Rapto-pork circus–Taiwan Report News Brief transcript

Welcome to Taiwan Report News Brief, news, analysis and context from Taichung, Taiwan. The previous headlines section is now its own show, with this show focused on bigger stories in Taiwan politics and foreign affairs, as well as soft power and economic news that impacts both of those subjects. Stories are sourced from both English and Chinese sources.
Up today on the show some polling is showing some interesting results, and the KMT’s racto-pork circus rolls on.

Polling shows Taichung’s Lu up, Kaohsiung’s Chen down

Some new polls have come out, and some of the results raised some flags on things that bear watching.
Up first is a DPP poll, which may or may not be a bit biased.
In it, about 61 percent were satisfied with President Tsai’s overall performance this year, while 36.6 percent were not.
That sounds plausible, considering Taiwan’s stellar handling of the pandemic and that both numbers are not too far off the results of the election in January.
Reading from Taiwan News’ translation, public satisfaction with President Tsai’s diplomacy, cross-strait policy, and national defense efforts this year was at 56.6 percent, 55.5 percent, and 59.1 percent, respectively.
That also sounds about right, as her policies in those areas are basically mainstream politically.
Interestingly, they asked an open-ended question about the reasons for satisfaction or dissatisfaction.
On the main reasons for discontentment, 7.7 percent referred to Tsai’s loosened restrictions on imported U.S. beef and pork products containing ractopamine, 7.4 percent were concerned about the economy, 4.1 percent were worried about the nation’s image, 3.5 percent were anxious about the current state of cross-strait relations, and 2.4 percent were dissatisfied with the closure of pro-China CTi news channel.
This is interesting because the two issues that the KMT have been pushing hard on, ractopamine and the non-renewal of CTi’s license, both when directly polled show majority support for the KMT position.
However, this poll shows that while they may side with the KMT’s stances, overall neither issue is much of a big deal to most people.
Worse for the KMT, 31.6 identified with the DPP and only 16.2 percent with the KMT, which is in line with most recent polling.
Moving over to a poll by TVBS on the big six municipality mayors on the eve of the midpoint of most their terms.
In terms of satisfaction, the top two are no surprise: New Taipei’s Hou of the KMT and Taoyuan’s Tseng of the DPP came in at 77 percent and 69 percent.
Tainan’s DPP mayor Huang came in third at a respectable 58 percent.
Fourth-place finisher Lu Shiow-yen, the KMT mayor of Taichung was a surprise.
She had 56 percent approval, a whopping 23 percent jump from a year ago.
There have been some indications her support has been rising, but I want to keep an eye out on this, as well as fifth-place finisher Kaohsiung’s DPP mayor Chen Chi-mai, who got 44 percent.
Chen, who has only been in office a few months, won office handily a few months ago following the recall of Dan Han Kuo-yu in June.
This suggests a pretty big slide for him in popularity.
But wait, it gets worse for Chen–he came three percent lower than Han did last year.
He’s clearly got his work cut out for him if this poll is accurate.
Coming in last was Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party at a miserable 35 percent.
Interestingly, compared to a recent ETtoday poll on the top 10 politicians nationally versus this poll of city residents, Ko is more popular nationally by about 10 percentage points, while Chen is less popular on the national stage by about five points.
Ko was actually up in that national poll, coming in as the sixth most popular in the country, so it appears that the disillusionment with him felt in Taipei hasn’t reached further south.
Also interesting is that Taichung’s Lu didn’t make that top 10 list, but Kaohsiung’s Chen did, coming in at number nine.
To round out this segment, I found a nifty little tracker of the top 50 politicians in the country that tracks them by the number of comments on social media over the last week.
It also categorizes them as positive, neutral and negative comments.
Unsurprisingly the president topped the list with over 145,000 posts, but interestingly over the last week number two was Lu Shiow-yen with over 77,000 comments.
That is probably due to the Taichung MRT fiasco, a local sex scandal involving her head of the labour department and her run in with AIT, which I’ll get into later in the show.

