Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Room for U.K.-Taiwan collaboration: BTCO

Taipei, Aug. 31 (CNA) Low carbon economy, creative industries and digital economy are among areas in which the United Kingdom and Taiwan can collaborate further under Britain's new coalition government, the top British representative in Taiwan said Tuesday.

The British government's position on Taiwan and China relations remains unchanged and is in line with that of the European Union, David Campbell, director of the British Trade and Cultural Office (BTCO) -- the U.K.'s representative office in Taiwan in the absence of official bilateral diplomatic ties -- said at a media briefing.

Updating the media about the policy of the new government led by Conservative Party Prime Minister David Cameron and his Liberal Democrat deputy, Nick Clegg, Campbell said the administration "places trade and commercial interests at the heart of its foreign policy."

The coalition, which took office in May, is also tackling the biggest issue -- the scale of its deficit -- and is trying to re-balance the economy away from consumption toward saving, investment and enterprise, he said.

Taiwan can play a big role in the development of low carbon economy, creative industries, digital economy and the 2012 London Olympics, he said, adding that Taiwan-based computer manufacturer Acer, one of the International Olympic Committee's global partners, which will provide information technology services for the Olympics, serves as a good example of this.

The U.K. government is committed to developing a sustainable low carbon economy with an ambitious target of getting 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, Campbell said. With respect to the creative industries, the U.K. has the largest creative industry sector in the EU and many creative sub-sectors such as architecture, design and digital media.

Green energy and culture and creation are listed as two of the Taiwanese government's "Six Key Emerging Industries, " project that includes tourism, medicine and health care, biotechnology, and high-end agriculture, so the two countries share similar strategies and have common ground to foster closer collaboration and exchanges, he said.

Responding to a reporter's question on whether his office has noticed a loss of Taiwanese investors to China after the two sides signed the economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) to further liberalize cross-Taiwan Strait trade, Campbell said that while the U.K. shares the same position as the EU in welcoming the signing of the ECFA, "it is too early to tell" what the impact of the trade pact will be.

"We would say there's good news and bad news for us. The good news is we attract a very large portion of Taiwanese investment in the EU. The bad news is that the percentage of Taiwan's investment in the EU is very small."

Campbell said his office is trying to explain the advantages in terms of Europe rather than just the U.K., because Taiwanese companies are not only interested in the U.K. market of 61 million but also in the EU market of 500 million people. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Civic groups call for reform as education conference opens

Taipei, Aug. 28 (CNA) Civic groups called for education reform on a wide range of issues, including attention on special education, a 12-year compulsory education system and deregulation on the sidelines of the National Education Conference in Taipei on Saturday.

The two-day conference at the National Central Library gathered officials, teachers and representatives of civic groups from across the country with the aim of formulating "an education policy that will pave the way for Taiwan's 'golden decade, '" according to Minister of Education Wu Ching-ji.

The conference, which was the first of its kind in 16 years, planned to discuss 10 central themes, including the education system in general, higher education, special education, faculty training, internationalized campuses and education, and lifelong learning.

Across from conference, civic groups gathered to highlight issues related to education.

"Taiwan's education problems will not be solved by a conference, especially one that excludes people who have been working at the front line of education and spend time with students and children every day, " Lu Jen, a professor at Ming Chuan University, told the media in a "civic education conference" that was called by more than a dozen civic organizations.

"Deregulation is key in Taiwan's education reform. Taiwan's food culture has prospered without the government holding a food conference. The same results can happen for education," Lu said.

He called for the government to "take its hands off" education and let institutions develop under a free market concept.

In his opening speech at the conference, President Ma Ying-jeou said there was still a lot of work to do in developing the education system, but added that "Taiwan must have done something right" to allow Taiwanese students to shine in international competitions and continue its impressive technological development.

Ma stated several priorities of his education policy, such as narrowing the financial gap between public and private institutions, increasing student exchanges and improving the quality of vocational education. He also highlighted the importance of making adjustments for Taiwan's low birth rate, which the Council for Economic Planning and Development has projected will be the lowest in the world this year.

Outside the conference, representatives from civic groups voiced their concerns. The implementation of a 12-year compulsory education system should be a priority because the high school enrollment system puts too much pressure on students, said Hsieh Kuo-ching, president of the National Alliance of Parents Organization.

