United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 13, 2016
Executive Summary: The Trump Tsai phone call thrilled everyone within the DPP. But the Tsai government must realize that no amount of political stimulants can unfreeze Taiwan's economy. If President Tsai refuses to change her political posture, and the DPP refuses to change its brazenly self-serving ways, but instead sets political wildfires everywhere it goes, the public will turn its back on them in short order. People are tightening their belts. Businesses are struggling to stay afloat. Meanwhile the ruling party bickers over who will be appointed to what position of power. One cannot help asking, just who was the third change in ruling parties for?
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Frankly, we have no idea whether the Lin Chuan cabinet can be considered a “cabinet comprised of financial and economic experts”. For the past half year, it has shown hardly any financial or economic pronouncements. Amidst wave after wave of political proclamations, the entire cabinet has been demoted to the status of “gofer” for the Presidential Office. On the one hand, it must take orders from the DPP legislative caucus. On the other hand, it must be the whipping boy for Taiwan independence elders. The cabinet is even finding it difficult to serve as gatekeeper, let alone act on its own initiative. The smile on Lin Chuan's face remains. But the cabinet's fumbling reveals its enervated state.
Looking back over the past seven months, it is clear that Taiwan has been wracked by internal and external strife. Cross-Strait relations have been frozen. South China Sea arbitration has failed. Labor has gone on strike. Protests follow, one after another. Businesses have closed. Disputes rage over the importation of food products from Japan's nuclear disaster areas. The recent Trump Tsai phone call even led to PLA Air Force planes circling Taiwan. Not a day goes by without public anxiety, unease, and suspicions. Yet despite this political wildfire, the government has done nothing to address people's economic plight. The economy remains frozen. The problem is that when the new government came to power, it single-mindedly promoted its own political agenda. It was utterly indifferent to the people's livelihood and their economic future. The inevitable result was the president's poll numbers went straight down.
Tsai Ying-lin trusted and relied on the Lin Chuan cabinet. The cabinet ought to enjoy ample latitude. So why in actual practice has the Lin Chuan cabinet become so passive, even irrelevant? There are three reasons.
Reason One. Lin is too weak. In the face of Tsai Ying-wen's strong leadership and DPP special interests, he has lost almost all initiative and will. It is all he can do to be carried along by political currents, while bobbing up and down in the waves. Other cabinet members are limited by their lack of experience and insight, or cowed by DPP political flak. They dare not advance their own ideas. This reflects the authoritarian structure of the Tsai regime and the aggressive nature of the DPP. The "old blue men" elements within the Lin cabinet are merely scapegoats.
Reason Two. Tsai Ying-wen lacks any sense of how to lead the nation. The moment the president came to power, she immediately rewrote cross-Strait relations. Internally, she rummaged through old records in order to settle old scores. She hastily pandered to the United States and Japan and sundry Social Justice Warriors. Under the circumstances, Taiwan's economy and the people's livelihood were naturally relegated to the bottom of her to do list. For the past seven months, the cabinet has been busy implementing President Tsai's policies, then struggling to clean up the mess they left behind. Where is she going to find time to revitalize the economy?
Reason Three. The Democratic Progressive Party considers itself more important than the nation. When considering fiscal matters, it is more concerned with how to benefit the party than the people's livelihood or the interests of the nation. Recently, major public works projects planned by the Tsai government include moving the Taoyuan Railway underground, raising the Chiayi Railway above ground, building the Taichung Shanshou Line and the Lugang Historical Scenic Area. Every one of these projects is in a county or city ruled by the DPP. These projects cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Yet the decisions were made in haste. The amount of economic momentum they have generated is questionable. Another example is the rise in produce prices after typhoons. The DPP thought only about how to acquire the rights to operate fruit and vegetable companies, not how bring down the price of fruits and vegetables. With such a selfish attitude, how can it possibly think about the future of Taiwan's economy?
Taiwan's economy faces two major variables. Variable One. Cross-Strait relations have been flash frozen. The result has been greatly reduced Mainland tourism, leading to a tourism industry recession. The tourism industry is suffering. TransAsia Airways has exited the industry. The DPP is reaping what it sowed. Beijing has recently increased pressure on large corporations, and even resorted to saber rattling. It is difficult to be optimistic. Variable Two. Donald Trump is inciting the rise of international trade protectionism. Leave aside the stilborn TPP for the moment. Taiwan's foreign trade will face more stringent challenges. The Tsai government's "New Southern Strategy" has yet to be implemented. Its Five Major Innovative Industries initiative, plus New Agriculture and the Recirculating Economy, remain paper projects. It is unlikely that over the next two years, the people will actually feel any benefits. This is probably the main reason for President Tsai's drop in popularity.
The Trump Tsai phone call thrilled everyone within the DPP. But the Tsai government must realize that no amount of political stimulants can unfreeze Taiwan's economy. If President Tsai refuses to change her political posture, and the DPP refuses to change its brazenly self-serving ways, but instead sets political wildfires everywhere it goes, the public will turn its back on them in short order. People are tightening their belts. Businesses are struggling to stay afloat. Meanwhile the ruling party bickers over who will be appointed to what position of power. One cannot help asking, just who was the third change in ruling parties for?