Asia in Review Archive 2021

Taiwan (Republic of China)

Date of AiR edition

News summary

30 March 2021

Taiwan: 100 convicted in political trials exonerated  

(dql) Taiwan’s Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) announced the latest round of exonerations for 100 individuals convicted in political trials during the authoritarian era from 1945-1992. The guilty verdicts, involving 105 cases, were declared unjust overturned during a ceremony presided over by President Tsai Ing-wen. The cases include crimes of rebellion, espionage and subversion. [Focus Taiwan]

 

30 March 2021

Taiwan-Palau travel bubble strengthens relations

(zh) Palau’s leader Surangel Whipps and his delegation have flown to Taiwan to kick off Asia’s first travel bubble between two ‘Covid-safe’ destinations. Whipps earlier had revealed he rejected China’s offer to switch from diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China after he was elected last November. “I believe that we should be free to choose who our friends are, and nobody should say ‘I cannot be somebody’s friend,” said Whipps. [Taiwan News 1]

The trip to Taipei, however, has prompted a “red line” warning from Beijing as US ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland arrived on the island as part of a delegation from Palau. “The Chinese side resolutely opposes any form of official contacts between US and Taiwanese officials,” said China’s foreign ministry. Hennessey-Niland is the first US ambassador to visit Taiwan in an official capacity since the US cut its ties with Taiwan in favor of China in 1979. [South China Morning Post][Taipei Times][Taiwan News 2]

30 March 2021

Taiwan, US sign MoU on maritime cooperation

(zh) Taiwan and the United States have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to establish a Coast Guard Group (CGWG), the first agreement signed by two sides since Joe Biden took office. The agreement provides a platform for the two sides to communicate through Taiwan Coast Guard and the United States Coast Guard. The MoU signals Taiwan’s move to counter China’s new coast guard law, which permits the coast guard to use weapons in the waters China claims. [Focus Taiwan][Radio Taiwan International, in Chinese]

Both Taiwan and the US have been increasingly wary of China’s threat to the island. “[T]he problem is much closer us than most think,” said Admiral John Aquilino, the nominee of the US Indo-Pacific Command, in his hearing with the Senate Armed Service Committee, adding China considers establishing full control over the island to be its “number one priority” [CNN].

Meanwhile, in US parliament, the Taiwan Relations Reinforcement Act was reintroduced by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Democrat Senator Jeff Merkley, chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. If passed, the act would change the status of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a de facto US embassy under the name of a government-sponsored non-profit organization, to be “representative”, making their appointment subject to Senate approval. It would also require the US president to establish an “inter-agency Taiwan task force”, comprised of senior government officials who submit an annual report to Congress detailing actions that should be taken to enhance the relations. A nonprofit Taiwan-US cultural exchange foundation would also be set up. The bill was previously introduced in the Senate last October but was not included in the congressional schedule. Besides, the group of seven Republicans and two Democrats has asked Biden administration to set up a preclearance facility at Taoyuan International Airport, Taiwan’s main international airport, saying it would “improve the ease of travel between the United States and Taiwan and reinforce the importance of our relationship with Taiwan”. [Bloomberg] [Taipei Times] 

 

30 March 2021

Taiwan, US sign MoU on maritime cooperation

(zh) Taiwan and the United States have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to establish a Coast Guard Group (CGWG), the first agreement signed by two sides since Joe Biden took office. The agreement provides a platform for the two sides to communicate through Taiwan Coast Guard and the United States Coast Guard. The MoU signals Taiwan’s move to counter China’s new coast guard law, which permits the coast guard to use weapons in the waters China claims. [Focus Taiwan][Radio Taiwan International, in Chinese]

Both Taiwan and the US have been increasingly wary of China’s threat to the island. “[T]he problem is much closer us than most think,” said Admiral John Aquilino, the nominee of the US Indo-Pacific Command, in his hearing with the Senate Armed Service Committee, adding China considers establishing full control over the island to be its “number one priority” [CNN].

Meanwhile, in US parliament, the Taiwan Relations Reinforcement Act was reintroduced by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Democrat Senator Jeff Merkley, chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. If passed, the act would change the status of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a de facto US embassy under the name of a government-sponsored non-profit organization, to be “representative”, making their appointment subject to Senate approval. It would also require the US president to establish an “inter-agency Taiwan task force”, comprised of senior government officials who submit an annual report to Congress detailing actions that should be taken to enhance the relations. A nonprofit Taiwan-US cultural exchange foundation would also be set up. The bill was previously introduced in the Senate last October but was not included in the congressional schedule. Besides, the group of seven Republicans and two Democrats has asked Biden administration to set up a preclearance facility at Taoyuan International Airport, Taiwan’s main international airport, saying it would “improve the ease of travel between the United States and Taiwan and reinforce the importance of our relationship with Taiwan”. [Bloomberg] [Taipei Times]

30 March 2021

Cross-strait relations: Twenty Chinese military aircraft enter Taiwan air defence identification zone

(dql) Last Friday, twenty Chinese military aircraft – including four nuclear-capable H-6K bombers and 10 J-16 fighter jets, among others – entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, marking the largest incursion since Taiwan’s defence ministry began disclosing almost daily Chinese military flights over the waters between the southern part of Taiwan and the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands in the South China Sea last year. [The Guardian]

 

23 March 2021

Palau to maintain ties with Taiwan

(dql) In a diplomatic win for Taiwan, Palau’s President Surangel Whipps Jr., confirmed in an interview that he has notified Beijing that his country will maintain its relations with Taiwan, adding that “nobody should tell us that relationship should be severed.” Whipps is scheduled to visit Taiwan this week.

Palau is among the four diplomatic allies of Taiwan in the Asia-Pacific region, next to the Marshall Islands, Nauru and Tuvalu. The total number of United Nations member states having full diplomatic relations with Taiwan stands 14, plus the Holy See. Since 2001, Beijing has lured 17 diplomatic allies away from Taiwan, including seven since President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office 2016. [Focus Taiwan]

In a related development, both sides are discussing a travel bubble, with a first group of Taiwanese passengers expected to fly to Palau in April. [Taiwan News]

23 March 2021

Taiwan: Military report prioritizes advancing far-strike capabilities against China

(dql) Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) has released its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), revealing that it will focus on building Taiwan’s far-strike capabilities of its armed forces in the coming years, aiming at effectively extend its defense in depth to delay the advance of a potential Chinese invasion.

To strengthen far-strike capabilities, the report suggests continue ongoing efforts to build more long-distance air-launched missiles and remote-controlled precision weapon systems. It also announces to adopt a “resolute defense and multi-domain deterrence” tactic focusing on defending its forces and annihilating the enemy near the coastline preventing a landfall on the island, while recognizing the need for a high number of small, mobile, and stealthy asymmetric systems for strategic dispersion, taking advantage of the deployment of anti-ship missiles in coastal areas, rapid reaction forces and mine-laying at sea. [Focus Taiwan]

Meanwhile, Taiwanese troops from various units have been mobilized on this Monday to kick off field training exercises as part of the “Combat Preparedness Month,” which started on March 1 and is conducted in four stages, including battlefield scouting, tabletop exercises, field strategy and tactics, and field exercises.

The Combat Preparedness Month was suspended in the 1990s but resumed in 2019 in response to the increased nearby maneuvers of China’s military. [Taipei Times]

In the [Diplomat], Denny Roy warns that while “[p]rospects for an imminent Chinese invasion are overblown,” Taiwan must not be complacent and tackle the problem of limited military effectiveness caused by “unmet recruiting targets, insufficient training of both conscripts and reserves, and ammunition and spare parts shortages.”

Commander of the US Pacific Fleet Admiral John Aquilino, nominated to become commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, however, warned in his testimony before members of the Senate armed services committee that China’s threat to invade Taiwan is serious and more imminent than widely understood, disagreeing with outgoing Indo-Pacom commander Adm Philip Davidson who recently said that China’s attempt to attack and take over Taiwan could come as soon as within the next six years. [The Guardian]

 

23 March 2021

France rebuffs China’s criticism over lawmaker’s Taiwan trip

(zh) China’s ambassador in Paris Shaye Lu has angered Paris for issuing a statement expressing “serious concerns” about the plan of Alain Richard, France’s head of the Senate’s Taiwan Friendship Group, to visit Taiwan in summer, warning the trip would “cause unnecessary interference” in Franco-Chinese relation and send the wrong signal to Taiwan’s pro-independence forces. Richard was reported to be “very displeased” about Lu’s letter. “French parliamentarians freely decide their travel and their contacts,” said France’s foreign ministry.