The current compulsory education system, which has been in place since 1968, requires six years of elementary school and three years of junior high school.

"We demand a timetable for implementation, because the discussion of a 12-year compulsory education has been going on for more than a decade but nothing has been done," he said.

Kuo Hsin-mei, president of the Association for Learning Disability in Taiwan, said that special education needs have not been addressed by the government at all, which she said was obvious because there isn't a single agency under the Ministry of Education to handle special education issues.

Khoo Jih-perng, an associate professor at Taipei Municipal University of Education who represents an academic alliance calling for the passage of a bill on childhood education and child care, said Taiwan lacks a preschool education policy.

Khoo said Taiwan needs a policy that integrates education and social welfare resources to tackle the issue of working parents not having enough money for child care and preschool education, especially single-parent families.

Other representatives urged the government to increase the budget for lifelong learning and carry out teacher evaluation at all levels to ensure high-quality education for students.

The conference concludes Sunday. Education Minister Wu said that his ministry would incorporate the results of the conference and that it aimed to release an education white paper by the end of the year as a blueprint for future policy. (By Chris Wang) enditem/bc

Friday, August 27, 2010

Five candidates win British Council scholarships

Taipei, Aug. 27 (CNA) Five Taiwanese aspirants have won the first IELTS (International English Language Testing System) Scholarships contested in Taiwan and will soon head overseas to start the fall semester in selected schools, the British Council Taipei announced Friday.

"We are delighted to announce the five winners of our new British Council IELTS scholarships for Taiwanese students planning to study at postgraduate levels at overseas universities," said Alison Devine, the new director of the British Council, the U.K.'s top international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities.

Lin Nen-wei, Lee Yi-fang, Wu Pin-hsien, Li Yi-shan and Luh Tau-yu will each receive a scholarship of NT$100,000, said Devine, who assumed her post in late June. Except for Luh, who will be studying in the United States, the other winners will be going to the U.K.

Devine said the winners were among 15 individuals who were selected from a pool of 153 applicants in the first phase of the process before emerging through the second-phase interview process.

Most of the winners are professionals with working experience. Li, who was admitted to the University of Edinburgh, has taught at a junior high school in the central city of Taichung for five years.

Lee, who will attend University College London and major in preschool education, has been an auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers for four years.

"Most Taiwanese students choose to study in the U.K. because it takes only a year, rather than two years in the U.S., to receive a degree. It takes a lot of financial pressure off students and their parents," Lee said.

Annual tuition in the U.K. ranges between NT$400,000-500,000, Lee said, about half what it costs in the U.S.

The winners also praised IELTS, an exam testing the ability to listen, speak, write and read in English, and compared it favorably to the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) , a U.S. Internet-based test, for its face-to-face interaction.

Prudence Chou, the British Council's Exam Service Manager, said the average score of Taiwanese students taking the test increased from 5.59 (out of nine points) in 2007 to 5.72 in 2009, but indicated that there was still room for improvement relative to the average scores of other Asian countries.

According to the British Council, female test takers outnumbered male test takers by a 7: 3 ratio, which one of the winners attributed to Taiwan's social traditions.

"I discussed the fact with my friends and most of them thought that it would be much harder for Taiwanese men to suspend their jobs without pay for a year like me. Men tend to shoulder more 'social pressure' to be financially stable in Taiwan's society, " said Li, who plans to resume her job as a teacher in late 2011.

The British Council Taipei said it will offer scholarships again in 2011 to help more Taiwanese students. (By Chris Wang) enditem/ls

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Taiwan hopes for 'flexible approach' in AUO case: MOFA

Taipei, Aug. 26 (CNA) Taiwan's government hopes the U.S. will take a "flexible approach" in a case involving AU Optronics Corp. (AUO) after three active and former top executives were banned from leaving the U.S., a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official said.

"The case is now in the middle of the legal process and the Taiwan government does not intend to interfere with the U.S. justice system. According to the principle of presumed innocence, however, we hope that the U.S. takes a flexible approach when dealing with this case, " Harry Tseng, director-general of the MOFA's Department of North American Affairs, said Thursday at a media briefing.

The three executives, along with AUO, its U.S. subsidiary, and other senior managers, were indicted in June by the U.S. Department of Justice for allegedly conspiring to fix the prices of TFT-LCD panels from Sept. 14, 2001 to Dec. 1, 2006.

