Big moves are afoot in transportation. Taiwan’s medical research community hits some home runs. Steps forward for the LGBT community, but not prayers. Is support for the TPP and NPP slipping? Finally, Taiwanese back Trump, but should they?
First up, I’d like to thank John, Frank and Simon for their generous patronage of this project on Patreon! Your support means a lot to us here, and keeps us going!
Before jumping into the headlines, I’d like to note Taiwan has passed 200 days without a domestic COVID case, which the press around the world has been praising. Indeed, it made it possible for me and Doug Habecker to organise the Compass Food & Music Festival, which was big success drawing huge crowds. It also meant I had to take a bit of time off from the show, so thank you for your patience.
U.S. multinational tech giant Microsoft announced a plan to build a data center in Taiwan, along with several other projects focusing on the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing.
In recent years American tech companies have been investing heavily in Taiwan.
Eight financial institutions in Taiwan have launched a new service that allows customers to conduct interbank electronic fund transfers using their cell phone number.
The service allows customers to use their phone numbers as validation of identity to access their bank accounts, and conduct interbank fund transfers with immediate confirmation.
An estimated 20 other banks are expected to offer the service from later this year to the first quarter of 2021.
In related news, mobile payments jumped 127 percent from a year earlier to NT$120.9 billion (US$4.15 billion) in the first seven months of the year, as consumers embraced contactless payment amid the pandemic, according to data compiled by the Financial Supervisory Commission.
The Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) has announced it would release its producer price index (PPI) on a monthly basis starting next year to better capture movements in selling prices from domestic production and to be in line with the global standard.
DGBAS has relied on the wholesale price index (WPI) to track the cost of production for the past 40 years.
Taiwan’s central bank governor Yang Chin-long (楊金龍) has earned an “A” grade, for the second consecutive year, in an annual report issued by the New York-based Global Finance magazine.
Only 10 central bankers worldwide received the top grade.
Taiwan jumped up two places from last year to 11th out of 63 major economies in the World Digital Competitiveness Ranking released by Switzerland-based International Institute for Management Development.
Taiwan was fourth in the Asia-Pacific, ranking ahead of Australia, 15th; China, 16th, New Zealand, 22nd; Malaysia, 26th; and Japan, 27th.
The U.S. maintained its top position, followed by Singapore and Denmark.
The local economy remained stable with an index that gauges economic conditions flashing a “green light” for the second consecutive month in September, according to the National Development Council (NDC).
However, the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research (TIER) said the composite index for the local manufacturing sector rose only slightly in September, flashing a yellow-blue light, marking the second consecutive month of sluggish mode.
Online human resources website 1111 Job Bank (1111人力銀行) has released a survey that suggests about 70 percent of employers in the nation intend to recruit new employees in the fourth quarter of this year.
The fourth quarter is usually a slow season in the job market, a higher percentage of employers plan to hire during the period than the peak second and third quarters, when the ratio was 66 percent and 67 percent respectively.
The survey also showed 73 percent of companies had concerns about finding the right candidates for the jobs.
The government is making moves to boost local pork following the announcement that US imports containing ractopamine will be allowed starting January 1 next year.
The Council of Agriculture (COA) has pledged that the government will provide NT$12.96 billion (US$447 million) in funding to assist the domestic pork industry.
The COA has also unveiled the winning logo design for Taiwan pork products, which they said will clearly distinguish them from imported pork.
Speaking of food, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Taiwan will impose new regulations at the beginning of next year that require more detailed labeling of a beverage’s nutritional value and caffeine content.
It will require that freshly made drinks sold by beverage stores have a nutrition label that specify the sugar and calorie content of all elements in the drink.
A more detailed labeling system will also be applied to freshly-made coffee, which the FDA said will need to be distinguished by the amount of caffeine contained in the drinks through red, yellow and green labels.
Give me the red one, please.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that laughing gas (also known as nitrous oxide), has been listed as a controlled substance, and its production, importation, sale, use and storage will be subject to stricter regulations.
They said that its unregulated use for recreational purposes has increased in recent months.
That’s no fun.
The national population and household census will begin in November, with 16,000 census workers set to visit more than 1.2 million households around Taiwan.
It is held every 10 years.
A cross-party group of nearly 60 Taiwanese legislators formed a friendship group on Tuesday to strengthen inter-parliamentary ties with their counterparts in France.
Hopefully this will boost ties with this key European nation.
Big moves are afoot in transportation
There are some big moves afoot in transportation.
Finally, Taiwan’s entire rail system will become electrified on December 23, allowing express train travel around the island, according to the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA).
Once the electrification project is completed, the introduction of Tze-Chiang express trains on the Southern Link Line is expected to cut travel time between the Pingtung and Taitung from two hours to around 90 minutes.
In aviation, the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said it plans to upgrade two small airports on the outlying island of Matsu for higher volume, improve aviation safety and boost tourism.
Meanwhile, a long-delayed project to build a new terminal at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport is scheduled to be completed by 2026, while construction work for a third runway at the airport is set to be completed by 2030, according to the airport operator.
The company is inviting tenders for the work on a third terminal, which has failed in every previous attempt because of the complexity of the design and the short timelines required.
