Domestic & International Brief – March 2023

President Tsai and President Abdo Benitez hold bilateral talks.

BY JAMES HILL AND LINDA YANG

A selection of these news stories are also covered in AmCham Taiwan’s Executive Sweet podcast, available to listen to on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and online, here.

U.S. and Taiwan Hold Security Talks

Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu and National Security Council Secretary-General Wellington Koo on February 21 met with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer at the Washington office of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). Details of the talks were not publicly available, but insiders said the meetings were part of the annual “special diplomatic dialogue” between the two sides that have taken place for the past 25 years. 

Also present at the all-day meeting were Daniel Kritenbrink, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs; Rick Waters, deputy assistant secretary of state for China and Taiwan; Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs; Michael Chase, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for China; Laura Rosenberger, National Security Council (NSC) Senior Director for China and Taiwan; Rush Doshi, NSC China Director, and AIT Director Sandra Oudkirk. Observers say the list of attendees suggests that national security, cross-Strait tensions, and visits by U.S. officials to Taiwan were discussed. 

In another unannounced meeting, U.S. Representative Mike Gallagher, chair of the new House Select Committee on China, met with President Tsai, Vice President Lai Ching-te, Foreign Minister Wu and Taiwanese business leaders between February 17 and 20. Talking to the Washington Post on his return to the U.S., Gallagher said that delays in the provision of military equipment were the most pressing issue in U.S.-Taiwan relations.  

U.S. Increases Military Training

The U.S. government has made known plans to increase the number of American military personnel sent to Taiwan to assist in training Taiwanese armed forces. An estimated 100 to 200 trainers will be dispatched to Taiwan over the next few months, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, representing the largest number of U.S. troops in Taiwan in decades. Asked about the plans, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said: “Our support for and defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China and consistent with our One China policy. That has not changed.” 

Taiwan Responds to Türkiye Earthquake

Taiwan sent two earthquake rescue teams totaling 130 people and five rescue dogs to areas of Türkiye affected by the 7.8 earthquake that struck on February 6. The teams returned to Taiwan on February 15 after rescuing two people trapped in collapsed buildings in Adiyaman Province.  

Donations made by the Taiwanese public to a relief account set up by the Ministry of Health and Welfare reached NT$1 billion (US$32.73 million) by mid-February, with President Tsai Ing-wen and Vice President Lai Ching-te each donating a month’s salary. The Turkish Trade Office in Taipei cooperated with the Tzu Chi Foundation to collect blankets, sleeping bags, flashlights, diapers, winter clothes, and other necessities for people who had lost their homes in the disaster.

Paraguay President Visits Taiwan

The outgoing president of Paraguay, Taiwan’s remaining South American diplomatic ally, made a state visit to Taiwan in mid-February to sign a bilateral agreement and discuss cooperation on a series of fronts, including women’s empowerment, healthcare, and Taiwan’s participation in UN organizations.  

President Mario Abdo Benítez thanked Taiwan for its help during the pandemic and praised it as a “beacon of democracy.” Highlighting cooperation between the two countries, Abdo mentioned the “Assisting the Economic Empowerment of Women in Latin America and the Caribbean in the Post Covid-19 Era” project, which helped Paraguay achieve the highest employment rate in the South American trade bloc Mercosur.  

Abdo is ineligible to run in Paraguay’s next presidential elections, to be held in April. The opposition party has said that if elected, it would break ties with Taipei to recognize Beijing. 

KMT Vice Chair Visits China

During a nine-day trip to China in February, Vice Chair Andrew Hsia of the opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) met with Song Tao, newly appointed head of the Taiwan Affairs Office, and Wang Huning, deputy head of the Central Leading Group for Taiwan Affairs. Hsia reiterated the KMT’s opposition to Taiwan independence and pledged to uphold the “1992 Consensus” in which both sides endorsed the principle of “One China” (although the then KMT government interpreted the one China to be Taiwan’s Republic of China).

In a statement, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said that any visits by politicians to China must reflect the will of the Taiwanese people to maintain democracy and peace, adding that any cross-Strait exchange must be based on the principles of reciprocity and dignity.

The KMT said that it supports “defending the Republic of China, protecting Taiwanese democracy, and safeguarding regional peace.” It also called on governments on both sides not to abandon mutual prosperity and economic relations because of their differences but rather resolve problems through active communication.

KMT Vice Chair Andrew Hsia (left) met with Song Tao of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office February 9 in Beijing.

Shanghai Sends Delegation to Taipei

A delegation from Shanghai visited Taipei in the first official visit from China since the onset of the pandemic. The group was invited by the Taipei City Government to visit the annual Lantern Festival and discuss cooperation between the two cities. The delegation was led by Li Xiaodong, deputy head of Shanghai’s Taiwan Affairs Office. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said it hoped the visit would promote mutual understanding and “healthy and orderly exchanges.” 

Indoor Mask Mandate Eased

Taiwan’s indoor mask mandate was relaxed on February 20. Masks should still be worn indoors in designated medical facilities and on all modes of public transportation, except when performing activities such as eating or drinking, taking photos, or undergoing medical exams. 

Healthcare, medical, and senior care institutions, long-term care facilities, veterans’ homes, children and youth services, and care institutions for physically or mentally disabled people are all included in the list of medical and care institutions. 

Taiwan Bans E-Cigarettes

 The Legislative Yuan passed amendments to the Tobacco Hazards Prevention and Control Act (THPCA) on February 15. As a result, electronic cigarettes and vaping products will be illegal to import, manufacture, sell, supply, display, or advertise in Taiwan.  

The updated THPCA also raises the legal smoking age from 18 to 20 and expands no-smoking areas to include school campuses, kindergartens, daycare centers, and family childcare homes. Additionally, the required space for health hazard warnings on tobacco product packages has been increased from 35% to 50%. The effective date of the new THPCA has yet to be set. The global market for e-cigarettes has an estimated value of US$8.28 billion. Michael Landl, director of the World Vapers’ Alliance, called the ban a “result of a terrible misinformation campaign on harm reduction.” 

Plans for Enhanced Data Security

At a plaque unveiling ceremony for the National Institute of Cyber Security, Vice Premier Cheng Wen-tsan announced the government’s plan to set up an “independent watchdog mechanism” to provide better protection for personal data and impose heavier penalties on private firms that violate data protection regulations. President Tsai, who was also present at the ceremony, stated that “information security is national security” and pledged that the government would continue to invest in cybersecurity. 

In the wake of several large-scale data breaches, legislators have demanded the establishment of an independent agency to safeguard personal data. In the first week of February, iRent, a vehicle-sharing service, issued an apology after the data of around 140,000 customers were exposed. Over the last few months, data leaks have involved China Airlines, the National Health Insurance system, intelligence records, and household registration data. 

Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers have called for prompt action on the issue, urging the government to establish an independent unit responsible for data security rather than addressing each breach individually.