May 2016: Taiwan Politics in Brief

KENYA DEPORTATIONS- Chen Wen-qi of Taiwan's Ministry of Justice departs for China in an effort to retrieve 45 Taiwanese criminal suspects. (Photo: CNA)

Kenya Sends Taiwanese Fraudsters to China

Kenya’s deportation to China of 45 Taiwanese accused of telephone fraud led to speculation that China was sending a warning message to the incoming administration of Tsai Ing-wen not to rock the boat on cross-Strait affairs. Two groups of Taiwanese nationals seized by Kenyan authorities in two separate cases were deported on April 8 and April 11 to China, where they will face charges of defrauding Chinese citizens, even though many of them had already been acquitted by a Kenyan court. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs lodged strong protests with Nairobi and Beijing over the case, and has launched several lawsuits against Kenyan authorities responsible for the decision. Chen Shiqu, an official with China’s Ministry of Public Security, said on April 23 that the suspects in the cases had confessed to the crimes and that as the crimes targeted Chinese citizens, they will be investigated, prosecuted and tried in accordance with Chinese law. Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice initially agreed with China’s reasoning but after facing withering criticism at home backpedaled and said that the two sides of the Strait have concurrent jurisdiction that needs to be handled through cross-Strait negotiations.

In another international telecoms fraud case, Taiwan successfully convinced Malaysia to send 20 of 52 Taiwanese suspects arrested in Malaysia to Taiwan to face criminal proceedings instead of to China as originally planned. On arrival in Taiwan, the 20 were questioned by airport police but were released for lack of evidence of any wrongdoing. Malaysia subsequently deported the remaining suspects to China, over Taiwan’s protests.

Tainan Speaker Guilty in Vote-Buying Case

Tainan District Court sentenced Tainan City Council Speaker Lee Chuan-chiao to four years in prison for vote buying in the council’s 2014 speakership election. With the verdict, Lee was suspended from his position as speaker beginning April 22. The court found Lee, a member of the Kuomintang (KMT), guilty of offering to pay independent and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) councilors for their votes in the election for speaker. Three others were also convicted and sentenced to between eight and 20 months in prison for acting as middlemen between Lee and the targeted councilors. The case generated turmoil in the Tainan government for over a year due to Mayor William Lai’s refusal to enter the council chambers until Lee was convicted. Lai described the court verdict as a significant step towards cleaning up Taiwan’s politics.

Pork Back in the Crosshairs

Alleging that President-elect Tsai Ing-wen plans to reverse Taiwan’s ban on U.S. pork containing residues of the additive ractopamine, the opposition KMT launched a series of media attacks calling out the new administration for hypocrisy and sacrificing public safety. Council of Agriculture minister-designate Tsao Chi-hung ignited the controversy by stating that the current ban on ractopamine – a leanness-enhancing drug fed to livestock – has no staying power in the face of Taiwan’s hope to enter into the Trans-Pacific Partnership. KMT legislators noted that Tsai had previously led widespread protests against the importation of U.S. beef containing traces of ractopamine, while current Premier Simon Chang observed that the Ma administration has maintained the prohibition despite U.S. pressure. Executive Yuan spokesman-designate Tung Chen-yuan said that the new administration would create an interministerial negotiating team to handle the issue, and that public safety would not be sacrificed to trade. The Codex Alimentarius Commission under the United Nations has set a safety standard for ractopamine in pork of up to 10 parts per billion, but some consumer groups in Taiwan say that standard doesn’t take into account the large amount of pork eaten in this market.

Plans for upgrade of Dutch submarines

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) has proposed a NT$400 million (US$12.35 million) “Life Extension Program” upgrade for its two Zwaardvis-class submarines bought from the Netherlands in the late 1980s. The two 2,660-ton, diesel-powered submarines, the Hai Lung and the Hai Hu, have been in operation for over 30 years but are still considered seaworthy and capable of maritime patrols, according to the MND, but their electronics and weapons systems are out of date. The Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, Taiwan’s research and manufacturing center for weapons systems, would reportedly supervise the upgrades, which would be done by foreign defense contractors. Submarines have long been a contentious issue for Taiwan. Although they are widely considered crucial to the defense of the island as force multipliers, a deal to acquire submarines with U.S. assistance in the early 2000s fell through. In addition to the two Zwaardvis-class subs, the navy has only two other subs, GUPPY-class vessels that date back to World War II. The Tsai Ing-wen administration has vowed to further the Ma administration’s program to develop submarines indigenously.

TAIWAN EJECTED FROM OECD MEETING

A Taiwanese delegation to conference in Brussels sponsored by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was kicked out of the meeting due to pressure from China, prompting a stern protest from Taiwan to China, Belgium, and the OECD.  On April 18, the delegation led by Shen Wei-cheng, director-general of the Industrial Development Bureau (IDB)’s Metal and Mechanical Industries Division, was blocked from a high-level meeting on the global steel industry due to Chinese complaints that Shen was not sufficiently high ranking to attend. The claim was panned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the grounds that many of the attendees were of a similar rank to Shen in their respective governments. Taiwan is not a member of the OECD but is included as a “participant” on several committees, including steel. KMT legislators predicted that Taiwan will experience more such treatment by international bodies following the inauguration of the DPP administration.

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