Immigrant candidates hoping to effect change in Taiwan's Legislature - Focus Taiwan

2020 ELECTIONS / Immigrant candidates hoping to effect change in Taiwan's Legislature

From left to right, Cathy Loh, Niu Chun-ju and Kimyung Keng
From left to right, Cathy Loh, Niu Chun-ju and Kimyung Keng

By Emerson Lim, Chiang Yi-ching and William Yen, CNA staff reporters

The number of first-generation "new immigrants" in Taiwan exceeded 556,000 as of the end of November 2019. The term "new immigrants" is generally used to describe people from China and Southeast Asia who have married into Taiwanese families in the past two decades, as well as their children. They are becoming increasingly politically active, and their votes are being wooed by Taiwan's major political parties.

CNA reporters have interviewed three "new immigrants" who are running for legislative seats in Taiwan's Jan. 11 elections. Take a look at who they are and what they are planning to do if they get elected.

Cathy Loh (羅美玲), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)

Instead of rolling out new policies, what I want to do first is to evaluate how current policies on new immigrants are being carried out at the local level.

Cathy Loh
Cathy Loh

Background:

Loh, 50, is a third-generation Malaysian-Chinese. She holds the fourth spot on the ruling DPP's slate of legislator-at-large candidates. [Legislators-at-large are elected through a vote for political party preference rather than directly elected in an electoral district.]

She came to Taiwan in 1987 to study at National Taiwan Normal University, where she majored in geography. She later married former Nantou County Council Speaker Wu Chih-hsian.

After she got married, she pursued an EMBA at Providence University in Taichung.

She was elected to the Nantou County Council in 2014 as an independent, and was successfully re-elected in 2018 as a member of the DPP. Her main focus in politics has been the long-term care of seniors and new immigrants.

Question: If elected, what policies do you want to push in the Legislature?

Answer: Instead of rolling out new policies, what I want to do first is to evaluate how current policies on new immigrants are being carried out at the local level.

As a local councilor, I have noticed that it is impossible for local governments to perfectly execute every single central government policy. Sometimes, there is a huge gap between central and local governments, so it is important to first determine to what extent policies are being implemented.

During this process, I will analyze how effective current policies are and if they are lacking in certain areas; I will ask the central government to make improvements.

In my opinion, it is more realistic to try and improve current policies and make sure they are being carried out than it is to continuously roll out new policies.

In addition, I have always wanted the government to set up a Council of New Immigrants, like the Council of Indigenous Peoples, even though I know it is extremely difficult to add new entities to the organizational structure of the government.

If setting up a council is too much of a challenge, I would like to strengthen the function of the Coordination Meeting on Immigration Affairs, which is a cross-ministerial meeting held every six months that formulates and executes policies related to new immigrants.

I want this committee to meet more regularly, since meeting once every six months is too long of an interval. I also want the meeting to have a larger and more practical impact.

Question: Why did you decide to pursue politics in Taiwan?

Answer: I never thought I would get into politics in Taiwan; I thought I would just focus on raising my children. But after they went to elementary school, I had more time to myself, and decided to pursue an EMBA at Providence University in Taichung.

I later joined a women's group, and began to meet underprivileged people in society, including new immigrants who were having a tough time in Taiwan. That's when I started to think about what I could do to help them.

Some of my family members are in politics, and with their encouragement I decided to pursue a political career as well. I felt that would enable me to do more, since I would have a way to directly communicate with the government.

Niu Chun-ju (牛春茹), Kuomintang (KMT)

When I came to Taiwan near the end of 2000, the stereotype of spouses from China was not so positive, so I wanted to help them integrate into society.

Niu Chun-ju
Niu Chun-ju

Background:

The 49-year-old KMT legislative nominee, who is in the 17th spot on the KMT's slate of legislator-at-large candidates, graduated from Baotou Medical College in China's Inner Mongolia before she began working for Taiwanese firms in Shenzhen.

She met her Taiwanese husband through a colleague and the couple registered their marriage in October 2000 in Baotou. She then relocated to Taiwan at end of that year and received her Republic of China (Taiwan) citizenship in 2009.

In the same year, she joined the KMT and provided years of service in a KMT-affiliated new immigrant association, and later proceeded to establish her own new immigrants association in January 2019 in Taoyuan.

