Monthly Archives: April 2011

New-style performances of the ROC National Anthem

The national anthem of the Republic of China (ROC) originated from the motto of the Whampoa Military Academy in Guangdong province and was written by Sun Yat-sen. Starting from 1895, Sun vowed to overthrow the corrupt and incompetent Qing regime. After ten failed attempts, he finally succeeded in establishing the Republic of China (ROC), the first democratic government in East Asia on October 10, 1911.

In 1928, the ruling Kuomintang decided to adopt the motto of Whampao Military Academy in Guangzhou (China) as the lyrics for the KMT party song. The melody was selected from public submissions, with the winning composition from a Japan-educated musician, Cheng Mao-yun. In 1937, the ROC government stipulated that the KMT party song would serve as its national anthem.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the republic, which moved to Taiwan in 1949. The Government Information Office has produced four different melodies to liven up the 94-year old national anthem as a way of celebrating the ROC’s anniversary.

English translation of the ROC national anthem is as follows:

San Min Chu I (The Three Principles of the People)
Our aim shall be to establish a free land.
World peace be our stand.
Lead on, comrades, vanguards ye are.
Hold fast your aim, by sun and star.
Be earnest and brave, your country to save.
One heart, one soul, one mind, one goal!

Courtesy of the Government Information Office, Republic of China (Taiwan)

Reaching out to quake-hit Japan, Taiwan reevaluates nuclear safety

On March 11 and in the days that followed, people around the world were horrified by the images of Japan’s devasting 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that washed entire villages from the map. With so many commonalities between Taiwan and Japan, the people of Taiwan were deeply moved to help their friend and neighbor.

Taiwan is also highly prone to earthquakes, with more than 1,000 felt every year. An especially powerful one hit the island on September 21, 1999, killing more than 2,000 people, so the people of Taiwan are especially sympathic to Japan’s plight.

Since the March 11 earthquake in Japan, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry has sent 400 tons of disaster relief supplies (blankets, quilts and mineral water) and food donated by Taiwanese citizens to Japan. It is the largest donation received from a foreign country thus far, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency. Quickly following the earthquake, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry announced a donation of NT$100 million (US$3.3 million) in disaster relief to Japan. Taiwan’s entertainment circle also mobilized to hold a fundraising party on March 18 to raise NT$750 million (US$25 million). Japan’s Mainichi Daily News reported that donations from Taiwan have reached 6.4 billion Japanese Yen (US$8 million), by far the largest in Asia.

From Japanmania to empathy

In many regards, Taiwanese teens today are enamored by Japanese popular culture (including TV, movie stars, songs, costumes and comics). It is a phenomenon commonly known as “Japanmania” (harih). Journalist Chao Hsin-ping wrote in her blog, “Taiwanese and Japanese people share many customs and some Chinese characters in common. I think that is why we feel particularly close…I have been to over thirty countries, visiting more magnificent natural beauty, more ancient sites and historical monuments, and more precious cultural arts in Europe and America, but in recent years, I have felt closer to Japan.”

Also, in contrast to Taiwan’s sensationalization of news, the Japanese people and press have earned a wealth of respect for their calm and self-restraint in the face of disaster wrote an editor for the United Daily News. The Taiwan-based China Times commented, “The Japanese people have developed the notion that they are not the only victims, facing the disaster with a peaceful mind. Everyone thinks this, so and the social order can be maintained. Everyone exercises self restraint so disaster relief can proceed step by step.”

In reading the newspapers in Taiwan, you can get a sense of the deep admiration Taiwanese people have for the Japanese. “Japan suffers a heavy loss from the earthquake, but the Japanese people accept the orderly arrangement by the government. Japanese media broadcast the correct messages in a calm way, without exaggeration of the tragedy, or irrational criticism. This is no doubt a good lesson for Taiwan to learn,” expressed another Taiwanese commentator to the Central News Agency.

Taiwan and Japan are important trading partners. In 2010, total bilateral trade between the two reached a record high of US$69.9 billion. Taiwan imports its greatest volume of products from Japan, and Japan is also the largest source of Taiwan’s trade deficit. Taiwanese people are fond of Japanese products not only because of Taiwan’s colonial past under Japanese rule (1895-1945), but also because they share a similar geography and industrial structure. The Taiwanese are great admirers of Japan’s modernization and the maturity of its civil society.

