Asia in 2016: Taiwan

Asia in 2016: Taiwan

Tsai Ing-wen’s presidential election victory could re-calibrate Taiwan’s relationship with China amid economic uncertainty

Last year saw the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party returned to power, but economic considerations might outweigh political factors in the government’s dealings with Beijing.

Taiwan elected its first woman as President in 2016, when Tsai Ing-wen won the January general election. Tsai’s DPP also gained its first full majority in the legislature since 1992, winning 68 of the Legislative Yuan’s 113 seats. Taiwan’s economy and its relationship with China were the dominant issues in the election: export-dependent Taiwan faced growing pressure from slowing global demand and competition from China and other emerging economies. Ma Ying-jeou, Tsai’s Kuomintang predecessor, had focused on improving relations with China during his eight years as president.

On February 6, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck southern Taiwan, killing 117 people. It was the deadliest temblor to strike Taiwan since 1999 quake left 2,415 people dead. More than 100 victims died inside one collapsed 17-story complex in Yongkang district, Tainan City, which stirred public anger when experts faulted the building’s construction quality and the government’s supervision of such projects. Three people – a former construction company chairman and two architects – were detained on charges of negligence of duty. Agricultural losses caused by the earthquake reached over NT$170.72 million, according to a report by the National Science and Technology Centre for Disaster Reduction.

In June, Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport endured the worst flooding in its 37-year history, delaying 219 flights and affecting about 30,000 passengers. The flood inundated the airport’s basement food court, parking lots and underpasses connecting the airport to a major highway, resulting in power outages and traffic congestion.

The deportation of 45 Taiwanese telecom fraud suspects to China by the Kenyan government provoked a diplomatic dispute in April. Taiwan accused China of extrajudicial abduction, while China responded by saying that the victims of the scams were people in the Mainland, adding that many suspects involved in telecom crimes in Taiwan had not received proper punishment, nor were stolen funds returned to China. Since the 2009 Cross-strait Joint Crime-Fighting and Judicial Mutual Assistance Agreement, China and Taiwan have been cooperating in combating such scams. The Chinese government’s hard-line stance was viewed as a warning to President Tsai as she took office.

In October bills aimed at legalizing gay marriage were brought before the legislature. If the bills were passed, Taiwan would be the first country in Asia to approve of same-sex marriages. The bills were submitted by the ruling DPP and the Kuomintang, and symbolized a new cross-party acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people within society. Indeed, Taiwan has become an island of relative freedom for LGBT groups with increasing public support for them, although some religious groups remain opposed to their acceptance.

Liya Fan is a master’s degree candidate at the University of Hong Kong‘s Journalism and Media Studies Centre.

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