Week of March 28-April 3, 2015

Taiwan delivers its Letter of Intent to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank via cross-strait communication channels and draws heavy criticism; major political parties unable to reach a consensus on constitutional reform; two U.S. fighter aircraft land in Tainan in an emergency; Chu-Xi meeting may not take place; China begins commercial flights along the M503 air route. Welcome to this week’s edition of the Insider.



LETTER OF INTENT SUBMITTED: The Taiwan government submitted its Letter of Intent (LoI), signed by Minister of Finance Chang Sheng-ford (張盛和) but without his name and title underneath his signature, to join the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) through the cross-strait communication channel between the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) and the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), rather than via channels used for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations or directly to the AIIB Secretariat.

The opposition and civic groups said the move suggested that Taiwan admits it is a province of China instead of an independent country, adding that the hasty decision showed that the government had never been fully prepared on the AIIB issue nor had consulted the legislature.

The March 31 submission was announced a day after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) gave the instruction during a national security meeting and five days after former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) conveyed Taiwan’s intent to join during his brief encounter with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) at the Boao forum last Saturday. Scuffles and protest took place respectively on the legislative floor and outside the Presidential office. Ma later said Taiwan would not join if “national dignity” cannot be maintained.

LEGISLATIVE CONSENSUS: Legislators came to a final consensus on Tuesday that the Executive Yuan should submit a LoI to join the AIIB on the condition that national dignity is not compromised.

CHINA’S RESPONSE: The TAO confirmed on Wednesday that it has received Taiwan’s LoI to join the AIIB, and said it welcomes its participation under a “proper name.” Chinese officials reiterated on Tuesday that it would “avoid the ‘two Chinas’ and ‘one China, one Taiwan’ situation” when considering Taiwan’s application.

DPP ON AIIB: Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), reiterated the party’s stance on defending Taiwan’s sovereignty on Tuesday when responding to questions about Taiwan’s participation in AIIB. Tsai criticized the decision to submit the LoI via the TAO, saying it “dwarfed the national status.”

MINISTRY OF FINANCE TO BE IN CHARGE: The Ministry of Finance is to take the lead role in follow-up negotiations with China over issues relating to Taiwan joining the AIIB, a MAC official said Thursday.

NAME ISSUE MAY BE PLACED ON AGENDA: Top cross-strait negotiators from China and Taiwan will meet in Xi’an later this month to discuss issues of concern to Taiwanese businesses. The “name and title” issue for Taiwan’s participation in the AIIB may also be incorporated into the agenda.

TRADE TALKS WITH US: Taiwan’s recent efforts to join the AIIB is unlikely to have an impact on upcoming trade and investment talks with the U.S., Economics Minister John Deng (鄧振中) said Thursday. The U.S. has expressed strong skepticism about the AIIB.



CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM: Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) said that the objective of any revisions to the Constitution proposed by the KMT will be to establish a system that balances power and responsibility, expands civic participation, and allows absentee voting.

The DPP expressed its support for introducing mixed-member proportional representation, while lowering the threshold for at-large seats from 5% of the total vote to 3%, but on Monday rejected the ruling party’s proposal for a parliamentary system. The KMT criticized Tsai for the about-face, saying that she had once been in favor of such a change and that her opposition now might be a political ploy.

Civic groups urged the nation’s major political parties to establish a cross-party platform for constitutional reform to facilitate bipartisan cooperation on the issue.

US FIGHTER AIRCRAFT IN TAINAN: Two U.S. F/A-18s landed at an air force base in Tainan on Wednesday due to emergency, prompting speculation that the landing may have been intended as a political message from the Pentagon to Beijing following a recent Chinese bomber drill near Taiwan. The Ministry of National Defense denied rumors that an EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft was to land in Tainan along with the F-18s. U.S. personnel for the repair work arrived in Taiwan Thursday evening on board a U.S. C-130 Hercules transport aircraft.

