Domestic and International Brief – December 2022

Legislator Chiang Wan-an of the KMT won the Taipei City mayoral election on November 26 and is set to be the youngest Taipei mayor ever.


KMT Makes Gains in Local Elections

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) staged a strong comeback in local elections held on November 26 by taking 13 cities and counties, with the minor Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) winning the key Hsinchu City race.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) faced a crushing defeat, losing all closely watched major constituencies – Taipei City, New Taipei City, Taoyuan City, and Hsinchu City. The election leaves the DPP in control of only five of Taiwan’s 21 participating cities and counties, down from the previous seven. The election in Chiayi City was postponed due to the sudden death of one of the candidates for mayor. 

Some analysts suggest that the DPP’s failure to retain support from younger voters was the key reason for its loss. Perceived lack of proper Covid-19 response and the DPP’s campaign strategy of concentrating on national rather than local issues were among other possible factors in the party’s poor showing.

Among Taiwan’s six special municipalities, the DPP won races in only Tainan and Kaohsiung, two cities considered to be traditional DPP strongholds. The incumbent candidates in both cities, Tainan major Huang Wei-che and Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chi-mai, successfully won second terms in office. In New Taipei City and Taichung, incumbent KMT mayors Hou Yu-yih and Lu Shiow-yen defeated their competitors by a wide margin.

In Taipei City’s heated three-way mayoral race, Chiang Wan-an of the KMT won back the traditionally “blue” Taipei with almost 42.3% of the total votes, defeating former Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung and former Taipei Deputy Mayor Vivian Huang. Current mayor Ko Wen-je, who was first elected as an independent and later formed the TPP, was ineligible to run again because of term limits.

The biggest setback for the DPP was Taoyuan, where it failed to hold onto power after incumbent mayor Cheng Wen-tsan’s second and final term. The KMT’s Simon Chang, a former premier, beat the DPP’s Cheng Yun-peng by 12 percentage points. The DPP also stumbled in Keelung, where candidate Tsai Shih-ying lost to George Hsieh of the KMT.

In Hsinchu City, TPP candidate Ann Kao defeated former Hsinchu Deputy Mayor Shen Hui-hung of the DPP and Hsinchu City Councilor Lin Ken-jeng of the KMT. Some observers suggested that the TPP’s success in Hsinchu City may have paved the way for party leader Ko to contend for the presidency in 2024, adding more uncertainty to what is expected to be a highly competitive race.

Tsai Steps Down as DPP Leader

In line with tradition, President Tsai Ing-wen assumed responsibility for her party’s electoral setback by announcing her resignation as chair of the DPP. Premier Su Tseng-chang also offered his resignation, which Tsai rejected. Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chi-mai, who won reelection, will serve as interim party chair until a new leader is elected.

In a press conference after the election, Tsai apologized for the DPP’s “disappointing” showing and pledged to seriously reflect on the party’s problems and live up to the public’s expectations.

Referendum Rejects Lowered Voting Age

A referendum on a constitutional amendment to lower the legal voting age from 20 to 18 missed the threshold needed to pass. The referendum was held in conjunction with the local elections.

For a constitutional amendment to pass, half of all eligible voters in Taiwan must vote “yes,” meaning that 9,619,697 “yes” votes from among 19,239,392 eligible voters were needed. According to the Central Election Commission, 5,647,102 voters voted in favor, and 5,016,427 were opposed.

Taiwan Relaxes Covid Restrictions

The government on December 1 lifted the requirement to wear face masks outdoors, 555 days after the rule was implemented. The indoor mask mandate will remain in place with two minor changes: people can now remove their masks when singing or toasting during banquets.

The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) additionally announced that the weekly cap of passengers arriving in Taiwan would end on December 10. The government has slowly increased the number of permitted entries since removing quarantine rules in October.

Landmark Ruling on Indigenous Status

On October 28, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court declared Article 2 of the Status Act for Indigenous Peoples unconstitutional for failing to recognize Indigenous groups not already provided for under the law. The case was brought by activists of the Siraya tribe, the largest group of plains-dwelling Pingpu Indigenous people, who have been calling on the government to recognize their Indigenous status for decades.

The decision paves the way for Siraya and other Pingpu groups to be granted Indigenous status, opening the door to recognition for nearly a million people, as estimated by the Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP). Currently, the recognized Indigenous population is approximately half a million.

Kinmen Bridge Opens

Kinmen officially opened a bridge linking Kinmen’s main island with Lesser Kinmen Island. The bridge will dramatically improve transportation time between the two islands. The project was originally proposed in 1993 and officially approved for construction bids in 2010 under Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou. However, the construction of the bridge faced significant delays because of issues with contractors and labor supply.

Biden, Xi Meet

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met on November 14 at the G20 Summit in Bali in their first in-person meeting since Biden assumed the presidency. Afterward, Biden said discussions with Xi were broad and straightforward and noted that the U.S. would continue to compete with the PRC while avoiding direct conflict. Xi said that the state of U.S.-China relations is not what the international community expects. 

Biden also reiterated that the U.S. opposes unilateral changes to the status quo from either side of the Taiwan Strait, and objects to China’s “coercive and increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan.”

Xi stated Taiwan is China’s “red line” and an issue for China to resolve internally. Biden confirmed that the two sides agreed to conduct further discussions, with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken planning to visit China early next year.

The Taiwan government expects there to be 68 branches of the Taiwan Center for Mandarin Learning in North America and Europe by the end of 2023.

Mandarin Language Centers To Expand

Overseas Community Affairs Council (OCAC) Minister Tung Chen-yuan said in a legislative hearing that the government plans to open 25 Taiwan Center for Mandarin Learning (TCML) branches in North America and Europe next year. The project is led and coordinated by the National Security Council, and promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, and the OCAC.

Forty-three branches have been established since 2021 in Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Sweden, the U.S., and the UK. The project, which exclusively targets European countries and the U.S., offers adult language education and is aimed at extending Taiwan’s “soft power.”

Entry Rules Relaxed for China Residents

The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) on November 7 lifted entry restrictions on Chinese students in short-term study and exchange programs. It also relaxed entry restrictions on white-collar workers and participants in religious activities from Hong Kong and Macau, as well as tour groups from those areas of between five and 40 people.

Previously, entry permits were limited to Chinese students in undergraduate or graduate programs and Hong Kong and Macau residents visiting relatives or attending family funerals. The MAC’s announcement came nearly a month after borders had reopened for international arrivals.