In defense, China’s embassy in Paris said Lu was “calm and firm”, urging France to abide by the one-China principle. “French senators, as members of a French state institution, should, of course, observe this principle and refrain from any form of official contact with the Taiwanese authorities”. In the latest development, France’s foreign ministry summoned Lu over his “inadmissible” words against French officials and researchers and Beijing’s sanction over EU officials.

Richard has previously traveled to Taiwan in his existing role. This year’s trip aims at studying the island’s successful response to Covid-19. Taiwan’s Premier Su Tseng-chang criticized Beijing’s attempt to block exchange between France and Taiwan on Covid-19 only created a bad international impression of China and harm global efforts to fight against the pandemic. Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu on the other hand said China’s “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy is not acceptable to any civilized country. [Focus Taiwan][Reuters][South China Morning Post 1][South China Morning Post 2]

23 March 2021

Taiwan: More than 700.000 signatures for a referendum to move national gas terminal site 

(dql) The Rescue Datan Algal Reefs Alliance, a coalition of environmental activists, has submitted more than 700,000 signatures in support of a referendum to relocate the site of a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal. The group cited threats to the ecosystem of an algae reef in northern Taiwan as grounds for its legislative move. 

The government, however, made clear that it has no plans to move the terminal’ site. It insisted that the construction of the terminal would not harm the algae reef but added that it is willing to invest more in the protection of the ref, but as of right now is not considering any alternative locations. [Focus Taiwan

The terminal construction is also fiercely disputed between the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT), which called plans of the ruling to hold nationwide more than 300 public forums on government policies “propaganda,” aimed at mobilizing DPP supporters against the referendum. [Taipei Times]

Taiwan is boosting its LNG imports as part of its massive energy transition strategy, which aims to phase out nuclear power by 2025 and increase the share of natural gas to 50% of the country’s power mix. In 2020, gas made up almost 36% of the mix. [Bloomberg]

16 March 2021

Taiwan-US relations: Strengthening relations

(zh) The past week saw several moves reflecting continued efforts to strengthen US-Taiwan relations.  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that he will invite Taiwan to the ‘Summit for Democracy’ which President Biden pledged to host during his election campaign. Calling Taiwan “a strong democracy,” and “a very strong technological power,” he added that Taiwan was “a country that can contribute to the world, not just to its own people.” By referring to Taiwan as ‘country’, Blinken broke with an unwritten rule to avoid using the term ‘country’ for the self-ruled island as part of the US commitment to Beijing’s so-called “One China Policy,” raising the question whether it marks a new stage in US-Taiwan relations or just a slip of the tongue.  [Taiwan News 1][Taiwan News 2]

Meanwhile, Washington and Taipei launched a partnership on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), while the US Navy sent its Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John Finn to conduct a routine Taiwan Strait transit. It was the third transit conducted by the Seventh Fleet since the Biden administration took office and amid warnings of Philip Davidson, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, that Taiwan could be the first potential target of China’s military aggression in the next five to 10 years. [Focus Taiwan 1][South China Morning Post] [Focus Taiwan 2]

Furthermore, US Congress members reintroduced the Taiwan Fellowship Act, which calls for the creation of a program allowing US federal government employees to study and work in Taiwan for up to two years. [Taipei Times]

James Lee in [East Asia Forum] points out that supply chain plays a key role in US strategy toward the Taiwan Strait, arguing that the US dependence on the island’s supply chain – for example in the semiconductor industry –, can be seen as enhancing US deterrence in the Strait without the risks associated with strategic clarity. The US would maintain its strategic ambiguity – declining to clearly state its stance on Taiwan – and let the market increase economic leverage without breaching the One-China principle.

 

16 March 2021

Cross-Strait relations: Kuomintang heavyweights abandon ‘one country, two systems’

(dql/zh) Former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou of the Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), has critically commented on China’s push for an electoral reform in Hong Kong, arguing that with the reform the ‘one country, two systems’ formular which China’s upholds for a future re-unification with Taiwan has “officially passed into history”. His remark reflects growing development over the past years within the traditionally Beijing-friendly KMT to distance itself from Beijing. [Hong Kong Free Press]

Similarly, KMT chairman Johnny Chiang made clear in an interview earlier this month that “one country, two systems” has no market in Taiwan citing Taiwanese citizens’ appreciation of their freedoms. [Reuters]

Speaking at the National People’s Congress plenary session, China’s Premier Li Keqiang, however, insisted that only on the basis of the one-China principle and the ‘1992 Consensus’, Beijing welcomed dialogue with “any political party or group from Taiwan.”

Official exchanges between Taipei and Beijing have been suspended since pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen came to office and since then consistently refused to embrace ‘1992 consensus,’ to eventually to declare in 2019: “As president of the Republic of China, I must solemnly emphasize that we have never accepted the ‘1992 Consensus.’ The fundamental reason is because the Beijing authorities’ definition of the ‘1992 Consensus’ is ‘one China’ and ‘one country, two systems.’ […] Here, I want to reiterate that Taiwan absolutely will not accept ‘one country, two systems.’

For an interpretation of Tsai’s recent reshuffle in leadership positions in Taiwan’s defence and security team, see Corey Lee Bell who argues in the [Strategist] that the decision to appoint Chiu Kuo-cheng, a former director of the National Security Bureau, as new defense minister is a response to China’s “unrestricted warfare,” which has “confounded the conventional dichotomy between kinetic and information warfare.”

 

16 March 2021

SIPRI international arms transfers report 2020

(dql) According to the 2020 international arms transfers report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), released last week, the US remains the world’s largest arms supplier in 2016-2020 accounting for 37% of the global arms exports, followed by Russia (20%), France (8.2), Germany (5.5%) and China (5.2%). Together, these five countries accounted for 76% of all exports of major arms. Besides China, Asian countries listed among the top 25 countries which accounted for 99% of global arms exports include South Korea (2.7%, ranking at 7), the United Arab Emirates (0.5%, 18), and India (0.2%, 24)

Against the backdrop of the US-China rivalry, the US allies Australia (accounting for 9.4% of US arms exports), South Korea (6.7%) and Japan (5.7%) were among the five largest importers of US arms.

23 Asian countries were among the 40 largest importers including Saudi-Arabia, India, China, South Korea, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Iraq, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand, Oman, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Jordan, the Philippines, Azerbaijan, Myanmar, Taiwan, and Malaysia. [Reliefweb]

16 March 2021

Taiwan: KMT demands halt of government natural gas terminal project

(dql) Taiwan’s main opposition party, Kuomintang (KMT), called on the government to stop all construction on a controversial liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal project, after a petition supporting a nationwide referendum on the project gathered enough signatures to go ahead in August. The KMT also demanded that the government actively prepare alternative solutions and to publicly declare to respect the referendum’s outcome. 

The LNG terminal project, located off the coast of Taoyuan, is operated by state-run utility CPC Corp., Taiwan and has been criticized by environmental groups who argue that it would harm the algal reef and endangered species in the area. [Focus Taiwan]

9 March 2021

Lithuania to set enterprise office in Taiwan

(zh) Lithuania has announced it would open an “enterprise office” in Taiwan this year, aiming to “strengthening and diversifying of economic diplomacy in the Asian region.” Few countries set up formal embassies in Taiwan, but several, including the European Union and some of its members, have representation and trade offices operating as de-facto embassies.

The move signals Lithuania’s discontent toward Beijing as the country’s engagement in the “17+1” summit and in China’s Belt and Road Initiative have not yielded the expected tangible results, with Chinese investment in 2020 standing at only some 10.5 million USD. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis remarked in this regard: “I am not saying that we are leaving and it’s the end, but we should really consider what is the useful way of building a relationship with China.”

Last month, Lithuania was one of six countries refused to send government leaders attend the 17+1 summit and only sent lower-level ministers instead. Earlier it had also banned a Chinese tech company on national security grounds. [Reuters][South China Morning Post 1][AiR No.8, February/2021, 4].

