The Ma administration arranges a trip to Itu Aba for former officials and national security officers despite concerns over escalating tensions in the region; the incoming National Security Council chief has reservations about a Navy deployment near Okinotori atoll to protect fishing boats; Malaysia deports Taiwanese fraud suspects to China; Taiwan does not rule out observing the WHA conference in a public gallery if it does not receive an invitation due to China’s intervention. Welcome to this week’s edition of the Insider.
► SOUTH AND EAST CHINA SEA
ITU ABA: Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators on Wednesday blasted the Ministry of National Defense (MND) for organizing of a trip for former premiers and national security officers from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration to Ibu Aba (Taiping Island, 太平島) on Thursday to reaffirm Taiwan’s sovereignty claims over the largest island in the disputed South China Sea. The DPP said the move escalated tensions in the region and constituted an attempt by President Ma to cause trouble for the incoming administration.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) denied reports on Monday that 30 weapons-trained personnel were sent to the island in response to the increased military deployments of other nations in the disputed waters. MND said it has no plan at this moment to deploy surface-to-air missile on the island.
OKINOTORI: Two patrol boats left for international waters near the Okinotori atoll to protect Taiwanese fishing boats operating in the disputed waters in the wake of Japan’s seizure of a Taiwanese boat and its crew in the area last week. The incident strained Japan-Taiwan ties and sparked fishermen’s protest, while Japan insisted that the boat intruded in its self-declared exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the atoll.
Two days after Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida expressed “feelings of regret” over the deployment of patrol boats to the area surrounding the atoll, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Japanese legislator Nobuo Kishi, a younger brother of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, later met incoming president Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday and said both sides agreed to keep it low profile when handling the dispute and to seek a solution the soonest possible.
In related news, incoming National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) reiterated the incoming administration’s commitment to safeguard fishermen’s interests in the disputed waters and stressed that dispatching navy vessels to protect fishermen “requires discretion” considering its military implications. The DPP government’s designated representative to Japan Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) echoed Wu’s opinion Wednesday, adding that seeking a win-win solution to such disputes through bilateral negotiations would be more favorable to both sides.
Separately, former NSC secretary-general Su Chi (蘇起), who coined the phrase “1992 consensus” in 2000, said Japan’s unyielding stance reflected its assessment that the incoming administration would need to leverage Japan’s support for its security and interests in the region when Taiwan’s relations with China become rocky.
► JURISDICTION DISPUTE
MALAYSIA DEPORTATION: Taiwan protested to Malaysia over the deportation of 32 Taiwanese nationals allegedly involved in a fraud scheme to China last Saturday, an incident similar to the Kenya’s forcible deportation of 45 Taiwanese to China in early April. The deportation by Malaysia allegedly took place under Beijing’s pressure despite the intervention by Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and Mainland Affairs Council (MAC).
Taiwanese prosecutors said they were astonished by the incident as Taipei and Beijing had recently reached consensus for joint investigation into fraud cases involving Taiwanese suspects arrested in Kenya and Malaysia. Premier Simon Chang (張善政) said Saturday that Taiwan would seek to engage in negotiations with China as soon as possible.
Responding to the incidents, Premier-designate Lin Chuan (林全) said Sunday that such deportations by a third country undermine Taiwan’s judicial power, and that the two sides should engage in comprehensive communication on joint crime-fighting efforts.
KENYA CASE: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday said that a recent report by Human Rights Watch China Director Sophie Richardson’s recent titled “Ending Extra-legal Deportations to China” was expected to exert pressure on the parties concerned in the Kenya incident. Richardson casted doubt in the report on the possibility of a fair trial in China for the Taiwanese fraud suspects, while warning that Beijing’s extralegal deportations is “on the upswing.”
► CROSS-STRAIT AFFAIRS
US ON TSAI’S COMMITMENT: U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affair Susan Thornton said on Tuesday she was impressed with Tsai’s commitment to maintaining the status quo across the Taiwan Strait and continuing a peaceful and stable relationship with Beijing, adding that the U.S. hopes to hear her vision for Taiwan-China relations in her inaugural speech on May 20.
Meanwhile, a commentary published Monday by the Wall Street Journal said Tsai faces the challenge of resetting China’s expectations for Taiwan, to which a solution might be presenting herself as a mediator between Chinese leaders and increasingly patriotic Taiwanese.
RECOGNITION OF ‘1992 CONSENSUS’: The DPP does not recognize the existence of the so-called “1992 consensus,” but acknowledges that a meeting between Taiwan and China took place in 1992, former premier Frank Hsieh said. However, Hsieh, who will be Taiwan’s representative to Tokyo under the new administration, denied implying that Tsai would not mention the “consensus” in her inauguration speech. In response to the remarks, DPP spokesman Juan Chao-hsiung (阮昭雄) reiterated that Tsai’s China policy is to maintain peace in the strait and the stable development of cross-strait relations.
► ELSEWHERE IN POLITICS
WHA INVITATION: Minister of Health and Welfare Chiang Been-huang (蔣丙煌) on Monday revealed that the government has not ruled out sending its representatives to sit in the public gallery if it does not receive an invitation to attend the World Health Assembly (WHA) as an observer. The minister also admitted Wednesday that he is aware of rumors indicating the grim possibilities of Taiwan’s participation because Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) could attend the conference scheduled for May 23-28 as a keynote speaker.
MOFA officials said they remained optimistic about the invitation amid concerns over Beijing’s alleged attempt to block the invitation. Many of Taiwan’s allies, including the U.S., are helping secure an invitation to the WHA, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruce Linghu (令狐榮達) said.
