April 2016: Taiwan Politics in Brief

Final Diplomatic Trip - On arrival in Belize, President Ma is welcomed by Belizian President Colville Young. (Photo: CNA)
Final Diplomatic Trip - On arrival in Belize, President Ma is welcomed by Belizian President Colville Young. (Photo: CNA)

Ma Takes Last Diplomatic Trip

Saying that there is “no caretaker period for diplomacy,” President Ma Ying-jeou embarked on his final overseas diplomatic visit March 13 to visit Central American allies, returning March 19. Ma initially transited via Houston, Texas, where he met with Taiwanese expatriate organizations and several state and national politicians, and toured the Formosa Plastics Group’s Point Comfort ethylene plant, the largest Taiwanese investment in the United States. Continuing on to Guatemala, he met the nation’s newly elected President, Jimmy Morales, and addressed the Central American Parliament in Guatemala City. The next stop was Belize, where Ma met not only with Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow but also leaders of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in the Caribbean. Ma returned to Taiwan through Los Angeles, California, where he was able to speak on the phone with several high-ranking members of the U.S. government, including Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

China and Gambia Establish Relations

China established formal relations with the West African nation of Gambia on March 17, unsettling what had been a diplomatic truce between the PRC and Taiwan since President Ma took office in 2008. Gambia severed ties with Taiwan in 2013, and for the past three years had maintained diplomatic relations with neither Taipei nor Beijing. Prior to 2008, China and Taiwan had vied for diplomatic recognition from other countries, in a situation that often resulted in “dollar diplomacy” through competing aid packages. Political observers speculated that China’s decision to establish diplomatic ties with Gambia might be intended as a warning to President-elect Tsai that deviating from the overriding principle of “one China,” however interpreted, could cause China to attempt to poach Taiwan’s current 22 remaining diplomatic allies.

MEET THE PRESS — Premier-designate Lin Chuan talks to the media after attending a Smart Cities exhibition. (Photo: CNA)
MEET THE PRESS — Premier-designate Lin Chuan talks to the media after attending
a Smart Cities exhibition. (Photo: CNA)

Tsai Chooses Premier, Stays as Party Chair

Appointing former Minister of Finance Lin Chuan as Premier of the new administration set to take office on May 20, President-elect Tsai Ing-wen cited Lin’s communication skills and problem-solving acumen, as well as his deft handling of the country’s finances while heading the Ministry of Finance from 2002 to 2006. Lin played a prominent advisory role in Tsai’s presidential campaign. Despite Lin’s expertise in finance, Tsai said her government would focus not only on economic matters but also on political and social reforms. In related news, early in March Tsai defended her decision to stay on as DPP chair after being sworn in as president despite earlier criticizing Ma Ying-jeou for doing the same with the Kuomintang (KMT). Explaining that the decision was made to ensure that her campaign platform is effectively carried out across both the executive and legislative branches, which the DPP now controls, and also with local governments where it holds sway.

Proposed Laws Target KMT Assets

The KMT was once touted as the world’s richest political party, with assets allegedly totally some US$40 billion, mostly in real estate and businesses. According to the KMT, only some NT$19 billion (about US$575 million) remain. The current assets – and those already disposed of – have long been controversial, with opponents charging that they were obtained improperly during the long period of one-party rule in which distinctions between the KMT and the government were often blurred. Four bills calling for the return of these “ill-gotten” assets were introduced in late February in the DPP-dominated Legislative Yuan, but have been blocked by the minority KMT on the grounds that they unconstitutionally stymie the president’s decision-making powers. Similar bills have been proposed for nearly 20 years, but with the DPP finally in control of the legislature as well as the presidency, the likelihood of such legislation passing has increased.

Military Police Criticized for Incident

Military police were under fire for the alleged illegal search of a civilian’s house and the seizure of documents related to the “White Terror,” Taiwan’s crackdown on political dissidents from the late 1940s until the 1980s. The man, identified only by the surname Wei, had posted online an offer to sell three documents connected to the White Terror. According to Wei’s daughter, military police in late February intimidated her father into letting them search their home without a warrant before confiscating the three documents and taking Wei into custody, where he was held for a period of time before being released. The incident generated harsh public condemnation, and Premier Simon Chang called the search and seizure inappropriate. Defense Minister Kao Kuang-chi apologized to Wei and society at large for “the disturbance” and transferred the military police officers to another unit pending an investigation of the case.

New Website Provides Data on Soil Risk

Nearly all of the 117 deaths from the February 6 earthquake in the southern city of Tainan were due to the collapse of a single apartment building, and much of the blame was placed on the phenomenon of “soil liquefaction” in which saturated soil loses strength during an earthquake, causing it to behave like a liquid and render it unable to support the foundations of a building. Afterward, the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Central Geological Survey launched a soil liquefaction vulnerability website (http://www.moeacgs.gov.tw/2016.htm), indicating the areas of Taiwan considered most prone to soil liquefaction. Government officials caution that the map is based on primary research and uses a scale of 1:25,000, which is too broad to accurately assess the risk level of specific buildings. Proposed legislation would earmark NT$24 billion (US$750 million) over six years to provide a more detailed analysis and target older buildings for onsite inspection. In addition, the Taipei City government will spend NT$2.78 million to commission the Taiwan Construction Research Institute to provide a map at 1:5,000 scale for the city environs.