In response to the announcement, Beijing has called on Vilnius to “refuse to be taken advantage of by Taiwan separatist forces, and avoid doing anything detrimental to bilateral political mutual trust”. [South China Morning Post 2]

 

9 March 2021

Taiwan-Guam relations: New Marketing Committee set up

(zh) The Guam Visitors Bureau (GVB) has decided to remove Taiwan from the Greater China Marketing Committee to set up a new separate Taiwan Marketing Committee to improve the Taiwan market. The GVB has thus far overseen Guam’s business with China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Guam described the move as a sign of respect towards Taiwan. The number of Taiwanese tourists ranked third after Japanese and South Koreans. [Taipei Times] [Taiwan News]

9 March 2021

Malaysia, Saudia Arabia sign MoU ambush

China is the biggest consumer of Taiwan’s pineapples with 91% of Taiwan’s total exports of fruit valuing at 1.5 billion NTD. Observers believe that Beijing’s suspension aims to hit the high public approval ratings Tsai currently enjoys due to her world-class effective pandemic response. [Focus Taiwan][Reuters][SupChina][Taiwan News]

Since Taiwan’s pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen has assumed office in 2016, Beijing has cut off diplomatic channels and has been ramping up its pressure on the island, including regularly sending fighter jets and bombers near Taiwan or into its air defense identification zone. In January, China staged military exercises near Taiwan on almost daily basis. [Daily Mail

9 March 2021

Cross-Strait relations: Taiwan ridicules China’s Beijing-Taipei railway connection plans and condemns pineapple ban

(zh) China has announced plans to construct a high-speed railway and expressway linking Beijing and Taipei by 2035 in the annual session of the National People’s Congress. The envisioned connection is part of a “National Comprehensive Transportation Network Plan,” released by the China’s State Council, the country’s central government. It lays out construction goals for transportation links from 2021 to 2035 covering 700,000 kilometers.

Taiwanese politician and netizens called the plan “daydreaming” and called on Taiwanese citizens to regard it as a “science fiction novel,” while urging Beijing not to be a “frog at the bottom of a well”. [Nikkei Asia][Taiwan News] [Republic World]

Earlier this month, China announced to ban the import of Taiwan’s pineapples from March 1 on, citing bugs found in batches of imported pineapples and denying claims that the ban was politically motivated. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen decried the unilateral action, calling it an “

to IUU fishing activities, detecting some Chinese coast guard ships and fishing vessels near Natuna waters last year. A number of such incidents have attracted international attention to Chinese violation in Indonesian sovereign waters. Besides Chinese vessels, in August 2020 two Vietnamese vessels were found fishing illegally in Northern Natuna. [Antara News]

9 March 2021

Taiwan: KMT submits signatures backing referendum against government’s pork policy

(dql) Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) has submitted more than 1 million signatures supporting its two referendum proposals to the Central Election Commission (CEC) for review.

The referendums are aimed at striking down the government’s decision to lift a ban on pork imports containing ractopamine, a leanness-enhancing additive ractopamine, and at allowing to hold referendums to be held in conjunction with major local elections. The second referendum seeks to reverse an amendment to the Referendum Act passed by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party-controlled parliament in June 2019 that limits the frequency with which referendums can be held. Critics view the amendment a way for the ruling DPP to prevent referendum questions from threatening its support at the ballot box. [Focus Taiwan]

 

2 March 2021

Cross-strait relations: PLA and Taiwanese concurrently hold military exercises in the South China Sea

(dql) Amid high running cross-strait tensions, China and Taiwan are holding military drills at the same time in the South China Sea. According to a notice of Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA), the Tawainese military conducted a round of live-fire exercise on Monday on the Taiwan-held Pratas Islands. Similar drills are scheduled to be staged next week. China, meanwhile, kicked off on the same day a month-long military exercise west of the Leizhou Peninsula in Guangdong province. [Focus Taiwan1] [South China Morning Post]

In an earlier show of force, at least 10 Chinese bombers belonging to the Southern Theatre Command conducted maritime strike exercises in the South China Sea, immediately after the Lunar New Year Holiday which ended on February 17. The drills involved China’s most advanced H-6J bomber. [Global Times 1]

Further fueling the tensions, last week the US was also present in the disputed region. While various reconnaissance aircraft as well as the ocean surveillance ship USNS Impeccable carried out surveillance missions in the South China Sea, a US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer transited through the Taiwan Strait. [Global Times 2] [Focus Taiwan 2]

Meanwhile, two US lawmakers have introduced a resolution calling for the US government to resume formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan and end the “one China policy.” It also urged he government to negotiate a bilateral free trade agreement with Taiwan, and support Taiwan’s membership in international organizations. [Taiwan News]

2 March 2021

Taiwan: Database on political prosecution cases launched

(dql) On the occasion of the launch of a database of politically motivated cases during the during the authoritarian regimes between 1949 and 1991 in Taiwan, the Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) presented preliminary data which reveal so far a total of 13,268 cases have compiled, adding that three former presidents Chiang Kai-shek, Yen Chia-k, and Chiang’s son Chiang Ching-kuo were among the major decision makers in those cases, with the former participating in court procedures more than 4.100 times, the most of all major decision makers.

The data also shows that 1,153 of the accused were handed down death sentences, 169 life imprisonment, 1,628 jail terms of more than 10 years but less than 15 years and 1,498 imprisonment of more than five years but less than 10 years. [Focus Taiwan]

The launch of the database, part of a broader government policy on transitional justice, comes shortly ahead of the commencement of the 74th anniversary of the 228 Incident which refers to an anti-government uprising in Taiwan on February 28 1947 which was violently suppressed by the then Kuomintang-led Republic of China government. The number of Taiwanese deaths from the incident is estimated to be between 5.000 and 28.000. The 228 Incident has become a key element in the narrative on Taiwanese identity. 

 

2 March 2021

India donates $20.4 to Taiwanese medical institution

(lm) To consolidate cooperation under Taiwan’s New Southbound Initiative, India has donated $20,4 million to Taipei’s National Research Institute of Chinese Medicine (NRCIM), marking the first time the Indian government has donated to a Taiwanese government institution. [Hindustan Times]

Launched in 2016 under Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, the New Southbound Initiative is a people-centered policy that aims to enhance cooperation and exchange with eighteen primary target countries: 10 in the ASEAN region, six states in South Asia, and Australia and New Zealand.

While relations between New Delhi and Taipei in the past have mostly walked in the shadows of India’s strict adherence to the ‘One China Policy’, since 2014, bilateral engagements have gradually strengthened. At the time, Indian Prime Minister Modi initiated a shift from his country’s ‘Look East Policy’ to the ‘Act East Policy’ placing greater emphasis on regional cooperation. Since then, New Delhi has initiated several initiatives to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), most notably through its ‘Make in India’ initiative, which aim to encourage companies to manufacture in India [see e.g. AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4].

 

23 February 2021

Taiwan-Germany relations: BNT promises its vaccines after the deal called off

(zh) Germanybiotech firm, BioNTech SE(BNT), promises to provide 5 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccines to Taiwan after Taiwan’s Minister of Health and Welfare, Chen Shih-chung, announced the deal was called off at the last minute by potential Chinese interference. While details on what happened were not provided, Chen implied there was a political dimension to the decision, saying “someone did not want Taiwan to be too happy.” 

BNT signed a deal with the Chinese firm Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd to exclusively develop and commercialize Covid-19 vaccine products with BNT’s technology in China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, which gives China the power to intervene in the deal. Hearing the island’s complaint, BNT later said that the discussion continues and it plans to provide vaccines to Taiwan. [Focus Taiwan][Reuters 1][Reuters 2]

 

23 February 2021

Cross-Strait relations: Appointment of new Mainland Affairs Council chairman to signal Taiwan’s less confrontational China policy

(dql/zh) In a move widely seen among analysts as signaling an adjustment of Taiwan’s confrontational China policy towards more pragmatism, President Tsai Ing-wen has appointed former Taiwanese Justice Minister Chiu Tai-san as new head of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC).

During the swearing-in ceremony, Chiu, who had been the Council’s vice chairman from 2004 to 2005, expressed hope that both sides overcome the current diplomatic impasse and move towards “exchanges based on pragmatism”, adding that if “political exchanges are too sensitive … and there is not enough mutual trust, we can always start with non-political, economic, social and cultural exchanges to build up mutual trust before taking on higher-level issues.”

