Week of Feb. 13-19, 2016

Regional tensions increase following the purported deployment by China of surface-to-air missiles on a disputed island in the South China Sea; Taiwan will not accept a Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on the South China Sea dispute; President-elect Tsai says Taiwan has sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands, but former president Lee thinks otherwise; the DPP says Tsai will not follow President Ma’s line on China; the KMT objects to a DPP proposal to prioritize a transition-of-power bill. Welcome to this week’s edition of the Insider.



CHINESE MISSILE DEPLOYMENT: China has deployed HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island (Yongxing Island, 永興島) in the Paracel chain in the disputed South China Sea, which is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. The move coincided with the U.S.-ASEAN summit held in California on Monday and Tuesday to discuss China’s recent activity in the region. China had vowed “consequences” when a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed close to another contested island in the Paracels a few weeks ago, U.S. broadcaster Fox News reported on Tuesday. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said it had gathered information about the deployment and was closely monitoring the developments, urging all parties concerned to work together for peace and stability and to prevent any unilateral action that could escalate tensions. President-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) also called for restraint on Wednesday.

TAIWAN WON’T ACCEPT HAGUE RULING: The Republic of China (ROC) will not accept an imminent ruling on the sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, on the grounds that Taiwan was not invited to take part in the arbitration process, nor did the court solicit its opinion during the hearings, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday. The ministry was responding to a call by U.S. President Barack Obama a day earlier that claimants to the disputed islands should seek solutions through legal means and respect for international law.



DIAOYUTAIS CLAIM: Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) says in his latest book that the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known as the Senkakus in Japan, do not belong to Taiwan, prompting a strongly worded rebuttal by the Presidential Office labeling Lee’s remarks as “humiliating the nation and forfeiting its sovereignty” on Tuesday. President-elect Tsai weighed in and reiterated the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) position that the islands are under Taiwan’s sovereignty.

FISHERMEN’S RIGHTS: Amid reports that Japanese fishermen have asked their government to unilaterally exclude a designated area near the Diaoyutais from the fishing areas covered by the Taiwan-Japan Fishery Agreement in an attempt to restrict access for Taiwanese fishing vessels to the region, Premier Simon Chang (張善政) reaffirmed on Thursday that the islands are an inherent part of the ROC territory and promised to protect the right of Taiwanese fishermen to operate in the area. The Council of Agriculture was instructed to engage in further communication with Japanese authorities based on the principle of putting aside differences and promoting the joint development of resources, Cabinet spokesman Sun Lih-chyun (孫立群) said.



TSAI WILL NOT ECHO MA’S LINE: President-elect Tsai will follow the public’s will, abide by democratic principles, and insist on safeguarding options for the Taiwanese to ensure consistent, predictable, and sustainable cross-strait ties, the DPP said on Monday. The remarks were in response to a suggestion by an academic in an article in the Chinese-language China Times that Tsai should follow President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) line on China.

TSAI TO KEEP MAC MINISTER? Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister Andrew Hsia (夏立言) on Monday downplayed rumors that president-elect Tsai could keep him in his current post after the May 20 inauguration to maintain the cross-strait hotline established on Dec. 30 between the council and its Chinese counterpart. Hsia said he had his own career plans.

DPP TO REDRAFT BILL: The DPP caucus on Thursday said it would redraft a proposed bill on monitoring cross-strait agreements in line with the ROC Constitution, adding that the terms “Taiwan” and “China” would be changed to “Taiwan Area” and “Mainland Area.” The original bill, drafted by the DPP in the previous legislative session, was titled “Regulations for Handling Agreements between Taiwan and China.” The apparent change of heart has drawn criticism by some supporters and the New Power Party (NPP).



MA TO VISIT ALLIES? The Chinese-language Liberty Times reported on Thursday that President Ma will embark on a visit to Central America next month, likely his last visit before he steps down in May. The Presidential Office did not deny the report but said that a nation’s diplomacy should never be interrupted.

PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION OF POWER: With the new legislative session beginning on Friday, Legislative Speaker Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) of the DPP said on Monday that he would try to obtain a consensus among parties to put the transition of power bill at the top of the legislative agenda to ensure a smooth transfer of power, stressing that setting out the arrangements would be important for all future political transitions. The NPP has also announced that introducing a draft act to regulate the transition of power between governments would be its top priority.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus, however, referred to Su’s proposal as “playing politics” and argued that the legislation concerning the enforcement of disaster prevention-related laws should be the legislature’s top priority in the wake of the Feb. 6 earthquake in Tainan, which killed more than 100 people. Former KMT spokesperson Yang Wei-chung (楊偉中) criticized the KMT’s opposition to the legislation as “selfish” and stemming from the KMT’s defeat in last month elections. Yang added that the KMT had pushed for similar legislation in 2008 after the DPP was voted out of office.

The Presidential Office and the DPP have established teams to handle the transition of power, officials from both parties said on Tuesday.