Speaking of the airline business, this I thought was interesting:
Only four of the world’s top 30 aviation companies made a profit in the second quarter, including Taiwan-based China Airlines and EVA Airways, thanks to their ability to shift to air cargo business.
Taiwan’s medical research community hits some home runs
Taiwan’s medical research community has been hitting some home runs recently that should cause the world to sit up and take notice.
Up first, researchers at Taiwan’s National Chiao Tung University (NCTU) have developed a COVID-19 rapid test that can detect the stage of an individual’s infection and produce results in less than five minutes.
Compared to standard COVID-19 rapid tests, which simply produce a positive or negative result, the NCTU test determines the stage of the infection based on antibody, antigen and nucleic acid measurements.
Crucially, the test’s small size and the ability to upload its results to a cloud storage system for easy patient notification make it suitable for use in airports, medical facilities and large-scale public gatherings.
The test could go into mass production early next year.
In similar news, a research team at National Taiwan University (NTU) said it has developed a rapid screening device for assessing a person’s risk of stroke.
Users place their chin on the top of the device, which takes a 30-second video of the person’s neck.
In less than five minutes, the person will receive a stroke risk assessment, including information about irregular heart rate and narrowing of the carotid arteries in the neck that carry blood to the brain.
And that’s not all!
Researchers at National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can identify tumors in the pancreas with an accuracy of better than 90 percent.
The disease is extremely hard to detect, as people show no symptoms in the early stages.
Steps forward for the LGBT community, but not prayers
Ahead of Saturday’s annual Pride parade, Taipei City announced that it has become the first city in Asia to join the Rainbow Cities Network (RCN).
This coalition of city governments is aimed at promoting LGBT-friendly policies.
In another first, two lesbian couples tied the knot in a mass wedding held by the military on Friday.
However, the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Taiwan will be canceled this year, the first time in 20 years, over a recent social media post by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) supporting the Pride parade.
The breakfast was supposed to be themed “Love without borders”, but apparently that love did extend to the president’s stance on LGBT issues.
Netizens responded in support of the president by posting pictures of their breakfasts, with the hashtag in Mandarin “breakfast with little Ing”, using her nickname.
Finally, starting in mid-November, foreign same-sex couples in Taiwan will be able to apply in Taipei for a commemorative “marriage certificate”.
Issued by the city’s Department of Civil Affairs, it won’t actually be legally binding.
The commemorative Same-Sex Partnership Certificate for Foreign Visitors will be issued as part of the city’s tourism promotion efforts.
Is support for the TPP and NPP slipping?
Is support for the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and the New Power Party (NPP) slipping?
A recent Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation may shed some light, but I’d caution about coming to firm conclusions on just one poll.
Asked which political party they support the most, 33.6 percent of respondents said the DPP, 29.7 percent of respondents said they did not support a particular party and 16.9 percent said the KMT.
The TPP and the NPP each had 5.8 percent, while the Taiwan Statebuilding Party had 4.4 percent, the survey showed.
Other political parties garnered a combined 2.3 percent of the survey responses.
Most polls a few months ago had the TPP either a little above or below 10 percent, so 5.8 percent suggests a drop off.
However, continuing controversies and a sharp dropoff in TPP chairman and Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je’s popularity in recent years may be taking a toll.
Earlier this year some polls had the TPP polling higher than, or not far behind the KMT.
Some of that TPP support may have drifted back to the KMT, though the KMT’s numbers are still pretty weak.
The KMT dropped below 10 percent in one poll earlier this year, though most had them a little over low bar.
The NPP doesn’t appear, based on this one poll, to have taken as big a hit as the TPP, but it’s lower than in other polls by a few percentage points.
The alleged corruption scandal that took down their chair may be the reason for the slightly lower numbers.
The Taiwan Statebuilding Party’s 4.4 percent, while not great, shows they are building awareness–they were virtually unknown outside of the south until recently.
Taiwanese back Trump, but should they?
In that very same TPOF poll, just over half (53.0%) said they wanted Trump to win while 31.5% hoped that Trump will lose, and 11.5% had no opinion.
According to another poll published by the United Kingdom-based market research firm YouGov, 42 percent of people in Taiwan favor Trump, 30 percent are backing Biden, and 28 percent have no opinion.
However, it was the TPOF poll that went into depth.
Supporters of the DPP backed Trump by an 80% to 20% margin, but supporters of the KMT opposed Trump by a 70%-19% margin.
Independents were split, supporting Trump by a narrow 36% to 32% margin.
By age, those aged 20-24 supported Trump by a 70%-30% margin and 25-34-year-olds gave him a 55%-28% edge.
To some at first blush, that the young and DPP supporters are strongly pro-Trump, may seem counter-intuitive–after all Taiwanese youth are generally more progressive and the DPP got marriage equality passed.
It makes sense, however, when you consider that they are looking at this as basically a single issue: What is good for Taiwan.
The Taiwanese public sees that US-Taiwan relations are at an all-time high while being referred to as Taiwan (as opposed to US-Republic of China relations) and the Trump administration has been pushing back on Chinese aggression.