The racto-pork circus show rolls on

The KMT circus show on the upcoming of the lifting of the ban on pork and more beef containing traces of the leanness-enhancing agent ractopamine imported from the US just keeps on rolling.
To recap, the president announced plans to lift the ban, which has for years been a key sticking point in trade negotiations with the US.
She, and the DPP, were firmly against this when the KMT was in power and they tried to lift the ban under President Ma, and successfully blocked Ma from lifting the ban on pork–though he did succeed in getting some beef products allowed in.
Now the two parties have switched positions.
So far, the KMT has disrupted the legislature for months including throwing pig guts at DPP lawmakers, had a big protest featuring lots of pig props, tried legislative proposals and one former KMT lawmaker even launched a hunger strike.
Late last week, at was reportedly supposed to be a closed-door meeting between Taichung Mayor Lu Shiow-yen and AIT Director Brent Christiansen, the doors were opened to the press and it was turned into a public meeting.
Naturally Lu then proceeded to berate Christiansen over the racto-pork issue.
The KMT defended the move, showing for example then DPP mayor of Kaohsiung Chen Chu on stage criticizing the issue with the then AIT Director–though that wasn’t intended as a closed-door event.
A spokesperson for the Executive Yuan said Lu’s move demonstrated a lack of respect and could result in global mistrust of Taiwan.
AIT spokesperson Amanda Mansour said in a statement “when political figures propagate disinformation and raise unfounded anxiety among Taiwan consumers, it is a disservice to everyone.”
Mayor Lu responded that AIT’s commentary on the issue should be given due respect, but it was her duty to safeguard residents’ safety.
A small group of protestors also gathered at AIT, armed with an amusing sign with the slogan “No RAC, Be Happy.”
In the legislature, KMT Chair Johnny Chiang said the DPP is still going to use the “tyranny of the majority … to crush public opinion,” he said, adding that what the DPP would be “crushing” is the health of the public, as well as that of future generations.
AIT noted that in the US people have been eating the meat for years with no signs of ill effects.
The whole saga took another weird turn when a clinical psychiatrist, who is under investigation after the Ministry of Health and Welfare filed a formal complaint against him with the police for spreading misinformation, became a cause celebre for the KMT.
He had said things like ractopamine causes autism and that it is 250 times more toxic than the drug ecstasy.
The KMT made some headway in getting a referendum question on the ballot by passing the first signature drive, and can move on the second stage.
The question reads “Do you agree the government should comprehensively prohibit the imports of pork, offal or other related products that contain the β-agonist, ractopamine?”
The DPP is set this week to vote through the provisions to allow the imports, which are set to begin on January 1.
That led to a Taipei Times headline that probably has never been written in the history of journalism: “US Imports: Do not throw entrails at pork debate, speaker pleads”
The KMT and its supporters plan to parade around the Legislative Yuan complex every hour from 9 am on Thursday in protest.
They also are planning to put a large screen outside to broadcast the voting.
Taipei City Councillor and head of the KMT party school Institute of Revolutionary Practice Lo Chih-chiang, has announced plans to launch recall campaigns against 12 lawmakers who support lifting the ban.
Likely the circus will continue to roll on into early next year, as local KMT-led local governments do battle to block the imports in their jurisdictions.
Eventually they will be overruled, however.
So, what is all this political theatre for?
The problem for the KMT is a lack of issues to attack the DPP with.
Most of President Tsai’s policies are fairly popular, leaving little to attack there.
The other problem is that in Taiwan most policies come out of the technocratic elites in the bureaucracy, and many of the current administration’s initiatives are actually re-branded initiatives from the Ma administration, who in turn re-branded initiatives from the Chen administration.
Food safety is a “safe” issue, in that it is popular with the public and doesn’t touch on sensitive issues regarding sovereignty and national identity.
President Tsai knew full well what the KMT was going to do, and she’s using her political capital to see it through now, presumably hoping that the next election cycle in 2022 it will be long forgotten.

Image courtesy of Johnny Chiang’s Facebook

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