The executives were barred from leaving the U.S. and told to remain in California by a court in San Francisco on Aug. 19 after they appeared for a hearing on the case.

AUO CEO Chen Lai-juh and AUO Vice Chairman Chen Hsuan-bin remain in San Francisco to manage AUO's business interests there, while former AUO Executive Vice President Hsiung Hui returned to his residence in San Diego.

Tseng said that the fact the executives traveled to the U.S. to plead their cases showed they were not aiming to avoid court appearances.

While the executives can still manage business within the U.S., a travel ban and a long legal process could affect their business operation, he said.

The ministry has been trying to consult the U.S. administrative branch on the case as well as contacting officials from the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) , the U.S. representative office in Taiwan in the absence of official bilateral diplomatic ties, Tseng said, but there was not much the government could do.

The ministry learned about the case as early as July and AUO has sought legal consultation from the ministry, he added. (By Chris Wang) enditem/bc 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Matsu to boost tourism to prevent marginalization

Taipei, Aug. 24 (CNA) Taiwan's outlying Matsu Island group is launching a drive to attract more foreign tourists in the hope that a local tourism boost can prevent marginalization amid the warmer ties between Taiwan and China, a local tourism official said Tuesday.

"If Matsu does not try to leverage its geographic advantages, its economy will be marginalized as cross-strait direct flights are now running at full steam, " said Tsao Erh-yuen, director of the Tourism Bureau of the Lianjiang county government, on the sidelines of a press conference to announce a three-day tourism promotional tour.

Matsu, an archipelago in the Taiwan Strait lying 190 km from Taiwan's Keelung and 19 km from the Chinese coast, is administered by Taiwan as a part of Lianjiang County. The other part of the county is in China and has been under the control of the People's Republic of China since 1949.

Matsu, which is located off the coast of eastern Fujian Province, and Kinmen, another Taiwan-controlled outlying island which is near China's Xiamen, were at the forefront of the cross-strait conflict and remained under the war-zone civil administration until 1992, five years after the lifting of martial law in Taiwan.

According to Tsao, the local economy received a boost in 2001 after the implementation of the "mini three links" that allow limited postal, transport and trade links between several Chinese cities and Kinmen and Matsu.

However, he added, since links allowing direct flights, shipping and postal between Taiwan proper and China were fully implemented in 2008, Matsu has become merely a "stopover" en route to Taiwan for Chinese tourists.

"Generally speaking, our local tourism really needs a shot in the arm, " he said. According to Tsao's bureau, total tourist arrivals to Matsu were around 20,000 in 2004, increasing to more than 80,000 in 2009. Kinmen attracts far more travelers than Matsu by a 5:1 ratio.

For this reason, Matsu, which is known for its liquor production, traditional Fujianese architecture and military tunnels and fortresses, intends to do everything it can to attract more foreign tourists, who account for less than 10 percent of its annual visitors, said Lianjiang Magistrate Yang Sui-sheng.

The tour will include three female Russian students studying at Kainan University in northern Taiwan's Taoyuan County. Alexandria Zakhazova, 22, her 20-year-old sister Daria and Maria Kravchenko, 18, will get first-hand experience of the archipelago, along with 12 foreign reporters.

"We came to Taiwan to study because this is a place where you can see multiple influences, including those from Japan, the United States and China. I think it's going to be an exciting experience to learn about a new place. And we would love to visit as many places as possibly can during our stay in Taiwan, " said Alexandra Zakhazova.

The girls appeared at the press conference dressed in Republic of China army uniform a day before their departure for Matsu, an area of less than 30 square kilometers that at one point was home to a garrison of more than 50,000 troops. The number of soldiers stationed there is now down to around 2,000. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Forum highlights importance of technology for city development

Taipei, Aug. 21 (CNA) Participants in a forum held in Taipei Saturday highlighted the importance of technological development for the competitiveness of a global city and previewed a future trend of the rise of mega cities.

The future of a modern city has a great deal to do with its technological readiness and how tech-savvy its residents are, according to experts in various fields, including a social media website founder, a political candidate in the year-end Taipei mayoral election and an Internet guru.

"Of all the cities I have visited, I have seen some that have prospered because of their advanced technological development and I have seen some that have faltered, " said Alvin Yoon, founder of Plurk -- one of the most popular social media websites in Taiwan -- at the forum organized by Business Next magazine.

