by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Tsai Ing-wen/Facebook

TAIWANESE PRESIDENT Tsai Ing-wen gave a New Year’s address earlier today. This is the last New Year’s address of Tsai’s presidency, seeing as her second and final term will end later this year. Elections will take place on January 13th to decide who Taiwan’s next president will be.

The address was largely uneventful, with Tsai touting her policy accomplishments as president amidst changing international circumstances ahead of the elections, including geopolitical shifts such as the war in Ukraine following the Russian invasion, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. This continued the narrative that the Tsai administration has embraced regarding strengthening ties between Taiwan and the international world as a result of shared democratic values. Consequently, among the accomplishments that Tsai touted was the rollout of new military hardware such as the launch of 27 Brave Eagle advanced jet trainers as well as the launch of Taiwan’s first domestically manufactured submarine, the Narwhal.

Tsai touted cooperation in terms of supply chains, as well as with regard to aid that Taiwan provided to the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Likewise, Tsai touted increased investment by the international world in Taiwan, advances in trade agreements with the US, as well as Taiwan’s investment in Southeast Asia.

Livestream of Tsai’s speech

The bulk of Tsai’s speech focused on advances in terms of international ties, but Tsai also touched on domestic accomplishments. Tsai stated that there was still room for improvement when it came to housing, but touted increases in funding for childcare, education, labor insurance, and reduction of government debt. To this extent, Tsai brought up the need for Taiwan to develop renewable energy, in line with international trends–even if it has been the case that the KMT has sought to frame the Tsai administration as only interested in pushing for renewable energy because of investments by DPP politicians in green energy companies.

What drew the most attention, however, was comments by Tsai during the Q-and-A. Tsai directly criticized the KMT about the 1992 Consensus, stating that the ROC constitution was not dangerous for Taiwan but the 1992 Consensus was and that the KMT hoped to conflate the two. Likewise, Tsai criticized the 1992 Consensus as fictitious and invented after the fact by the KMT.

Otherwise, Tsai was asked about domestic issues that DPP presidential candidate Lai Ching-te has been questioned on such as nuclear energy and the death penalty. Tsai largely sought to avoid a firm answer on the death penalty, stating that social consensus showed that people feared violent crimes occurring to them. As for nuclear energy, Tsai stated that while the KMT called for a new push toward nuclear energy, this lacked concrete specifics such as providing the details of where new plants would be built or how to deal with nuclear waste disposal. Tsai also reiterated that she does not tolerate corruption or graft within her party.

This proves unusually combative for Tsai, who generally seeks to avoid partisan attacks on the KMT as part of her political style. Yet elections are, of course, less than two weeks away. Lai, as Tsai’s vice president, was present at the speech standing next to Tsai along with Presidential Office secretary-general Lin Chia-lung and Tsai commented that, of course, the candidate she supports was the one standing next to her.

One notes that during the vice presidential debate this afternoon, DPP vice presidential candidate Hsiao Bikhim largely echoed Tsai’s comments. This included criticizing the KMT as not having concrete plans for building nuclear plants in spite of calls to renew the widespread usage of nuclear energy in Taiwan, and touting growing international investment in Taiwan as a sign of strengthened international ties. Hsiao may have been deliberately echoing Tsai to further convey the message that a future Lai presidential administration would continue the policies of the Tsai administration.

Broadcast of Xi Jinping’s speech

Indeed, Tsai’s speech contrasts with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s New Year’s address, which was broadcast yesterday. Xi’s speech was a great deal more abstract than Tsai’s in rarely discussing any specific policy. Xi does not, after all, need to be concerned about his party failing to win elections. Though he touted his project of national rejuvenation and, as with Tsai, touted what he articulated as the accomplishments of his presidential administration, the speech has drawn the most attention in Taiwan because of his vowing again that reunification with Taiwan is part of his political agenda. Tsai’s comments about the 1992 Consensus were in the context of being asked about Xi’s speech.

However, as such, Tsai would be once again leveraging on how the Taiwanese public is increasingly distasteful of the 1992 Consensus. This is to the degree that successive KMT chairs such as Johnny Chiang and Eric Chu tried to distance themselves from the 1992 Consensus before facing opposition from others within the party such as former president Ma Ying-jeou. As the result of Tsai’s comments has been the KMT reiterating its commitment to the 1992 Consensus, this may have been a successful tactic on Tsai’s part.

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