Shake-up in Taiwan politician popularity–Taiwan Report News Brief transcript

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Summary: A NPP city councillor lodges a criminal complaint over online harassment. One way or another, health insurance premiums will rise. Local politicians popularity is shifting. Government mulls building three new reservoirs in the face of looming water shortages. Frank Hsieh comes out against radioactive food. Steps are being taken to beef up conscription and reserves. More positive, and potentially significant signs coming out of the US. But up first, headlines.

Headlines:

The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) Taiwan will not procure coronavirus vaccines from China over safety and regulatory concerns.
Health Minister Chen Shih-Chung (陳時中) denied the decision was ideological.

The Taipei High Court has rejected a request by CTiTV for an injunction to prevent the shutdown of its CTi News channel when its six-year broadcast license expires on Dec. 11.

The government has unveiled plans to create a quantum technology hub in Tainan under the auspices of Academia Sinica and the technology and economics ministries.
The government plans to invest NT$8 billion (about US$283 million) into quantum technology over the next five years.

Speaking in the legislature, the Air Force Chief of Staff confirmed that Taiwan is planning to buy more Patriot missiles, but didn’t say how many–but Apple Daily citing “sources” reported 300.
At the same hearing, the Vice Defense Minister said Taiwan has two defense procurement deals with the United States in the pipeline for 2021, worth approximately US$8 billion, but didn’t specify what the budget was for.
Media reports have speculated that they could be the M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzer and smart mines.

Taiwanese are to be excluded from participating in all UNESCO-affiliated events, the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) has confirmed.
The confirmation came after Taiwanese researchers had their applications to join a conference last month rejected.

NPP city councillor lodges criminal complaint over online harassment

New Power Party Keelung City Councilor Chen Wei-chung (陳薇仲) has filed a police report and a criminal complaint alleging online harassment on Facebook.
After reposting an article about the budget for a city exposition on Facebook, a commenter wrote that she was “unconstructive,” “lazy,” “eye candy” and a “fucking gay city councilor” who “gains from corruption.”
Cyberbullying often occurs during election season, she said, adding that she was used to it.
However, this time she filed a complaint because she does not want to see the quality of public discourse devolve into insults about a person’s age, gender or sexual orientation.
She added, for far too long, young, female politicians have often been looked down upon as “incapable” or “just a pretty face.”
Taiwan’s laws are pretty strict on this, even in cases where the insults are pretty mild, so she’ll likely win this one.
However, there have been cases where people intentionally bait people into insulting them online so they can take them to court.

One way or another, health insurance premiums will rise

The governing committee of Taiwan’s National Health Insurance (NHI) program has submitted two proposals to the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) to raise premiums from the current 4.69 percent to 4.97 percent or 5.47-5.52 percent at the start of next year.
According to the National Health Insurance Committee, increasing premiums is necessary to address the program’s rising deficits, without which it is projected to suffer losses of NT$77.1 billion (US$2.7 billion) next year and see its reserve fund balance sink below one month.
The government is also considering adopting new rules about payments into the national health insurance system by citizens living abroad which would make it harder, or more expensive to opt back into the system.