Yoon, who travels constantly on business, said that Taipei's Easy Card is one of the best innovations for a resident in everyday life because it can be used not only on almost every public transport system but also in libraries and designated stores, an innovation that had left him with a good impression.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) , Taiwan's Networked Readiness Index ranked No. 11 in the world and third among Asian countries in 2010.

The world is also embracing a trend toward the rise of mega cities, said Rebecca Chang, a former general manager of Google Taiwan. She added that the mayor of a mega city would be expected to have at least the same -- if not more -- impact than a head of state in the future.

The reason for this is simple, she said, because according to estimates, more than 70 percent of the people on Earth will live in urban areas in the future.

Chang said she is cautiously optimistic about Taipei's future as a technologically advanced metropolis, as the city ranked No. 39 in the Global Cities Index 2010 released the previous week by U.S.-based Foreign Policy magazine, and because Taiwan has always been one of the most successful countries in developing information and communication technology.

Su Tseng-chang, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party's candidate in the Taipei mayoral election in November and an avid user of social media sites such as Plurk and Facebook, said technology and the Internet have changed the face of modern politics.

Citing the example of U.S. President Barack Obama, who is seen as the most successful political candidate to have run an election campaign on the Internet, Su said political candidates now are able to communicate with and mobilize voters, as well as to receive donations online.

"Modern politics is no longer a top-down process. It is now a bottom-up process and a two-way dialogue. The government and the cities are no longer run by the elite but by everyone who is willing to participate in the dialogue, " said Su, who has more than 55,000 fans on his Facebook fan page. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

Thursday, August 19, 2010

U.S., EU observing Taiwan's move on rice wine tax cuts

Taipei, Aug. 19 (CNA) The representative offices in Taiwan of the United States and the European Union (EU) both took a wait-and-see approach Thursday to an imminent amendment of a law that would lower the tax on rice wine, which both parties consider a violation of World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations.

The Executive Yuan passed a draft amendment to the Tobacco and Alcohol Tax Law last month to adjust the tax on rice wine by moving it from the distilled spirit category to the cooking wine category. The amendment was expected to clear the Legislative Yuan late Thursday.

"We will carefully look at new laws or amendments that may conflict with the WTO obligations of members, particularly any changes that will treat domestic products more favorably than imported ones. We expect WTO members to act in accordance with their WTO commitments, " said Sheila Paskman, a spokeswoman of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT).

The European Economic and Trade Office said meanwhile that it will let the EU Parliament in Brussels handle the EU's official response.

Under the draft amendment, the tax on a 0.6-liter bottle of rice wine will be reduced from NT$29.25 (US$0.93) to NT$5.4 and the price of a bottle of rice wine will be cut to NT$25 from NT$50. The price adjustment has sparked questions in the U.S. and the EU as to whether it violates the regulations of the WTO, of which Taiwan is a member.

Citing public opinion surveys, the government has argued that 96.4 percent of the population use rice wine solely for cooking rather than drinking, in an effort to convince the U.S., the EU and other WTO members that lowering rice wine prices will not have an impact on other types of alcohol.

Both the U.S. and the EU -- the main producers of brandy and whisky -- fear that once the price of the kitchen staple is lowered, sales of whisky, brandy and other varieties of alcohol will be affected. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

AIT affirms 'solid' U.S.-Taiwan relations

Taipei, Aug. 19 (CNA) The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) reaffirmed the "solid" relationship between the United States and Taiwan Thursday in response to a question regarding a domestic political controversy about current bilateral relations.

"I think the U.S.-Taiwan relations are pretty solid, politically and economically...but of course there is room for improvement, such as in the area of educational and cultural exchange, " said Sheila Paskman, spokeswoman of the AIT, the U.S. representative office in Taiwan in the absence of official diplomatic ties.

Paskman was responding to a reporter's question about what Su Tseng-chang, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party's candidate in the year-end Taipei mayoral election, said earlier this week in New York. Su said that the current administration of President Ma Ying-jeou "had boasted about its accomplishment of improving Taiwan-U.S. relations."

She also reiterated U.S. support for improved cross-Taiwan Strait relations and the economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA), a historic trade pact signed June 29 that aims to liberalize trade between Taiwan and China.

