Morning tea with Tsai Ing-wen

Tsai Ing-wen speaks to foreign community

Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) spoke to a group of foreign residents in Taipei yesterday morning. She first spent some time outlining her vision for Taiwan before taking questions from the floor.  Tsai is currently on leave from her position as chair of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as she competes in the party’s primary for the presidential nomination. The primary will be decided by opinion polls conducted in the next few days with the announcement of the result expected on 4 May.

In outlining her vision for Taiwan, Tsai focused mainly on relations with China and economic policy. She had some interesting ideas about Taiwan’s future economic development.

On the issue of jobs Tsai said, “We don’t have enough jobs and enough good jobs. Despite the fact you may be able to find a job, you may not be able to find a job with good pay. So the quality of jobs is important too.” Tsai then discussed how this was related to the structure of the economy. Since the 1990s as Taiwanese businesses and capital moved to China the restructuring of the economy was delayed.

This led to Tsai mentioning the effect of large numbers of Chinese tourists coming to Taiwan. “With the outward movement of industrial production to China we are exporting higher pay, better jobs to China. With the inflow of Chinese tourists we are actually importing lower pay service jobs,” Tsai said.

Tsai presented some of her ideas for creating better jobs in Taiwan. These revolved around promoting R&D industries and locating these in rural areas. She also mentioned encouraging artists to move to rural areas. Tsai also mentioned the importance of agriculture. She said Taiwan needs more professional farmers and that people from the cities need to move to the country to get involved in agriculture. These ideas are laudable but I would like to see some more concrete details of the policies.

After Tsai had talked about her vision for Taiwan there was a question and answer session. Letters from Taiwan has written about his question to Tsai on how she would deal with Beijing’s potential hostility and aggression towards the DPP.

During the question and answer session I asked Tsai, “If you are elected president will you impose a moratorium on the death penalty and will you take measures to permanently abolish the death penalty?”

Tsai replied, “The [abolition of the] death penalty is a global trend, but before you move in that direction you have to make sure your people are prepared. If your people are not prepared you’re creating more obstacles for yourself to move towards that direction.”

“How do you make them prepared for that? You have to give them this sense of security. That is you have a good social system that protects people. And secondly you have a good judicial system which makes right decisions in cases brought to them. And then when people feel comfortable you start to tell them what we need to do in order to move forward to that goal,” she said.

Her reply only focused on the issue of abolition and she didn’t mention whether she had any intention of implementing a moratorium on the death penalty if elected to the presidency. A moratorium is a first step and doesn’t require the legal changes necessary for abolition. Taiwan had a moratorium from December 2005 to April 2010.

Unfortunately it seems that in the present political environment politicians from both the DPP or the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) are unwilling to take a principled stand on the issue of the death penalty. However, it is only through politicians taking leadership on the issue that abolition will be achieved. I hope Tsai will be more willing to directly confront this issue if she gets elected.

In responding to another question Tsai made some more substantial comments about the importance of judicial reform. “To strengthen the protection of human rights we need to carry out a comprehensive judicial reform here. I was a law professor for a long time. I know this judicial system is not serving as the protector of justice or the protector for the disadvantaged people here. So the judicial system is the most important thing to make sure that your democracy is functioning properly and your human rights are protected,” she said.

The current controversy over appointments to the Grand Council of Justices, the gross miscarriage of justice in the Hsichih Trio case as it goes to another retrail and concerns about politicisation of the judiciary show that this is a vital issue. A professional and independent judiciary is vital for a healthy democracy. Ma Ying-jeou’s KMT government has repeatedly failed to deliver on its promises of judicial reform. Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP deserve a chance to see if they can do better.

*Video of the entire event can by viewed on YouTube. I have collected the six videos in a playlist. Also see CNA’s report on the meeting.

9 Replies to “Morning tea with Tsai Ing-wen”

  1. I’m skeptical about Tsai’s focus on job creation in rural areas. I suppose the idea is to provide better jobs to poor rural residents. I think a better solution is to encourage urbanization- move people to the cities instead of jobs to the countryside. Cities are more environmentally friendly than rural areas, as apartments are more energy-efficient than houses, and people need to take fewer trips and are more likely to take those trips on public transport or by walking/ biking. Rural development takes up more land, which will increase pressure to develop Taiwan’s remaining untouched areas. It also takes up land from farming, which Tsai apparently also wants to promote. Urban development is better for the economy as well: companies based in cities have a larger potential workforce to draw on.
    I’m also skeptical of the need for cities “to get in touch” with farming and the countryside. A similar atitude has led Americans to feel that every person needs a backyard, out of an ironic desire for a more rural lifestyle- ironic because it has led to the consumption of space and car dependency that has done so much to harm the environment. I also question how suitable Taiwan really is for agriculture, given that it takes of 70% of Taiwan’s scarce water.

    1. J B, you raise some good points. As I said I would really like to see more details of Tsai’s plan. I will just make a few counterpoints to your comment.

      A point in favour of Tsai’s idea is that Taiwan’s farmers are old. The average age is around 60. This means there is an urgent need to bring new and younger people to work in the agricultural sector. Another is that Taiwan is only 30% self-sufficient in food. Taiwan urgently needs to boost its food production capacity. Obviously the availability of land and water are the two major limiting factors. Agriculture is a significant water user in most countries however it is an essential industry that can’t be abandoned. Perhaps it is important to make some assessment about which crops are most suitable for Taiwan in terms of economic returns and land/water use.

      Another key issue that I guess is behind Tsai’s idea is the lopsided wealth distribution in Taiwan. Wealth and government spending is increasingly concentrated in the major urban areas. This is a critical issue of social justice and future economic development and government policy needs to take this into account.

    1. Tim, I expected a weak non-committal answer but I felt it was important to ask the question. Most journalists are concerned with other issues and don’t ask questions like this.

  2. Thanks for this summary!

    I, of course, don’t buy the “People are not prepared” as well (cf example of France in 1981 where people were vastly pro death penalty but minister of justice alone decided that enough was enough. Now we all praise him as a great man) and a little bit disappointed that the DPP, reputed less conservative than the KMT, still gives that kind of weak answer.

  3. I think Taiwanese people is not prepared for abolition of death penalty even though I’m against capital punishment. I had discussed the issue with several Taiwanese friends few times, and some don’t agree with it at all. They feel sorry for victims’ families and don’t think criminals will learn anything unless they’re being punished with death.

    It’s a primitive thinking, but unfortunately many Taiwanese are not evolved like Westerners. I say this because I was born in Taiwan and grew up in Canada, and I understand Taiwanese’s mentality very well.

    Taiwan has a very long way to go. That’s my two cents.

    1. Niki, I don’t think the problem is specifically related to the mentality of Taiwanese. Many states in the USA still use the death penalty and the people there would hold similar attitudes towards abolition as we see in Taiwan. Taiwan certainly has a long way to go, but the same could have been said of the entire world 40 years ago before many countries began to abolish the death penalty.

  4. I hate to be partisan but the Taiwanese attitude towards death penalty has very much to do with the decades of education system created by the KMT and of course advacated by the media. How can a dictatorship regime have a total control of their political power if they abolish death penalty. For Tsai to say she will abolish the death penalty before the election when the majority of Taiwanese people still believe that it will reduce the crime rate is unwise even if she is genuniely thinking about it. I hope after she becomes president, the media would be more neutral and let the people understand that death penalty does not coexist with a true civilized society and it does not bring down the crime rate. France would be a good example for the Taiwanese people to follow. I do believe that if the death penalty is going to eliminated, it will be by the DPP and not KMT.

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