The Trump administration, and Republicans historically, have been good for Taiwan, and that’s the issue they care about.
However, which is actually better for Taiwan, a Trump or Biden presidency?
In truth it is a tricky question, and we don’t really know.
I’ve been involved in some lively discussions online with some pro-Taiwan former diplomats and analysts based in the US, including many in Washington DC.
I’ve also read many articles written by, or quoting analysts, which are posted on our site Report.tw.
One clear pattern appeared, whether they thought one or the other would be better for Taiwan depended on their political bias towards each candidate.
There are three broad issues which would determine which is better: The attitude of each candidate, the administration officials they would appoint and–considering the age of the candidates–the attitude of the vice presidential candidates.
On the first part, we have little to work with, and much of it contradictory.
President Trump has said little on Taiwan.
In John Bolton’s book he is said to have belittled Taiwan as tiny compared to China, and when asked what he would do if China attacked Taiwan he said “China knows what I would do”, which means what exactly?
We don’t know.
Trump is unpredictable and at times transactional, and as he showed with the Kurds, not particularly loyal if it suits him.
He has frequently railed against foreign wars…but also at times engages in saber-rattling, further muddying the issue.
With former Vice President Joe Biden, we have more to work with, but it is similarly muddled.
As a senator he has voted for, and against, key legislation in support of Taiwan.
It’s the same story with arms packages to Taiwan.
Nearly 20 years ago in an op-ed he seemed to suggest Taiwan wasn’t worth defending.
That being said, Biden has consistently changed his position on many issues over time, which friends characterize as changing with the times, and enemies flip-flopping.
Regardless, the key is what is his current position?
Unlike in the past, he has recently been talking tougher on China during the campaign.
On Taiwan, he was quoted as saying the following in a major US-based Chinese and English language publication:
Biden said he will “stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity and values in the Asia-Pacific region.”
“That includes deepening our ties with Taiwan, a leading democracy, major economy, technology powerhouse — and a shining example of how an open society can effectively contain COVID-19,” he continued.
That sounds excellent, and is far stronger than anything we’ve heard from Trump.
He also congratulated President Tsai on her inauguration…but referred to her as “Dr.” and not President.
However, he also recently characterized Russia as the US’s main security threat, with China being merely the main competitor, which seems oddly behind the times.
For Trump supporters, the choice of key government officials who are pro-Taiwan largely makes up their case for him being more pro-Taiwan.
While their case on why Trump himself is good is muddled at best, they have a case here, especially in his picks for National Security Advisor and Secretary of State who have been strongly pro-Taiwan.
Whether or not a trade deal would be done in a second Trump term is hard to say, in spite of most of his administration being for it.
Trump himself has been iffy on the issue of trade, so it is unknown which way he would jump on this.
A few non-Trump supporters who are very knowledgeable have privately expressed worries on this front, but generally don’t put it to writing.
The concern here is who will Biden appoint to key positions in his administration?
The general assumption is Obama-era people, who weren’t anti-Taiwan by any means, but were decidedly less supportive than the current administration.
They also blocked the sale of F-16 fighters to Taiwan.
In one term the Trump administration has sold more, and far better, arms to Taiwan that in both of Obama’s terms–including F-16s, as well as offensive missiles and advanced tanks.
Obama-era sales were mostly maintenance kit to service previous sales.
That being said, the Ma Ying-jeou presidency was less aggressive in pursuing arms from the US (though they did try for the F-16s), so not all of this discrepancy is down to the US side, and the previous Bush administration wasn’t much different on Taiwan than Obama’s.
The pro-Biden case is that with his recently stronger take on China, and the strikingly different tone on both sides of the aisle in the US, that his picks will likely be strong on China.
Also that he’d work closer with allies.
This is all fairly likely correct, though it doesn’t automatically mean that will carry over to more support for Taiwan.
With Biden’s recent comments on Taiwan, it might, though.
As for a trade deal, Biden has been in favour of trade deals in the past, and he might consider reviving the Transpacific Trade Pact, and including Taiwan in it.
As for a deal with Taiwan, or on reviving the TPP, he may run into opposition from within his own party.
In one recent bill before Congress, it was the Democrats who removed language supporting a trade deal with Taiwan.
While normally the VP pick wouldn’t bear much consideration, this time around both parties have put forth geriatric candidates, so this could be an issue.
Vice President Mike Pence has been vocal in his support for Taiwan, and it is a fairly safe bet that if he were president support for Taiwan would be as strong, or stronger than under Trump.
Senator Kamala Harris is largely a mystery on foreign policy.
She has made some comments attacking Beijing over Hong Kong and the treatment of minorities in China, but nothing I’ve seen on Taiwan.
She did have to get a Chinese name to run in San Francisco, and reportedly sought out a Taiwanese friend to help choose it, and being a well-educated Californian isn’t going to confuse Taiwan with Thailand.
But aside from that, we really don’t know where she stands.
Overall, it is highly likely that either candidate’s administration would maintain strong ties with Taiwan.
But from all of this here in Taiwan really all we can do is wait and see what happens next Tuesday.
Image courtesy of Donald J. Trump’s Facebook page