November 5th 2016

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COVER STORY Hazelwood closure will push up power prices in Victoria

CANBERRA OBSERVED Out of the shadows of the backbench ...

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Obama Administration exacerbates Syria conflict

INDUSTRY AND ENVIRONMENT Wikileaks reveals U.S, funding behind anti-coal campaign

TAIWAN New president cautious, ambivalent towards Beijing

OPINION How to convert citizens into subjects and victims

FINANCE Untangling some knots of international tax

BRITISH AFFAIRS Brexit revisited: courts may come into play

LITERATURE The paradoxical idyll of Tolkien's Shire

HUMOUR Assembled and curated by Sebastian Gunlighter

MUSIC Unresolved melancholies

CINEMA Bittersweet Woody Allan: Cafe Society

BOOK REVIEW From von Ranke to van Gend

BOOK REVIEW More mystery than history

BOOK REVIEW An empire's collapse


NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal rebuts commission's 'Get Pell' campaign

U.S. AFFAIRS First Brexit, now Trump: it's the economy, stupid!

ANALYSIS What is possible to a Trump Whitehouse

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New president cautious, ambivalent towards Beijing

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, November 5, 2016

No recent president has taken power in Taipei with greater expectations than has Tsai Ing-wen; fulfilling those expectations will be a difficult task, not through lack of goodwill but due to the complexity of the challenge.

Tsai is the first female president of the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name) since its inception in 1912. The ROC was established following the Shin Hai Revolution in 1911, led by Dr Sun Yat-sen. The revolution ended 5,000 years of dynastic rule in China. The ROC transferred its seat of government to Taipei in 1949, after Mao’s communists took over mainland China. Taiwan survived a rocky start to become a prosperous democracy.

Taiwan's Tsai Ing-wen

Tsai is one of 11 children. Her father had three wives. One of her grandmothers was an Aborigine of Taiwan, or “people who were here before”, as they are now known. One of Tsai’s first acts in office was to begin a process of reconciliation with the island’s Aboriginal people.

Tsai is Hakka, one of a hardy group of nomadic people known for their thriftiness, love of learning and ability to work hard. Many famous Chinese leaders have been Hakka, including Sun Yat-sen and Deng Xiaoping.

Tsai is very highly educated; she attended the Law School of the National Taiwan University (Tai Da), the island’s premier institution of higher learning. She also gained a Masters degree in the United States and a Doctorate from the London School of Economics (LSE), one of Britain’s top educational institutions.

Tsai is softly spoken; her hands are gentle; she gives the impression of being a rather mild person, but is said to have an iron will. So far, her policies are not clear, which has encouraged speculation about her true intentions.

She is unmarried and it is unknown whether she has a male partner. Unlike Britain’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May, she does not give the impression of being “bred to the purple”. She is a down-to-earth sort of person.

The current government is the first in which the former opposition, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has controlled the legislative and executive branches of government. The legislative Yuan, as Taiwan’s unicameral parliament is known, is under DPP control for the first time. Regrettably, the current Opposition, the Kuomintang (KMT) has adopted the DPP’s old tricks, such as “storming the podium”.

The DPP can do almost anything it wants now. Among the first policies the DPP intends implementing is stripping the KMT of its “ill gotten gains”. The KMT, which was in power uninterruptedly from the time the ROC government arrived in Taiwan in 1949, is vigorously resisting the expropriation of its property.

In her National Day speech, President Tsai spoke about Taiwan’s policies towards the People’s Republic of China (PRC). “Double Ten” is the colloquial name for Taiwan’s National Day, as the Shin Hai Revolution took place on October 10, 1911. The Double Ten parade had a military element, but could hardly be described as a “show of force”.

Tsai neither kowtowed to Beijing nor antagonised the Communist regime in her speech. She did not endorse the “1992 consensus” with Beijing, under which Taipei and Beijing agree that there is One China, with each party reaching its own conclusion as to what that One China is.

The PRC is already punishing Tsai for not endorsing the 1992 consensus, which was the policy of the previous KMT administration. The PRC has been discouraging tour groups from visiting Taiwan. As the number of independent travellers from China has increased, the actual drop-off in numbers has been only 4 per cent.

The effect on national income has been minimal, although in rural central and southern areas of the island, which the tour groups favour with their business, the effect on employment has been marked.

So far, the PRC has not indulged in overt sabre-rattling, perhaps waiting cautiously to see what policies Tsai adopts towards cross-strait relations. Under the previous DPP president, Chen Shui-bian, relations across the Taiwan Strait were fraught with difficulty. Chen was a mercurial figure; he is now in detention following conviction on corruption charges.

Taiwan never stands still, although gross domestic product (GDP) growth has been sluggish at around 1 per cent recently. The Sunflower Generation, those in their teens and 20s, has become an important factor in Taiwan’s politics. Almost half of Taiwan’s young people graduate from so-called “universities”, expecting to walk in to professional level jobs; but the jobs aren’t there.

Taiwan’s young people are enthusiastic participants in Australia’s Working Holiday Scheme. Well in excess of 30,000 young people from Taiwan are now working in Australia, especially in rural and regional areas.

Now that China is becoming uncompetitive as a base for the Taiwanese companies that have their factories there, Tsai is advocating a “Go South” policy, of relocation to Southeast Asia. Former president Lee Teng-hui advocated a similar policy, though it was not very successful. Perhaps this time it will work.

Taiwan is a new democracy. The citizens of Taiwan really do believe what their leaders tell them. Let’s hope President Tsai can fulfil at least some of her promises.

Jeffry Babb visited Taiwan as a guest of the ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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