Industrial chain effects

The United Daily News said that Taiwan’s semiconductor and flat panel display industries have close cooperative relations with Japanese companies like Elpida and Toshiba, so part of their orders will be transferred to Taiwan. Due to the earthquake, there has been a 20 percent price increase in flash memory and a 7 percent rise in DRAM spot prices, according to Taiwan-based Business Week. This will help Taiwan’s DRAM manufacturers rebound from the doldrums.

Before the quake, 70 to 80 percent of Apple’s flexible printed circuit boards (soft board) came from Japan, with only 20 percent from Taiwan. Post-quake, Apple is expected to accelerate the transfer of orders to Taiwan. And, if all the orders placed in Japan have to find other manufacturers, Taiwan’s FPC industry will benefit.

Japan’s decreased power capacity from the loss of its nuclear power plants will certainly hamper the country in getting back to business as usual. Also, much of Japan’s future energy needs might be concentrated on reconstruction. Taiwan is also in a position to benefit as Japan seeks to import large quantities of steel to shore up its buildings, pushing the price of steel higher and benefiting the Taiwan-based China Steel Corporation. However, the Business Week emphasized that if the industry recovery period in Japan’s disaster areas exceeds a month, global industrial supply chains will be in chaos, and nobody will benefit.

A tricky gamble

The Wealth Invest Weekly reported that so far it is still not very clear what the supply situation is for several key industrial materials after the quake, including bismaleimide-triazine (BT-Epoxy) resin, silicon wafer, ceramic powder, liquid crystal materials, photoresists, cutting fluid, and so forth. Even though Taiwanese companies currently maintain sufficient inventory and Japanese suppliers have said supply would return to normal very soon, it is well-known that there are dependent linkages in electronic components supply, each one closely interlocked with others. Once a link is broken, there is a risk of a “broken chain.” “Can you imagine if we overstocked components and parts, and pushed for over production now, but once the supply chain worry was found to be a false alarm, current rash orders would suddenly have turned into mass cancellations? How could you deal with a bunch of workers, the production capacity, and the big problem of excess inventory?” a concerned manufacturer told the Weekly.

The magazine used Hon Hai, the world’s largest contract manufacturer and parent company of Foxconn, as an example. Hon Hai has garnered the largest emergency order from Apple, which is a great vote of confidence from Apple. The number of Hon Ha workers has increased from over half a milliion to more than one million,with the number  estimated to go as high as 1.2 million. Personnel management poses an extremely tough challenge for Hon Hai in the immediate future.

The Economic Daily News reported that Taiwan and Japan have established a vertical cooperation relationship in the industrial supply chain, especially in the areas of automobiles, machinery, electronics, and data communications. With a firm control on all the key industrial technologies, Japanese companies cooperate with their Taiwanese partners more in the form of technology transfer, technology licensing and as original equipment manufacturers (OEM). The earthquake revealed the risk of this current cooperative model. On the one hand, Taiwan should consider diversifying its source of technology and components, while on the other hand, it should speed up the pace of technological upgrades so it can improve its technical autonomy, thereby reducing its dependence on Japan.

Mixed support for nuclear power

As the weeks have passed with continuing dire news from the crippled Fukashima Daiichi nuclear complex, many Taiwanese politicians and TV pundits have asked difficult questions about their government’s preparedness to handle a nuclear meltdown in the face of Japan’s floundering efforts.

The Liberty Times reported that Taiwanese shipping magnate Chang Yung-fa, chairman of the Evergreen Group, donated 1 billion Japanese Yen (US$12.5 million) on March 23 to help Japan’s disaster relief, and also shared his anti-nuclear stance. He stressed that Taiwan is located in a seismic zone and should not have nuclear power plants. The best way to minimize the risk is to abolish all active plants, and to look for alternative energy sources, such as wind or hydro power.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen voiced her support for increasing the proportion of renewable energy, upping thermal electricity generation and prioritizing the construction of new natural gas powered plants. She believes in decommissioning nuclear power plants Nos. 1, 2, and 3 as scheduled and in not commercializing plant No. 4. Instead, she would like to see Taiwan be a nuclear-free zone after plant No. 3 is decommissioned in 2025. According to Taipower’s data from last year, Tsai said, the ratio of Taiwan’s dependence on nuclear power is only 12 percent. This means that in the absence of nuclear power, Taiwan may still be able to sustain its electricity demand.

