China Enshrines Xi at 19th Party Congress
China held its Nineteenth Party Congress October 18-24 in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The event gathered 2,280 delegates representing the party’s 89 million members and all of China’s provinces, including Taiwan, reflecting China’s longstanding claim to the island. The party congress, held every five years to elect a new Standing Committee, Politburo, and president, made global headlines by enshrining “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” the first time that a guiding ideology named for a sitting president has been written into the party’s constitution since Mao Zedong. The move was widely seen as signifying Xi’s tightening grip on the country. The party congress also made headlines by calling for China to play a more prominent role in international affairs.
During the congress, Xi sternly warned Taiwan that China would thwart any push for independence. Cross-Strait ties have worsened since Tsai Ing-wen took office as Taiwan’s presidenet, as she has refused to embrace a “one China” policy. Beijing consequently cut off all official ties with the island and decreased the amount of tourism from China. The “Taiwan delegation” included in the party congress made headlines in Taiwan for including only a single person actually from Taiwan.
U.S. Cancel Space Program Cooperation
Taiwan and the United States have agreed to cancel a second set of six weather satellites in the Formosat-7 project due to problems with financing on the U.S. side. Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSPO) and its American counterpart, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), completed the cancellation procedures for the project this past month, although the program had already been mothballed last June. Taiwan had budgeted NT$1.5 billion (US$49.5 million) for the project, but NOAA has been unable to come up with its share of the funding. NOAA, along with many other government agencies involved with climate monitoring and environmental protection, has seen its budget decline under the Trump administration. The cancellation of the project will not have any immediate impact as the series of launches under the Formosat-5 project are ongoing through 2018, but will crimp Taiwan’s contributions to global weather monitoring over the long term.
Far Eastern Bank Robbed by Hackers
On October 6, medium-sized Taiwanese lender Far Eastern International Bank, an affiliate of the Far Eastern Group, reported to Taiwan’s Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) and the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CBI) that malware had infected its computer servers as well as those in the SWIFT network for international financial transactions. The malware allowed the hackers to wire about US$60 million from the bank’s accounts to destinations in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and the United States. Three people in Sri Lanka have been arrested in relation to the case and most of the money has been recovered or frozen; only US$500,000 remains unaccounted for.
In its preliminary investigation the FSC criticized the bank for lax cybersecurity protocols that enabled the hackers to obtain widespread access not only to the bank’s system but through it to the SWIFT system. The bank now faces fines of between NT$2 million and NT$10 million, depending on the final results of the investigation.
International cybersecurity firm BAE Systems Plc. has linked the breach to North Korean international hacking gang Lazarus, which was likewise linked to a US$81 million heist of Bangladesh’s central bank. The Bangladesh hack prompted SWIFT to boost its security controls, which prevented the gang from collecting the stolen money and limiting Far Eastern International Bank’s losses.
U.S. Permanently Authorizes ABTC Travel
Following successful lobbying by APCAC (the Asia-Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce), the U.S. Congress recently passed legislation to permanently authorize the APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC). Aimed at facilitating business travel for U.S. citizens and government officials engaged in verified business in the APEC region, the U.S. APEC Business Travel Card enables access to fast-track immigration lanes at airports in the 21 APEC member economies. Users of the APEC Business Travel Card must also be participating in a Customs and Border Patrol trusted traveler program. APEC Business Travel Card users enjoy pre-cleared, facilitated, short-term entry to participating member economies, reducing costs and waiting times.
Soong To Represent Tsai at APEC Summit
The Presidential Office announced on October 5 that People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong will represent President Tsai at this year’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit, as he did last year. Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang said that Soong was chosen as special envoy to next month’s summit in Danang, Vietnam because of his exceptional insight into both international affairs and Taiwan’s domestic political and economic circumstances. Although Soong ran against Tsai in the 2016 Presidential election, the PFP said that he is willing to do whatever he can to foster national development and cross-Strait peace.