Politics & Law

Taiwan Politics Review

23 April, 2024

Significant developments over the past month in Taiwan’s domestic politics and foreign relations. This edition offers analysis of picks for President-elect Lai's first cabinet, LY developments and earthquake politics.


By Ross Darrell Feingold

William Lai’s first cabinet

On 10 April, President-elect William Lai (Ching-te, 賴清德) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) announced that Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰) will serve as Premier in Lai’s government. Lai also named Cheng Li-chun (鄭麗君), previously a legislator and Minister of Culture, as Vice Premier, National Development Council Minister Kung Ming-hsin (龔明鑫) as Executive Yuan Secretary-General, and former Taichung City Councillor Chen Shih-kai (陳世凱) as spokesperson. Cho stated that Lai gave him three priorities: Build an “active and innovative (or “AI”) Cabinet” to transform Taiwan into a “smart tech island”, establish a communications platform to solicit public opinion on major issues, and create a “healthy Taiwan” by promoting equal rights and expanding investment in projects of concern to young people, such as affordable housing, education, employment and childcare.


During the presidential election campaign, media speculated that Vice Premier designate Cheng was a possible candidate for Lai’s vice president running mate, and after Lai was elected media speculated that she was a candidate for premier. Cheng obtained a master’s degree in France and speaks French, which will make her the rare member of the Lai administration’s leadership who is more familiar with Europe than with the United States.


Cho subsequently announced additional cabinet level appointments on 12 April (Interior, Transportation and Communications, Justice, Education, Culture), 16 April (Finance, Economic Affairs, Digital Affairs, Financial Supervisory Commission, National Science and Development Council, National Development Commission, Public Construction Commission) and 19 April (Labor, Health, Environment, Council of Indigenous Peoples, Hakka Affairs Council). On 16 April, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) also revealed, in a meeting with visiting foreign dignitaries, that current Presidential Office Secretary-General Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) will be Foreign Minister (confirming what was previously reported in the media), and that current Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) will become National Security Council Director-General.


Analysis: The good thing about the appointment of Cho as Premier is that he has spent his entire career in politics. Having served as a Taipei City councillor and Legislative Yuan member, at the DPP headquarters (including as party chairman), at the Executive Yuan, and at the Presidential Office, he has a thorough understanding of how Taiwan’s government works, including the day-to-day relationship between the Presidential Office and Executive Yuan as well as between the Legislative Yuan and Executive Yuan. On the other hand, having spent a career in politics means Cho lacks private sector experience. He will have to rely heavily on the relevant cabinet members to drive the economic policy agenda.


Just like Cho, foreign minister-designate Lin has served in a variety of politically appointed as well as elected positions. Lin lost re-election as Taichung Mayor in 2018, and he resigned as Minister of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications following a 2021 train accident. His elevation to foreign minister proves once again that for Taiwan politicians, past failures do not inhibit a future in politics. As the foreign minister always meets visiting European parliamentarians, Lin will play a key role in advocacy for a Business and Investment Agreement (BIA) between Taiwan and the European Union.


Cabinet picks Include good news for industry

For multinational companies with onshore businesses in Taiwan, new Minister of the Ministry of Economic Affairs JW Kuo (郭智輝) and new Chairman of the National Development Council Paul Liu (劉鏡清) are welcome additions to the cabinet. Kuo is co-founder of Topco Scientific Co. and chairman of the Topco Group, which supplies semiconductor materials, liquid crystal display materials, and optoelectronic products. Liu served as chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers Business Consulting Services Taiwan from 2012 to 2021 and he also worked for IBM. In addition, shifting current National Development Council Minister Kung to Executive Yuan Secretary-General means someone already familiar to the multinational business community in Taiwan will hold a senior position on Cho’s team.


President Lai, along with his cabinet ministers, are likely to continue to publicly call for a BIA with the European Union. Although it might not come to fruition in the near term, there’s little downside if Taiwan government officials repeatedly express this hope, whether at European Chamber of Commerce Taiwan events or in meetings with visiting parliamentarians from European Union member countries.

Earthquake politics

Fortunately, the response to the earthquake off Hualien on 3 April was non-partisan, with the central and county governments working together on rescue operations, disseminating information to the public, and other post-earthquake actions. Hualien County Magistrate Hsu Chen-wei (徐榛蔚) is from the Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuomintang (KMT), and her husband Fu Kun-chi (傅崐萁) is a member of the Legislative Yuan and convener of the KMT’s legislative caucus. As victims included foreign nationals, central government agencies such as the National Immigration Agency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also had a role in responding to the earthquake. The central government subsequently announced that NT$20 billion will be allocated for earthquake relief. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs thanked Japan, Lithuania, South Korea, Thailand and Türkiye for donating funds or sending rescue personnel.


Notable Legislation Yuan developments

The KMT Legislative Yuan caucus recently emphasized its plans to pass whistleblower legislation. The process to pass whistleblower protection legislation, for both the public and private sector, dates from 2012. KMT legislators also proposed to criminalize “contempt of the Legislative Yuan”, similar to the criminalization of “contempt of Congress” in the United States. A Deputy Minister of Justice warned this would have a “chilling effect” on the willingness of witnesses to cooperate with the Legislative Yuan, and a commentary in Taiwan media called the proposal “absurd”.


Analysis: Multinational companies with operations in Taiwan should closely follow the status of these two proposals. If whistle-blower protection is extended to the private sector, companies will need to understand what these protections are and train employees accordingly. If contempt of the Legislative Yuan is criminalized, corporate leaders will need to understand the risks of not cooperating with a Legislative Yuan investigation or otherwise engaging in any behaviour, however well intentioned, that might anger legislators.


Travel by Taiwan politicians

At the end of March, Vice President-elect Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) visited Belgium, Czechia, Lithuania and Poland. There is recent precedent for the vice president-elect to travel overseas, as then Vice President-elect William Lai visited Washington DC in February 2020. In Prague, Hsiao’s car was tailed by diplomats from China’s embassy who reportedly nearly caused a traffic accident.


Former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) visited the mainland from 1-11 April, a trip Ma called the Journey of Peace. Stops included tech companies in Shenzhen, Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong, the Huangdi Mausoleum in Shaanxi, and Peking University in Beijing. A meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping (習近平) received international media coverage (and much domestic criticism) but is unlikely to influence popular opinion in Taiwan or Lai administration policies towards China.


Also in April, Taichung Mayor Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕) visited Singapore. If Taiwan politicians consider visits to Washington DC to meet government officials and think tank scholars obligatory, doing the same in Singapore is a second choice. In 2023, both Taipei Mayor Wayne Chiang (Wan-an) and New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih visited Singapore. The typical result of a visit to Singapore by Taiwan politicians are social media statements that Taiwan can learn from Singapore’s economic and governance policies.


Notable foreign visitors to Taiwan

In April, parliamentary delegations visited Taiwan from Australia, Israel, Kosovo, Lithuania, New Zealand, and Paraguay. Other significant foreign visitors who met President Tsai included a delegation from the Project 2049 Institute think tank in Washington DC (which has previously received Taiwan government funding), and leadership of the American non-government organisation Veterans of Foreign Wars. Not to be outdone by delegations visiting outgoing President Tsai, eight leaders of countries Taiwan has diplomatic relations with said they will attend Lai’s inauguration ceremony on 20 May, and from the United States, Representative Michael McCaul (Republican – Texas), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he will attend.


Ross Darrell Feingold (@RossFeingold) is a lawyer and political risk analyst in Taipei

Disclaimer: Euroview articles are written by freelance contributors. The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent those of the ECCT's members, board or secretariat.

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