Niu is also currently a KMT representative for the party's Huang Fu-hsing (黃復興) branch, a special section within the KMT made up of military veterans and their families.

Question: If elected, what policies do you want to push in the Legislature?

Answer: If I get elected to the Legislative Yuan, I hope to cut down the 10-year waiting period to only five years for new immigrants wanting to run for government office. The law currently states that new immigrants have to hold Republic of China citizenship for at least 10 years before they can be a public servant.

I think the 10-year threshold is too high, especially when one already has to wait many years to get citizenship, accumulating the total number of years to anywhere from 14-16 years.

I would also like to push for an emergency fund to help new immigrants in cases where they fall victim to certain illnesses that are not covered by the national health insurance system.

The fund could also be used for emergencies when relatives of new immigrants who come to visit are involved in accidents and need to pay for medical expenses. Without national health insurance, the costs can be extremely high and run up to hundreds of thousands of Taiwan dollars.

In addition, I will also be pushing for the new immigrant policies of Kuomintang (KMT) presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), including creating a council for new immigrant affairs modeled on the Council of Indigenous Peoples.

There are 550,000 indigenous people, but about 1 million new immigrants and their children. So I think new immigrants should be represented in the government just as indigenous people are represented by the Council of Indigenous Peoples.

Question: What was your motivation to get into politics?

Answer: It all started out with a simple desire to help others. When I came to Taiwan near the end of 2000, the social attitude toward foreign spouses from China was not as friendly as it is now.

The stereotype of spouses from China was not so positive, so I wanted to help them integrate into society.

Kimyung Keng (何景榮), Taiwan People's Party (TPP)

I am running for the post because aside from my desire to serve, I want to show everyone that children of immigrants are as good as other Taiwanese people.

Kimyung Keng
Kimyung Keng

Background:

Keng, 41, is a second-generation immigrant with a Taiwanese father and an Indonesian mother. He is running for the seat in Taipei's third electoral district representing the TPP, which was founded by Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲).

He is challenging the KMT's Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安), a great-grandson of former President Chiang Kai-shek (蔣中正), and the DPP's Enoch Wu (吳怡農), a nephew of former DPP Secretary-General Wu Nai-ren (吳乃仁).

Born in Jakarta, raised in Taiwan, and educated in the United States through scholarship programs provided by the Taiwan and U.S. governments, Keng was selected as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons in Taiwan in 2016.

Question: If elected, what policies do you want to push in the Legislature?

Answer: I have two major policies. First, I want to make life better for young people by making it easier to repay student loans and providing affordable housing.

I was not able to find a stable teaching job for almost two years upon my return from the U.S. after getting my master's degree. Many young people with high educational achievements in Taiwan face the same predicament.

I will push for a grace period of one year for the repayment of student loans if the borrower fails to find a job after graduation. For those who can't find a job, I will ask our labor authorities to help them get employed. Aside from that, I will push for a proportional repayment plan to allow borrowers to repay their loans in proportion to their income.

On affordable housing, I will push for the transfer of all operations of Taipei Songshan Airport to Taoyuan International Airport, and use the vacated lot to build public housing projects for young people. This will be a win-win solution, because the Songshan Airport poses danger to the residents in the area, as seen in a plane crash that happened in February 2015.

Second, I will bring the world to Taiwan, using new immigrants and migrant workers as the medium. I will encourage new immigrants and migrant workers to study in universities or colleges at night. By doing this, the new immigrants and migrant workers can enrich themselves, while Taiwanese students can have more exposure to foreign cultures and languages. It can also boost the declining enrollment rate of many educational institutions due to the low birth rate.

Question: Why did you decide to run in the legislative race? Do you think the support from immigrants in the district is enough to help you get elected?

Answer: I am running for the post because aside from my desire to serve, I want to show everyone that children of immigrants are as good as other Taiwanese people.

Although not all of the new immigrants are eligible to vote, my motto is to do the right thing. I don't do things just for elections. I've been helping immigrants and migrant workers over the years, such as training them to be native language teachers and providing assistance to maltreated migrant workers. I was not eyeing the elections then.

Enditem/J/AW/CS

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