President Ma visits Itu Aba (Taiping Island) in the South China Sea and restates the goals of his ‘peace initiative’ amid criticism from the U.S., Vietnam and local politicians; Simon Chang is appointed premier; an internal power struggle develops at the DPP as the party moves to pick its candidate for Legislative Speaker; the KMT chairperson election turns into a race between two female candidates; Taiwan suffers huge losses in a monster cold front. Welcome to this week’s edition of the Insider.
► MA VISITS ITU ABA
MA VISITS CONTESTED ISLET: President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) visited Itu Aba (also known as Taiping Island) in the South China Sea on Thursday despite Washington’s “disappointment” and protests by Hanoi. Ma reiterated his South China Sea Peace Initiative and stressed that Itu Aba is an island rather than a rock. Accompanied by government officials and academics (no media were invited), Ma boarded the presidential plane at Songshan Air Force Base in Taipei, flying to Pingtung County early on Thursday morning, before transferring to a C-130 transport aircraft bound for Itu Aba. Ma arrived on the islet at about 11am. Itu Aba has been administered by Taiwan since 1956 and is also claimed by China, the Philippines and Vietnam. Ma is the second Taiwanese president to set foot on the island. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) visited on Feb. 2, 2008. Ma made a speech on the island before returning Taipei and called an international press conference at 6pm.
Ma said the visit was “necessary” as the case filed by the Philippines against China at the International Court of Arbitration is set to be determined in May or June. He also expressed disappointment that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had turned down his invitation to inspect the island in its capacity as the incoming ruling party.
The full text of Ma’s speech on Itu Aba is available here.
US SAYS VISIT ‘UNHELPFUL’: U.S. Department of State spokesman Mark Toner told a news briefing on Wednesday that Washington was “frankly disappointed” with Ma’s visit and viewed such action as “unhelpful.” The comment followed an AIT remark made on Wednesday that the visit was “extremely unhelpful.” Ma and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) both reassured that Taiwan’s position on stability in the region has been consistent with Washington’s. MOFA added that Taiwan had notified the U.S. about the visit and that Taiwan-U.S. relations remain solid.
MA’S INITIATIVE: While on Itu Aba, Ma reiterated his South China Sea Peace Initiative, highlighting a framework of “three yeses and three noes” — yes to cooperation, no to confrontation; yes to sharing, no to monopolizing; yes to pragmatism, no to intransigence. Ma said the roadmap contains “a viable path, two essential elaborations, and three phases of progress.” The viable path consists of shelving disputes, integrated planning, and zonal development. The two essential elaborations stipulate that: all concerned parties in the region should be included in the consultation mechanism and the cooperation and consultation mechanism should be a provisional arrangement of a practical nature, and should not undermine the position of any party concerned.
The three phases of progress are as follows: Short-term – jointly shelve disputes; Medium term – pushing for integrated planning; Long-term – the establishment of a mechanism for zonal development.
MA ON TAIWAN/CHINA POSITION: Responding to a question by a reporter at the press conference, Ma said it was only “natural” that Taiwan and China share the same position on South China territorial issues because the People’s Republic of China inherited the Republic of China’s (ROC) claims in the region. Ma added that there were differences between the two sides, such as the Chinese claim of the “nine-dash line” and Taiwan’s “11-dash line.” Ma denied that he was paving his way for a second meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) with the visit.
DPP STRESSES INTERNATIONAL LAW: President-elect and DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen, who refused an invitation by Ma to join him on his visit to Itu Aba, said that the DPP’s position regarding the South China Sea dispute is that the issue must be interpreted and resolved under the framework of international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the freedom of navigation must be assured.
NEXT KMT CHAIRMAN: The race for the new Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman has begun after Eric Chu (朱立倫) resigned following the party’s defeat in the Jan. 16 elections. Led by one-time presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) and acting chairperson Huang Min-hui (黃敏惠), six aspirants announced their bids in perhaps one of the most crucial chairman elections in the party’s 100-year history.
Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) decided not to run. Former Taichung mayor Jason Hu (胡志強), who had initially expressed interest in running, also decided not to enter the race. The by-election will be held on March 26. Yok Mu-ming (郁慕明), chairman of the pro-unification New Party, had declared his intention to run for KMT chairman but backed off on Tuesday, saying the plan was only meant to urge unity. The KMT previously said Yok was not eligible because he is not a KMT member. Legislator Apollo Chen (陳學聖), Taipei City councilor Lee Hsin (李新) and New Taipei City councilor Chen Ming-yi (陳明義) also threw their hats in. However, all eyes will be on Hung and Huang.
Analysts observed that Hung had set her eyes on the KMT chairmanship since being replaced by Chu midway through the presidential campaign while Huang’s emergence at the last minute appeared to be a move by the KMT’s local faction against Hung, whose pro-unification views many fear might scare off voters and jeopardize the KMT’s future.
CHANG APPOINTED PREMIER: President Ma on Monday appointed Vice Premier Simon Chang (張善政) as premier of his caretaker government for the next four months after his proposal to have the DPP, which now enjoys a legislative majority, form a new Cabinet was rejected by president-elect Tsai. Outgoing premier Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) resigned after the Jan. 16 elections and turned down Ma’s demand that he stay on. Chang subsequently named National Development Council (NDC) Minister Woody Duh (杜紫軍) as Vice Premier while Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Deputy Minister Lin Chu-chia (林祖嘉) will fill in Duh’s post as NDC Minister.
The DPP rejected Ma’s proposal on constitutional grounds, saying that appointing a premier is a presidential prerogative. The party said that Ma’s proposal of forming a Cabinet by a majority party was a misapplication of the Constitution and the DPP. It added that it will respect whomever Ma appoints as premier.
