Taiwan Life in Brief – August 2020

Taiwanese looking to spend their travel stimulus subsidies had the option this summer of joining a pretend travel experience, hosted by Taipei's Songshan Airport. "Passengers" went through all of the check-in, security, and immigration procedures before boarding a plane bound for nowhere. The scheme turned out to be quite popular, with 7,000 people applying to take part in the first round, although only 60 were ultimately chosen in a lottery drawing. Photo: Martti Chen

Former President Lee Teng-hui ’s Democratic Legacy

Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan’s first democratically elected president and first native Taiwanese national leader, died on July 30 after being hospitalized since February. He was 97 years old.

AmCham Taipei released a statement joining the people of Taiwan in mourning Lee’s passing and noting his historic role in promoting Taiwan’s democratic development.

Born in 1923, when Taiwan was still under Japanese rule, Lee joined the Chinese Nationalist Party ranks during the authoritarian reign of Chiang Kai-shek, at a time when the political sphere was still dominated by mainland Chinese who had fled to Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War, or their offspring. After serving in several important appointed positions, including Mayor of Taipei, he was chosen by President Chiang Ching-kuo to become Vice President in 1984.

Taking over as president after Chiang’s death in 1988, Lee spearheaded a major shift in Taiwan’s political landscape, instituting reforms and redefining the relationship with China as “special state-to-state relations.” Lee’s 1995 visit to the U.S. to deliver a speech at Cornell University infuriated China, which lobbed missiles into waters off Taiwan’s coast on two occasions during Lee’s tenure.

Running against three other candidates, Lee won Taiwan’s first direct presidential election in 1996 with 54% of the vote, earning him the sobriquet of “Mr. Democracy.”

While in power, Lee coined the concept of “New Taiwanese,” which includes all of the island’s people – including spouses from Southeast Asia – under the banner of a reborn, democratic Taiwan.

In line with Constitutional limits, Lee did not run for reelection in 2000. When the KMT lost the presidency to the Democratic Progressive Party that year in Taiwan’s first transfer of political power, many in the party blamed Lee for secretly backing the opposition. Lee went on to form the Taiwan Solidarity Union and later the Formosa Alliance, two fiercely pro-independence political parties. He remained active as a political commentator, maintaining a tough stance on China. In a rare 2018 interview with the New York Times, he stated that “China’s goal has never changed…[it] is to swallow up Taiwan’s sovereignty, exterminate Taiwanese democracy and achieve ultimate unification.”

President Lee Teng-hui is survived by his wife, Tseng Wen-hui, and their two daughters, Anna and Annie, as well as two grandchildren.

Citizen Judge Act Passed

The DPP-sponsored Citizen Judges Act passed its third and final reading in the Legislative Yuan on July 22, thanks in part to the ruling party’s 63-seat majority. The law will establish a system of lay judges, in which citizens who are above age 23 and have obtained at least a high school degree will serve alongside professional judges in certain criminal cases. This system differs from a jury system in that the lay judges and professional judges jointly decide both the verdict and sentencing in each case.

The legislation is a significant step forward in reforming Taiwan’s judicial system, a major goal of President Tsai Ing-wen’s campaign platform for her first term. It is expected that the introduction of lay judges will bring Taiwan further in line with many of its democratic contemporaries, such as Japan and Germany. Taiwan’s legal system is based heavily on the Japanese and continental European models.

Borders Opened To Foreign Students

Taiwan’s Ministry of Education on July 22 announced that it would begin granting entry to all final-year international students, regardless of nationality – including students from China. They will be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Taiwan, and during that time can reside in their dorm room, apartment, or a hotel. The Central Epidemic Command Center has also provided 500 beds to accommodate the returning students.

The gradual loosening of restrictions on foreign degree-seeking students returning to Taiwan comes on the heels of other measures intended to begin allowing non-citizens back into Taiwan. It indicates the government’s confidence in carrying out a step-by-step reopening of the island after successfully managing the COVID-19 outbreak. Although immigration and pandemic controls remain relatively strict, Taiwan’s success in containing the virus may mean a complete or nearly complete reopening within a short period of time.

MOE To Recruit More Foreign Teachers

In light of Taiwan’s goal of becoming a bilingual nation by 2030, the Ministry of Education plans to recruit more foreign teachers, as well as to train local teachers to use English as the language of instruction in other courses. The MOE said it will also increase the number of foreign teachers it recruits each year from 80 to 300, and will ease requirements for foreign nationals to come to Taiwan to teach. President Tsai Ing-wen has championed the Bilingual Nation program as a way to enable Taiwan to become more competitive on the world stage.

Stimulus Voucher Programs Kick off

A recipient shows off his triple stimulus vouchers. The vouchers became available for pickup from Taiwan’s post offices starting July 15. Photo: CNA

Starting from July 1, Taiwanese citizens and their foreign spouses were able to apply for what have been called Triple Stimulus Vouchers, part of the government’s effort to jumpstart the economy after fears that the COVID-19 pandemic would put a damper on consumer spending. Each set of vouchers costs NT$1,000 (US$34) and contains NT$3,000 worth of coupons that can be used on a wide range of retail goods and various services.

Also introduced in July was the government’s travel stimulus program, which includes subsidies for domestic travel, including group tours, independent travel, hotels, tour buses, and amusement parks.

Finally, the Ministry of Culture announced on June 11 that it would begin issuing NT$1.2 billion (US$41 million) worth of vouchers for spending on the arts and culture. Each voucher is valued at NT$600 (US$20) and will be valid from July 22 until the end of 2020.

Although foreign residents must pay taxes on all Taiwan-based income, they do not qualify for any of the individual stimulus packages unless they are married to a Taiwanese national, a policy that many have criticized as discriminatory.