August 27th 2016

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COVER STORY Online census fiasco a cautionary tale

CANBERRA OBSERVED Tony Abbott: regrets, he's had a few, and those few he mentions

VICTORIA Volunteers put head on CFA, Cash pursues federal remedy

RURAL AFFAIRS Crisis in dairy industry escalates to new level

SOCIETY AND POLITICS Gays and lesbians can have happy marriages

SOCIETY AND RELIGION The science is in: God is good (for our children)

LAW AND SOCIETY Messing with marriage will hit constitutional bump

GENDER POLITICS Croome's blackmail gamble

TAIWANESE POLITICS Tsai remains in control after her first 100 days

MUSIC An industry that serves everyone bar the maker

CINEMA Villains under coercion: Suicide Squad

BOOK REVIEW A lose-lose country

BOOK REVIEW Grown in the 'burbs: a self-sufficiency plot

U.S. POLITICS The Good Ship Lollypop must be on the slipway

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Tsai remains in control after her first 100 days

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, August 27, 2016

Part 2 of a two-part series

Tsai Ing-wen, President of the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan, took office on May 20, 2016, promising to be a new kind of leader. She took office with great expectations for a “new deal” for the people of Taiwan.

What can we say about President Tsai’s first 100 days? So far, despite some unexpected challenges and a few minor wobbles, she’s doing fine.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen

For the first time since the ROC was established in 1912, a woman holds its highest executive office. What’s more, an unmarried woman. And concurrently, a non-Kuomintang party has a majority in the Legislative Yuan, the ROC’s unicameral parliament. For the first time, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) controls all the levers of power – the presidency and the legislature.

In a move that some may view as revenge, the DPP has legislated to strip the Kuomintang (KMT) of its “ill-gotten” assets, a move that the KMT says will effectively bankrupt the party.

Chen Shui-bian was the first DPP president (2000–08). As Mayor of Taipei (1994–98), Chen gained a good reputation. But his period in public life ended in disgrace when he was incarcerated on corruption charges. His duration as president was marked by periodic saber rattling from Beijing.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) holds the view that Taiwan is a wayward province that must be united with mainland China, by force if necessary. Many DPP supporters felt betrayed by Chen, whom they blamed for squandering an opportunity to reform Taiwan.

Tsai is cut from more impressive cloth. Born on August 31, 1956, she is now in her 60th year. Tsai was born into a family of 11 children; she was the youngest. Tsai is the first person of Aboriginal descent to hold the office of president. She is a quarter Paiwan from her grandmother. She is also of Hakka descent. The Hakka are traditionally a nomadic people renowned for hard work, thriftiness and placing a high value on education. Many Hakka have been leaders in China’s history, including Dr Sun Yat-sen and Deng Xiaoping. The Hakka entered Taiwan from Guangdong Province (Canton) and comprise around 15 per cent of Taiwan’s population. The name “Ing-wen” can either mean “heroic literature” or “English language”.

President Tsai is a lawyer by training. With the encouragement of her father, she entered the prestigious National Taiwan University (Tai-da) law school. Following graduation, she gained a masters in law from Cornell University in New York, an Ivy League college. She also graduated from the London School of Economics (LSE) in the United Kingdom with a doctorate in law.

Tsai, while by no means unattractive, has a somewhat mousey demeanour, which is said to belie an iron will. Her experience as Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) during the Chen administration has given her valuable insight into Taiwan’s primary external challenge – dealing with mainland China.

As mainland China is not a foreign country, it is not appropriate for relations with the PRC to be handled by MOFA (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). The MAC thus handles relations with the PRC. Technical and business matters come within the ambit of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF). The corresponding PRC body is the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS).

The main axis on which Taiwan’s politics revolves is the question of relations with the PRC. The ultimate aim of the “pan blue” parties, led by the KMT is to maintain the status quo with China. The ultimate aim of the “pan green” parties, led by the DPP, is to keep its distance from China. In practice, policymaking tends to be subtler. The PRC is resolutely opposed to any form of independence for Taiwan and has not renounced the use of force to unify Taiwan with China. China views the DPP with great suspicion.

Some progress in defusing cross-strait tensions was made under Ma Ying-jeou, the former KMT president (2008–16) to reduce tensions and to increase “people-to-people” diplomacy by encouraging tourism from China to Taiwan.

Both the DPP and the KMT are nationalist parties. The DPP is a Taiwanese nationalist party and the KMT is a Chinese nationalist party. Thus, the point of difference between the two major parties boils down to their attitude to independence (DPP) and unification (KMT).