In defending nuclear energy, Taipower Chairman Edward K. M. Chen estimates that Taiwan would not generate enough electricity by 2013 if nuclear energy is discarded, reported the China Times. To build plant No. 4 without commercial operations, as suggested by Tsai, would be a waste of US$20 billion over 25 years. It would exceed US$33.35 billion based on a 40–year calculation. Taipower’s Deputy General Manager Huang Hsien-chang said it is “unrealistic” to replace all nuclear power with renewable energy by 2025. Taiwan relies completely on imported natural gas, and the international gas deals have long been signed with long-term contracts. Huang said, “You won’t be able to buy it just because you have money on hand.” Currently 99 percent of Taiwan’s domestic energy depends on imports, while nuclear power accounts for 20 percent of Taiwan’s electricity.

If nuclear power were to be replaced with renewable energy sources, such as wind power for example, then Taiwan would have to build an estimated 12,000 wind turbines to be able to replace all the nuclear power plants. So far, Taipower has only built 162 wind turbines on the west coast of Taiwan, and “the sites fit to build wind turbines have already been covered,” said Huang.

Nuclear power in Taiwan

In order to ensure a stable supply of energy and greater electricity capacity to keep up with development, Taiwan’s government started to build it first nuclear power plant in 1970. Nuclear power plant No. 1 became operational in 1979. Currently there are four nuclear power plants in Taiwan. Three of them (Nos. 1 and 2 and the newly completed No. 4) are located on coastal areas 22 to 28 kilometers north of Taipei, while No. 3 is near the Kenting National Park in southern Taiwan.

In Taiwan, the anti-nuclear movement is more than 20 years old. The DPP, which has advocated a “nuclear-free homeland”, won political power for the first time in May 2000. Immediately after his inauguration, President Chen Shui-bian instructed the Executive Yuan to announce the termination of construction of nuclear power plant No. 4. But in January 2001, the Legislature Yuan, dominated by the Kuomintang (KMT), passed a resolution to request the Executive Yuan to immediately resume construction at plant No. 4. The dispute led to a constitutional interpretation by the Grand Justices, which declared the unilateral suspension of nuclear plant No. 4 “unconstitutional” and work resumed until money ran out.

This February, the Executive Yuan announced the resumption of construction on No. 4 after new funding was approved. The new plant is almost complete and estimated to be operational soon. According to the China Times, the government will underake a full physical examination on the construction of the new plant, pledging to  safeguard the security of the plant and delay commercial operations if necessary.

In the face of the DPP’s concerns over nuclear safety, Premier Wu Den-yih said that the past suspension of construction on the plant has hurt Taiwan economically, resulting in international contractual disputes and lawsuits. The resumption of work has resulted in accumulated construction costs of US$6.7 billion, according to the United Evening News. This year another US$333.4 million was added to strengthen the plant’s safety. To halt, resume and maybe abolish nuclear power entirely has not only created huge economic  losses, but has also been “a shock to the hard-earned social consensus on nuclear energy in recent years,” the premier said.

Centennial Homestay Program, a truly unique way to visit Taiwan

Taiwan’s Council for Cultural Affairs has a special competition for international young people (18-40) who are interested in visiting Taiwan and are also well versed in using social media. As part of the Republic of China’s centennial celebrations, the council is inviting 250 people to visit Taiwan from August 12 to 25, 2011, to coincide with International Youth Week. This is an exceptional opportunity for young people who dream of exploring other countries, but are unable to because of the expense.

Chosen participants will get to see Taiwan’s famous sights and meet other equally adventurous individuals from around the world. The trip is sure to be a rich experience as participants will stay with Taiwanese families, gaining an even deeper understanding of the island’s people, places and culture from a truly local perspective.

In order to be considered for the Centennial Homestay Program, online applications must be submitted before 12 pm on April 15, Taiwan time. Upon returning home, participants are required to share their experiences by posting a blog using the social media of their choice.

The Council for Cultural Affairs is the main sponsor and will provide participants with an economy-class plane ticket, local transportation, and accommodation with a host family.

To find out more, please visit the Council’s website:  .

