by Matthew Strong
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – During the first televised presentations of the campaign Friday, Kuomintang Chairman Eric Liluan Chu emphasized Taiwan’s open economy while Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen explained her views on maintaining the status quo with China and People First Party Chairman James Soong expressed doubts about the two main parties.
Each candidate had three rounds lasting ten minutes each to explain what they would do if they were elected president on January 16. They will have another chance on December 30 and January 8, while their running mates, Jennifer Wang, Chen Chien-jen and Hsu Hsin-ying respectively, will speak on January 4.
Soong opened the proceedings with emphasizing his own role in the move toward the introduction of direct presidential elections in 1996. He discussed the importance of safety as well as the advantages of Taiwan’s geography as a gateway to China and as a cultural melting pot uniting the best elements of Chinese, Asian and Western culture.
Tsai, whom polls have named as the frontrunner, began her address by remarking that unlike people or political parties, when a country fell, it was difficult to rise up again. She told a story about a small factory in Central Taiwan, where the boss’s son returned from his military service to find harsh competition from China making business always more difficult.
Small and medium enterprises were once the engine of Taiwan’s economy, but now they are waiting for the government to tell them where the economy is going, but the current government only offers slogans, Tsai said.
The new government needs to help small and medium enterprises, the opposition leader said, emphasizing that export and the domestic market were equally important. Tsai said she hoped she would be able to visit the young man’s factory to witness together how Taiwan had progressed.
Chu also began with a story about a young man from New Taipei City who used refuse from products like coffee to create new products and new brands. He went on to underline his own record as vice premier and mayor of New Taipei City.
The new economy needed to rely on creativity, openness and restructuring, the KMT leader said. If elected, he would raise technology budgets and promote Taiwan as an island with a free economy. Chu also used the opportunity to criticize the DPP for opposing too many government proposals without providing alternatives.
During the second round, Soong initially praised Tsai and Chu for presenting economic ideas that sounded right, but he said he was running for president again because the public had a negative impression about how both the KMT and the DPP governed in practice.
The parties put their own interests first without regard for the public interest, the third-party leader said, accusing the KMT of suing students and workers and the DPP of being locked up in its ideology.
Tsai said she was proud of the team which she led when she served as Mainland Affairs Council minister because they also delivered achievements such as direct cross-straits transportation links.
She said that her China policy would be focused on three principles, open communication and transparency, honesty without extravagant promises, and no misuse of China policies for electoral purposes.
Tsai also came back to her promise to “maintain the status quo” in relations with China. “My way of maintaining the status quo is keeping the number of options open to the people of Taiwan, not restricting the choices” as the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou has done, she said.
Chu responded by accusing the DPP and Tsai for being responsible for the worst period in cross-straits relations, when the party ruled Taiwan from 2000 to 2008. Improved relations with China would also allow for defense reform, with higher salaries for military staff in an all-volunteer force, he said.
Soong closed off with a plea for more care for the poor elderly and young by an efficient government without a political ideology. The public should not be taken hostage by political parties, he concluded.
Tsai said many of Taiwan’s recent foreign policy and international economic achievements had started under the previous DPP administration, such as free trade agreements with New Zealand.
Public opinion was concerned about relations with China, but even more about the current government’s opaque way of managing the relationship, she said. The public needed to participate in the government’s China policies, Tsai emphasized.
She promised reforms and wide consultations about social welfare reform as well as full communication with the outside. Tsai said the DPP had changed so the public could give it a new chance.
Chu wrapped up the one-and-a-half-hour TV broadcast with a call for Taiwan to move ahead and not turn back to the era of uncertain China policies when the DPP was in power from 2000 to 2008.
The vice-presidential candidates will meet on Saturday for the first of three debates which will pit them against each other and against academics, social activists and reporters. The debates for Chu, Tsai and Soong will take place on Sunday, December 27, and on Saturday January 2.