Tsai is under enormous pressure from her own party to take steps to sap the strength of links established between Taiwan and China under the KMT’s Ma, particularly by renouncing the “1992 consensus”. The 1992 consensus, as understood by mainland China and Taiwan under the leadership of the KMT, has not been formally accepted by the DPP. According to the former KMT administration, the consensus is that “both sides recognise that there is only one China, with mainland China and Taiwan belonging to the same China, but that both sides agree to interpret the meaning of that one China according to their own individual definition”.

Tsai has yet to endorse the “1992 consensus” or repudiate it. The very reasonable point has been made that the new administration is under no obligation to uphold the consensus. So far, the DPP position is that it recognises the history of the meeting at which the “1992 consensus” was arrived at but that it is s not an “agreement” as understood in law. It has been suggested that the “1992 consensus” is KMT policy, not DPP policy; and because it is a “consensus” and not an “agreement” it is not binding on the DPP administration. So far President Tsai has muted her response to the “1992 consensus”.

In response to the development of external tensions, the government-sponsored China Ship Building Corporation (CSBC) has been commissioned to begin a program to design and build Taiwan’s first domestically produced submarines. CSBC, based in the southern port-city of Kaohsiung, has supplied frigates, missile and patrol boats, as well as transports, to the ROC Navy.

The Government has announced that it will spend $16 billion on 12 new shipbuilding projects. The key to this ambitious program is the indigenous submarine project. President Tsai said she expected the first boat to be launched in 2026. The current four diesel-electric submarines in the ROC Navy fleet are dated and require replacement.

Taiwan is an island, with a maritime tradition. The “nine-dash line”, demarking Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, was delineated by the ROC before the seat of the ROC government transferred to Taipei from mainland China. The recent ruling by the arbitration panel under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the dispute between the PRC and the Philippines has the side-effect of changing the status of ROC-occupied Taiping Island from an “island” to a “rock”, thus altering its juridical status. In particular, it will greatly reduce the area of ocean to which Taiwan’s wide-ranging fishing fleet has access around Taiping.

The ROC will deploy coastguard assets to affirm its claim to Taiping Island. So far President Tsai has handled the potentially volatile situation in the South China Sea judiciously. Nonetheless, a potentially damaging outcome of the UNCLOS decision may be to drive a wedge between Taiwan and the Philippines, which also claims fishing rights over waters close to Taiping Island.

In pursuit of her aim of a more harmonious and fairer society, President Tsai recently apologised to the Aboriginal people of Taiwan on behalf of the people of Taiwan. The four centuries since the Han Chinese arrived in Taiwan have seen almost unceasing conflict. The Taiwan Aborigines arrived in Taiwan some 8,000 years before the Han Chinese arrived to settle the island. For many years they were called “mountain savages”.

The Aboriginal peoples are Austronesians. Taiwan was the source for those people who settled the Pacific Rim, including the Polynesians. Recently, Taiwan’s Aborigines have been called “the original peoples”. An apology is very serious in Chinese culture; it carries with it both an admission of guilt and a preparedness to offer compensation.

The DPP’s supporter base is among the Taiwanese-speaking working class. As mentioned previously, two conflicting nationalisms form the basis of the major fissure in Taiwan politics. Although the DPP is not a social-democratic party in the commonly accepted mould, as, say, is the Australian Labor Party, its supporters are of the same social status as those of the ALP.

Apart from its nationalist supporter base, the DPP also has links to organised labour. Since Tsai came to power, organised labour has flexed its muscles. Staff of China Airlines, the nation’s flag carrier, went on strike for better wages and conditions. Employer organisations have said that they do not trust the Government. Plans to restructure the working week have run into a wall of opposition from employers.

It is not logical to expect that an economy like Taiwan’s, which is heavily exposed to international trade, can tolerate both reduced working hours and increased wages simultaneously. In the years when Taiwan was an “Asian tiger”, it was commonly said that “strikers are shot”. The new, democratic Taiwan must listen to its workers, but some form of labour discipline is necessary.

Tsai was elected on a wave of enthusiasm from voters, many of them young people, who sought a new beginning. The “Sunflower Generation” does not wish to align itself with either the “pan green” or “pan blue” groups, even if its policies are almost identical to the “pan green” policies.

Young people have high expectations of their new leader. Taiwan is a very small, overcrowded island. It has an area less than half that of Tasmania, with a population almost the same as the whole of Australia. Taiwan works on brainpower. Competition is brutal and education is highly valued.

Governments – not only the DPP – have created high expectations for Taiwan’s young people. But a university qualification is no longer a guarantee of a secure, well-paying job. The Sunflower Generation has grown to adulthood in years of relative prosperity. Their parents were the ones who built “Treasure Island”. As that vision fades, the Sunshine Generation is looking to President Tsai for a new start.

This is the second in a two-part series. Read Part 1 here.

All you need to know about
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