Taiwan welcomes partnership in Santa Clara’s alert system

Dave Cortese, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, held a news conference to launch the county’s emergency alert system (AlertSCC) on March 14. Since the county has a large population of Taiwanese expatriates, Jack K. C. Chiang, director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco, was invited to signed a cooperation memorandum between the county and Taiwan.

The event began with a moment of silence out of respect for the victims of Japan’s recent earthquake and tsunami. The crisis in Japan has further highlighted the importance of having an emergency alert system. Cortese said it was essential to set up a real-time reporting and disaster emergency rescue system, given the frequency of major disasters around the world. The purpose of launching AlertSCC is to urge local residents to sign up to  a regional “mass notification” system by using the Internet via their cell phones,  computers, and other digital communications equipment to get disaster information, relief resources, intelligence and early warnings.

Director-General Chiang expressed his appreciation to the county for being a partner in the plan to promote the AlertSCC and spoke of the far-reaching benefits in doing so. Since Taiwan’s Hsinchu and Santa Clara are sister counties, and there are tens of thousands of overseas Taiwanese people living in Santa Clara County, TECO can play a part in urging overseas Taiwanese residents to sign up for the disaster communications reporting system, he said. In recent years, the Taiwan government has been adopting measures to mitigate the effect of disasters, strengthen early warning mechanisms, and actively participate in international relief operations in order to promote the island’s commitment to international humanitarian aid.

Along with Taiwan, Santa Clara County also has a large number of expatriates from Latin American countries. The Mexican Consul General David Figueroa Ortega was also invited to participate in the press conference and to sign a cooperative memorandum.

TECO chief stresses meaning of centenary torch relay

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China, Chinatown in San Francisco held a centenary torch relay for the “Torch of Peace” on April 2.

Jack K. C. Chiang, director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco, Albert Sit, deputy minister of Taiwan’s Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission, and Charles C. Chow, chairman of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of San Francisco, co-chaired the torch ceremony.

The “Torch of Peace” relay began on March 29 in Honolulu, Hawaii, where ROC founding father Sun Yat-sen established his first revolutionary organization “the Revive China Society.” ROC expatriate representatives from more than 100 cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Boston, were sent to Honolulu to welcome back the torch.

Addressing the ceremony, Chiang said the significance of the “Torch of Peace” relay is to promote Sun’s revolutionary spirit, his founding philosophy ─ freedom, democracy, and human rights. He wished these universal values be passed on from generation to generation throughout the world’s Chinese societies.

The torch flame was lit at 11 am in front of the Chinese Benevolent Association in Chinatown. The representatives conveyed the torch as it passed places where Sun stayed and where he preached his revolutionary idea, including St. Mary’s Square and passed the arch inscribed with his calligraphy “the world equally shared by the people” on Grant Street in Chinatown.

Sun visited San Francisco in 1896, 1904, 1909 and 1911 prior to the establishment of the Republic of China.

UC San Diego professor talks about Taiwanese music in the 1930s

With Taiwan being a trans-cultural hub, the Taiwanese have historically been more open to foreign ideas, more adaptive of social changes and lifestyle shifts and this is reflected in the island’s music, according to Professor Liao Ping-hui. In a recent talk, “Viva Tonal: Engendering New Sound in 1930s Taiwan,” Liao said that Taiwan has been influenced by the cultures of Japan, the United States, China and even Eastern Europe.

During the talk at the Martin Luther King Library in San Jose, Liao used footage from the documentary Viva Tonal – The Dance Age about the Taiwanese music scene in the 1930s.The film explores the private lives of several singers, composers, and collectors who offer a nuanced and sensitive interpretive account of Taiwanese music and cultural history. The film contributes to the understanding of colonialism and modernism in East Asia, said Liao.

Liao is the Chuan Lyu Endowed Chair at the University of California, San Diego. Along with the Chuan Lyu Foundation, the San Jose – Tainan Sister City Association and San Jose State University also serve as co-sponsors.

Liao said the emergence of new acoustics in the recording industry along with phonographic sound reproduction technology helped Taiwan’s music gain transnational significance. He touched upon multiple sources of music and modernity in the early twentieth century Taiwan linking it to the rest of the world, saying the documentary can be viewed as an archival project, indicating Taiwan’s presence at the hub of transculture across the Pacific in the 1930s.

