The seizing by Japan of a Taiwanese vessel and crew near the disputed Okinotori atoll sparks a row with Tokyo; premier-designate Lin Chuan completes his Cabinet nominations; former premier Frank Hsieh confirms appointment as envoy to Japan; a poll by a Chinese state mouthpiece indicates majority support for “unifying Taiwan” by force”; a new political storm brews over the possible lifting of a U.S. pork import ban. Welcome to this week’s edition of the Insider.
► MARITIME DISPUTE
OKINOTORI INCIDENT: The Japan Coast Guard accused a Taiwanese fishing vessel of intruding in its alleged exclusive economic zone (EEZ) near the Okinotori Atoll and seized the boat and its crew on Sunday evening, sparking a row between Taiwan and Japan. The boat and its crew were released on Tuesday after the ship’s owner paid a “lawsuit deposit” in accordance with a request by Japanese authorities.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said it filed a protest with Japan and demanded the release of the boat and the crew on Monday, adding that Japan’s move in the disputed area was “unacceptable.” Lawmakers across party lines also defended Taiwanese fishermen’s fishing rights in the disputed waters.
Premier Simon Chang (張善政) on Tuesday slammed Japan and challenged its EEZ claim as international law regards the uninhabited area, which is mostly submerged at low tide, as a reef rather than an island. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) instructing responsible agencies to take initiatives to safeguard Taiwan’s fishing rights in the area. The Coast Guard Administration said it would expand the area of it patrols.
Fishermen staged a protest in front of Japan’s representative office in Taipei on Wednesday. Protesters described the office’s response to the protest as “insincere.”
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) condemned the incident and lashed out at pan-green politicians who were vocal on the Kenya incident for their “total silence” over Japan’s “pirate-like” action.
US CHALLENGES SEA CLAIMS: U.S. forces conducted “freedom of navigation” exercises last year due to the “excessive maritime claims of 13 countries, including Taiwan and several other nations, in defiance of their navigation restrictions in the South and East China seas,” an annual Pentagon report says. Taiwan was targeted for requiring prior notification for the entry of military or government vessels into its territorial sea. The Ministry of National Defense said Taiwan would continue to do so to ensure national security despite the U.S. position on the matter.
EAST CHINA SEA DISPUTE: Former Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) told the Nikkei Asia Review on Wednesday that the incoming administration will not collude with China against Japan in the East China Sea dispute. Hsieh also confirmed his appointment as envoy to Japan. Taiwan’s claim over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台, known as the Senkakus in Japan) remains unchanged, but the sovereignty issue should not damage Taiwan’s partnership with Japan, Hsieh said.
► JURISDICTION DISPUTE
KENYA CASE: Human Rights Watch China Director Sophie Richardson on Sunday compared China’s involvement in Kenya’s deportation of 45 Taiwanese nationals to Beijing to the abduction of Hong Kong booksellers in March, warning that extralegal deportations were increasing. “Where it will strike next is anyone’s guess,” Richardson added.
As to the short-term fate of the Taiwanese suspects currently detained in China, Premier Chang described bringing them back as “a daunting task,” admitting that the likelihood of their immediate return was “not high.”
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) said a delegation had reached an agreement with its Chinese counterparts to jointly investigate the Kenya and Malaysia telecom fraud cases, and to allow the visit to the 45 Taiwanese detainees in China by their relatives. China claimed that the Taiwanese suspects have all confessed and are being kept in isolation to prevent collusion.
ARRESTS IN CHINA: The Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) on Sunday said that the recent arrest of 10 Taiwanese telecom fraud suspects in China for their alleged involvement in scam operation based in Uganda was a result of joint efforts between the bureau and its Chinese counterpart. The statement contradicted to its previous position that it had no information about the arrest case.
MOFA and the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) were reportedly unaware of the arrest beforehand. There was neither independent confirmation of the Taiwanese’ roles as alleged “ringleaders” in the alleged crime nor their exact whereabouts as of last Saturday.
‘ONE-CHINA’: China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) on Wednesday said that denial of the “1992 consensus” would “absolutely lead to changes in the cross-strait status quo.” President-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) reiterated on the same day that her administration would promote ties with China based on democratic principles as well as public opinion in Taiwan, without referring to Beijing’s insistence on the “consensus” in line with its “one China” policy.
