By Gu Erde

In Taiwan’s televised presidential debates, leading candidates Tsai Ing-wen and Eric Chu were equally matched, while third-party candidate James Soong delivered an emotional performance.

Soong (left), Chu and Tsai at Dec. 27 Taiwan presidential debate
Soong (left), Chu and Tsai at Dec. 27 Taiwan presidential debate

Tsai, Chu, and Soong had already faced each other at a televised forum on Dec. 25, where candidates shared their political views. The debate on Dec. 27 was another opportunity to launch verbal assaults at each other, yet after rounds of attacks, audiences were left wondering about the details.

Soong brought up a plan to “surpass South Korea and keep up with Singapore.” His goal is to make annual economic growth exceed South Korea’s by 1.5%, but this is only an abstract target with no concrete steps. As Tsai mentioned during the debate, Soong’s other plans are very similar to hers, except that Soong proposes maintaining closer trade ties with China.

Chu proposed a “three strategy plan,” a highlight of which is to dramatically raise basic wages from $20,008 new Taiwan dollars (NT) to NT $30,000 over four years. That is a difference of almost 50%. This is a bold proposal in response to widespread complaints regarding low wages, but how the plan will be implemented is unclear.

Tsai touts problem solving

Tsai, who had previously publicized her policy platform on multiple occasions, did not devote much time to policy during the debate but rather her role as a problem-solver ever since she took office. Tsai also vigorously criticized Chu’s current policy advisors as the people who have been ruining Taiwan over the past eight years.

During the press conference, Chu’s leadership abilities were also questioned because of the KMT’s recent internal chaos. Chu countered by saying, “Every political party is different. We must respect different opinions,” but his answer seemed evasive.

All three presidential candidates have recently proposed financial policies, and “Industry 4.0” has become a catchphrase claimed by all candidates as the solution to Taiwan’s economic problems. Nevertheless, none of the candidates have clearly outlined Taiwan’s version of “Industry 4.0,” but rather merely adopted the term as a catchy slogan. For example, in the political forum, Chu mentioned using “big data” to implement “Industry 4.0,” which sounded reasonable, but listeners had a difficult time understanding the relationship between the two.

During the debate, Chu’s strategy was clear. His jabs at Tsai focused on stirring up popular fears that the corrupt team of former president Chen Shui-bian would return to power under Tsai’s government. Using the DPP’s criticism of government employees’ and teachers’ benefits, Chu tried to strengthen civil servants’ sentiment against the DPP. Chu also claimed that Tsai’s cross-strait policy would “reignite the flames of war” between Taiwan and mainland China, returning cross-strait relation to the historical lows of the Chen Shui-bian period.

During the press conference, Tsai avoided directly responding to the question of whether Taiwan would lift its ban on US pork containing the feed additive ractopamine. Her only answer was that it was “too early” to start talking about whether or not to remove the ban. Chu also refrained from giving a full answer to this question, although Soong took a clear stance against lifting the ban.

Throughout the debate, the naturally eloquent Chu directed many arguments at Tsai, who managed to hold her ground for the most part. Tsai even countered Chu’s accusation regarding her family’s land speculation with an accusation that Chu used policy to engage in real estate speculation. Tsai, who is ahead in polls, attacked Chu for supporting policies that favored monied interests and speculators, but this was no more than a restatement of her previously stated views.

Verbal punches

Tsai and Chu threw verbal punches at each other as if the debate was a boxing match, but the points they won were limited. Surprisingly, it was the relatively carefree third-party candidate, James Soong, who left the deepest impression on audiences. With shrewdness stemming from decades of political experience, he found perfect opportunities to pounce. Furthermore, his three emotion-laden 90-degree bows to the audience during concluding remarks is sure to win him a few more votes during the election. However, these votes are likely to cost Eric Chu.

This article was first published in Chinese on Dec. 28, 2015 by The Initium Media, a Hong Kong-based digital media company. Asia Times has translated it with permission with editing for brevity and clarity.

Translated for Asia Times by Mengxi Seeley

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