Columbia’s viva tonal label was a commercial success in Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Chinese migrants in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore all found solace by listening to its records from Taiwan, a phenomenon also noticeable in the production of Taiwanese films from the 1940s to the 1970s. Liao traced the genealogy of Taiwanese popular songs from Chun Chun to Teresa Teng to Jay Chou in southern China and Southeast Asia, saying this is a trans-regional republic of popular musical culture.

Liao is a distinguished scholar in Taiwan studies. He has served as a visiting scholar or professor at Princeton University, Harvard University and Columbia University, in addition to a number of academic institutions in Taiwan.

TECO Chief promotes “Taiwan, Heart of Asia” contest on Fisherman’s Wharf

On March 15, CBS and the San Francisco’s Boudin Bakery hosted a reception to celebrate the beginning of “Taiwan, the Heart of Asia” contest. Held at the bakery’s historic flagship store on Fisherman’s Wharf, the contest was a chance to win two complete trips or free tickets on China Airlines to Taiwan. CBS’s Tom Matheson, senior account manager of Community Partnership and Business Development, introduced the audience to the honored guests and played the commercials the station produced to advertise the contest.

Attending the evening’s reception were top executives of the sponsoring organizations, such as Gayle DeBrosse (executive vice president of Boudin Bakery), Ron Longinotti (president of CBS-5), Doug Harvill (general manager of KCBS) and Cindy Clementz (senior account manager of CBS Radio). Guests also included Steven Falk (president and CEO of SF Chamber of Commerce), Spud Hilton (travel editor at the San Francisco Chronicle) and Jack K.C. Chiang (director-general of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco).

Chiang gave a short introduction about his small country by saying if you were to put the island into Lake Michigan, “there would still be a lot of water around it. So, you can tell how small we are!” Despite this, Chiang spoke of Taiwan’s many economic accomplishments, including having the 18th largest economy, the 4th largest foreign reserves and being the number one manufacturer of information and communication technology (ICT) in the world. “Although Taiwan is formally known as the Republic of China (ROC), a lot of people know us as the Republic of Computers instead,” he said.

However, Taiwan is not merely attractive due to its economic figures, but also for it scenic beauty, such as Sun Moon Lake, the National Palace Museum, and also, for its diverse and friendly people. He referred to Taiwan as “The Kingdom of Fruit” and a paradise for food lovers. He explained that after the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War, Chinese people from many different provinces relocated to Taiwan, bringing with them the traditional dishes that were popular in their hometowns. “The congregation of these dishes in one place and their dialogue with local ingredients and the local climate has created Chinese-inspired dishes that can only be found in Taiwan today.” Chiang continued to extol Taiwan’s food culture by saying “A 24-hour food stand is never far away and night markets only get more crowded as it gets later.”

According to Chiang, each year, 600 thousand people from Taiwan visit the United States and San Francisco always figures on their list of destinations. He expressed his hope that the evening’s program would inspire Americans to put Taiwan on their list of must-visit destinations as well.

The contest ran from March 14 to April 3, 2011. The winners are posted at or

Taipei dismisses Beijing’s talk of mutual military trust

On March 31, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) announced the release of its “2010 Defense White Paper,” in which the PLA, for the first time, mentioned that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait can begin to discuss military issues to look into the feasibility of setting up a military and security mutual trust mechanism. However, in response Taiwan’s government said that it is not yet time for the two sides to discuss the issue of mutual military trust.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council issued a statement urging China first to take the initiative and to remove more than 1,400 missiles targeting Taiwan and to adjust the deployment of conventional forces along China’s southeastern coast. Only when the lives and property of Taiwanese people are exempt from threats, can the two sides further improve relations and strengthen mutual trust. Given the current situation, now is not the time to start negotiations regarding cross-strait political and military issues.

According to a report in the United Daily News, Taiwan’s Presidential Office did not respond to a statement in the PLA white paper stating that “before unification, the two sides may make contact on military issues”. A National Security official said that since China has spelled out the precondition of “unification”, the two sides have no room to discuss a military mutual trust mechanism, because “mainland China has imposed a rigid framework and a difficult requirement.” China’s white paper used the wording “against Taiwan independence” and “before unification.” The official assessed that China did not offer any specific goodwill. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said that it has so far no plans for substantive negotiations on establishing a military mutual trust mechanism with China.