Analysts also believe that Tsai’s decision to shift to a more pragmatic approach in cross-strait relations follows concerns of the Biden administration that Taiwan as a potential flashpoint of Sino-US tensions will disrupt its foreign policy. In a statement in December US Indo-Pacific coordinator chief Kurt Campbell stated that a degree of “productive and quiet dialogue” between Beijing and Taipei was “in everyone’s best strategic interests”. [South China Morning Post] [Focus Taiwan]

In another – more provocative – move towards China, Tsai ordered all of Taiwan’s coast guard vessels to be emblazoned the word ‘Taiwan’ above the original designation “ROC Coast guard.” According to the Presidential Office, the move – coming shortly after China’s new launched coast guard law, which permits coast guard vessels to use military weapons in the waters China claims – aims at better distinguishing Taiwan’s law enforcement vessels from China’s. [Focus Taiwan] [AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4]

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s air force scrambled after nine Chinese air force aircraft on Friday and another 11 aircraft on Saturday, including eight fighter jets, two nuclear-capable H-6 bombers and an anti-submarine aircraft, flew near the Pratas Islands in the top part of the South China Sea, also claimed by Beijing. At the same time, four retired Taiwanese military intelligence officers have been indicted for developing a spying network and collecting confidential information for Beijing. [VoA] [Channel News Asia]

 

23 February 2021

Taiwan: KMT gathers enough signatures for referendum on government’s ractopamine pork policy

(dql) Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang (KMT) announced collected around 600.000 signatures for each of its proposed referendum on the government’s lift of the ban of imports of ractopamine-fed pork, meeting the thresholds to continue the referendum motion, with the review of the signatures by the Central Election Commission as next step. The next possible date for the referendum is August 28 this year.  [Taiwan News]

 

16 February 2021

Taiwan-US relations: High-level contacts continue under Biden administration

(dql) Signaling continuation of contacts between US and Taiwanese high-level officials which begun under the Trump administration, Taiwan’s top envoy to the US Hsiao Bi-khim met with Sung Kim, acting assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department. [Focus Taiwan]

 

16 February 2021

Taiwan: KMT collects over half a million signatures for a national referendum against government’s new pork import policy

(dql) Pressure on President Tsai Ing-wen over her lift of imports of US pork containing ractopamine residue is increasing after the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) collected over 500.000 signatures in support of the party’s proposals to hold national referendums which would ask voters whether they agree that the government should impose a complete ban on imports of meat, offal and related products from pigs fed with ractopamine. The next possible date for such a referendum would be August 28 this year. 

To pave the way for a long desired free trade agreement with the US, Tsai agreed in August last year to lift the ban on pork with ractopamine which took effect January 1. [Taipei Times]

9 February 2021

Cross-Strait relations: Guyana scraps plan for Taiwan embassy over China’s pressure

(zh) Bowing to pressure from China, Guyana called off an agreement with Taiwan on opening a representative office in Guyana’s capital, Georgetown, just hours after Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced signing of the agreement. [Focus Taiwan] [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan 1]

Rich in oil and located next to Venezuela, a major Chinese ally against the United State in South America, Guyana has become an important country for China. Both countries established diplomatic relations in 1972 and has been maintaining close ties. Following the signing of the agreement, China’s Foreign Ministry was quick to urge Guyana to stick to “One China” policy and to “earnestly take steps to correct their mistakes”. Within hours, Guyana’s Foreign Ministry said it adheres to “One China” principle and terminated the agreement with Taiwan, citing “miscommunication” about the agreement.

Taiwan strongly condemned the Chinese government’s interference, accusing it of bullying Taiwan in the international society. [CNN] [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China] [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan, 2 in Chinese] [PTS, in Chinese] [Reuters]

The US is worried about China’s deepening influence in the Caribbean and Latin America, with both regions traditionally hosted the biggest bloc of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies. However, facing Chinese fierce isolation, three Latin American countries, El Salvador, the Dominican Republican, and Panama, had cut the diplomatic ties with Taiwan within two years. Currently, Taiwan only has formal diplomatic relations with 14 countries, including four of the Caribbean and five Latin American countries. [NPR]

Meanwhile, two Chinese J-16 jet fighters entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) for a fifth consecutive day on Monday, marking the 34th day so far this year that Chinese aircraft intruded Taiwan’s ADIZ. [Taiwan News]

9 February 2021

Taiwan: New reservist call-up system to be introduced

(dql) Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense announced that, beginning in 2022, new rules governing the call-up of reservists will be introduced to improve the combat readiness of the nation’s reserve forces, with call-ups would be for two weeks training compared to five to seven days. Furthermore, the call-ups would occur annually rather than biannually every two years. 

Already in this year, the military will extend the period for call-ups from a maximum of four times in eight years to four times in 12 years after being discharged. [Focus Taiwan]

 

2 February 2021

Taiwan: DPP lawmaker released on bail in bribery case, Judicial Yuan moving forward in high-profile corruption case 

(nm) Legislator Su Cheng-ching of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was released on a bail in a major national bribery case which includes several lawmakers, judges, and police officials. He had been detained since August 2020 and is now subject to resident restrictions as well as barred from leaving Taiwan. 

The allegations under the Anti-Corruption Act stem from a case related to the ownership of the Pacific SOGO department store chain, in which Su allegedly accepted bribes to illegally lend support in the company’s former chairman’s Lee Heng-lung’s legal battle. Several other lawmakers of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and the smaller New Power Party are also involved in the case but have been released on bail before. [Focus Taiwan]

In a different case, the Judicial Yuan forwarded allegations against six high-ranking judges to the Control Yuan for further investigation of an alleged involvement in a corruption scandal. According to the Judicial Evaluation Committee, the six judges had committed serious transgressions in their alleged involvement with Chia Her Industrial Co president Weng Mao-chung while Weng was facing nine litigation cases in the 1990s. The accusations include abuse of authority, conflict of interest, insider trading, and bribe-taking. The move comes as the Control Yuan celebrates its 90th anniversary with an exhibition on the agency’s digital transformation plan. [Taipei Times]

2 February 2021

Taiwan: Ministry of Interior to evaluate change of Taiwan’s emblem 

(nm) Last week, Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan passed a motion to instruct the Ministry of the Interior to evaluate the possibility of changing Taiwan’s emblem as it currently shows great similarities with the emblem of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party. The Interior Ministry is now required to submit a report on the topic to the Legislative Yuan’s Internal Administration Committee within two months.

The resolution was proposed by the small New Power Party (NPP) and passed along party lines, with the NPP and the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) voting in favour and the KMT against. The five members of the Taiwan People’s Party abstained. 

The NPP suggested that the emblem should “incorporate elements of […] national characteristics or culture to express the national spirit”, while many DPP members associate the current emblem with Taiwan’s decades of the KMT’s one-party rule prior to the island’s democratic transition in the 1990s. One Interior Ministry official has pointed out that previous attempts at changing the emblem have failed. Since the design of the flag is specifically set out in the Constitution, KMT chairman Johnny Chiang supported the legally untested view that a change would require a constitutional amendment which for its part requires a two third majority in the Legislative Yuan as well as ratification by a majority of eligible voters. [Focus Taiwan] [Taiwan News]

2 February 2021

Taiwan: Judicial Yuan planning to facilitate transnational same-sex marriage

(nm) Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) is considering options to allow for same-sex marriage between Chinese and Taiwanese. Previously, the Judicial Yuan had announced that it aims to amend regulations on transnational same-sex marriages and to open them for Taiwanese and their partners from countries that currently do not recognize same-sex marriage. According to the Executive Yuan, this would include spouses from Hong Kong and Macau, but not from China. 

Taiwan had legalized same-sex marriage in 2019 as the first place in Asia after its Constitutional Court ruled that the existing law – mandating that marriage was between a man and a woman – was unconstitutional. However, Taiwanese still are unable to marry same-sex partners from a country which has not legalized such unions, creating significant hurdles to gay couples. The Judicial Yuan now approved draft revisions to the Act Governing the Choice of Law in Civil Matters Involving Foreign Elements, which would grant recognition to all same-sex marriages, stating “Nobody can put limits on love.” 

