Taiwan Government and International – September 2019

EXPANDING THE FLEET — Taiwan's existing F-16s, two of which are shown here, will be joined by 66 more through the US$8 billion arms sales package announced last month. Photo: PiChi Chuang

Sale Of F-16Vs to Taiwan Gets U.S. Approval

Following quickly after Taiwan’s US$2.2 billion purchase of tanks, missiles, and other military hardware from the U.S. in July, the Trump administration in August approved the additional US$8 billion sale to Taiwan of 66 F-16V fighter jets, also known as the F-16 Viper.

Although in keeping with the American commitment to sell defensive arms to Taiwan in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, the deal – which is currently awaiting confirmation from Congress – constitutes the first sale of such advanced aircraft since 1992. That year, the George H.W. Bush administration provided Taiwan with 150 F-16 A/Bs, which comprise the backbone of Taiwan’s air defense. Those planes are currently being upgraded to the F-16V standard.

Unsurprisingly, China signaled its displeasure with the proposed deal. In a public statement, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that China would take any measures it deems necessary to protect its national interests, including imposing sanctions on American companies involved in the arms sales. Given the general prohibition on U.S. businesses from engaging in military transactions with China, such sanctions would likely not impact the main firm tapped to supply the fighter jets, Lockheed Martin.

Taiwan Hosts Regional Security Dialogue

The Ketagalan Forum: Asia Pacific Security Dialogue, an annual event organized by Taiwan-based think tank the Prospect Foundation, took place on August 20 in Taipei. Addressing the attendees, President Tsai Ing-wen emphasized that Taiwan will continue to seek out opportunities for cooperation with regional partners in line with the New Southbound Policy. She also pledged to work towards peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.

Participants at this year’s dialogue included academics, experts, and officials from around the region, including former Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Lt. Gen. Wallace C. “Chip” Gregson.

Telecom Fraud Suspects Arrested in Thailand

Taiwanese members of yet another telecom fraud ring were apprehended in Bangkok this August, concluding a six-month investigation conducted by Thai and Taiwanese authorities. The suspected leader of the ring is believed to have installed telecommunications equipment in his rented villa near Bangkok and, with the help of 12 other suspects, deceived victims in Taiwan by posing as law enforcement and national health officials. The group allegedly scammed a total of NT$30 million (US$955,261) from 20 people, according to Taiwan’s Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB).

The 13 suspects will be taken back to Taiwan in the custody of the CIB and will be subject to further investigation by the Taoyuan District Prosecutors’ Office upon their return.

China Further Restricts Travel to Taiwan

China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced at the end of July that it would cease issuing Taiwan travel permits to individual tourists beginning August 1, citing strained relations between Taipei and Beijing. Analysts have speculated that the move could be part of a pressure campaign on Taiwanese voters ahead of the 2020 national elections.

Although China took steps to drastically reduce the amount of tour groups traveling to Taiwan after President Tsai was elected in 2016, the program that permitted travel by individuals from 47 Chinese cities had remained in place until the recent decision to suspend it. The Tsai administration’s focus on attracting tourism from other regional neighbors under the New Southbound Policy resulted in record numbers of travelers from Southeast Asian countries and other destination over the past few years. Travelers from China remained the main source of tourism, however, and the new restrictions are expected to strike a blow to Taiwan’s tourism sector and economic performance for 2019.

The Door is Open for Hong Kong Residents

The protests that have engulfed Hong Kong this summer show no signs of abating. In response to the growing number of protesters arrested or injured in clashes with the police, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) on August 14 said that it would give consideration to people from Hong Kong seeking residency in Taiwan. The announcement follows President Tsai’s statement in July that those fleeing Hong Kong would be considered for asylum on humanitarian grounds.

MAC said that the Act Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macau, the law under which residence permits are granted to Hong Kong people, is sufficient to cover most applications and that those requiring special attention will be handled on a case-by-case basis. However, civil society groups in Taiwan have argued for the drafting of a refugee law to allows for a more systematic review of asylum applications.

Bubble Tea Providers Targeted in Hong Kong

Providers of one of Taiwan’s best-known cultural exports this summer found themselves caught up in the struggle between Hong Kong residents protesting an unpopular extradition bill and the bill’s defenders. Several Taiwanese-owned bubble tea companies became the targets of online calls for a boycott of their products in Hong Kong and mainland China. The uproar is believed to have begun when Yifang Fruit Tea shut one of its shops in Hong Kong on the day of a big demonstration, posting a sign expressing solidarity with the protests. After photos of the sign were distributed on Chinese social media, the boycott movement began, not only affecting Yifang but spreading to other Taiwanese bubble tea brands. In response, some of the companies issued statements on Weibo, a popular microblogging platform in China, affirming support for “One Country, Two Systems.”