WOMEN IN CABINET, LABOR POLICY: Women’s rights groups on Tuesday protested against the incoming Cabinet’s gender ratio of only four women in its 40-member Cabinet under the nation’s first female president, adding that the groups would monitor how Lin’s Cabinet handles gender issues.
Lee Yuan-chen (李元貞), a women’s rights campaigner who served as national policy adviser to former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), said she has turned down an invitation to Tsai’s post-inaugural banquet because the gender imbalance in the new Cabinet has failed to live up a longtime DPP advocacy of women’s political participation.
In response to the protest, Tsai promised later in the day to do her best to make up for the present shortcomings with future appointments while promoting gender mainstreaming. Tsai also reiterated her pledge to implement a “step by step” labor policy. Labor groups on Sunday described the new government’s labor policy as “deliberately vague.”
US NAVY PORT CALLS: U.S. House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Chairman Randy Forbes said the U.S. Department of Defense should strongly consider allowing U.S. aircraft carriers to visit Taiwan as China last week denied the USS John C. Stennis a long-scheduled stop in Hong Kong. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz also suggested on Twitter that the U.S. strike group should reroute to Taiwan. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense refused to comment on the proposed alternatives.
Chinese state mouthpiece Global Times responded to the suggestions on Wednesday, saying “China certainly is capable of cutting off such daydreams as it would never allow the Taiwan Strait to become the US Navy’s ‘Simmons’ mattress.”
TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE: Soochow University law professor Chen Ching-hsiou (陳清秀) questioned the need to take the past authoritarian regime to task at all, angering academics attending a public hearing Tuesday on the draft legislation on transitional justice. Chen, who was invited by the KMT to the occasion, stressed that the KMT regime might have done a few things that were not beneficial to ethnic Taiwanese, but it also brought them benefits. Chen added that Taiwan would become less attractive to Chinese tourists if the Chiang Kai-shek (CKS) Memorial Hall were dismantled amid calls for transitional justice.
Another KMT representative earlier criticized a DPP proposal to set up a transitional justice promotion committee with broad investigative powers as infringing on judicial authority, blasting advocates for transitional justice as “intending to pursue revenge” during the first public hearing for the legislation, while victims’ representatives asked for access to file suit against unjust military court verdicts.
US PORK: President-elect Tsai Ing-wen last Saturday said there is no “predetermined position” on the imports of ractopamine-laced U.S. pork amid speculation that the incoming administration is to lift the ban. Meanwhile, Susan Thornton said on Tuesday that Taiwan should not lose sight of the big picture in its trade relations with the US, and US pork imports is only one of the many trade matters being discussed between the two sides.
► MILITARY AND SECURITY
INFO SECURITY: The ability of China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System (北斗衛星定位系統) to track smartphone users via embedded malware in devices with Chinese-manufactured chips directly tied into the system or phones manufactured in China poses an information security risk to Taiwan, according to a Ministry of Science and Technology report.
The ministry warned government employees not to purchase related products to avoid targeted attacks. The report stressed that China’s satellite system was primarily for military use, adding that many smartphone vehicle navigation products using Beidou Satellite System guidance chips have been imported to Taiwan, and that China’s satellite system was primarily for military use.
Separately, the legislature on Tuesday abolished the Act for Establishing the National Information Safety Center, saying the center created by the act was unsustainable and that the law gives no clear parameters on the powers the center was given.
WARRANTLESS SEARCH: Prosecutors announced on Monday they were dropping charges against 12 military officials who were involved in the search by military police of a residence belonging to a civilian’s home without obtaining a search warrant for documents relating to White Terror era prosecution cases. Prosecutors said the complainant, surnamed Wei (魏), had signed a “consent” form and that video evidence showed he was “at ease” without signs of being put under pressure.
APACHE CONTROVERSY: The Supreme Prosecutors Office on Wednesday confirmed that no charges would be brought against 15 individuals investigated for an unauthorized civilian visit to an Apache helicopter, considering that none of the items photographed by the visitors were military secret. The incident, in which an entertainer invited to the military base took photo in the Apache’s cockpit at liberty, resulted in a public uproar as it indicated military officers’ recklessness of treating sensitive installations and weapons systems as their own playground.
US SPY CASE: The family of Taiwan-born U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Edward Lin has launched a Website to declare his innocence of spying charges. Lin, held in a military prison since his arrest, was accused of leaking Top Secret information about U.S. reconnaissance flights to both Taipei and Beijing.
GDP GROWTH: Incoming premier Lin Chuan on Sunday said that Taiwan may not be able to maintain its gross domestic product (GDP) growth at 1 percent this year due to decline in exports and investment caused by weak demand. Taiwan’s GDP fell short of the government’s forecast in the first quarter, registering minus 0.84 percent year-on-year growth, according to government figures released last Friday.
INMATE FREED FROM DEATH ROW: Death-row inmate Cheng Hsing-tse (鄭性澤) was released on bail on Tuesday pending a retrial on the charges that have seen him imprisoned for 14 years, including a decade on death row. A retrial was ordered, with prosecutors’ concurrence, after Cheng’s defense team presented new evidence raised doubts about his conviction for the death of police officer during an exchange of gunfire back in 2002. Human rights campaigners have long regarded Cheng, who has maintained his innocence, as a victim of wrongful conviction.
FPG FACES PROBE IN VIETNAM: Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered an investigation into how a steel subsidiary of Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) received approval to pipe waste water directly into the sea, in response to growing public anger over the government’s response to the fishery disaster off north-central Vietnamese provinces allegedly caused by the company’s toxic leak into the sea.
The Taiwan Insider is a weekly feature prepared by the Thinking Taiwan Foundation’s Chris Wang, Serena Chuang and staff members. Click here to subscribe to the Insider and receive it in your e-mail.