However, Taiwanese-Chinese marriages are governed by different laws which do not technically prohibit same-sex marriage, but require couples to register in China, which does not recognize same-sex marriage, making such unions practically impossible. According to the MAC Deputy Minister Chiu Chui-cheng, Taiwan’s legal basis for same-sex marriage, the Court’s ruling Interpretation No. 748, does not allow for the exclusion of Chinese spouses, adding that a “slew of legal issues,” including border and resident regulations as well as the verification of certificates, however, will have to be taken into account. The MAC is now collecting further information on legal and practical implications possibly arising from changing regulations. [Taipei Times 1] [Taipei Times 2] [CNN]

2 February 2021

Taiwan-Germany relations: Taiwan urged to step up automotive chip production amid global shortage 

(nm) Amid a global shortage of semiconductor chips which are used in the auto sector, Germany has urged Taiwan to persuade Taiwanese manufacturers to increase production output. Automakers around the globe are forced to shut down assembly lines due to delivery problems, impeding economic recovery from the global pandemic. 

In a letter, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier had reached out to his Taiwanese counterpart Wang Mei-hua, asking to address the issue in talks with Taiwan’s chipmakers, including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC), the global market leader. Japan and the United States are also said to have reached out to Taiwan. According to reports, Taiwan’s four biggest chipmakers pledged to further optimize production in order to meet global demands and to support the automobile industry in particular. 

Semiconductors are vital parts of almost all electronic systems. After the Covid-19 pandemic had led to an initial reduction in demand for automobiles but increased demand for consumer electronics and medical technology, chip producers were unable to adjust their costly production as fast as the auto industry recovered. The problem is further exacerbated by former US-President Trump’s trade dispute with China, which led car manufacturers to consider alternative suppliers, including Taiwan.  

In exchange for the support, the Taiwanese government has asked German representative to Taiwan Thomas Prinz for assistance in buying Covid-19 vaccines, an exchange first raised by the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research. Prinz had said he would pass the proposal on to the German government. Although Taiwan’s success in containing its local Covid-19 outbreak was lauded globally, the island is currently struggling to secure vaccines. The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party supported the idea, pointing at a local cluster infection at Taoyuan General Hospital with 15 reported cases. [Focus Taiwan] [Taiwan News] [Reuters] [Zeit, German] 

For more background information on the global supply shortage, see [Bloomberg]. For insights into Taiwan’s political communication on the pandemic, see [Taiwan News].

 

2 February 2021

Taiwan-Poland relations: Legal cooperation agreement approved by Polish President

(nm) The Taiwan-Poland Criminal Justice Cooperation which was signed by Taiwanese and Polish representatives in June 2019 was approved by Polish President Andrzej Duda last week, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). It will take effect as soon as Taiwan receives formal notice. 

The agreement, which is the first of its kind between Taiwan and a European country, will cover five major areas: mutual assistance with criminals, extradition, transfer of criminals, sharing of legal and practical insights, and criminal prosecution and crime prevention information sharing. According to the ministry, it will help strengthen transnational anti-crime efforts and judicial cooperation, while fully protecting individuals on the basis of human rights and the rule of law.  

Taiwan currently holds similar agreements with the United States, China, the Philippines, South African, Nauru, and Belize. In 2016, Taiwan had also entered into a double taxation avoidance agreement with Poland, followed by an agreement on science and higher education in 2018. [Focus Taiwan] [Taiwan News]

Poland currently faces intense criticism and an infringement procedure by the European Union due to a national judicial reform which threatens to undermine judicial independence and thus a centerpiece of the rule of law principle. [EU Press corner]

 

2 February 2021

Taiwan: United States pledges unchanged support 

(nm) In several statements, the US has reassured its continued support for Taiwan. While the US Department of Defense announced that it will continue to fulfill its commitments to Taiwan’s self-defence needs and to the security of the Indo-Pacific, President Biden’s nominee for US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, stated in her confirmation hearing that Taiwan was “one of the strongest democracies in the region”, adding that the US needs to “support” and “stand by them” as a fellow democracy. [Focus Taiwan 1] [Taiwan News] [Focus Taiwan 2

Meanwhile, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned that the US must be ready to “impose costs” on China for Beijing’s threats toward Taiwan and its actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang as part of a four-point plan he suggested the US needs to take to deal with the challenges posed by China, including fostering its own domestic democracy to combat Beijing’s claim that its governance model is superior than the US one, cooperating with democratic allies, and investing in emerging technologies, as the competition with China will be decided in this strategic resources. [Focus Taiwan 3]

The remarks came after recently thirteen Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and PLA Navy (PLAN) aircraft intruded Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), followed by Beijing’s warning that “independence means war.” [AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4] [BBC]

Trade-wise, the US and Taiwan have planned to hold a meeting this week on current global supply shortages of automotive chips, joining Germany and Japan in asking Taiwan for support in alleviating the shortage. [Focus Taiwan 4]

26 January 2021

It’s structural, stupid – Sino-US tensions to remain definitional under Biden

(dql) In a tit-for-tat response to recent US sanctions on Chinese officials and entities over Chinese policies and actions in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, China announced similar sanctions against 28 high-ranking US officials of the Trump administration, described by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as “anti-China politicians,” who have “designed, pushed forward, and carried out a set of insane actions, which have severely interfered in China’s domestic affairs, harmed China’s interest, hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, and severely harmed Chinese-US relations.” Among those sanctioned are outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former White House advisor Peter Navarro, former national security advisors John Bolton and Robert O’Brien, China strategist Matthew Pottinger, and former White House advisor Steve Bannon. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China 1, in Chinese] [CNN]

The announcement was made only a few minutes after Joe Biden was sworn in as US President and shortly after Pompeo officially declared China’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang as “genocide,” and a “systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state” on his last full day in office. [U.S. News]

At the same time, China’s Foreign Ministry expressed its hope that the new Biden administration would “view China and China-U.S. relations in an objective and rational manner,” and “bring back China-U.S. relations back onto the track of sound and stable development.” [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China 2] The remarks echo Beijing’s efforts to find common ground with Washington in the areas of climate change and the anti-pandemic fight as starting points of a reset of bi-lateral relations. [Aljazeera] [Wall Street Journal]

In one of his first moves as President, Biden signed executive orders to return to the Paris climate agreement and to hold the US exit from the World Health Organization. [The Guardian] [Deutsche Welle]

Meanwhile, Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken notably said that – while he did not agree with all of Trump’s methods –, he still believed that the former President was right in taking a tougher approach to China. He also confirmed Pompeo’s assessment of the Chinese Communist Party’s genocide in Xinjiang, indicating a thorny path towards Beijing’s hope for a return to “sound and stable” relations between the two countries. [Reuters]

Furthermore, the US Department of State issued a statement on Saturday expressing concern over China’s ongoing attempts to intimidate Taiwan and urging China to “engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives.” It reassured “rock-solid” commitment to Taiwan, which “contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region.” [Focus Taiwan]

The statement was made on the same day a US aircraft carrier group entered the South China Sea while an incursion of People’s Liberation Army bombers and fighter jets into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone was reported by the Taiwanese government. [Reuters]

The take-away is: While foreign policy Trumpism is over with a last jab from Beijing, US-China tensions are thus revealed once more to be inherently structural, this time by the just inaugurated Biden administration.

In a latest development, Chinese President Xi Jinping – speaking at the virtually held World Economic Forum in Davos – warned global leaders against starting a “new Cold War” and called for unity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. [Aljazeera] More analysis on the World Economic Forum in the next AiR issue.

26 January 2021

Taiwan: Nuclear power plant referendum date set 

(nm) A national referendum on activating the long-inactive Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District is set for August 28, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC). 

The referendum initiative launched by nuclear power advocate Huang Shih-hsiu will ask: “Do you agree that the 4th Nuclear Power Plant be activated for commercial operations?” It is currently the only referendum initiative that has met the endorsement threshold required to be put to a vote, although several other initiatives are still pending, including one to eliminate the restriction as to when a referendum can be held. The CEC will announce the referendums to be held on May 27 and hold presentations on the proposed questions until August 27. Official results will be announced on September 3, although unofficial results should be known the night of the vote.

