The DPP’s Su Jia-chyuan and Tsai Chi-chang are elected legislative speaker and deputy speaker respectively; President Ma defends his Jan. 28 visit Itu Aba; Speculation abounds surrounding president-elect Tsai’s picks for top government jobs. Welcome to this week’s edition of the Insider…and best wishes for the Year of the Monkey!
► NEW LEGISLATURE, CABINET
SU ELECTED SPEAKER: Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) secretary-general Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) was elected speaker of the legislature on Monday, garnering 74 votes from the 113 lawmakers. DPP lawmaker Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌) was elected deputy speaker by the same number of votes. The election of the duo marked the first time the DPP enjoys a legislative majority and speakership of the legislature, also ending the 17-year tenure of former speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). The KMT’s candidate for speaker, Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆), received 35 votes, which is equal to the number of seats the KMT has in the new legislature.
Su immediately announced his resignation from all his posts at the DPP and said he will not attend any political party events. The decision was in line with the DPP’s proposed reforms of the legislature, which seek to ensure the impartiality of the speaker and his deputy. Su is nevertheless widely seen as a close ally of president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and was her running mate in her failed bid for the presidency in 2012.
TSAI ACCUSED OF ‘MEDDLING’: Despite a promise by Tsai that she would respect the decision of the party caucus on who to nominate for the speakership election, the president-elect reportedly asked Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) last Thursday to mediate between Su and party caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘). After negotiations failed, Tsai is said to have asked Ker to withdraw his bid and to stay on as caucus whip, a move that was criticized by observers as a “violation” of her pledge to not involve herself in the process. The DPP confirmed Su’s nomination last Friday, two days before the speaker election.
NEW SESSION BEGINS FEB. 19: An interparty consultation presided by Su Jia-chyuan decided that the new Legislature will hold its first meeting on Feb. 19, during which Premier Simon Chang (張善政) will lead Cabinet ministers in giving reports and then answering questions by lawmakers.
AGENDA PRIORITY: Premier Chang visited Legislative Speaker Su on Wednesday as both agreed that the legislative proposals involving people’s livelihood will be the priority during the remainder of the Ma administration, while controversial legislative proposals will be put aside. The DPP caucus has listed its priority legislations in the new session, including the Party Act, statutes on the presidential transition, cross-strait negotiation oversight and the KMT’s ill-gotten party assets, as well as laws related to reform of the legislature. Asked by reporters about the visit of American Institute in Taiwan Director Kin Moy on Thursday, Su denied that Moy had raised the touchy issue of U.S. pork imports.
MA ON NEW CABINET: President Ma said during a swearing-in ceremony of the new Cabinet on Monday that the new Cabinet would “proactively” carry out its duties in the remaining four months of his term and that he would not become a mere passive caretaker. Ma’s remarks have raised concerns that his administration could seek to implement controversial policies before he steps down on May 20.
► SOUTH CHINA SEA
MA DEFENDS VISIT: One week after his visit to Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) on Jan. 28, President Ma continued to defend his decision to embark on the controversial trip, which drew criticism from Washington, Hanoi and local politicians.
After Ma described DPP Legislator Chao Tien-lin’s (趙天麟) criticism as “dragging his feet while he tries to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty over the island,” Presidential Office spokesperson Charles Chen (陳以信) on Saturday blasted president-elect Tsai for calling Ma’s visit “inappropriate.”
The Presidential Office also denied a report by the Chinese-language Liberty Times saying that Ma had told his aides in December last year, when former U.S. National Security Council official Evan Medeiros visited Taipei, that he had accommodated Washington by skipping a scheduled visit to Itu Aba and that he was not pleased with Medeiros’ comments that the scheduled visit would send the wrong message at the wrong time. Ma reportedly said he was determined to visit Taiping Island. “I’d rather put up with a few (people) condemning me for visiting the island at an inappropriate time than be criticized by the public for neglecting my duty, abdicating my rights and bringing shame to the country,” Ma said on Monday.
Ma has also released photographs of soil and water samples he brought back from Itu Aba as part of ongoing efforts to prove to the international community that the island is not merely a “rock,” as the Philippines have claimed. One of the photographs, published on Facebook on Monday, features Ma holding a handful of soil he collected from Itu Aba during his visit while another photo shows Ma holding a small jar of water from Itu Aba’s No. 5 well, from which he allegedly drank water.
According to a public opinion survey released by the National Development Council on Thursday, 62% percent of respondents said they viewed Ma’s trip to Itu Aba as necessary while 52% deemed the visit helpful to consolidate Taiwan’s sovereignty and raising Taiwan’s international status.
MANILA’S CLAIM: The government is “highly concerned” about a case brought by the Philippines against China in an international court in which it argues that the land features comprising the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea are not islands, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said on Tuesday. According to the Philippines, the features would not entitle a claimant to exclusive economic zones (EEZs). Manila maintains that none of the features in the Spratlys meets the requirements for the establishment of an EEZ or categorization as a continental shelf.
CIVILIAN RESIDENCY REGISTRATION: Chu Mei-ling (初美玲), a nurse stationed on Itu Aba to provide medical services, on Thursday became the first civilian to register her residency on the island, with two of her colleagues planning to follow suit, the Coast Guard Administration has said.
NHI FOR CHINESE STUDENTS: President Ma last Friday said that Taiwan should not be “narrow-minded” and “stingy” on the issue of including Chinese students under Taiwan’s National Health Insurance (NHI) program, saying that not including them in the program was “bad” and “not the way of a civilized country.” In response, DPP lawmaker Lin Ching-yi (林靜儀) said that the key to the issue was determining whether the NHI is an insurance program or a social welfare initiative. Lin added that if it was a social welfare program, foreigners should not be entitled. President-elect Tsai said during a campaign event in December that she supported the inclusion of Chinese students in the program, but argued that regulations must be amended to treat all foreign students equally.
