BY HENRY LAN AND LINDA YANG
President Tsai Returns From U.S. Transit Trip
President Tsai Ing-wen concluded her 10-day overseas trip on April 7 after visiting diplomatic allies Guatemala and Belize with stopovers in New York and California. Tsai reviewed cooperative projects between Taiwan and the two Central American nations across such fields as education, agriculture, women’s empowerment, and healthcare, including the jointly constructed National Hospital of Chimaltenango in Guatemala. She also attended a laptop donation ceremony alongside talks with Belize Prime Minister John Briceño to support education and an animal breeding facility project supported by Taiwan’s technical mission.
Of greater global attention was the President’s arrival in Los Angeles, where she met with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
The Speaker was the highest-ranking U.S. elected official ever to have met with a president of Taiwan on American soil. McCarthy had promised to follow predecessor Nancy Pelosi’s footsteps in traveling to Taiwan to meet with Tsai before both sides agreed to meet in California instead. During her transit, Tsai also attended a banquet with local Taiwanese community leaders and met privately with young Taiwanese Americans in diverse fields.
U.S. to Ramp Up Taiwan Arms Sales
The U.S. “absolutely needs” to expedite weapons deliveries to Taiwan, said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul during a visit to Taipei in which he led a Congressional delegation. At a press conference at the Executive Yuan on April 7, he said that projecting strength provides deterrence and promotes peace, whereas projecting weakness only invites aggression and conflict.
Speaking at a luncheon meeting, McCaul also promised President Tsai that lawmakers in Washington would do everything they could to clear the backlog of weapons worth US$21 billion waiting for delivery to Taiwan. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin previously stated that the delay was due to the pandemic and consequent pressure on supply chains. Another factor is undoubtedly the large volume of weaponry the U.S. has been providing to Ukraine since the Russian invasion.
The U.S. reportedly has two options for dealing with the delivery backlog. The first would be for the U.S. Congress to insist that the delivery be prioritized, while the second would be to persuade other countries possessing the required types of weapons to sell them to Taiwan.
The delegation came after Speaker McCarthy tweeted on April 6 that arms sales to Taiwan “must continue” and such sales must “reach Taiwan on time,” and following the Biden administration’s announcement in March of additional arms sales to Taiwan worth US$619 million. President Tsai expressed thanks to the U.S. Congress for being “a key force” in promoting relations between Taipei and Washington.
Virginia to Open Taiwan Office
During a trip to Taipei, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin announced on April 24 that his state would open a trade office in Taiwan. The office would be Virginia’s fourth globally, joining offices in Germany, South Korea, and Japan. Fourteen U.S. states already operate trade offices in Taiwan to facilitate trade and investment with Taiwan. Virginia exported US$730 million in Products to Taiwan in 2022, while Taiwan’s exports to Virginia totaled US$1 billion last year.
New Agency to Collect Carbon Taxes in 2024
To mark International Earth Day, Taiwan announced the establishment of a preparatory office for a new Climate Change Agency under the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA). to help government and businesses meet the challenges of climate change. EPA Minister Chang Tzi-chin said the Agency plans to begin collecting carbon taxes from emitters starting in the second half of 2024. The new unit will be responsible for setting and collecting carbon tax revenue and working toward the goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. It will also assist industries with meeting the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, which will come into force in 2026, imposing tariffs on carbon-intensive products. While the Agency has yet to announce its carbon pricing mechanism, it is expected to be in line with international carbon markets at around NT$500 per ton.
Training to Begin for Female Reservists
Taiwan’s military will start requiring female veterans to complete reservist training, with the first group set to begin training on May 8. Female reservists will undergo five to seven days of training, depending on their military rank upon discharge. The move comes after decades of complaints that training only male reservists amounted to gender discrimination. According to figures released in 2021, Taiwan had 8,915 women reservists, while 15% of active-duty military personnel were women.
New Program Aims to Tackle Fraud and Scams
The Ministry of the Interior announced a new cross-ministerial program to crack down on fraud and scams, citing an increase in reported cases from around 23,000 annually before 2020 to over 29,500 in 2022. The National Police Agency estimates that total financial losses from such criminal activity in 2022 exceeded NT$7.33 billion, most commonly from online shopping and investment scams.
The new program, designed to address novel forms of technology-based crimes, will be a collective effort of such government agencies as the National Communications Commission, Financial Supervisory Commission, and Ministries of Interior, Digital Affairs, and Justice. It will seek to amend laws to stipulate heavier punishments for those found guilty of fraud and increase the accountability of businesses like e-commerce sites, social media platforms, financial institutions, and telecom companies.
Mask Mandate Lifted for Public Transport
Taiwan’s face mask requirements for public transport passengers were dropped on April 17. The mandate was also lifted for children riding on school buses and kindergarten vehicles, but masks are still required in ambulances, pharmacies, and other medical and care facilities. The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) first introduced mask requirements on April 1, 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The CECC also announced that hospital patients with severe infections will no longer be required to quarantine after a doctor decides that they are ready to return home. Although masks are no longer mandatory, the CECC continues to recommend them in public spaces.
Water Rationing Measures
In response to continuing drought conditions, water rationing was introduced in Hsinchu, Taichung, and northern Changhua County on April 13. Water pressure is also being reduced between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. following the Central Emergency Operations Center’s announcement of a “Yellow” water conservation alert for the three areas. “Orange” alerts are still in place for Kaohsiung and Tainan in the south, where non-industrial businesses with high water consumption, like swimming pools and car washes, have been required to increase their monthly water conservation target from 10% to 15%. The Water Resources Agency (WRA) has also begun issuing letters to consumers who fail to attain the target, warning them to step up conservation efforts or risk having their water supply cut off.
As part of the WRA’s efforts to alleviate the effects of the ongoing drought, two desalination plants began operations in April. A plant in Hsinchu started trial operations and will have an estimated daily output of 9,000 tons of water. Construction of the other plant in Kaohsiung was completed in April, with trial operations scheduled to begin shortly after.
China Conducts Military Drills Around Taiwan
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched three days of military exercises named “Joint Sword” around Taiwan beginning on April 8 in response to President Tsai’s meeting with Speaker McCarthy in California. A record-breaking 91 Chinese military aircraft and 12 naval ships were detected in a 12-hour period on April 10, the last day of the drills, with 54 aircraft crossing the Taiwan Strait median line and entering Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ).
Chinese state-run China Central Television (CCTV) said the drills were designed to “simulate joint precision strikes against key targets on Taiwan island and surrounding waters.” PLA spokesperson Shi Yin said the operation serves as a “stern warning against the collusion between separatist forces seeking Taiwan independence and external forces and against their provocative activities.” The European Union and the U.S. both expressed concern and called for restraint following the drills.