The power plant was close to completion before being put off in 2014 and has become a focal point in the national debate over nuclear power. [Focus Taiwan] [Taipei Times]

26 January 2021

Taiwan: Parliament passes infrastructure budget

(dql) Taiwan’s parliaments last week approved a special budget of more than 8 billion USD for spending related to the third stage of the central government’s so-called Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program (FIDP). It shall be completed by 2025 and is supposed to accelerate Taiwan’s digital development and improve the urban-rural allocation of resources to also boost rural infrastructure development. [Focus Taiwan]

Launched in 2017, the FIDP aims to meet Taiwan’s development needs for the next 30 years, covering eight categories: aquatic environments, child care facilities, digital infrastructure, food safety, green energy, human resources, railways and urban-rural renewal projects. [Executive Yuan, Taiwan]

26 January 2021

US-Taiwan relations: Taiwan’s representative to the United States attends Biden’s inauguration

(nm) Taiwan’s representative to the United States, Hsiao Bi-khim, attended the inauguration of US President Joe Biden, making her the first person in that position to receive an official invitation to a presidential inauguration since the US and Taiwan have severed formal diplomatic ties in 1979. [Focus Taiwan 1] [Taiwan News 1]

Hours before the inauguration, China had flown a military plane into Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), which was met by Taiwan’s military with dispatching jet fighters, issuing radio warnings, and tracking the aircraft with air defense missile systems. [Taiwan News 2]

In light of the inauguration, chairman of Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party, Johnny Chiang, in contrast, vowed to commit to greater engagement with the US, based on the KMT’s “pro-US while friendly to China” principle. At the same time, he pointed out that Taiwan will not be so easily used as a tool of “offensive diplomacy” against China, should US-Sino relations further deteriorate under President Biden. [Focus Taiwan 2]

As – in defiance of Beijing’s opposition – the former Trump administration had greatly stepped up support for Taiwan in its last weeks in office – planning official visits, pledging economic cooperation, lifting restrictions on interaction guidelines – a shift in US administration has been carefully observed in Taiwan. According to a number of Taiwanese scholars and political figures, President Biden is expected to take a more measured approach to Beijing, likely focussed on preventing escalating tensions, and more focussed on domestic issues. At his confirmation hearing, Biden’s pick to head the US Department of State, Anthony Blinken, confirmed that there has been “a strong and long bipartisan commitment to Taiwan” in the US, adding that part of this commitment “is making sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself against aggression.” [Focus Taiwan 3] [Focus Taiwan 4] [The New York Times, $]

In a similar move, the director of the U.S. Health Department’s Office of Global Affairs, Garret Grigsby, also supported Taiwan at a World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board meeting last week, highlighting “the important contributions Taiwan could make to these discussions [pandemic emergency responses] as well as other aspects of COVID-19 response if they were allowed to participate fully as an observer to WHO’s technical work.” [Taiwan News 3]

26 January 2021

Cross-Strait relations: Record numbers of Chinese military aircraft enter Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone

(nm) China sent a record number of warplanes into the Taiwan Strait over the weekend, with a total of 13 warplanes entering Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Saturday, followed by 15 military planes on Sunday, making it the 20th day in January that China’s military has sent aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND), the planes involved in Saturday’s maneuver were one anti-submarine aircraft, eight bombers, and four Chinese fighter jets, while 12 fighters, two anti-submarine aircraft, and a reconnaissance plane entered the ADIZ on Sunday.

Although such drills have been common in recent years, China has lately stepped up its military maneuvers, in a show of force to the incoming US Biden administration, signalling Beijing’s plans to maintain pressure on Taiwan.

Echoing this, Wang Yang, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top leadership body, demanded in his speech before officials of the Taiwan Affairs Office that China must “use the increasing strengths and significant advantages in our system effectively when handling Taiwan affairs,” and “resolutely curb” any forces calling for Taiwan’s independence. [Focus Taiwan 1] [Focus Taiwan 2] [South China Morning Post]

Sunday’s intrusion came after the Theodore Roosevelt, a US aircraft carrier, entered the South China Sea on Saturday, an undertaking described by the US Navy as “routine operations” to “ensure freedom of the seas.” Also on Saturday, the US Department of State issued a statement calling on China to “cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives,” adding “We will stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values in the Indo-Pacific region – and that includes deepening our ties with democratic Taiwan.”

In response to the intrusion, Taiwan’s military tasked airborne alert sorties, issued radio warnings and deployed air defence missiles to monitor the activity, according to the MND. [The New York Times, $] [DW]

26 January 2021

Taiwan-EU: European Union passes resolutions comprising pro-Taiwan clauses

(nm) The European Parliament (EP) passed two resolutions calling on its member states to “re-examine their engagement policies with Taiwan” and to continue supporting Taiwan’s participation in international organizations.

Both the resolution on the implementation of the Common Security and Defence Policy and the resolution on the implementation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy expressed serious concerns about recent tensions in the Taiwan Strait as well as about “China’s increasingly provocative military maneuvers aimed at Taiwan,” urging both sides to resort to peaceful means in resolving their differences. [Focus Taiwan] [Taiwan News 1]

Meanwhile, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen expressed her administration’s interest in negotiating a trade deal with the United Kingdom which has left the European Union’s single market and customs union. Newly appointed British Representative to Taiwan, John Dennis, who assumed office early in January, has pledged to develop ties with Taiwan by “building on our already powerful links in trade and investment, science and innovation, climate change, education and on shared values.” [Taiwan News 2]

19 January 2021

China in the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific” 

(dql) Shortly before Joe Biden will be sworn in as US President in this week, the Trump administration declassified and published the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific”, approved by President Trump in 2018 and stamped secret and not for release to foreign nationals until 2043. 

The 10-page national security strategy paper identifies maintaining “U.S. strategic primacy over the Indo-Pacific region,” and promoting “a liberal economic order, while preventing China from establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence and cultivating areas of cooperation to promote regional peace and prosperity” one of three national security challenges, along with North Korea’s threat to the US and its allies as well as the advancement of US global economic leadership. 

Furthermore, the document assumes that the “[s]trategic competition between the United States and China will persists,” with China “circumvent[ing] international norms and rules to gain advantage,” and seeking to “dissolve U.S. alliances and partnerships,” in order to “exploit vacuums and opportunities created by these diminished bonds.”

As an desired outcome with regards to China, the “United States and its partners on every continent” shall become “resistant to Chinese activities aimed at undermining their sovereignty, including through covert or coercive influence.” [White House, USA]

For a concise assessment of what has been achieved under this strategic framework, see Grant Newsham in [Asia Times] who argues that “Trump and his staff are handing off to Joseph Biden an Indo-Pacific that is better off than it was in 2017. 

19 January 2021

Taiwan: DPP municipality councilor recalled 

(nm) Taoyuan City Councilor Wang Hao-yu of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was recalled in a popular vote last week, marking first recall of a councilor in a special municipality. More than 92% of votes were cast in favor of the recall while nearly 8% were cast against, with a voter turnout at 28%. 

Wang had become target of public discontent in the city after issuing a controversial statement about a Kaohsiung politician of the main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), who committed suicide. 

Taoyuan belongs to the six special municipalities in Taiwan, large metropolitan areas which account for over 60% of Taiwan’s population. The other five special municipalities include Taipei, New Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung. [Focus Taiwan] [Taipei Times]

The DPP expressed regrets over the recall and criticized the KMT’s removal campaigns against DPP officials as another DPP Kaohsiung independent city councilor is facing a recall in a vote on February 6, supported by the KMT, which, in contrast, has voiced hope to use the momentum of the successful recall to also drive its referendum pork containing ractopamine. [Taiwan News 1] [Taiwan News 2

19 January 2021

Taiwan: High-profile corruption cases moving forward

(nm) A report of the Judicial Yuan investigation revealed that 20 Supreme Court and High Court judges and senior officials as well as 20 prosecutors and judicial investigators were found to have engaged in illegal activities, including bribe-taking, abuse of authority, and conflict of interest.

The report was issued after the Control Yuan’s earlier findings implicated more than 200 judicial personnel in a corruption scandal around former Supreme Court judge Shih Mu-chin and businessman Weng Mao-chung. Last year, the Control Yuan – the government’s oversight body – had begun impeachment proceedings against Shih over alleged breaches of the Judges Act as well as over failure to avoid conflicts of interest. 

Judicial Reform chairman Lin Yung-sung, meanwhile, voiced sharp criticism, stating that the case had severely eroded faith in Taiwan’s justice system and has shown that the “justice system is rotten to the core.” Together with other judicial reform proponents, Lin also called on the Control Yuan to conduct a more thorough investigation of the case. Control Yuan members also told Premier Su Tseng-chang that the case had seriously affected Taiwan’s international image of good governance and would harm its evaluation in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. [Taipei Times 1] [Taipei Times 2]

19 January 2021

Taiwan: Supreme Court orders retrial in Sunflower Movement case

(nm) The Taiwanese Supreme Court this week ordered the retrial of eight Sunflower Movement activists who had been sentenced by the High Court to two to four years in prison over their occupation of the Executive Yuan complex in 2014. The guilty verdicts have been revoked and the case is remanded to the High Court. 