A Monday poll by Chinese state mouthpiece Global Times showed that 85 percent of Chinese support “unifying Taiwan” with military force, and that 99 percent of the surveyed see Taiwan as part of China.
Former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) chairman Richard Bush predicted deteriorating cross-strait ties as a result of Tsai and the Chinese leaders’ failure to reach a deal — adhering to Beijing’s demand that Tsai accept there is “one China,” to which both sides belong — before her inauguration on May 20.
POLL ON ‘CONSENSUS’: Seventy-six percent of people in Taiwan do not understand the content of the “1992 Consensus,” according to a survey published by the Taiwan Brain Trust on Tuesday. Nearly half of the respondents disagree with making the “consensus” as basis for cross-strait exchanges and communication.
Meanwhile, according to a survey released by the Taiwan Indicators Survey Research (TISR) on Thursday, 62.8 percent of respondents agree that the incoming administration should engage in talks with China to explore a new basis for bilateral relations that would replace the “consensus,” while 60 percent described cross-strait ties as “state-to-state”.
OBOR IMPACT: Overseas Community Affairs Council Minister Steven Chen (陳士魁) on Monday warned China-based Taiwanese businesspeople to be wary of the negative impact of China’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative to Taiwan’s exports to China and other markets in the region.
WEN STATUE IN TAIWAN: A cemetery in Keelung installed a statue of former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) on Wednesday, praising him as a “Taiwan Hero” for promoting “cross-strait harmony” and visit of Chinese tourists to Taiwan. The mayor later requested the statute be removed, citing public criticism.
► ELSEWHERE IN POLITICS
CABINET APPOINTMENTS: Premier-designate Lin Chuan (林全) on Thursday announced five more Cabinet members for the incoming administration:
Yeh Jiunn-rong (葉俊榮): Minister of the Interior
Ho Chen Tan (賀陳旦): Minister of Transportation and Communications
Lee Chung-wei (李仲威): Coast Guard Administration Minister
Lee Hsiang-Chou (李翔宙): Veterans Affairs Council Minister
Hsieh Shou-shing (謝曉星): Atomic Energy Council Minister
The list of previous appointments is available here.
US PORK: Council of Agriculture minister-designate Tsao Chi-hung (曹啟鴻) last Friday said that Taiwan lacks the leverage to keep banning U.S. pork imports, adding that opening up Taiwan to Ractopamine-laced U.S. pork was “the direction” the future government was heading in.
Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) accused president-elect Tsai of privately consenting to the lifting Taiwan’s ban during her U.S. trip before the January presidential election, with the KMT demanding an apology from Tsai for “shifting stance on the issue.” The DPP denied the allegation and stressed that all discussions on the issue were “premature.” The party also reiterated its commitment to public health safety, mitigating the impact to local farms, and to conforming to “international regulations” on the matter.
Executive Yuan spokesman-designate Tung Chen-yuan (童振源) said on Monday that the incoming government would enter into talks over the imports only when food safety, farmers’ interests, alignment with international standards, communication with the public are ensured. A TISR survey on Thursday showed that 72.3 percent of Taiwanese are against the imports.
The Taiwan Solidarity Union and pig farmers from southern Taiwan protested outside the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) against U.S. pork imports and vowed to organize further demonstration if the incoming government fails to maintain the ban.
FUTURE MINISTER DRAWS IRE: Minister without portfolio-designate Chang Ching-sen (張景森) sparked controversy with his remarks that activists supporting a family whose century-old residence was demolished in an urban renewal case a few years ago were “pathetic.” Social activists and DPP supporters called for Chang’s removal from the future cabinet. Premier-designate Lin Chuan “reminded” future cabinet members on Tuesday to be cautious with their remarks, but did not address calls for Chang’s removal.
Meanwhile, former U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton called on the White House to consider “significant steps” to upgrade diplomatic relations with Taiwan.” In a paper published on the Fox News website on Monday, Bolton said that Washington should make clear that it considers Taiwan to be an independent, democratic society with full rights to reject a forced merger with China.
