Ahead of the 2024 presidential election, AmCham Taiwan invited the major candidates to share their visions for Taiwan.
BY DAVID CHIH
Between September and early November, AmCham members heard from the four frontrunners for the January 13 election – Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), the Kuomintang’s (KMT) Hou Yu-ih, the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Lai Ching-te, and independent candidate Terry Gou. The speakers focused on foreign policy, energy, healthcare, and the economy – four policy areas of great importance to the Chamber.
By November 24, the TPP, DPP, and KMT candidates had formally registered with the Central Election Commission, while Terry Gou ultimately withdrew from the race. Below are the main points shared with AmCham members by the three registered candidates.
Looming large in every presidential election is cross-Strait policy and relations with the United States. America and China are not only Taiwan’s most significant trade partners but also critical factors regarding its national security.
Ko noted that U.S. policy toward China is shifting from decoupling to de-risking and said he believes that Taiwan should follow suit by adjusting its strategy toward China. However, he added that it’s not necessary to confront China on all issues but rather to communicate under the premise of deterrence, including through channels such as the Shanghai-Taipei Twin Cities Forum and the World Games, which he was involved in during his time as mayor of Taipei. Ko said that the two sides should understand each other and sit down to discuss feasible solutions.
During his September trip to the United States, Hou explained that his foreign policy could stabilize cross-Strait relations if he became president. Speaking to AmCham members, Hou said that his policy would include dialogue, deterrence, and to form an effective “3D” strategy for Taiwan’s defense.
During his speech, Lai stressed that his foreign policy would closely follow that of current DPP President Tsai Ing-wen. The DPP’s cross-Strait policy includes insisting that Taiwan continue to enjoy a free and democratic constitutional system, that the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China are not subordinate to each other, that sovereignty is not to be infringed upon, and that the Taiwanese people are the only ones who can determine the future of Taiwan. Lai said that “signing the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement and accepting the 1992 Consensus (that both China and Taiwan are part of the same China) are unnecessary” steps.
For many enterprises in Taiwan, energy issues are a crucial concern. Lai’s energy policy consists of three goals: stabilizing the power supply for Taiwan’s citizens, ensuring safe power supply for industries, and achieving net-zero transformation by 2050. Lai stressed that under the current Tsai administration, power supply has kept up with demand, with 17.01 million kilowatts added to the grid.
Lai’s platform calls for developing clean energy sources, reducing coal usage, increasing the use of natural gas, and promoting further development of green energy. He stated that his administration would be open to nuclear power, but only if its safety can be assured and that waste can be effectively dealt with.
Ko supports using nuclear power in the short term to prevent energy shortages. He emphasized that nuclear power should be a scientific rather than emotional issue, and the government should adhere to scientific evidence when deciding on the role of nuclear in Taiwan’s energy mix. If elected, Ko plans to develop a smart grid to help cope with the growing number of electric vehicles, which is predicted to increase five times over the next 10 years.
Hou highlighted industry’s challenge with the need for more electricity supply. While recognizing the vital role of offshore wind power, he noted that wind power alone is not enough to ensure a stable power supply. He supports extending the life of the Jinshan, Kuosheng, and Maanshan nuclear plants while asking international experts to examine whether restarting work at the Lungmen plant is possible.
All three candidates support the development and use of clean energy sources, including wind and solar. However, they differ regarding how much these should contribute to Taiwan’s power grid.
Lai said he believes in the necessity of cross-sectoral cooperation between healthcare and non-healthcare fields to reduce the number of unhealthy years among Taiwan’s population. Despite an average life expectancy of 81 years, the average Taiwanese person suffers eight years of unhealthy living. Lai said that it is essential to enhance cancer prevention and treatment efforts and foster collaboration between Taiwan and the United States in the field.
Lai stated that the objective of reducing cancer deaths by one-third by 2030 could be accomplished by promoting cancer prevention, expanding screening, and establishing a fund for new cancer drugs. Lai expressed his commitment to transforming Taiwan’s biomedical industry into a trillion-dollar sector in the future.
Ko and Hou proposed increasing healthcare spending from the current 6.7% to 8% of GDP. Ko stated that while Taiwan’s public satisfaction with healthcare is high at 90%, average life expectancy and cancer survival rates do not compare favorably to those of neighboring countries. Given that Japan spends 11.1% of its GDP on healthcare and Korea 8.4%, Ko suggested that Taiwan’s healthcare budget should be gradually increased.
Hou pointed out that Taiwan is facing many challenges in the medical field. There is a shortage of nursing staff, and some new drugs cannot enter the market. To address these issues, he emphasized the need to attract more people to the industry and improve equipment quality to provide better patient care, ultimately improving people’s quality of life.
During his presentation, Ko stated that the semiconductor industry will continue to drive Taiwan’s economy due to abundant talent and a robust supply chain. Over the next 10 years, Taiwan aims to enhance its internal competitiveness in the semiconductor industry, allowing the market to operate according to its own rules. Taiwan could also use its competitive ICT technology in various industrial sectors to drive the development of industries such as biomedicine.
Hou noted that Taiwan’s semiconductor industry plays a vital role in national security. During his visit to the United States, he advocated for retaining advanced technology in Taiwan and transferring mature technology to the United States and other countries. Hou noted that besides the semiconductor industry, Taiwan has many “invisible champions” creating a favorable environment for industry development. He affirmed the importance of protecting and maintaining the “silicon shield” that some commentators say protects Taiwan from military threats.
Stressing Taiwan’s important role in global supply chains, Lai noted that more than one-third of iPhone components are made in Taiwan, 80% of notebook components are sourced from Taiwanese companies, and one in six screws are manufactured in Taiwan.
Lai expressed his appreciation for support among allies in the United States, as exhibited by the signing of the first agreement under the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade. He said he would work to unite all sectors of Taiwan and build an environment where Taiwanese enterprises can thrive globally, shining in every corner of the world.
Each of the three presidential candidates sought to end their remarks on a high note. Ko emphasized that the essence of politics lies in effective execution. He discussed his experience implementing market reconstruction as Taipei mayor.
Hou noted that he is the only presidential candidate who started from an entry-level position as a public servant and that he has devoted over 40 years to protecting his country as a police officer. He said he remains committed to promoting peace between Taiwan and China and driving Taiwan’s economic development.
Mentioning a visit to the textile exhibition on the same day as his AmCham luncheon, Lai said he was amazed by the use of captured carbon dioxide to create synthetic fibers and added that this is just one of many innovative solutions coming out of Taiwan. He emphasized that Taiwan should have confidence in itself, adding that “as long as we are united, Taiwan will definitely be better off. We could be stronger together.”
Regardless of the election results, AmCham Taiwan looks forward to working with the new administration to improve the business environment and propel Taiwan toward an even brighter future.