The Supreme Court held that the defendants were merely exercising “civil disobedience” or their “right of resistance” and should thus receive more lenient sentences. Last year, the High Court had sentenced the activists for inciting others to commit crimes related to the occupation of the Executive Yuan during a 23-day student-led protest against 

Protesting against the then-Kuomintang (KMT) government’s handling of a trade in services agreement with China, in March and April 2014 several hundred students broke into the Legislative Yuan with thousands more gathering outside the complex. The eight defendants were part of a group of students that broke into the Executive Yuan and were forcibly removed by the police. [Focus Taiwan] [Taipei Times]

19 January 2021

Taiwan-Denmark relations: Danish parliament considers supporting Taiwan’s WHA bid 

(nm) Denmark’s parliament is considering passing a resolution supporting Taiwan’s efforts to rejoin the World Health Organization (WHO), despite opposition from China. According to a Facebook post by Taiwan’s office in Denmark, six out of ten political parties represented in the Danish parliament are supporting the resolution which asks the WHO to invite Taiwan to the World Health Assembly (WHA) as an observer. The WHA is the WHO’s decision-making body. 

The resolution has now passed a first reading and is currently being reviewed by the Foreign Affairs Committee. 

Taiwan has been expelled from the WHO since the People’s Republic of China took its seat in 1972, and has not been able to participate in the WHA, except from a period between 2009-2016, when the Kuomintang party (KMT) was ruling. Taiwan has been praised internationally for its successful handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. The European Parliament also recently passed two resolutions supporting Taiwan’s bid to participate in the WHO.  [Focus Taiwan] [Taipei Times]

19 January 2021

Taiwan-US relations: Declassified strategy document shows support for Taiwan

(nm) The recently declassified and published “US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific” – a 10-page report approved for implementation by President Trump in 2018, that had been stamped secret and not for release to foreign nationals until 2043 – contains US affirmations towards Taiwan. 

Under the assumption that “China will take increasingly assertive steps to compel unification with Taiwan,” the framework stipulates “defending the first-island-chain nations, including Taiwan,” as part of a defense strategy against China, while seeking to “[e]nable Taiwan to develop an effective asymmetric defense strategy and capabilities that will help ensure its security, freedom from coercion, resilience, and ability to engage China on its own terms.” [White House, USA]

In response, China’s Foreign Ministry s urged the US “to turn away from an erroneous and dangerous path that could jeopardize peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and harm China-US relations.” 

The Taiwanese government, meanwhile, confirmed that the reference to asymmetrical warfare in the framework is in line with Taiwanese military’s focus in crafting an innovative and asymmetric fighting force in the next few years. [Bloomberg] [Taipei Times 1] [Taipei Times 2][news.com.au]

Meanwhile, the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a US think tank, has recently released its Preventive Priorities Survey in which it has listed a possible conflict between the US and China over Taiwan as a tier-1 concern, which might lead “to a severe crisis with the United States.”. An armed confrontation in the South China Sea involving US and Chinese forces – in 2020 a top-tier concern – is judged as tier-2 concern for this year. 

The annual report identifies potential violent overseas conflicts where US troops might be deployed in the year ahead, and ranks them in a three-tiered system according to their possibility. [CFR][Focus Taiwan 1

The release also comes after a week of dynamic US-Taiwan relations. On Tuesday of last week, a highly anticipated visit to Taiwan by US ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft was cancelled as the US State Department had cancelled all visits ahead of the inauguration of incoming President Joe Biden in order to carry out transition duties. Instead of an in-person meeting, Craft and President Tsai Ing-wen held a video conference during which Craft affirmed the close relation between the US and Taiwan, stating the US “stands shoulder to shoulder with Taiwan as pillars of democracy.” They also discussed Taiwan’s international participation, bilateral cooperation, and shared democratic values. [Taiwan News] [Focus Taiwan 2]

Furthermore, US and Taiwan representatives to Switzerland and the Netherlands met after the US unilaterally ended its restrictions on official contacts between Taiwan and the US on January 9. [Focus Taiwan 3]

12 January 2021

Cross-strait relations: China displays weapons targeting Taiwan

(dql) Images of the year-opening training session of an artillery brigade of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) revealed a new variant of the powerful the PCL-191 long-range multiple launch rocket system (MLRS), capable of hitting strategic targets with precision fire anywhere on the Taiwan’s west coast. 

It was the first public display of the updated weapon, viewed by experts as one of the world’s most powerful of its kind, since its appearance at China’s National Day parade in 2019. [South China Morning Post]

In a related development, the PLA Rocket Force showcased ten types of active short and intermediate-range missiles targeting “Taiwan independence-leaning forces”, in a documentary of state broadcaster China Central Television released on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the founding organization. [ABS-CBN]

Formerly the Second Artillery Corps, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) is the strategic and tactical missile forces of China. Established in 2016, the PLARF controls the country’s arsenal of land-based ballistic missiles – both nuclear and conventional.

12 January 2021

China-US tensions over Taiwan: Beijing warns of US UN ambassador’s and Pompeo’s planned visits to Taipei

(dql/nm) Taiwan’s government and the US mission to the UN announced, that US ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft will visit Taiwan from January 13-15 to meet with senior Taiwanese leaders. The visit is of highly symbolic nature as Taiwan is not member of the UN. Craft is set to give a statement on Taiwan’s contributions to the global community, along with a call for the expansion of Taiwan’s participation in international organizations.

Following Undersecretary of State Keith Krach in September and Health and Human Rights Secretary Alex Azar in August last year, Craft will be third senior US official to visit Taiwan within half a year, reflecting US heightened efforts to support Taipei amid high running tensions between Washington and Beijing. In response, China’s UN mission warned that “whoever plays with fire will burn himself. The United States will pay a heavy price for its wrong action,” and called on Washington “to stop its crazy provocation.” [Reuters] [MENA FN]

The announcement of Craft’s Taiwan visit was followed by a statement of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo past weekend in which he revealed that the State Department would move to ease restrictions on contacts and interactions between US and Taiwan officials which had been put in place after the adoption of the “One China policy” in 1979. A planned visit of Pompeo to Taiwan – which would have been his final overseas trip as state secretary – however, was cancelled after China threatened to send warplanes over Taiwan in case of the visit. [Department of State, USA] [The Guardian] [Taiwan News]

12 January 2021

Taiwan: New passports with bigger ‘Taiwan’ to be launched

(nm) On Monday, Taiwan introduced a newly designed passport in which the word “Taiwan” will be printed in larger lettering and placed in a more prominent position, while the size of the words “Republic of China”, Taiwan’s formal designation, will be reduced and re-positioned inside a thin outer circle that surrounds the national emblem.

Unveiled in September last year, the Taiwanese government called the new design an attempt to disassociate Taiwanese from mainland Chinese as Taiwanese have faced travel restrictions amid the pandemic due to confusion over the country’s designation. China had responded to a first draft in September by stating that “no matter what tricks” Taiwanese authorities pulled, Taiwan would remain an “inalienable part of the Chinese territory.” [Reuters] [Focus Taiwan] [The New York Times, $]

12 January 2021

Taiwan: KMT continues anti-ractopamine campaign 

(nm) Last week, the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) started to collect signatures in the second stage of its efforts to initiate a referendum against the government’s decision to lift an import ban on pork containing the feed additive ractopamine which became effective at the beginning of the new year. 

After clearing the first hurdle in December, 1.5 percent of eligible voters in the most recent presidential election, or nearly 290,000 people, must sign for the referendum to be held in this second hurdle. The KMT hopes to collect more than 500,000 signatures by the March 21 deadline.

The new policy on imports of ractopamine-fed pork has been heatedly debated in Taiwan ever since it was first announced by President Tsai Ing-wen in August 2020. While the government sees the lift as an opportunity to clear the way for a trade deal with the United States, it is considered a food and health risk by the KMT. [Focus Taiwan] [Taipei Times

12 January 2021

Taiwan-India relations: New Delhi identifies priority areas of cooperation 

(nm) India and Taiwan are set to focus on bilateral investments, people-to-people exchanges, and technical cooperation in their bilateral relations, according to director-general of the India Taipei Association Gourangalal Das, India’s representative office in Taiwan. 

