Uber Returns; Dissident Seeks Asylum; Wife of Activist Detained ; US$6b Not Enough to Fix Pollution

Uber Returns to Taiwan Market

Two months after hitting pause on its Taiwan operations, Uber is back running in Taipei under a new business model. The popular ride-hailing service surprised the local market announcing it had formed a new partnership with car rental companies.  Uber suspended its Taiwan operations on Feb. 10 after incurring fines of up to NT$328.5 million (US$10.5 million), half of which were in January when new laws against unlicensed ride-sharing services took effect – under which it could be hit with a NT$25 million fine for a single law breach.

The temporary exit followed an ongoing regulatory standoff with the government over Uber’s status; Uber maintains it is a technology company while successive administrations have deemed it a transport company. However, at a press conference in Taipei on April 13, Likai Gu (顧立楷), general manager of Uber Taiwan, said Uber is now going to act as an “information platform” in Taiwan; instead of connecting customers to drivers, it now links customers to car rental companies.

Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Jason Hsu (許毓仁) said Uber’s return was definitely good news for customers. However, he cautioned that the government was yet to reconcile the legal differences between online ride-hailing platforms and the traditional taxi industry.

Chinese Man Seeks Asylum in Taiwan

A Chinese man, Zhang Xiangzhong (張向忠), 48, went missing from a tour group in Taiwan on Wednesday and has reportedly said he will seek political asylum in Taiwan.

The lack of an asylum law in Taiwan opens up the case to administrative discretion.  However, Taipei-based American lawyer and consultant Ross D. Feingold expects Zhang will be allowed to stay in Taiwan.

“Certainly media exposure, the expectations of civil society organizations, and pressure from legislators interested in this issue, will force the government to broadly interpret its administrative authority and allow Zhang to remain for the foreseeable future,” Feingold told The News Lens.

Zhang is understood to have visited the offices of Taiwan Association for Human Rights on Monday, April 17.

Saga Continues for Wife of Activist Detained in China

The wife of the Taiwanese activist held incommunicado in China for 25 days has been told her husband may have been mistakenly detained by local officials because of tough new NGO laws. Lee Ming-che (李明哲), 42, is being detained in China by a branch of the state security police for “involvement in a threat to national security.” He was reported missing after flying from Taipei to Macau on March 19.

Lee Chun-min (李俊敏), the head of the Cross-Strait Services Exchange Center — an organization linked to China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) — said Lee was wrongly arrested because the Guangdong security bureau needed to show performance results under China’s new NGO laws, Lee’s wife, Lee Ching-yu (李凈瑜), said in a statement published on April 12. The statement followed a press conference held by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, during which spokesperson An Fengshan (安峰山) warned Taiwanese authorities against interfering in the matter.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) told senior officials the government is doing everything in its power to ensure Lee’s return, a spokesperson for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party told media on April 12.

Environmentalists say US$6b Not Enough to Fix Air Pollution in Taiwan

Taiwan has announced new emission reduction targets and policies to combat air pollution but environmental groups say they still do not go far enough.

Taiwan’s new air pollution policy aims to reduce PM2.5 levels by 18 percent by 2019 with public and private sectors planning to jointly spend NT$200 billion (US$6.6 billion), Premier Lin Chuan (林全) announced at a press conference on April 13. To reduce emissions from transport, the government will phase out more than 1 million two-stroke scooters and 80,000 aging diesel trucks, while refitting 38,000 diesel trucks with diesel particulate filters. It also plans to subsidize the replacement of 6,000 inefficient steam boilers nationwide and implement stricter emissions controls for industrial areas.

The new policies are very disappointing,” said representatives of the Taiwan Healthy Air Action Alliance. “It merely focuses on lowering emission levels from transportation sectors but ignores the larger polluters, namely coal-fired power plants.” The new policy does not say how the most energy-intensive and polluting industries can be transformed and nor does it say how it will lower energy consumption, the group said.

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