismissed a news report that it had illegally granted “resident status” to more than 60,000 Chinese nationals living in Taiwan without a foreign resident certificate to entitle them to the coverage under the National Health Insurance program. The agency said the inclusion of Taiwan-based Chinese nationals into the program was a decision made “on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.”
INHUMANE CULLING? With the number of birds culled in response to the avian influenza outbreaks exceeding 1.7 million, the Environment and Animal Society Taiwan (EAST) and DPP lawmaker Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) on Friday criticized what they said were inhumane practices by local governments.
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.