Labor law change sparks protests and police action scrutiny

As the Tsai administration and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) prepares to pass amendments to the Labor Standards Act, the law that governs employer-employee relationship and workers’ rights in Taiwan, protests and demonstrations have followed over remarks from officials and the proposed changes, seen as catering to business demands. Low wages and long working hours have long been the norm for the Taiwanese work force, but expectations from the younger generations seem to make the status quo untenable.

This culminated to yesterday, where over 10,000 demonstrators protested the changes at various places in Taipei. New Bloom’s detailed account is worth a read. While police declared parts of the protests illegal due to an unapproved route change, the Taipei Bar Association and rights groups have accused the police of illegally detaining and transporting several demonstrators and volunteer lawyers at the scenes of protest and demanded apologies from the government.

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Prosecutors searched and questioned pro-unification party officials

Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau and police searched the homes of four New Party officials early Tuesday morning. Investigators entered New Party spokesperson Wang Bingzhong’s home with a search warrant after a 40-minute standoff, streamed lived on Wang’s Facebook page. Three other party members, all considered the upcoming new blood of the party, were searched and questioned before being released past midnight on Wednesday. Investigation Bureau did not provide additional details, but it is speculated that the searches are connected with Zhou Hongxu, a Chinese citizen serving a 14-month sentence for attempting to bribe a Taiwanese diplomat and recruit spies for China.

New Party was originally a faction within Kuomintang, but splintered off in 1993. It is a conservative party supporting Chinese unification (Group E on the spectrum). The party was once the third largest political party in Taiwan after the KMT and DPP, winning 21 and 11 seats in the Legislative Yuan in 1995 and 1998. It has since failed to garner support for electoral success, currently occupying no seats in the legislature and two seats in the Taipei City Council. New Party Chairman Yu Muming denounced the searches as politically-motivated, citing the party’s lack of governing status and lack of access to any classified information. Yu and a New Party delegation including Wang had just returned from a trip meeting Communist Party of China officials last week.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office condemned the moves “oppressing pro-unification forces”, while Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council countered the importance of judicial independence and expressed disapproval over “external intervention and commenting… [and] misunderstanding of democracy and rule of law.”

Parliament passes transitional justice legislation

Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan passes the Act Promoting Transitional Justice in a late-evening session today. The 21-article act mainly aims for truth-seeking and reparations from Taiwan’s authoritarian era. The law specified the authoritarian era as between August 15, 1945, when Japanese colonial rule of Taiwan ended, and November 6, 1992, when martial law on Kinmen and Matsu was lifted (martial law lifted in Taiwan proper in July 1987).

The law establishes the Promotion of Transitional Justice Committee as an independent agency under the Executive Yuan, with nine committee members nominated by the premier and confirmed by the Legislative Yuan. The committee will be in charge of acquiring Kuomintang historical archives to clarify the history of repression during rule of Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo.

Establishment of the committee follows the establishment of the Ill-gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee, responsible for investigating and returning ill-gotten political party assets during the same authoritarian era, mainly targeting the KMT and its affiliated organizations. The Promotion of Transitional Justice Committee is tasked with utilizing the returned assets.

Taiwan President to visit Pacific Islands

President Tsai Ing-wen is leading a delegation to visit three of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in the Pacific: Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and Solomon Islands. The delegation departs Taipei today, will make a stop in Honolulu, and will return on November 4 with a stop in Guam. China Airlines is selected to handle the delegation this time.

President Tsai is expected to meet with the head of state of each country and deliver a speech each at the Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands parliaments. She is also expected to meet with the Taiwanese community in Honolulu and visit aid projects sponsored by Taiwan International Cooperation and Development Fund (TaiwanICDF) in the three countries. The ROC first established diplomatic relations with Tuvalu in 1979, with Solomon Islands in 1983, and with Marshall Islands in 1998. Other allies in the region include Kiribati, Nauru, and Palau.

Mayor of Tainan appointed new premier

Following the resignation of Taiwanese Premier Lin Chuan 林全 and his cabinet yesterday, President Tsai Ing-wen today appointed Tainan Mayor William Lai 賴清德 as premier, leading the executive branch of Taiwan’s central government. The cabinet reshuffling is widely seen as a move to reverse Tsai’s low approval ratings to prepare for the 2018 local elections. Former premier Lin has not held any elected offices.

Lai, 57 and a doctor by profession, received a BS from National Taiwan University in Taipei and MD from National Cheng Kung University in Tainan. He subsequently studied at Harvard University and was awarded a Master of Public Health degree. He was elected to the National Assembly in 1996 and four times elected to the Legislative Yuan in 1998, 2001, 2004, and 2008, all representing the Democratic Progressive Party in then-Tainan City. After then-Tainan City and Tainan County were merged into a single municipality, Lai won the 2010 mayoral election and was re-elected in 2014 with ~73% of the votes.

Indigenous territories in Taiwan

Despite President Tsai Ing-wen’s apology to the indigenous peoples in August last year, indigenous rights still have a long way to go in Taiwan. In February this year, the Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP) started drafting regulations on defining traditional indigenous territories. These territories expand from current indigenous reserved territories, and are meant to include territories occupied by tribes before foreign invasions.

As most of Taiwan’s current population resides on the western side of the island, the current discussion is only on the 16 government-recognized tribes, who mostly reside on the eastern part of the island and in the Central Mountain Range. Surveys conducted by the CIP during 2002-2007 suggested that traditional indigenous territories are about 180 hectares, or ~50% of Taiwan. The draft CIP created this year, however, only included 80 hectares, as it excluded private properties and land owned by the government and its agencies, most of which were obtained through force and deceit in the last century.   Continue reading “Indigenous territories in Taiwan”