Tag Archives: Premier Wu Den-yih

Swift action taken over food safety scare

In order to reassure Taiwanese consumers about the safety of the country’s food supply, the government said it will require safety certificates for the export of five types of food products — sports drinks, juices, teas, syrups and jams, and tablets and powders. “The aim is to restore global confidence in our food products and the ‘Made in Taiwan’ brand,” said Premier Wu Den-yih on June 2.

Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered a clouding agent manufactured and sold by Yu Shen Chemical Co., Ltd. and Pin Han Perfumery Co., Ltd. as food additives that contained a plasticizer commonly abbreviated as DEHP and DINP respectively. The FDA immediately launched an investigation since both these substances are considered carcinogenic and are illegal as food additives.  Affected businesses nationwide were ordered to recall and remove tainted products from their shelves, including sports drinks, fruit beverages, tea beverages, jams, fruit pulp and fruit jelly, and food supplements in capsules, tablets or powders, according to the details announced on May 23.

As part of its actions, the FDA notified the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Union’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) about affected products and about the companies involved. At the same time, countries that import any of these products were also notified as well.

In response, at least 15 countries and regions have taken their own special measures. The U.S. and Canada carried out emergency food safety inspections, while China, Malaysia and the Philippines banned the import of these products, and Hong Kong and South Korea now require safety certificates.

Although the total annual export value of the five product categories is relatively low, accounting for roughly US$23.50 million, the reputation of Taiwan’s food industry is at stake.

Premier Wu said the government will redouble its efforts to investigate the case, and to punish those responsible, cut off sources of the chemicals, destroy contaminated products, revise relevant laws and establish a food traceability system.

Starting from May 31, the five types of products have not been allowed on store shelves without a guarantee that they are plasticizer-free. As of June 2, a total of 18,123 goods from 6,219 distributors nationwide had been inspected.

The Taiwan-based China Times commented that the still evolving tainted-food scandal has created incalculable damage not just to people’s health, but also to Taiwan’s international image. And, the situation is a grave crisis that demands a rapid and high-level response and should be treated with the seriousness of a national security issue.

On June 10, the Legislative Yuan passed a revised act governing Food Sanitation, stipulating that any food manufacturers adding harmful additives to their products can get an administrative fine of NT$6 million (US$200,000). If it is determined that their products are harmful to people, they may face a 7-year fixed-term prison sentence,  criminal detention, or a combination of jail and a fine of NT$10 million (US$330,000).

Hsu Ming-neng, the FDA’s deputy director-general, said that the companies which have used illegal plasticizer would be severely punished in accordance with existing laws and should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, adding that no ceiling is set for fines. Quoted in the China Times, he said, “We will bring to justice all those liable in the latest food scare.”

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.

Most Taiwanese women opt to be single, childless

According to a recent survey by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS), 250,000 marriageable single women (about 18.46 percent of unmarried women) chose not to get married and nearly 70,000 married women do not plan to have children. This is a record high number in both categories in the history of the survey.

Taken every four years, the DGBAS’s “women’s marriage, fertility and employment” survey showed that 60 percent of single women between the age of 25 and 49 have not married because they have not met the right partner, 11 percent opted for being single for economic reasons, and 5.98 percent did not take the plunge for fear of getting into a bad marriage. The same survey also showed that unmarried women over the age of 15 accounted for 31.12 percent of Taiwan’s female population, while that was 28.82 percent 20 years ago, according to excerpts reported in the United Daily News.

Child subsidies would help

According to the survey, the average number of children that a married woman has is 2.52, a 0.6 decrease from 3.12 children in 1990. This figure showed a steady decline of married women having children. Also, the average time spent on housework for married women  was 4.27 hours a day, while married women without children only spent 2.32 hours.

Needless to say, having children cost time and money. According to the United Evening News, the average cost for caring for a child under 3 is NT$14,752 (US$500) per month. Given these added costs, over 30 percent of women believe that giving subsidies to take care of children under 6 would help encourage Taiwan’s fertility rate.

Higher education and equality are factors

The United Daily News reported the reason behind the rising number of Taiwanese women not getting married or bearing children has something to do with their increased education and growing self-awareness. According to the survey conducted by the Ministry of Education in 2009, among the population of 45-64 years of age, the ratio of women with higher education was 60 to 70 percent of their male counterparts. But for women aged 25-34, they have more higher education than men overall. From a gender perspective, having a higher education affects women’s inclination to marry and have children more than it does for men.

On March 7, Taiwan’s Premier Wu Den-yih said Taiwan’s women’s rights ranked the first in Asia and the fourth in the world based on United Nations’ ratings. Taiwan is only behind the Netherlands, Denmark and Switzerland. This distinction is only possible through the joint efforts of all Taiwanese people.

 Continuing imbalance in sex ratio

 The landscape of marriage will also change with the high ratio of boys to girls. As reported in the United Daily News, of the age group 25 to 44 years in 2009, men outnumbered women by 430,000 by a ratio of 10:7. According to the survey, before 1986, Taiwan had a normal sex ratio – for every 100 newborn girls, there were 103-107 boys. But the imbalance in the sex ratio began after 1986, especially in the first half of this year when the male and female sex ratio of newborn babies reached 110:100.

According to the Interior Ministry’s statistics, there were only 82,712 infants born in the first half of 2010, among them 43,348 boys and 39,364 girls, a difference of nearly 4,000 boys. In 2009, of the 190,000 babies born, the sex ratio between boys and girls was 108:100. Although it was Taiwan’s lowest in the last ten years, it was still the ninth highest imbalanced sex ratio in the world. By 2010 the sex ratio imbalance was worse, hitting a six-year high.

In the last 20 years, the number of boys born has outnumbered girls by 12,700 per year on average. And, if more Taiwanese women are electing not to get married, then this could mean that more Taiwanese men will not have the chance of matrimony, unless they look overseas.