CHU-XI MEETING: KMT Chairman Chu might not meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in May or June as expected, as he is likely to be absent from the annual KMT-CCP forum.

CAUTION ON “ONE BELT, ONE ROAD”: Taiwanese businesspeople need to understand the government’s views and policy on China’s “one belt, one road” initiative and weigh the political and economic risks before joining it, the MAC warned last Saturday, saying that the government would closely follow its development and the countries participating to assess its impact on Taiwan’s politics and economy. Also known as Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, the initiative seeks to link China with Europe through Central and Western Asia.

M503 AIR ROUTE: China began commercial flights along the M503 air route last Sunday, with six international flights using it. No “abnormal activities” were detected along the route, the MAC said. Several groups of protesters rallied outside the Executive Yuan on Monday, accusing the government of conceding to Beijing on the route controversy in exchange for easing regulations on Chinese air passengers making transit stops in Taiwan.

NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER’S TRIP TO US: DPP legislators on Monday urged national security adviser Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) to brief the legislature about his trip to the U.S., which took place one week prior to a visit by DPP Secretary-General Joseph Wu (吳釗燮). The Chinese-language Liberty Times reported that Wang met with retired U.S. officials and key think tank members in Washington, spreading “false accusations” about the DPP, including that the DPP is an obstacle to the development of cross-strait relations. DPP chairperson Tsai on March 29 denied speculation that Wu’s trip was in preparation for her visit to the country, for which the date has yet to be decided.

MILITARY PARADE ANNOUNCEMENT: The government has been exceptionally low-profile on the ongoing preparations for a series of official events to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Details of the events were disclosed by a KMT lawmaker rather than the Ministry of Defense, prompting criticism that the government had done so to avoid confronting China on the issue of which side defeated Japan and has the “right” to speak as the victor.

TPP LOBBYING: Taiwan’s current blitz to win U.S. support for its entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact has not made any impact, an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) specialist in Asian economic issues said on Thursday.

MA ‘EVADES RESPONSIBILITY’ IN DISPUTED PROJECT: After reports emerged showing President Ma’s signature on the contract for the controversial MeHAS City (美河市) residential and commercial development project while he was mayor of Taipei in 2006, Ma insisted last Saturday that he was neither personally involved in nor aware of the highly disputed project, arguing that his name on the contract was printed using a “signature stamp” rather than signed personally by him.

SDP LEGISLATIVE CANDIDATES: The newly established center-left Social Democratic Party held its official launch and unveiled its list of candidates for the 2016 legislative elections on Sunday.

IMMIGRANTS JOIN LEGISLATIVE RACE: Lawyer and long-time environmentalist Robin Winkler announced his bid to run in next year’s legislative election on Tuesday. Born in the U.S. and a naturalized Republic of China citizen for more than 10 years, Winkler expects to be nominated as the Green Party’s candidate in Taipei. Vietnamese-Taiwanese actress and model Helen Thanh Dao also announced on Wednesday that she will accept the nomination to run as a legislator-at-large in the legislative elections to advocate for immigrants’ rights, but did not name the political party involved.

MAYOR KO ON ‘ONE CHINA’: Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) said on Tuesday that his recent comments seemingly in support of the “one China” principle, made during an interview with Chinese media were taken out of context.”

KMT ASSETS PETITION: Representatives of civic group launched a petition on Tuesday for a referendum on recovering the KMT’s ill-gotten party assets. DPP lawmakers sharply criticized assertions by the KMT in January that it would re-evaluate its assets and the March 17 assurances by Premier Mao Chih-kuo (毛治國) that the KMT would make public all information on its assets.



PLA DRILL OVER WESTERN PACIFIC: China’s air force has carried out its first-ever military drill over the western Pacific Ocean, with aircraft transiting the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines on Monday.

INDIGENOUS SUBMARINE PROGRAM: Ma reiterated on Tuesday that Taiwan is determined to push ahead with its domestic submarine program to modernize its fleet and bolster the nation’s defense capabilities. Several European companies have expressed interest in working with Taiwanese shipbuilders on the program, according to navy officials.