Stressing mutual disadvantages, Das pointed at “great opportunities for sustained growth to Taiwanese investors” and India’s “world-renowned manufacturing skills and know-how.” Regarding human exchange, he said his office will start out with higher education and tourism, two areas with great room for improvement. He further sees good prospects for cooperation amid restructuring of global supply chains and welcomed Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy which he said compliments India’s Act East policy. When asked about the possibility of a bilateral trade agreement, he however responded his office is currently focused on expanding trade and investments with Taiwan as current numbers are rather modest. [Focus Taiwan]

5 January 2021

China-US military relations: US destroyers transit Taiwan Strait

(dql) In a rare move, two Japan-based US Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the USS John S. McCain and USS Curtis Wilbur, last week conducted a Taiwan Strait transit, the 13th mission through the sensitive strait in 2020 but the first time in the year that the US had sent double destroyers there. [USNI News] [South China Morning Post]

5 January 2021

Taiwan: Criticism over Tsai’s head of court pick 

(nm) The Taiwan Jury Association has criticized President Tsai Ing-wen’s recent appointment of a cousin-in-law to head of the Supreme Administrative Court – which arbitrates disputes between the public and the government. It called the move an overreach of her powers and a breach of the principle of separation of powers which could lead to further distrust of the judiciary. The Association’s founder Jerry Cheng went further, stating that the appointment signals Tsai’s attempt to “openly reintroduc[e] a dynasty-based system of leadership.” 

Echoing this criticism, the main opposition party, the Kuomingtang, voiced concerns over the appointment with regards to judicial independence and the increased possibility of presidential intervention in the judiciary. [Taipei Times]

 

5 January 2021

Taiwan: Local governments push back against over new ractopamine policy of Tsai administration 

(nm) On past Friday, a contentious new government-sponsored policy lifting restrictions on imports of US pork containing the livestock drug ractopamine went into effect. 

In response, 17 out of 22 city and local governments across the country have drawn up rules to keep US pork products containing the additive out of their jurisdictions, despite an announcement of the Cabinet that local bans on imported pork will become invalid as they contradict central government’s authority. ‘Rebellious’ city governments include the capital Taipei and the two larges cities New Taipei and Taichung, who announced different measures to control pork containing ractopamine, with Taichung Mayor Lu Shiow-yen going furthest reassuring that her city will continue carrying out random testing of pork products and will impose penalties if any are found to contain ractopamine, citing a “zero tolerance” policy on the drug. [Focus Taiwan 1] [Focus Taiwan 2]

The lifting of the import ban on US pork containing ractopamine has been a contentious issue in Taiwan and has drawn sharp criticism especially from the major opposition party, the Kuomintang (KTM), which accuses the government and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of accepting risks to food safety and public health over its bid to court the US government to enter into talks on a bilateral trade deal.

But it has also led to disagreement within the DPP, reflected in the recent suspension of three of its legislators who abstained on a series of votes, mainly regarding the import ban, from running for committee membership or party leadership positions for a period of three years. [Taiwan News 1]

Meanwhile, in response to concerns over price gauging among vendors suspected of raising prices following the lift of the import ban, the Executive Yuan asked the Consumer Protection Committee to monitor and crack down on artificial hikes of pork prices, while the Council of Agriculture released its “Pork Dashboard”, an online overview indicating the daily quantity and country of origin of Taiwan’s pork. [Focus Taiwan 3] [Taiwan News 2]

5 January 2021

Taiwan-New Zealand relations: Customs standard agreement signed 

(nm) Last week, Taiwan’s the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed that Taiwan and New Zealand have signed in December an agreement to mutually recognize their authorized economic operators (AEO). The agreement is expected to deepen customs cooperation and supply chain safety between the two countries

The World Customs Organization (WCO) defines an AEO as “a party involved in the international movement of goods that has been approved by a national Customs administration as complying with the WCO or equivalent supply chain security standards.” [WCO]

Taiwan currently holds similar agreements with eight other countries: Australia, Israel, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States. Its Custom Administration introduced its AEO program in December 2009 and has to date certified 789 AEOs, with countries accounting for 48% of Taiwan’s trade. 

In a separate statement, Taiwan’s Ministry of Finance estimated the trade volume between Taiwan and New Zealand in 2019 at 1.3 billion USD. [Focus Taiwan] [Taipei Times]

5 January 2021

Taiwan-US relations: Senate overrides Trump’s veto against US defence bill, securing sections supporting Taiwan

(nm) The US Senate overrode a veto of President Trump against the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a defence bill which also comprises two sections that specifically deal with Taiwan and signal further support of Washington for Taipei. 

The first Section 1260 calls for an annual briefing to Congress on US arms sales to Taiwan, a brief by the defence secretary on the feasibility of establishing a medical security partnership and reaffirms that the Taiwan Relations Act and the “six assurances” provided by the US to Taiwan in 1982 are “the foundations for United States-Taiwan relations.” Section 9724 further urges the US to ensure that Taiwanese do not face discrimination when seeking employment at international financial institutions. [Focus Taiwan

In a related development, the US National Security Council welcomed Taiwan’s lift of the import ban on ractopamine-fed US pork as “a great step … for American farmers,” adding that the US “look forward to further strengthening US-Taiwan economic ties in 2021.” [Taiwan News 

5 January 2021

Cross-strait relations: Taipei and Beijing issue convictions against Taiwanese nationals 

(nm) Last week, a Taiwanese businessman was found guilty of working with Chinese intelligence in contravention of the National Security Act and handed a three-month jail sentence or payment of a fine by the Taipei District Court. The man had been charged in August for attempting to “develop an organization” for the official use of a foreign government. The case is still open for appeal. [Focus Taiwan 1] [Taipei Times 1]

Meanwhile, 29 Taiwanese nationals were sentenced to four-and-a-half years to 14 years in prison by a Beijing court for telecoms fraud committed in Spain in 2016. The defendants were allegedly members of a fraud ring that operated from Spain but defrauded 14 Chinese nationals residing in China and Hong Kong by pretending to be Chinese law enforcement officials and swindling money. [Focus Taiwan 2] [Taipei Times 2]

 

5 January 2021

Cross-strait relations: Tsai Ing-wen reiterates conditions for meaningful dialogue with China

(nm) In her New Year’s speech on past Friday, President Tsai Ing-wen reassured China of Taiwan’s readiness for having “meaningful” cross-strait talks, but also reiterated her demand that such talks will be held among “equals” and based on “principles of reciprocity and dignity.” 

China’s Foreign Minister, however, harshly rejected Tsai’s remarks, accusing the Taiwanese government of engaging in “cheap talk,” and Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of continuing “to provoke by seeking independence, confronting the mainland at every turn, deliberately creating confrontation across the Taiwan Strait.” [Reuters 1] [Aljazeera]

Tsai’s remarks come amid an exchange between officials from both the People’s Republic of China (China) and the Republic of China (Taiwan), that depicts their divergent views on Taiwan’ status as a country and the prospect of cross-strait relations. On Thursday last week, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) rejected a statement from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) that 2021 would see further efforts to bring about the “unification of the motherland.” The MAC emphasized Taiwan’s status as a sovereign country that has never been part of the People’s Republic of China and that it will never accept any unilateral legislation by Beijing that tries to destroy its sovereignty. It also pointed at the crucial role played by Taiwanese investors in China’s rise as “the world’s factory” and its high-tech sector. The TAO, in contrast, referred to an increase in bilateral trade and identified the refusal of Taiwan’s government to accept that it is part of China as the root cause of present tensions. [Taiwan News] [Reuters 2]

Meanwhile, according to a year-end report released by the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), a Taiwanese government-funded think tank, Beijing’s policy toward Taiwan is unlikely to change in 2021, citing the deterioration of US-China relations, warming US-Taiwan ties, and the cessation of cross-strait talks due to political differences, including on the “1992 consensus,” and adding that 2020 saw most intrusions of the People’s Liberation Army into Taiwan’s ADIZ (91 days) since the “Taiwan Strait missile crisis” in 1996. [Focus Taiwan 1] [Focus Taiwan 2]