Local politicians popularity is shifting

A pair of polls has come out giving some insights into the popularity of local politicians.
Up first is an ETToday poll which polls favorability, but also asks people to rate them on five different characteristics.
Only two politicians maintained the same position on the released top ten list.
New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih of the KMT stayed in the number one slot, with 67.6 percent favorability.
His predecessor Eric Chu, also of the KMT, held on to the number five slot.
There were some big moves, both up and down.
The biggest gainer was, interestingly, Premier Su Tseng-chang of the DPP, who jumped five places to make it back into the top 10 at number seven.
Usually premiers start sliding soon after their appointments and keep on dropping.
This increases the chances he won’t be replaced soon, in spite of him entering the typical shelf life period of a premier’s tenure soon.
Two jumped up four notches, Taoyuan Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan of the DPP jumping up to number two on the list, and legislator Wayne Chiang of the KMT jumping up to take the number three slot.
Wayne Chiang was the only lawmaker to make the list, and is clearly now a politician to watch.
He’s widely tipped to be the KMT’s candidate to run for Taipei mayor in 2022, and right now he’s looking strong.
Two politicians took big hits, dropping by five positions: Health Minister Chen Shih-chung of the DPP dropped to number eight, and Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chi-mai–also of the DPP–dropped to claim the ninth spot.
Interestingly, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party–who had been dropping in the polls for some time–actually improved two rankings this time to come in at number six.
Also interesting is that Vice President William Lai dropped two spots, now coming in at number four.
Of the top 10, six were from the DPP, three from the KMT and one from the TPP–but the KMT did take three of the top five slots.
Bizarrely, the 10th place finisher, Transportation Minister Lin Chia-lung was mislabelled by ETToday as being KMT, which he most emphatically is not.
The rankings for the five characteristics also produced some interesting results.
Hou was top in two, personal charisma and leadership ability, and tied with Wayne Chiang on personal morality.
Hou did fairly well in international vision and financial professionalism, but didn’t lead the pack.
Eric Chu and Chen Shih-chung tied for the top slot on international vision, but Chu led the pack in financial professionalism.
Overall, the KMT politicians did well across the board.
Lin Chia-lung came in last, or tied for last in all five categories.
Many think Lin will make a run for Taichung Mayor in 2022, to win back the post he lost in 2018 to Lu Shiow-yen, who didn’t make the list–but I’d very curious what she was ranked.
What’s also interesting is who wasn’t on the list of the top 10.
KMT Chair Johnny Chiang, Enoch Wu, Tainan Mayor Huang Wei-cher and most interestingly former Kaohsiung Mayor and KMT presidential candidate Daniel Han Kuo-yu all didn’t make the top 10.
Eric Chu looks to be sitting pretty for a run at KMT chair next August…unless Hou Yu-ih, who hasn’t shown any interest so far, throws his hat into the ring.
In another, somewhat oddly worded poll on the big six mayors asking who do you appreciate or admire, unsurprisingly Hou Yu-ih took the top spot with 35 percent.
Also unsurprisingly Taoyuan’s Cheng was second with 19.9 percent.
Taipei’s Ko came in third with 16.8 percent, Kaohsiung’s Chen fourth at 9.6 percent and Taichung’s Lu fifth at 8.1 percent.
Tainan’s Huang did terribly, coming in last with only 2 percent.

Government mulls building three new reservoirs

The government is considering plans to build three reservoirs around Taiwan to address the problem of water shortages, which are expected to become more severe in the coming years.
The planned facilities are Shuangxi Reservoir in New Taipei, Tianhuahu Reservoir in Miaoli and Nanhua Second Reservoir in Tainan.
Just recently the government decided to suspend farm irrigation on the Jianan Plain in southern Taiwan in spring 2021, and in December will decide whether to expand that to other areas.
Two huge consumers of water, science-based parks and industrial zones, aim to curtail their water consumption by 7 percent at the request of the government.
In spite of ample rainfall in Taiwan, though this year the complete lack of typhoons was a problem, Taiwan frequently has water shortages.
Silting, leaky pipes and water theft play a role, but also having some of the lowest water prices in the world means there isn’t much incentive to cut water wastage.

Frank Hsieh comes out against radioactive food

Taiwan’s representative to Japan Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) commented on Facebook that Taiwan should prohibit imports of Japanese food products contaminated with radiation but allow imports of food free of radiation.
Perhaps he’s underestimating the market for food products contaminated with radiation.
Taiwan has a ban on food imports from five Japanese prefectures hit by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster due to concerns over the threat posed to food safety by possible nuclear radiation contamination.
Other countries have since lifted their bans, and the issue is considered a block on getting Japanese support for joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade pact.

