Taiwan's presidential candidates: Where do they stand on key issues? - Focus Taiwan

2020 ELECTIONS / Taiwan's presidential candidates: Where do they stand on key issues?

From left to right, Tsai Ing-wen, Han Kuo-yu, James Soong
From left to right, Tsai Ing-wen, Han Kuo-yu, James Soong

Taipei, Jan. 10 (CNA) The Taiwanese people will go to the polls in the country's seventh direct presidential election Jan. 11.

Voters will choose between incumbent president and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) nominee Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Kuomintang (KMT) nominee Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) and People First Party (PFP) nominee James Soong (宋楚瑜).

To compare the candidates' platforms, CNA has reviewed their campaign websites, policy presentations and other public statements, and has compiled their positions in four key policy areas in the charts below.

Economic Policy

Taiwan's presidential candidates share the view that the country must transition from an economy based on industrial manufacturing to one driven by emerging digital technologies.

During her term in office, Tsai launched the "5+2 Industrial Innovation Plan," allocating investment of NT$100 billion (US$3.4 billion) in seven key industries and projects: intelligent machinery, Asia Silicon Valley, green energy, biomedicine, national defense and aerospace, new agriculture and the circular economy. A related program, DIGI+, has focused on expanding digital infrastructure and establishing an innovation-friendly regulatory framework, with the goal of growing the digital economy to NT$6.5 trillion by 2025.

While Han's campaign shares this focus, he has also made a number of proposals aimed at increasing domestic revenue, such as an E.U.-style digital tax and the establishment of a sovereign wealth fund based on that of Singapore.

Soong, meanwhile, has said that the next president must address the country's shortage of vital resources (energy, water, labor, professional talent and land), while making major investments in emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, in order to successfully compete in the region.

Finally, in terms of trade policy, Tsai has consistently pushed for the signing of a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S., while Han and Soong believe that if they can improve relations with China, they will be able to secure entry into multilateral regional trade agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Foreign and Cross-Taiwan Strait Policy

Tsai, Han and Soong have been uniform in their rejection of "one country, two systems," a policy under which Beijing has previously offered autonomy without sovereignty to Hong Kong and Macau.

They have split, however, on the KMT-negotiated "1992 consensus," which affirms "one China" while subtly allowing each side to pursue its own interpretation of whether Beijing or Taipei constitutes the legitimate seat of government.

In more practical terms, Tsai has sought closer ties with the U.S. as a buttress against Chinese pressure, while Han has argued that Taiwan stands to benefit if it emphasizes economics and trade, rather than political issues, in its relations with China.

Soong, meanwhile, believes that the DPP and KMT have used cross-strait issues to divide the Taiwanese people and has vowed to set aside the unification/independence debate in favor of seeking practical development between the two sides.

Energy and Environmental Policy

The candidates' chief disagreement on energy policy comes on the issue of nuclear power, which supporters have lauded as a remedy for issues such as poor air quality and rising electricity costs, while critics have warned of potential danger, citing the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan as an example.

Despite losing a 2018 referendum on the issue, Tsai has pushed forward with a goal of phasing out nuclear power by 2025, by which time she sees Taiwan's energy mix including 20 percent green energy, 30 percent coal and 50 percent natural gas.

Han, in contrast, has argued that nuclear power should be used while green energy technologies are being developed, and has proposed that nuclear and green energy combined should meet half of Taiwan's energy needs by 2035.

Soong, again, splits the difference on this issue, stating that nuclear power is currently necessary for meeting Taiwan's energy needs, but has opposed restarting the No. 4 nuclear plant on the country's north coast, which was close to completion before being mothballed due to safety concerns in 2014.

As of 2018 -- the most recent year for which Taiwan's state-owned power company has published official statistics -- coal and natural gas both accounted for 39 percent of the domestic energy supply, followed by nuclear at 11 percent, renewable energy at 5 percent, and a combination of other energy sources constituting the remaining 6 percent.

Social Policy

During her term as president, Tsai undertook controversial reforms to Taiwan's labor laws and civil servant pensions, both of which Han and Soong have vowed to revise.

Her amendments to the Labor Standards Act in 2016 and 2018 instituted wide-ranging changes to the rules governing work hour calculation, overtime pay and national holidays. Although intended as a compromise between business and labor advocates, the changes drew criticism from both sides for falling short of their expectations.

Tsai also enacted civil servant pension reforms in 2018, phasing out the 18 percent preferential interest rate that was previously applied to civil servant pensions. While Tsai said the cuts were a matter of fiscal necessity, much of the KMT's voter base among civil servants, military and law enforcement viewed the changes as a betrayal of promises the government had made to them.

On the other hand, the candidates have agreed on the need to expand social benefits such as maternity pensions and childcare allowances, as well as funding for long-term care for the elderly.

While there is also a broad consensus that the government should provide comprehensive welfare services to children from birth through kindergarten, Soong has gone a step further in proposing the expansion of compulsory education by three years before elementary school, in order to reduce the burden on parents.

(By Matthew Mazzetta)

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