In related news, the U.S. Republican National Committee approved a motion supporting Taiwan during its meeting last week. The document congratulated Taiwan on electing its first female president and emphasized the importance of the Taiwan Relations Act in safeguarding Taiwan’s security. It also praised arms sales to Taiwan, military cooperation and Taiwan’s efforts in joining international organizations.
OECD PARTICIPATION: In response to Taiwan’s protest against its expulsion from an OECD meeting last week due to interference by China, the organization said on Tuesday that Taiwan will be treated equally as other OECD participants, and will be invited to attend future conferences as an observer as in the past.
LAWSUITS AGAINST MA: Campaigners on Wednesday filed lawsuits against President Ma calling for investigations into alleged abuse of power and corruption with a restriction that prevents Ma from leaving the country until investigations are concluded. The KMT in response accused the DPP of “letting its political agenda against the KMT and Ma take precedence over public interests.”
MA BACKS CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: President Ma on Monday reaffirmed the government’s stance to keep the death penalty, citing public opposition to removing it from the books, adding that the abolition of capital punishment “is not a global trend.” The argument that the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) prevent signatory parties from carrying out executions is a “huge misunderstanding” of the two covenants, Ma added.
ILLICIT PHOTO: A reporter’s publication of a photo that reveals part of Ma’s privates on Facebook last Friday drew criticism across party lines. Incoming president Tsai responded to the incident by calling on the media and netizens to refrain from circulating the photo. The reporter later apologized for the incident. KMT Central Policy Committee Director Alex Tsai (蔡正元) on Sunday alleged that the journalist who took the photo was Tsai’s photographer, which the DPP later denied.
OBI PHARMA SCANDAL: Academia Sinica President Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠) is facing pressure from all sides to resign for alleged insider trading and corruption in the OBI Pharma Inc (台灣浩鼎) case. President Ma said he hoped Wong would “discreetly reconsider the matter” as Wong did not propose to do so during their Monday meeting. Ma later rejected Wong’s application for a 28-day period of leave that would exempt him from briefing to the legislature as scheduled. The Legislature’s Education and Culture Committee on Wednesday passed motions urging Wong to resign without delay, a demand that both the KMT and DPP proposed earlier. Wu on Sunday described Wong’s implication in the scandal as one of the key challenges facing Tsai before she is sworn in on May 20, alleging that Wong is Tsai’s “close associate.”
VOTE BUYING: Tainan City Council Speaker Lee Chuan-chiao (李全教) of the KMT was found guilty last Friday of vote-buying during his 2014 campaign for city councilor. Facing a four-year prison term and a five-year deprivation of civic rights, Lee is appealing the district court decision.
► MILITARY AND SECURITY
WAR GAMES: The military began a five-day computer-aided war games on Monday as the first stage of the annual Han Kuang military exercises. The simulation will be followed by two rounds of live-fire drills in August and between October and November.
EX-PLA SPY FAILS APPEAL: The High Court upheld Wednesday a ruling that sentenced former Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officer Zhen Xiaojiang (鎮小江) to four years in prison for violation of the National Security Act. Zhen set up a spy ring and recruited retired and active Taiwanese military officers for intelligence gathering, according to the district court.
► ECONOMY AND FINANCE
GDP GROWTH: Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services lowered its forecast for Taiwan’s GDP growth for this year to 1.8 percent while the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research cut its forecast for Taiwan’s economic growth this year on Monday to 1.27 percent.
ACCUSATION AGAINST FPG: A steel subsidiary of Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) has been accused of blighting fisheries off north-central Vietnamese provinces with its toxic leak into the sea, an allegation that the company denied on Tuesday.
DEATH PENALTY VERDICT: The Supreme Court upheld last Friday the death sentence for Cheng Chieh (鄭捷), who was convicted of stabbing four people to death and injuring 22 in a in the 2014 Taipei Metro attack. Although death penalty abolition advocates said the court had misapplied the two stipulation of the covenants, the verdict is final and cannot be appealed.
The Taiwan Insider is a weekly feature prepared by the Thinking Taiwan Foundation’s Chris Wang, Serena Chuang 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.