President, former Premier talk trade war, low wages, China ties, in primary debate

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and former Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德) laid out their visions for Taiwan in a closely watched primary debate on June 8. (NOWnews)
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and former Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德) laid out their visions for Taiwan in a closely watched primary debate on June 8. (NOWnews)

TAIPEI (CNA) – President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and former Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德) laid out their visions for Taiwan in a closely watched primary debate on June 8, detailing how they intend to deal with the impacts of the U.S.-China trade war, low youth wages, and cross-strait issues if they win the 2020 Presidential Election.

The debate was the only one before the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) conducts primary polls next week.

In line with the usual top issues for past presidential campaigns, the debate revolved mostly around issues concerning the economy, social welfare, national sovereignty, and cross-strait ties.

Responding to a question from Business Today President Liang Yung-huang (梁永煌) on what are the three key issues facing Taiwan’s economy in the next four years and how they intend to solve them, Tsai said Taiwan’s economy and society will have to manage the impact of many variables.

President Tsai Ing-wen said that as the trade war could also have a dramatic impact on Asia’s economic structure, Taiwan must be fully prepared for the changes and work to strengthen its economic resilience, expand domestic demand and facilitate the repatriation of funds. (NOWnews)
President Tsai Ing-wen said that as the trade war could also have a dramatic impact on Asia’s economic structure, Taiwan must be fully prepared for the changes and work to strengthen its economic resilience, expand domestic demand and facilitate the repatriation of funds. (NOWnews)

“The biggest variable will undoubtedly be the U.S.-China trade war, which underscores the deep-rooted structural conflicts between the two powers and is bound to fundamentally change the global trading order,” Tsai said.

She said that as the trade war could also have a dramatic impact on Asia’s economic structure, Taiwan must be fully prepared for the changes and work to strengthen its economic resilience, expand domestic demand and facilitate the repatriation of funds.

If re-elected, she said, she will continue to use her policies of achieving self-reliance in defense manufacturing and energy transition to propel industrial upgrading and transformation, adding that she will also build a comprehensive social safety net to better take care of the nation’s labor force and retirees.

The trade war was also a subject of focus for Lai, who said he noticed the threats such a conflict could pose to Taiwan’s economy when he served as the premier from September 2017 to January 2019.

“But I also spotted opportunities,” Lai said. “That was why we worked to improve Taiwan’s investment environment and pass measures welcoming overseas Taiwanese businesspeople to invest in Taiwan.”

Former Premier Lai Ching-te called for the passage of an anti-annexation and anti-infiltration act amid China’s growing aggression against Taiwan. (NOWnews)
Former Premier Lai Ching-te called for the passage of an anti-annexation and anti-infiltration act amid China’s growing aggression against Taiwan. (NOWnews)

He said Taiwan should take advantage of the ongoing trade war and step up efforts to encourage the return of overseas Taiwanese businesspeople so as to help the nation achieve economic autonomy.

Regarding how to increase Taiwan’s economic integration with other stakeholders, both presidential hopefuls proposed the signing of a free trade agreement with the U.S. and other major allies.

They also pledged to push for the nation’s inclusion in the Japan-led Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) if they win the election.

As for the problem of low wages among young people, which lay at the heart of a question from Taiwan Citizen Front founder Lai Chung-chiang (賴中強), Tsai said her administration has sought to deal with the issue by raising the minimum wage three times, which combined constituted a 15-percent increase.

“But more importantly, we need to create more high-quality job opportunities for young people, so that their salary levels can be higher,” the president said, adding that she has endeavored to do so through her administration’s 5+2 Major Innovative Industries Plan.

Lai said, however, that the government should factor in the economic situation when deciding whether to implement minimum wage hikes and their extent, so as to ensure that the nation’s 1.4 million small and-medium sized enterprises can handle the increased personnel expenses.

He stressed that there is a two-pronged solution to the low wage problem. Firstly, efforts should be made to bridge the divide between education and employment and to instill in the younger generation knowledge about the new economy, he said.

Meanwhile, the government should create more jobs by encouraging investment from large international corporations such as Google and Amazon, and facilitate the return of overseas Taiwanese businesspeople, he said.

On the issue of national sovereignty, Tsai and Lai adopted a similar stance, arguing that the government should staunchly oppose China’s “one country, two systems” model and that Taiwan’s future should be decided by its 23 million people.

However, Lai also called for the passage of an anti-annexation and anti-infiltration act amid China’s growing aggression against Taiwan.

“Only through this can we deal with the rampant existence of the People’s Republic of China flags here, which has put many at unease.” Throughout the 1.5-hour debate, Tsai and Lai mostly maintained civility without much interaction.

But the tension between the two rose briefly on a few occasions when they talked about the DPP’s primary rules and Lai’s unprecedented decision to challenge a president from the same party who is seeking re-election.

“Taiwan is a democratic country, not an emperor system. It is up to the people to decide whether someone passes on the torch,” Lai said in his opening statement. “There are no such issues like palace coups, ambushes or (violating one’s) integrity.”

Insinuating interference by Tsai in the DPP’s primary process, Lai said that since the party delayed its primary polls three times and even changed its previous rules to include cellphone interviews, “shouldn’t the president support me if I still manage to win the primary?”

Tsai for her part stressed that she is halfway toward completing the “house she has designed for Taiwan,” saying that she was the one who brought the DPP back to its feet and restored party unity after its 2008 electoral defeat.

“I have neither strayed from the values the DPP stands for, nor have I failed the Taiwanese people’s expectations,” she said, calling for party solidarity.

The DPP is to determine its 2020 presidential candidate based on the results of public opinion polls conducted by five polling companies June 10-14.

They are required to collect a total of 15,000 valid samples, with cellphone and landline-based interviews each accounting for 50 percent and carrying equal weight. ●

By Stacy Hsu