TSAI ON RESPONSIBLE CARETAKER GOVERNMENT: In response to President Ma’s comment last week that “there is no ‘caretaking’ in my dictionary,” which denied his administration’s caretaker role in the remainder of his term, president-elect Tsai Ing on Friday urged the Ma administration to act as a responsible caretaker with three missions — maintaining regular governmental functions, maintaining domestic political stability, and carrying out a smooth transition of power.
DPP LAYS OUT LEGISLATIVE REFORM PLAN: Controlling a legislative majority for the first time in its history, the 69-member strong DPP caucus announced its plan for legislative reform in a press conference last Friday.
The five primary goals of the reform are:
1. Ensure nonpartisanship and neutrality of the Speaker;
2. Avoid blocking legislative proposals without substantial causes;
3. Promote committee autonomy;
4. Push for a more transparent and open legislature;
5. Strive for self-discipline among lawmakers — no conflicts of interest and prohibition against serving any post in private companies.
NEXT SPEAKER: Former DPP secretary-general Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) appears poised to be elected the new Legislative Yuan Speaker on Feb. 1 when the new legislative session begins, with the DPP controlling majority for the first time. The battle for speakership involves Su, DPP legislative caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘), and Legislator Chen Ming-wen (陳明文). The DPP could resort to a vote among party legislators after an intermediation, headed by Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊), failed to produce a candidate among the three on Thursday. While Su has been widely seen as president-elect Tsai’s preferred candidate, Tsai said she would not involve herself in the nomination process and would respect any decision made by the caucus.
Local media reported that Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌), a legislator from the New Tide faction, is likely to become the candidate for Deputy Speaker.
Meanwhile the KMT caucus, which now has 35 seats in the 113-member legislature, on Tuesday nominated outgoing party caucus whip Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) as its candidate for the legislative speakership, while it nominated legislator-elect William Tseng (曾銘宗) as deputy speaker.
MA PUSHES ‘92 CONSENSUS’: President Ma mentioned the “1992 consensus” at least twice in the past week, referring to it as the “foundation of cross-strait peace and stability” as well as the “traffic regulation” for the next president. American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Kin Moy told an interview that the U.S. does not hold any position on the so-called consensus.
KO VISITS JAPAN: Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) is leading a delegation on a seven-day visit to Japan, where he will visit Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka and Naoshima Island. The delegation left for Japan on Saturday.
PETITIONS TO RECOGNIZE TAIWAN AS A NATION: A petition urging the U.S. government to recognize Taiwan as a nation had garnered more than 6,000 signatures as of Tuesday, state-run Central News agency has reported. The petition says Washington should reaffirm its commitment to Taiwan and should stand on the side of democracy, not coercion from China. The petition follows another one that has collected more than 19,000 signatures which asks the British government to recognize Taiwan as a nation.
UK TRAVELER PROGRAM: The United Kingdom has included Taiwan in its Registered Traveler service program, allowing holders of Taiwan passports who travel frequently to Britain to get through UK border controls faster.
KMT REFORM: The Grassroots Alliance, recently established by young KMT members, held a seminar on Saturday as the first phase in its call for complete party reform that would transform the KMT from a conservative party into the kind of “revolutionary party” that it was in its early stage. The alliance, which calls for lowering the threshold for the chairman election, has won mixed reviews, with many KMT “old guards” questioning its motives and ideas.
TAIWAN 2ND FREEST IN ASIA: Taiwan was listed No. 2 among the freest countries in Asia in Freedom House’s 2016 Freedom in the World report released on Wednesday. In the report’s 100-point scoring system, Taiwan scored 89, second in Asia and only behind Japan (96) and ahead of Mongolia (86), South Korea (83) and India (77).
TSU CHAIRMAN STEPS DOWN: Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Chairman Huang Kun-huei (黃昆輝) stepped down after the party suffered a major setback in the Jan. 16 elections, failing to pass the 5% threshold for at-large legislative seats. The TSU said it will launch reform to improve the party’s competitiveness.
► MILITARY & SECURITY
FIGHTER PILOTS DIES IN US: Air Force Command Headquarters on Friday confirmed that Taiwanese pilot Major Kao Ting-cheng (高鼎程), 31, has died after his F-16 aircraft crashed near Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where he was receiving training. The jet crashed during routine air-to-air combat maneuvers at 9am on Thursday. According to Air Force Command, Kao was not able to eject before the crash and the cause of the accident was under investigation.
TAIWAN DRIVES OFF VIETNAMESE BOAT: Taiwan’s Coast Guard said on Monday that one of its vessels used water cannon on Jan. 6 to drive off a Vietnamese fishing boat near disputed islands in the South China Sea. The Coast Guard denied accusations in Vietnamese media that Taiwanese coast guards had enforced the law outside their territorial waters.
MONSTER COLD FRONT: A major cold spell over the last weekend killed as many as 85 people across Taiwan, including 35 in Taoyuan. The cold front, which caused snow precipitations to various places across the country, also caused agriculture losses totaling NT$404.81 million (US$12.1 million), the Council of Agriculture said. The nation’s agriculture and aquaculture sectors suffered huge losses, in particular in the central and southern regions.
CABLE TV WARS: The National Communications Commission (NCC) on Wednesday approved an application by North Haven Private Equity Asia (NHPEA), a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley Private Equity Asia, to acquire the multiple cable service operator China Network Systems (CNS, 中嘉網路), adding that it must fulfill 20 commitments it had made to the commission to secure approval. The New Power Party (NPP) urged the commission to suspend the review of this controversial deal and to make any decision before the new legislative session opens next week.
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 email@example.com. Click here to subscribe to the Insider and receive it in your e-mail.
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