BREACH OF SECURITY: An army officer will be penalized for taking a local entertainer into the maintenance area for AH-64E Apache attack helicopters in his personal capacity. The entertainer took the liberty to board and take photo in the Apache’s cockpit.

CYBER SECURITY INITIATIVE: The National Security Bureau confirmed last Thursday that preparations are under way to recruit computer professionals from the private sector to staff the new cyber security unit, which is scheduled to start operating on May 1. Taiwan currently ranks third in Asia for the number of cyber attacks it receives.

INCENTIVE FOR MILITARY CAREER: In a bid to attract more civilians to enlist as Taiwan shifts to an all-volunteer force, the Executive Yuan has approved a proposal by the Ministry of National Defense to grant stipends to active-duty soldiers as well as to those who decide to extend their time in the military.

MILITARY GAFFE WITH PLA PICTURE: Military officials quickly removed posters adopting a photograph of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in a promotion for “Family Visit Day.” Opposition lawmakers blasted President Ma and military officials over the blunder disclosed last Saturday. They said this was an example of “how the military units are lax and nonchalant about discipline.”

GERMAN PLANE MAKER SEEKS OPPORTUNITIES: Two types of military training aircraft built by German aircraft manufacturer Grob Aircraft arrived in Taiwan on Wednesday for display as the company explores business opportunities that could be available if Taiwan decides to outsource its basic military training to the private sector.

INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW: The Ministry of National Defense convened a meeting last Friday for its plan towards the adoption of International Humanitarian Law within two years.



MAYOR’S PERFORMANCE: Taipei Mayor Ko enjoys more than 83 percent support for his overall performance as he approaches his 100th day in office, according to a recent survey. Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) of the DPP did better than Ko in another recent poll on the approval ratings of the heads of the nation’s six special municipalities.

LESBIAN COUPLE’S BID FOR MASS WEDDING: The Taipei City government on Thursday rejected the registration by a same-sex couple for a mass wedding organized by the government on account of their “nonconformity to Civil Code regulations on marriage.”



ALLEGED BRIBERY SCANDAL: A former Council of Agriculture minister last Friday accused the Forestry Bureau of accepting bribes in exchange for helping businesses that have close ties with the bureau book the presidential suite that costs NT$300,000 a night.

AVIAN FLU: Chickens raised by the Council of Agriculture’s Livestock Research Institute to test environmental safety at poultry farms were exterminated on Monday after a highly pathogenic H5 avian influenza subtype was discovered in one of the institute’s hatcheries.

POSTPONED WATER RATIONING: Premier Mao announced on Tuesday that tighter water rationing measures which were set to begin this week will be postponed due to the inconveniences that this would cause the public during the four-day holiday starting on Friday.

NEW TEST TO DETECT ALZHEIMER’S: Taiwanese scientists have developed a new blood test that can detect early signs of Alzheimer’s and even mild cognitive impairment, with 85 percent accuracy.

FISHING LABOR: Indonesia is to continue to send fishermen to work on Taiwanese vessels in response to protests by brokerage firms against the previous suspension.

JOBS IN CHINA: Approximately one-third of Taiwanese aged under 40 wish to find a job in China due to potentially higher salaries and greater opportunities for career development, according to a recent survey.

SLEEPING PROBLEM IN TAIWAN: About one in five Taiwanese suffers from insomnia, with more than 10 percent of them resorting to sleeping pills as a temporary measure, according to a survey released last Friday.

AIRPORT CARGO VOLUME: The volume of cargo handled by Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport last year was the 10th-highest in the world.

TAIWAN-AUSTRALIA CULTURAL MOU: Taiwan and Australia on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding that commits the two sides to work together on cultural initiatives.


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 editor@thinking-taiwan.com. Click here to subscribe to the Insider and receive it in your e-mail.


Published recently on Thinking Taiwan:

“Parties At Odds On Reforming the Constitution” by Chris Wang.
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