Domestic and International Brief – May 2024

Taiwanese drag performer Nymphia Wind made show history as the first East Asian to win RuPaul’s Drag Race.


Taiwan Relations Act Turns 45

Outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen met with Randall G. Schriver, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, to commemorate the 45th anniversary of passage of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). Serving as the cornerstone of unofficial Washington-Taipei relations, the TRA continues to underscore the mutual commitment to strengthening ties and supporting democracy in the Indo-Pacific region. 

The TRA, enacted in response to the U.S. decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and break official ties with Taiwan, enables the United States to maintain a substantive non-diplomatic relationship with Taiwan by providing a legal framework for continued commercial, cultural, and other relations without official government recognition.  

Crucially, the TRA obligates the United States to assist Taiwan in maintaining its defensive capabilities and requires it to consider any efforts to determine Taiwan’s future by non-peaceful means, including boycotts or embargoes, as matters of “grave concern.” Congress has reaffirmed this commitment by maintaining U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, as well as providing financing assistance military sales for the first time.  

Taiwan, U.S. Sign Communications Deal

The U.S. government on April 2 signed a letter of offer and acceptance for arms sales to Taiwan totaling NT$8.2 billion. The Ministry of National Defense (MND) said the sales are part of ongoing operational maintenance expenditures, including the procurement of backup materials for communication systems, system software, technical associations, and other support services.  

Earlier in February, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced the sale to Taiwan of advanced tactical data link system upgrades worth US$75 million. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) thanked the United States for fulfilling its commitments to Taiwan under the TRA and the “Six Assurances.” MOFA said the arms sales are evidence of the Biden Administration’s strong support for Taiwan’s defense needs. 

Congress Passes Taiwan Aid Bill

Speaker Mike Johnson successfully led the House of Representatives in approving a US$95 billion foreign aid package directed toward Taiwan, Ukraine, and Israel. The package allocates US$2 billion in foreign military financing for Taiwan and other key allies, US$1.9 billion to replenish defense articles, US$542 million to strengthen U.S. military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific, US$61 billion to Ukraine, and US$26 billion to Israel. 

Taiwan’s MOFA and the MND expressed their gratitude to the U.S. government for its continued investment in Taiwan’s security and future. The MND committed to judiciously utilizing the funds to enhance Taiwan’s defense capabilities and contribute to regional peace. 

Taiwanese Drag Queen Wins Contest in U.S.       

Drag performer and Taiwan native Nymphia Wind was crowned “America’s Next Drag Superstar” at the end of the Emmy award-winning RuPaul’s Drag Race’s season 16 finale, making history as the show’s first East Asian contestant to take home the crown. Throughout the season, Wind made representing Taiwanese culture an integral part of her art and her story.  

Outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen, President-elect Lai Ching-te, and Vice President-elect Hsiao Bi-khim all took to social media to congratulate Wind. “Congratulations to you, Nymphia Wind, for being so accomplished in the difficult art form of drag and for being the first Taiwanese to take the stage and win,” Tsai wrote on X.  

Since the finale aired, Wind has been invited to participate in New York City’s LGBT Pride in June as an ambassador for Taiwan. Further, she announced her acceptance to perform during the cultural program of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games as a representative of Taiwan.  

Former President Ma Meets With Xi Jinping 

On April 10, Chinese leader Xi Jinping met with former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou, who was visiting China as a private citizen on an 11-day tour leading a group of Taiwanese college students on a peace initiative. The meeting, in the Great Hall of the People, marks the first time a former Taiwanese president has been formally hosted by China’s top leader in Beijing. 

In his opening remarks, Xi lauded Ma for opposing Taiwan independence and fostering cross-Strait exchanges under the “One-China” principle. Xi emphasized that all compatriots across the Strait are part of one Chinese nation, stating that no external forces could hinder the historic trend toward reunification. 

In response, Ma highlighted the divergent development paths of the two sides under different systems, yet stressed their shared heritage. He voiced concern about the devastating impact that potential conflict would have on the Chinese nation and expressed his hope for both sides to respect each other’s values and maintain peace across the Strait. 

Strong Quakes Strike Taiwan

On April 3, Taiwan was hit by the strongest earthquake in 25 years. The Central Emergency Operation Center (CEOC) said the temblor, with its epicenter in the Pacific Ocean, had a magnitude of 7.2 on the Richter Scale. The impact was strongest in Hualien County on Taiwan’s east coast, but was felt as far away as Japan and Hong Kong.  

Within 74 hours of the quake, the Central Weather Administration (CWA) recorded 603 aftershocks, 23 of which measured magnitude 5 or higher. The seismic activity loosened the earth and caused rock slides, impeding rescue and excavation teams in their missions. A total of 17 people were reportedly killed due to the quake. 

Temporary housing for those affected was provided by 125 lodging operators. For disaster victims and affected businesses, the government has offered rental subsidies ranging from NT$8,000 per month for a household of three individuals to a maximum of NT$18,000 for a household of eight. The Ministry of Health and Welfare reported that over NT$116.8 million (US$3.6 million) had been donated to boost relief efforts. The Cabinet allocated an additional NT$20 billion. 

The Hualien County Tourism Association said the tourism industry in Hualien is forecast to suffer losses of NT$5.3 billion due to the quake. The association asked Taiwan Railway to provide more reserved seats to encourage tourists to visit Hualien. 

On April 21, a magnitude 5.6 earthquake struck off the coast of Hualien County, with no immediate reports of injuries. Further, on April 23, two significant earthquakes struck central Hualien, with the CWA recording magnitudes of 6.0 and 6.3. The latter quake had its highest intensity in Hua-lien, registering a 5 on Taiwan’s 7-tier intensity scale, with a 4 recorded in Nantou and Yilan counties. 

Lai Announces Cabinet Members

President-elect Lai Ching-te announced former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Cho Jung-tai as Taiwan’s new premier. Cho has spent over 30 years in Taiwan’s political landscape and was a key figure in Lai’s presidential campaign.  

Lai urged his new Cabinet to listen to public opinion and work to garner the support of the public. Lai also praised the new Cabinet members for their courage in assuming their roles and for their dedication to governing the country, particularly as no single party holds a majority in the Legislative Yuan. The lack of a majority will likely present challenges to gaining sufficient votes to pass bills, Lai said. 

Despite a promise by Lai during his presidential campaign last year of aiming to achieve at least one-third female representation within the Cabinet leadership, only eight women Cabinet members had been named by late April. [See the report on the Lai administration in this issue for more information about the new Cabinet.] 

Parental Leave Begins on Trial Basis

The Ministry of Labor is seeking to provide more flexible caregiving options for parents by initiating single-day parental leave in select workplaces on a trial basis. Originally set in intervals of 30 days, the program gives parents the option of taking at least five days off at a time for child-rearing duties. 

Minister of Labor Hsu Ming-chun said the MOEA, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, and agencies under the labor and health ministries had agreed to participate. Under 2021 regulations, parents can receive public subsidies covering up to 80% of their average monthly insured pay when taking family leave.  

New Pedestrian Safety Regulations               

The Legislative Yuan in April approved regulations to enhance pedestrian safety. The regulations require the central and local governments to create guidelines on buildings and maintaining safe and unobstructed pedestrian spaces along sidewalks. 

Under new regulations, all ground-level covered and uncovered pedestrian walkways must be constructed at a uniform level. Non-compliance may lead the government to request reconstruction of the non-conforming sections. Additionally, local governments are being tasked with creating pedestrian-friendly zones near high-traffic areas. Interior Minister Lin Yu-chang announced that the central government has launched a four-year, NT$40 billion project aimed at enhancing pedestrian safety.