NEW CABINET: President-elect Tsai could tap Central Bank governor Perng Fai-nan (彭淮南) and former minister of finance Lin Chuan (林全) to be her administration’s premier and vice premier respectively to strengthen Taiwan’s economy with their financial expertise, the Chinese-language Taiwan People News speculated on Thursday. In response, the DPP said that talk about the candidates was premature as Tsai has said that the new cabinet would not be discussed until April. Lin, CEO of the New Frontier Foundation, the DPP think tank, and a co-convener of the team handling the transition of power, denied on Thursday that he has been invited to lead the cabinet.

TSAI URGES DPP TO ‘ALTER TAIWAN’S FATE’: President-elect Tsai on Monday urged the DPP to transform itself into a party that can change the fate of Taiwan, adding that she has instructed the party caucus and concerned policy groups to deliberate on the promotion of reform bills and post-earthquake recovery in response to the Feb. 6 earthquake in southern Taiwan.

KMT CHAIRPERSON RACE: Taipei City Councilor Lee Hsin (李新), who is vying for the position of KMT chairman, accused former deputy legislative speaker and Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), another contender for the post, of “arrogance” after she refused to attend an upcoming forum organized by KMT-affiliated civic groups in which the hopefuls will answer questions about the party’s future. Lee also requested that acting KMT Chairperson Huang Ming-hui (黃敏惠) resign from her post for “to ensure a level playing field for all candidates.”

KMT Legislator Apollo Chen (陳學聖) is also in the race for the post, while KMT Central Standing Committee member Lin Rong-te (林榮德) withdrew on Wednesday, citing concerns over “party unity.” Candidates must meet the 3 percent threshold in party-member signatures by this Sunday to be registered. KMT chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) stepped down after the party’s defeat in the presidential and legislative elections last month.

ACTIVISTS DENIED ENTRY VISAS: World Uyghur Congress (WUC) president Rebiya Kadeer, Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠) and Tibetan Government-in-Exile Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay will not be able to attend the first Asia-Pacific Religious Freedom Forum held in Taiwan from Thursday to Sunday as their visa applications have been turned down. The decision sparked speculation that the rejection was due a decision by the Ma administration to avoid provoking Beijing. According to Radio Free Asia, WUC executive chairman Dolkun Isa has also been denied entry.

NATIONAL ANTHEM DISPUTE: Minister of Education Wu Se-hwa (吳思華) reportedly instructed city and county education heads during a closed-door meeting to “ensure” that junior-high and high schools require their students to sing the national anthem more frequently. The order is alleged to have been in response to President Ma’s “concerns.” Critics have called Wu’s request as “feudal and authoritarian,” and pointed out that the lyrics of the anthem were originally written for the KMT.

228 INCIDENT COMPENSATION FOR FOREIGNER: The Taipei High Administrative Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of Keisho Aoyama, the son of a Japanese victim of the 228 Massacre, in his compensation request, less than two weeks before the 69th anniversary of the Incident. The court ruled that Aoyama is eligible for NT$6 million (US$190,000) in compensation for his father’s death.



US CONCERNS ABOUT ARMS SALES: In addition to the refusal to accept requests by Taiwan for advanced military equipment due to fears of upsetting Beijing, long delays in consulting with and notifying Congress suggest a dysfunctional mechanism for considering and approving arms sales, Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on Thursday. Describing the situation as harming Taiwan’s ability to maintain its ongoing force modernization, Glaser said it also fosters doubt throughout the region about the U.S.’ willingness to withstand Chinese pressure.

Asked why Washington had still not decided if it would sell diesel-electric submarine technology to Taiwan after 15 years, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia Susan Thornton said the issue was “complicated” but added that the U.S. remains committed to supporting Taiwan’s “confidence and dignity” through increased participation in the international community and enhanced security.



GDP GROWTH FORECAST SLASHED: The government cut its full-year economic growth forecast on Wednesday to 1.47 percent, from the 2.32 percent it projected in November last year, as the nation’s heavy dependence on exports will be affected by a global economic downturn and shifting technology trends.



EARTHQUAKE RESCUE EFFORTS WIND UP: Rescue efforts at the site of the high-rise building that collapsed in Tainan in the Feb. 6 earthquake came to an end last Saturday, following the discovery of the last of 114 bodies in the rubble. The magnitude 6.4 quake that struck southern Taiwan one day before Lunar New Year’s Eve claimed a total of 116 lives. To investigate whether human factors played a role in the catastrophic collapse of the 17-story complex, prosecutors detained the property developer and two architects responsible for the construction projects and sought the seizure of their assets on behalf of victims earlier last week.

Separately, Ministry of Interior officials said last Friday they were planning to fast track a program for the inspection of old buildings, with priority given to six southern cities and counties in the wake of the earthquake.


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


Recently published on Thinking Taiwan: 

“Harriers for Taiwan? Think Again,” by Michal Thim and Yao Yen-fan
“Taiwan Needs Unity,” by J. Michael Cole
“Improving Taiwan’s Global Competitiveness,” by C. Ed Hsu
“How Taiwan Can Prepare for the Next Dengue Fever Crisis,” by Jonathan Schwartz
“From ‘Black Island’ to ‘The Convenient Illusion of Peace,’” by J. Michael Cole
“What Can the UK Petition System Do For Taiwan?” by David Prentice

Comments are welcome, but will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive language, personal attacks or self-promotion will not be published. We encourage healthy discussion and, above all, tolerance of other's views.