Domestic & International Brief – September 2023

Vice-President Lai joined a gala dinner for the Taiwanese diaspora during his transit stop in San Francisco.


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

China Bans Taiwan Mango

China on August 21 announced it had suspended imports of mangoes from Taiwan with immediate effect. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian said that Chinese customs officers had discovered citrus mealybugs in mangoes from Taiwan, which she described as a “severe threat” to China’s agricultural and ecological security. Chinese officials informed Taiwan of the decision through the official channels specified in a cross-Strait agreement governing agricultural quarantine inspections, according to Chinese state media. 

Taiwan’s Ministry of Agriculture called the suspension unjustified and inconsistent with international trade standards. It stated that it had received no similar complaints from other export destinations and that it would refer the matter to the World Trade Organization’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Committee. 

Taipei Mayor Chiang Visits Shanghai Forum

Taipei Mayor Chiang Wan-an led a delegation on a three-day visit to Shanghai for the annual Shanghai-Taipei Twin-City Forum, aimed at fostering economic cooperation. In acknowledging criticism of the trip, Chiang said that differences of opinion are appropriate in a democratic nation. He noted that steady cross-Strait trade and economic exchanges have been continuing through the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and that friction between the two sides over blockage of some of Taiwan’s agricultural and fishery product exports must be resolved through dialogue.  

In Taiwan, critics suggested that Chiang focus on municipal affairs or at least use the forum to stand up for Taiwan against the Chinese Communist Party’s intimidation. In response, Chiang stressed Taipei’s responsibility to help develop healthy cross-Strait interaction. The delegation received a warm welcome upon arriving in Shanghai. 

Vice President Lai Back From The Americas

Vice President Lai Ching-te returned to Taiwan on August 18 after attending the inauguration of Paraguayan President Santiago Peña, with transit stops in the United States. Among the dignitaries that Lai met briefly while in Paraguay were U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and King Felipe VI of Spain. On his transit stops in New York and San Francisco, Lai met with U.S.-based officials from the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), including Chair Laura Rosenberger and Managing Director Ingrid D. Larson, and attended banquets with members of the overseas Taiwanese community.  

In response to Lai’s trip, China launched military drills around Taiwan, saying that “the patrols and exercises serve as a stern warning to the collusion of ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists with foreign elements and their provocations.” Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said it was monitoring movements by Chinese military vessels and would dispatch assets “to defend the freedom of democracy and the sovereignty” of Taiwan.  

Terry Gou Announces Presidential Campaign

Hon Hai Precision Co. (Foxconn) founder Terry Gou officially launched his campaign to run for president as an independent candidate. Gou was denied the Kuomintang (KMT) nomination earlier this year when the party chose the Mayor of New Taipei City, Hou Yu-ih, as its candidate.  

If Gou gains the approximate 300,000 signatures required to legally add him to the ballot, there will be four candidates in the January 13 election. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, Vice President Lai Ching-te, is currently polling ahead of both the Taiwan People’s Party’s Ko Wen-je and the KMT’s Hou. Election watchers expect that Gou’s joining the race will split the pan-blue vote, diminishing the KMT’s chances of victory.  

In the August 28 announcement of his candidacy, Gou said that if elected he would ensure that Taiwan would not become “the next Ukraine.” His supporters consider his extensive business dealings in China as a positive factor in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Detractors, meanwhile, accuse him of being too close to Beijing. Gou said at a press conference that he is committed to promoting cross-Strait peace and would be willing to sacrifice his personal assets in China in the event of a Chinese attack. 

Environment Ministry Begins Operations

The Ministry of Environment officially started operations on August 22 after a plaque-unveiling ceremony and the inauguration of its first minister, Shieu Fuh-sheng. The upgrade from the Environmental Protection Administration was promulgated by President Tsai on May 24, following legislative enactment on May 9. 

During the plaque-unveiling event, President Tsai expressed confidence in the ministry’s commitment to global trends and its collaborative efforts with various sectors to expedite Taiwan’s journey toward net-zero emissions. Later that day, Shieu attended a celebratory event hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan, where he laid out his ambitions to collaborate with industry in combatting climate change. A former president of National Chung Hsing University, Shieu holds a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Cornell University.  

The Ministry of Environment now encompasses four specialized divisions – the Climate Change Agency, Resource Recycling Agency, Chemical Substance Management Agency, and Environmental Management Agency – alongside the National Environmental Research Institute. 

Calls for Road Safety Reform Grow   

Approximately 25,000 people marched in central Taipei on August 20, calling on the government to do more to reduce pedestrian deaths. The march, organized by the Zero Pedestrian Death Promotion Alliance, follows several high-profile pedestrian deaths on Taiwan’s roads, as well as international media coverage that has described Taiwan as a “pedestrian hell.” According to government data, 3,085 people lost their lives in traffic accidents in 2022, of which 394 were pedestrians.  

In attendance at the march were Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) Minister Wang Kwo-tsai, as well as three presidential candidates. It is speculated that road safety could become a prominent campaign issue as the January 13 presidential election draws closer.  

In response to the high number of fatalities on Taiwan’s roads, the MOTC on August 17 announced ambitions to reduce deaths by 30% by 2030. Strategies to achieve this goal include redesigning 600 accident hotspots, strengthening the motorcycle licensing system, increasing bus services along main roads, and establishing a road traffic safety council to coordinate responsibilities. In addition, the ministry has drafted a traffic safety basic law for review by the Legislative Yuan in September. The law clarifies road safety responsibilities between the central and local governments.  

Despite inclement weather, around 25,000 people marched through central Taipei on August 20 demanding action on road safety.

Cyberattacks Nearly Doubled

According to U.S. cybersecurity firm Fortinet, cyberattacks in Taiwan have increased 80% year-on-year, reaching an average of 15,000 per second in the first half of the year. Fortinet detected 41.2 billion malware attacks in the Asia Pacific region, of which 55% were registered in Taiwan. The company attributed Taiwan’s critical role in global supply chains to the increase in attacks. Common types of cyberattacks include distributed denial of service (DDoS) and DoublePulsar, a sophisticated way to run malware on a device and collect information without the victim’s knowledge.  

Skilled Migrant Worker Visas Show Results

Thirteen thousand visas have been issued to migrant workers under a scheme launched in April 2022 by the Ministry of Labor (MOL). The “Long-term Retention of Skilled Foreign Workers Program” aims to plug a talent shortage by reclassifying certain migrant workers as “intermediately skilled,” allowing them to be retained or hired by companies if they meet salary thresholds, have worked in Taiwan for over six years, or hold an associate degree from a Taiwanese university.  

The visas have so far been issued to 7,000 Indonesian, 2,800 Filipino, 2,200 Vietnamese, and 1,200 Thai workers, with two-thirds employed in the social welfare sector and the remaining third employed in manufacturing. The program was introduced to help Taiwan’s industries retain workers in the face of a talent shortage. The MOL expects the number of such visas to reach 15,000 by the end of the year. Taiwan currently employs over 700,000 migrant workers. 

Nutrition Labeling to be Updated   

Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration (TFDA) has announced plans to update the nutritional labeling of carbonated drinks and prepackaged food products. If implemented, carbonated drinks will be prohibited from using “rich in” to describe vitamin content or other nutrients included in the product and must instead include the wording “this product contains” or provide specific measurements of the given nutrient in messages on packaging.  

According to TFDA Deputy Director Lin Chin-fu, the rules will not limit which nutrients can be labeled on packaging as long as they actually contain the amounts stated. Lin said the changes will align Taiwan’s labeling regime with international standards. The public has 60 days to comment on the draft amendments before they go into effect.