The United Daily News reported that Lin Chong-pin, former vice defense minister and a professor at Tamkang University, pointed out that China has not mentioned “not giving up using force against Taiwan” in its defense white paper since 2004. He said there are still huge differences between the two governments in establishing a military mutual trust mechanism. China is more actively pursuing closer ties “starting from the military first then going up to politics,” while Taiwan stresses “from political talks first then moving to the military,” seeking China’s assurance not to use force to set up military mutual trust.

Military strategist Chang Kuo-cheng said, according to the Taipei-based China Times, that Taiwan’s government should include three principles before signing an agreement on cross-strait military trust: not dwarfing Taiwan’s sovereignty, not undermining Taiwan’s defense capability, and not damaging Taiwan’s secure relationship with other countries. He said that it would do Taiwan more harm than good if these three principles are not honored in the agreement of a military mutual trust mechanism between Taiwan and China.

Tsai De-seng, director-general of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau, confirmed at the Legislative Yuan on March 16 that China has recently deployed Dongfeng 16 ballistic missiles against Taiwan. This type of missile has a longer range and greater precision than earlier generations of missiles, and is capable of carrying multiple warheads to attack airports, posing more of a threat to Taiwan. Previously, China’s PLA’s mainly deployed short- to mid-range Dongfeng 11 and 15 missiles against Taiwan, the China Times reported.

Three DPP presidential candidates bid for nomination

By the March 25th deadline, three presidential candidates from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had registered their intention to bid for the party’s nomination for next year’s presidential race.

Days earlier former DPP Vice President Annette Lu registered as a candidate before withdrawing on March 22. On the same day, former Premier Su Tseng-chang, 64, announced his bid for the DPP nomination for the 2012 presidential election. The following day, both Su and DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, 55, registered as presidential candidates in the party primary. Just before the deadline, they were joined by Hsu Hsin-liang, 60, one of the founding members of the DPP.

Already, four political television debates are scheduled from March 31 to April 22, before the public poll is conducted at the end of April to select the party’s nominee. The formal announcement of the DPP presidential nominee will be made on May 4.

Commenting in the Liberty Times, Su said he will win next year’s presidential election based on his love for Taiwan and on his experience. The value of the nation does not lie in the size of its territory, but in the happiness of its people, he said. The top eight happiest nations in the world are small ones. The future of Taiwan should be an ideal nation in which all the people are happy. Su vowed to achieve that goal with the joint effort of all Taiwanese people together.

Tsai announced her participation in the DPP primary election on March 11. According to the United Daily News, Tsai has noted the many problems facing Taiwan, ranging from sovereignty, diplomacy, the economy and many other areas. It is impossible to combine all these complex issues into a campaign slogan, but she said, “Let us join together to build a nation in which young people can envision their future.” If nominated by the DPP, Tsai would be the first female presidential candidate in the history of the Republic of China on Taiwan.

A law graduate from the National Taiwan University, Su has served as premier, presidential secretary-general, Pingtung County Magistrate, Taipei County Magistrate, chairman of the DPP, legislator and has held other civil service positions. In last year’s local elections, of five newly formed municipal mayors, Su ran against incumbent Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin but was not elected. Tsai has a PhD from the London School of Economics. She has served as vice premier, minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, legislator and in other civil service positions. She was elected DPP chairwoman in May 2008, after her party lost to the Kuomintang (KMT) in Taiwan’s presidential election. Both Su and Tsai are from Pingtung County in southern Taiwan.

At this point, it is very difficult to predicit who will win in the opinions polls. Despite her relative youth, Tsai is confident and ambitious. An editorial in the Taipei-based China Times  noted that after three years in the DPP chairmanship, Tsai has managed to win more victories than defeats in a dozen local elections since 2008. She has successfully established alliances with party elders and other party factions in various elections. She has managed to build alliances, but is careful not to step into the different party factions.

Before the registration deadline closed, Hsu borrowed NT$5 million (US$166,600) and threw his hat into the ring as well. He is the former Taoyuan County Magistrate and has served two terms as the party chairman. Hsu is predicted to have a slim chance of winning the DPP nomination, but his participation will put additional pressure on Su and Tsai.

Currently, the ruling KMT controls 73 seats of the total 111 seats in the Legislature Yuan while the DPP holds 33 seats. In Taiwan’s 22 cities and counties (including the five newly formed municipalities), the KMT dominates in 15 while the DPP has the upper hand in six.