CHINESE TOURISTS TRANSIT: Eight Chinese tourists transited through Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport on their way to a third country on Monday, marking the first transit following Beijing’s announcement that residents of Chongqing, Kunming and Nanchang could transit through Taiwan. Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister Andrew Hsia (夏立言) refuted reports that the council was not privy to the tourists’ personal information and that the tourists had been processed in an “hectic” fashion. Hsia added that it was not possible for now to grant Chinese tourists 48 or 72-hour visa-free transit.
► ELSEWHERE IN POLITICS
GUESSING GAME: The rumor mill has been spinning since the Jan. 16 election as media outlets and politicians speculate about who will fill the top posts in the Tsai Ing-wen administration and whether Tsai will retain her position as party chairperson.
Tsai on Monday appointed former finance minister Lin Chuan (林全), DPP Secretary-General Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) and former DPP secretary-general Lin Hsi-yao (林錫耀) co-conveners of her transition team. The trio immediately became the focus of media attention, with Lin rumored to be the next premier. Lin has already said that he has no intention of serving in government again. Wu is said to be the frontrunner for National Security Council secretary-general or Presidential Office secretary-general. Asked to comment on her personnel plans, Tsai said it was “too early to tell.”
It has also been rumored that Tsai could resign as chairperson and ask Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu to assume the position. Tsai aides reportedly have mixed feelings about the possibility of such a move. According to the DPP charter, a party chairperson election is held biennially at the end of May. The election is scheduled to take place this year. However, party statutes also stipulate that the president may double as party chairperson, meaning that an election would not be necessary should Tsai decide to continue serving as the chairperson.
KMT EXAMINES ELECTIONS SETBACK: The KMT has released a six-page report detailing the party’s mistakes that led to its unprecedented setback in the presidential and legislative elections on Jan. 16. Among the six major errors, the KMT concluded that the Ma administration’s poor performance, internal divisions and the DPP’s “plagiarism” of the KMT’s China policy — maintaining the “status quo” — were crucial, with the incident surrounding K-pop singer Chou Tzu-yu (周子瑜) serving as “the last straw.”
TAIWAN’S INTERPOL STATUS: The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Thursday unanimously passed a bill asking U.S. President Barack Obama and the Department of State to develop a strategy to assist Taiwan in its bit for observer status at the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). The bill has already been passed by the House of Representatives and is expected to win unanimous Senate approval in the coming weeks.
TAIWAN 14TH FREEST ECONOMY: Taiwan has achieved its highest-ever score in the annual Index of Economic Freedom released on Friday, remaining the 14th-freest economy in the world, the same position it occupied in the previous year’s ranking. Taiwan is ranked fifth out of 42 economies in the Asia-Pacific region in the index, compiled by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal.
THREE SENTENCED TO DEATH IN INDONESIA: The Ministry of Justice said on Monday that it respected the Indonesian judiciary’s death sentences for three Taiwanese drug traffickers, but added it would see if there any steps could be taken to ensure that their rights and interests are protected.
TAIWAN, TURKEY E-VISAS: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday said Taiwan and Turkey had agreed to a measure allowing passport holders from both countries to obtain free e-visas. The reciprocal measure will take effect Feb. 10 and the number of Taiwanese travelers to Turkey this year is expected to rise to 80,000.
TAIWAN AND TPP: Premier Chang on Thursday said that Taiwan must step up its efforts to revise domestic regulations to make it qualifies for entry in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Chang made his remarks as 12 participating countries signed the trade bloc in New Zealand.
► MILITARY & SECURITY
FIRE ON FRIGATE: Navy Command Headquarters confirmed that a fire broke out aboard a Lafayette-class frigate at Kaohsiung’s Zuoying Naval Base on Monday. The Navy confirmed that a petty officer first class had sustained burns to his upper arms and was now in a stable condition after receiving treatment. The incident occurred after lubricant oil leaked from a pipe in the ship’s main engine room.
ROCKET LAUNCH: A two-stage rocket built by a team from National Chiao Tung University’s (NCTU) Advanced Rocket Research Center was successfully launched on Sunday, a major step in the development of Taiwan’s rocket industry. The team was able to separate the first-stage propellant when it ran out of fuel and fire the second-stage booster to push the rocket to a height of 1,000m.
ZIKA COMMAND CENTER: The Executive Yuan on Tuesday declared the launch of a Zika virus epidemic command center at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) following the WHO’s declaration of a global public health emergency over the Zika virus and its suspected complications in newborns
NOW MORE BOWS: Kaohsiung Municipal Senior High School officials said on Tuesday that the school will no longer make its students bow to portraits of ROC founding father Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) and the Nationalist flag at its end-of-semester ceremony, which has been a tradition for students in elementary, junior-high and high schools. The school maintains there were no political motives behind the decision.
LABOR INSURANCE FUND: The Labor Insurance Fund is likely to start posting losses by 2018 and could face bankruptcy by 2027, with liabilities rising to NT$8.36 trillion (US$248.8 billion) from NT$6.83 trillion, according to the fund’s latest report released on Thursday. However, policy implementation has been suspended until president-elect Tsai takes over the government in May and appoints a new Cabinet.
CNS ACQUISITION SUSPENDED: The Investment Commission will suspend the review of an application to acquire cable and Internet services provider China Network Systems Co (CNS, 中嘉網路) until all disputes surrounding the case are settled, Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Shen Jong-chin (沈榮津) said yesterday in response of concerns voiced by the DPP and New Power Party (NPP) caucuses.
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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