DPP Elects New Chairman, A New Cabinet, and the Race for 2020
The ruling-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which suffered a crushing defeat in the November local elections, has elected a new chairperson. President Tsai Ing-wen, who served concurrently as head of the ruling party since 2014 and led the DPP in its political resurrection after it lost two successive presidential elections in 2008 and 2012, stepped down as party chief in December over the poor results of the recent nine-in-one elections. Additionally, William Lai (賴清德, b. 1959)—who was head of Tsai’s cabinet since September 2017 and a possible future presidential candidate—also stepped down in mid-January. Tsai tapped Su Tseng-Chang (蘇貞昌, b. 1947), a former premier and party chairman, to serve as the head of cabinet.
On January 9, with the general elections only 12 months away, party insider Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰, b. 1959) became the new DPP chairman. In a race that pitted two very different candidates against one another, which the Taiwanese media billed as the “pro-Tsai” and “anti-Tsai” candidates, Cho was voted decidedly by DPP members to lead the Party into the 2020 general elections. According to the election results—which saw a very low turnout rate of 16.9 percent—Cho, who was widely considered the favorite to win the election, received 24,699 or 72.60 percent of the votes, easily defeating his opponent You Yinglong (游盈隆, b. 1956), chairman of the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation, who received only 9,323 or 27.40 percent of the votes.
When the last DPP chairman election was held in 2014—the turnout rate was unusually high at 65.13 percent. To put the low turnout in the recent chairperson election into perspective, when Ms. Tsai won the race for the party’s top post in 2014, she received 85,410 or 93.71 percent of the votes, which was more than twice the amount received by both candidates in the recent chairperson election. Eligible voters in the DPP was reportedly 140,000 in 2014 and increased to 202,568 in 2018. It is perhaps worth noting that the voter turnout for the DPP chairman races has never been very high. In 2005 during the 11th DPP chairman election, the turnout rate was 19.73 percent and the following year the turnout rate was also only around 19.96 percent. The new chairperson’s term is set to end on May 19, 2020—right before the winner of the presidential election is to begin the new term—which means that his primary responsibility will be to set up, manage, and run the party’s campaigns for the general elections in 2020. If past practice is the rule, the DPP will hold its presidential primary around April.
With her own party’s nomination as presidential candidate not assured, Tsai has also been facing mounting internal pressure from elements within her own party to not run as the party’s nominee for the 2020 elections. In addition to a lingering low popularity rating—which is consistent with the drop in approval rating of past presidents—the pressure on her administration began early on in her term as “dark green” elements—which advocates for a more assertive push for Taiwan independence—grew increasingly unsatisfied with what they perceive as the president’s weak responses to China’s threats and for not asserting Taiwan’s ”independence” strongly enough. This growing pressure materialized with the creation of the Formosa Alliance (喜樂島聯盟) in April 2018, a political coalition with the stated goal of amending the country’s Referendum Act (公民投票法) and thereby allow a public referendum on independence from China. The initiative has been endorsed by two former presidents and other political parties. More recently, three influential DPP stalwarts and former head of Academia Sinica also issued an open letter urging President Tsai to not seek the re-election as president and relinquish administrative powers to the premier.
Boosted by the local election results, excitement in the Nationalist Party—which was in disarray in the aftermath of the 2016 general elections—has been stirring as the party smelled the prospects of returning to power in the 2020 general elections. In uncharacteristic fashion, the party’s presidential primary may be larger than usual as a growing field of candidates are likely to vie for the chance to run in the 2020 presidential elections. The Nationalist Party’s former presidential candidate, Eric Chu (朱立倫, b. 1961), who served as mayor of New Taipei City since 2010, immediately announced his decision to seek the Party’s nomination for the presidency after the local elections. An aide to another former presidential candidate, Chang Ya-Chung (張亞中, b. 1954), served as an aide to the controversial Hung Shiu-Chu (洪秀柱, b. 1948), who was the Nationalist Party’s botched first pick to run in the 2016 presidential election and then served as party chief, also announced that he will be seeking the party’s nominations. A former deputy campaign manager for Mr. Ma, Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) has also declared his intention to run. Former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九, b. 1950), former speaker of the Legislative Yuan, Wang Jin-Pyng (王金平, b. 1941), and the current party chairman, Wu Den-yih (吳敦義, b. 1948), who could claim responsibility for party’s surprisingly quick resurrection, are also believed to be possible contenders in the 2020 elections. According to media reports, Chu is currently the favorite in terms of the popularity among the KMT base of supporters. There are several other wild card candidates. As of this writing, the Nationalist Party has not set the date for the primary.
The new premier, who ran as the DPP’s candidate in the race for mayor of New Taipei City in the “nine-in-one elections,” was sworn into office on January 14. Su is popularized in the media by his campaign moniker, “charge, charge, charge” (衝衝衝), which describes his highly-charged management style, has reshuffled the cabinet that saw several positions change. However, most of the national security agencies have remained the same—indicating more continuity in the national security, cross-Strait, and foreign policies of the Tsai administration. As of this writing, there have been no other reports about confirmed changes in Tsai’s national security team.