Steps being taken to beef up conscription and reserves

The government is taking some steps to increase conscription and strengthen the reserves.
The Ministry of National Defense has provided advance notice of changes to body composition standards for conscripts.
Previously, those with a BMI over 31.5 were exempt.
Now, only those with a BMI of over 35 are exempt.
I remember years ago, when conscription was two years, in the bar where my girlfriend at the time worked were two guys who managed to get out of military service, one by dieting to be too small, and the other eating so much he was too fat.
The minimum height requirement has also been lowered from 157 cm to 155 cm, and some changes to the eyesight requirements have been made.
The military expects this to add 7000 people to its ranks annually.
Military conscription in Taiwan is considered by many to be nearly useless, and a recent poll showed that with conscripts only needing to undergo four months of Army training, respondents were asked if they felt this period of military service was “too long, just right, or too short.”
In response, 75 percent said it was too short and only 2 percent thought it was too long.
In short, the government would have strong backing for turning back into a longer, more rigorous, and useful defence training so they will be useful reservists after leaving their service.
The chief of the Defense Ministry’s All-out Defense Mobilization Office, said the nation’s armed forces will launch a full-scale reform of its reserve forces starting in 2022 and a trip to Israel will be part of its preparations.
A three-man-delegation will visit Israel sometime between July and September 2021 and will focus on the Israeli reservists’ call-up system, training programs and compensation.
They said Israel was chosen because its conscription system is similar to Taiwan’s and all Israeli citizens are subject to conscription regardless of gender, which would be a good idea to implement here.
Other measures already planned for include increasing the frequency and duration of each call-up as well as providing better equipment and scaling up the training for reservists.

More positive signs coming out of the US

A Taiwan Relations Reinforcement Act of 2020 has been put forth in the US Senate, which while it might not be passed in this session as they are running out of time, it has a good chance of going forward in the next session.
It has a fair number of interesting provisions, but the one that has attracted the most attention is to change the status of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) director, the defacto ambassador to Taiwan.
If this goes into law, the Taipei AIT director would instead be titled “representative” and the appointment would be made nominated by the president and would need to be approved in the Senate–which is the same process a full ambassador goes through.
I am mulling emailing the bill’s authors Rubio and or Merkley to suggest the title be “ambassador-at-large”, which is a full ambassador, but usually assigned to a topic or a region.
The topic could be something like “Taiwan affairs”.
The bill also calls for a free trade pact, and a range of other measures, though they wouldn’t be legally binding on the executive branch.
In the legally binding sections though, at least as I understand it, would call on the government to actively include Taiwan in military exercises, and would insist on regular reports to Congress on progress in getting Taiwan into international and regional organizations.
Another legally binding section that seemed to be largely overlooked in the press, but could be very significant are these passage from the bill:
(b) Interagency Taiwan policy task force.—Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall create an interagency Taiwan policy task force consisting of senior officials from the Office of the President, the National Security Council, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Commerce, and the Office of the United States Trade Representative.
(c) Report.—The interagency Taiwan Policy Task Force established under subsection (b) shall submit an annual unclassified report with a classified annex to the appropriate congressional committees outlining policy and actions to be taken to create and execute a plan for enhancing our partnership and relations with Taiwan.
There are calls for more exchanges on many levels, including exchanges of high ranking officials, as well as for standing up to China’s bullying of US corporations to censor themselves or change their websites to downgrade Taiwan.
If the bill does become law, I’ll go into it in more depth, but overall it was a very positive bill.
In other positive news, Taiwan and the United States launched an initiative to expand cooperation in the area of language education and to safeguard academic freedom.
Brent Christensen, director of AIT, said “Specifically, the initiative will highlight and enhance Taiwan’s role in providing Chinese language instruction to Americans and to people around the world.”
He added, the U.S.-Taiwan Education Initiative, as it is called, is set against the backdrop of two distinct trends — the closing of Confucius Institutes by many universities around the world and President Tsai Ing-wen’s goal to make Taiwan fully bilingual by 2030.
Confucius Institutes are Beijing-supported Chinese language and cultural learning centers, which promote China’s censorship and influence campaigns.
In short, the US and Taiwan are teaming up to provide an alternative.

Image courtesy of Wayne Chiang’s Instagram

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