According to the Liberty Times,,Taiwan’s Central Election Commission is holding five public hearings throughout the island regarding combining the 2012 presidential election with the legislative elections scheduled for January 4. The decision on whether the elections will be combined will be announced in mid-April at the earliest.

If the presidential election is moved ahead from March to January, the transition time before the new president takes office would be up to four months long. Some are worried that the long transition period for the “caretaker president” will negatively impact the political situation before the new president is inaugurated on May 20.

President Ma Ying-jeou is expected to be the KMT presidential candidate in 2012.

Affordable housing out of reach for most middle income earners

Despite the worldwide recession, buying an apartment in Taipei is still a costly endeavor when compared with average incomes, according to the “home buying index” developed by the Taiwan-based Chinese Society of Housing Studies. In 2009, low income earners needed to save an equivalent of 17.5 years worth of their salary to buy a house, while high earners needed to save for 11.5 years, the Commonwealth monthly reported.

The index commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior showed just what a heavy burden a mortgage can be for those with lower incomes. These people need to devote 72 percent of their income to pay for an average mortgage, while people earning higher incomes used nearly half of their salaries for mortgages in 2009.

Taiwan’s “ant tribe”

The term “ant tribe” was originally coined in China to describe young graduates on low incomes who live in cramped conditions – like a colony of ants. But Taiwan’s “ant tribe” is comprised of people forced to spend half of their income to buy a house or a third of their income to rent one.

A glaring example of Taiwan’s “ant tribe” can be seen in the properties owned by Chang Chuan-pin in the Taipei suburbs of Yonghe and Chonghe. Chang divided eight of his apartments into 75 tiny dwellings, each averaging roughly 10 to 13 square meters (33 to 44 sq. ft). His tenants are without the prospect of improving their quality of life, and their situations follow them from young adulthood to well-past middle age.

In an interview with the Commonwealth, Interior Minister Jiang Yi-huah admits that compared to over 100 cities worldwide, Taipei’s price-to-income ratio for housing is the fifth highest in the world, far exceeding that of New York City, Tokyo or Seoul. “I believe that this is an issue worthy of concern,” Jiang says.

When he returned from the United States 20 years ago to take a job as an assistant professor, he and his wife, who also taught at a university, had a combined annual income of over NT$1 million (about US$36,000). Living frugally, it took them approximately 12 years to be able to buy a NT$6 million (US$203,000) apartment.

Housing dependence

Engineer Peng Yang-kae, a director at the Organization of Urban Re-s, which promotes community-based urban policy changes, has a house in his name purchased by his mother. Many of his friends are also in the same situation of belonging to one of two “classes” of people: the “inheritance class” – those who inherited houses or received down payments for their mortgages from their parents and the “family-dependent class” – people who live with their parents because they cannot afford a place of their own.

An estimated 710,000 households, or more than 1.8 million people, in the greater Taipei area are without their own homes, living in rental accommodation or consigned to live with their parents. Yet the figures underestimate the size of this group, likely omitting people who have come to the Taipei area from other parts of the country, but have not changed their household registration. Many of these outsiders are forced to crowd into small single-room apartments.

Possible solutions

The Commonwealth reported that the first step in creating a healthy residential property market involves reforming the housing tax system. “Taiwan does not tax income on capital gains from housing transactions, and with false housing sales contracts being the norm, buying property has become the best tax dodge,” says Peng.

Even more urgent than reforming the tax system is encouraging the transparency of house prices. “Only if real estate information is clear can the core of a sound property market be built,” says Chang Chin-oh, the director of the Taiwan Real Estate Research Center at National Chengchi University, who believes greater transparency would have at least two positive effects. Brokers would be less able to manipulate house prices from the middle by serving as the representative of both the buyer and the seller.

To help the 30 percent of Taiwan’s households that rent, Taiwan’s government should offer tax breaks and incentives or force landlords to open empty apartments to tenants.

The Commonwealth stressed that government could invoke public authority and have landlords turn their units over to specialized property management companies. As long as tenants paid their rent, they would know that their buildings would be maintained properly. A sound rental system with similar guidelines would convince many Taiwanese people that they would not have to buy a property to have guaranteed housing.