While the Nationalist Party may have reasons to be optimistic given the trend of previous local elections as a bellwether for general elections, party operatives and observers should take stock of a more fluid and dynamic voter behaviors. Indeed, according to a survey released by the Commonwealth Magazine titled 2019 State of the Nation Survey, despite the apparent decisive victory of the Nationalist Party in the local elections, only 14 percent of respondents identified themselves supporters of the KMT—and only seven percent self-identified as DPP supporters. Perhaps most notably, “66 percent of respondents identified themselves as not leaning toward any particular political party, a record high.”
The main point: After the local elections and 12 months before the general elections, the ruling party has elected a new chairperson and there is a new premier. With a growing field of presidential candidates from the KMT, a more fluid and dynamic voting population, and potential wild cards, the race for the 2020 general elections is far from certain.
Taiwan Invests in Biological Warfare Defense as African Swine Fever Outbreak Spreads
Amid reports of an African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak spreading throughout the world and in particular China, Taiwan’s government is reportedly planning to upgrade the country’s biological warfare defenses. African Swine Fever is a highly contagious viral pig disease with no current treatments available. While the disease does not infect humans, some variants have a 100 percent mortality rate for pigs that could have a devastating effect on the swine industry. According to a report in The Guardian published in October 2018, there have been over 360,000 reported cases of ASF in 2018 with 19 countries having been affected. On January 15, China has reportedly culled 916,000 pigs after more than 100 outbreaks of African swine fever swept the country—with the disease continuing to spread throughout the country. The Liberty Times reported that Taiwan’s central government is planning to invest nearly US$16 million (NT$495.6 million) over the next five years in biological warfare defense.
Senior Taiwan military officials revealed that the country’s Ministry of National Defense has proposed spending US$1.8 million (NT$58 million) to enhance an existing biosafety laboratory located in New Taipei City’s Sanxia District, which is already a Level Four biochemical lab. The funds for the upgraded facility are only part of a much larger budget plan of US$16 million (NT$495.6 million), which the MND says will provide Taiwan with the defense capabilities it needs to counter biological weapons potentially being developed by China.
Taiwan, Japan, and China are currently the only countries in Asia with P4 laboratories for biological warfare research. There are less than 30 P-4 facilities in the world. The facility, which is located in New Taipei City, is operated by the Institute of Preventive Medicine Research and designed according to the World Health Organization-approved protocols for the isolation of biological agents, and under the oversight of National Defense University. Only labs rated P4, the highest standard in the WHO hierarchy, are qualified to handle highly contagious or unidentified pathogens.
As is often the case with any substantive policy issues in the island-democracy, the matter is not immune from political wrangling. When the ruling and opposition lawmakers reviewed the defense budgets for 2018 and 2019, there were differing opinions on the efficacy of the military’s biological defense research. Specifically, there were criticisms that while the military was spending huge sums of money on biological defense research, it was not easy to assess the progress of such research.
The research and development of anthrax vaccine was raised as a case in point. According to a Taiwanese official cited by the Liberty Times, the military has the capability for trial production of various vaccines including the anthrax vaccine (炭疽疫苗). Further, the cost per anthrax vaccine, which is currently around US$4.87 (NT$150) is significantly lower than the costs when it had previously purchased 3,000 doses of anthrax vaccine through a domestic private company from a US manufacturer for research, in which the unit price of each dose was US$134.94 (NT$4,160).
Taiwan’s central government’s announcement to invest biological warfare defense comes as tensions increase in the Taiwan Strait. As noted earlier, in the worst epidemic of the disease ever seen, China has confirmed about over 100 cases of African swine fever across 23 provinces with nearly 1 million pigs culled. A hog ostensibly from China washed up in Taiwan-controlled Kinmen, which tested positive for ASF. Yet in late December, Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光), spokesman for PRC’s Taiwan Affairs Office, stated that the ASF epidemic in China has not yet reached a “massive scale” and reportedly stated that since “Taiwan does not import pork from China, so Beijing is not obliged to report ASF outbreaks to Taipei.” According to the Taiwan government, China has not responded to at least five calls for consultation on the outbreak.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said that staying ahead in biological research was a top priority to enhance epidemiology research and biological warfare defense research, adding that upgrading the lab would be a precautionary response to biological threats from China, terrorism or naturally occurring diseases. The Chinese government’s reticent behavior over the ASF outbreak is reminiscent of the SARS 2003 outbreak and highlights the health security concerns of Taiwan’s exclusion from international bodies such as the World Health Organizations. While current strands of ASF does not infect humans, it can have a devastating impact on the swine industry. Taiwan’s pig farming industry is valued at about US$2.6 billion. Taipei is especially sensitive to swine disease after the 1997 foot and mouth disease wiped out nearly 40 percent of the island’s pig population.
The main point: Amid reports of an African Swine Fever outbreak in China, Taiwan’s government is planning to invest more in the country’s biological warfare defenses.