Paskman, who took up her position in July, declined to compare bilateral relations during the current and the previous administrations, saying that she was new to the job and was not in a position to make comparisons.

Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to Su's comment with a press release Wednesday, citing comments by U.S. officials and U.S. support for the signing of the ECFA to highlight the current administration's success in managing Taiwan-U.S. ties. (By Chris Wang) enditem/bc

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

APEC food security forum opens in Taipei

Taipei, Aug. 18 (CNA) The first-ever food security forum of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) opened in Taipei Wednesday, hoping to develop an action plan by the end of the three-day meeting, Taiwan's top agriculture officials said.

The forum will launch a discussion on establishing a regional food security mechanism, a pressing issue in light of climate change, said Chen Wu-hsiung, the head of the Council of Agriculture (COA) , which organized the forum.

The initiative was submitted by Taiwan, which uses the name of Chinese Taipei in APEC, in the APEC Agricultural Technical Cooperation Working Group last year, Chen said.

APEC is a forum for 21 Pacific Rim Member Economies to cooperate on regional trade and investment liberalization and facilitation. According to the COA, 95 delegates from 20 economies are attending the three-day meeting that ends Aug. 20.

With respect to Taiwan's food security, Chen said the government is paying attention to the issue and has developed a complete strategic plan to tackle the problem.

The plan involves building safety stocks, combating climate change, improving agricultural production efficiency, and forging sustainable agricultural development, he said.

Taiwan has increased its annual stock of rice -- Taiwan's food staple -- from 300,000 tons to 430,000 tons, Chen said. Although Taiwan is only 30 percent self-sufficient in grains, the domestic supply of rice has been stable and most of Taiwan's food imports are grass crops.

The COA has been working on revitalizing fallow land and has successfully replanted 20,000 hectares of the 220,000 hectares of idle farmland in the country, according to Chen.

The ministry also plans to restructure the agricultural sector to focus more on producing field corn and lower-quality rice that can be grown quickly in large quantities in case of a food shortage.

"High-quality rice is already abundant in Taiwan," Chen said. (By Chris Wang) enditem/ls

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Canadian office in Taiwan to be relocated

Taipei, Aug. 17 (CNA) The Canadian Trade Office in Taipei (CTOT), Canada's representative office in Taiwan in the absence of official bilateral diplomatic ties, said in a press release Tuesday that its office will be closed Aug. 19-23 due to relocation.

No visa or passport services will be available during the relocation period, the CTOT said, adding that its office will reopen Aug. 24 at No. 1, Songzhi Rd., Xinyi district, located in Taipei's busiest commercial district.

"The new CTOT represents a significant re-investment for Canada and demonstrates the value we place on Canada-Taiwan relations. Over the next year, as the CTOT celebrates 25 years in Taiwan, we will be announcing a number of new initiatives which will make Canada an even more attractive and convenient place to visit, work, study or to do business, " said CTOT Executive Director Scott Fraser. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

Monday, August 16, 2010

65 years after WWII, Taiwanese veterans hope to be recognized

Distant memories of the Pacific War and the deaths of fellow child-workers and comrades still bring tears to the eyes of Lee Hsueh-feng and Lin Teh-hwa, two of more than 200,000 Taiwanese directly involved in World War II.

At around the time of the 65th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings that led to the end of the World War II, there are still no formal ceremonies in Taiwan or memorials erected to commemorate former military men like Lee and Lin.

This is why they appeared at the War Memorial Park located in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, an important military and industrial center during the Japanese colonial era from 1895-1945, and called for the government to pay due respect to Taiwan's World War II veterans.

"Maybe it (the lack of recognition) is because we were seen as Japanese, which we really were at the time, " said 85-year-old Lin, who joined the Japanese Imperial Navy in 1943 at 17 as a volunteer because soldiers' families received special benefits.

Lin, who hails from central Taiwan, said he made the decision because "I had four older brothers. And at 17, I feared nothing, including death." He was fortunate to stay in Taiwan as a naval driver instead of being sent to the South Pacific theater, but said that "serving in the Japanese military was living hell," nonetheless.

Lee, on the other hand, went to Yamato City in Japan's Kanagawa Prefecture that same year, in the first group of Taiwanese child workers, called "shonenko" who answered a call from the Japanese government to build fighter planes. In all, more than 8,000 boys aged 12-14 left their families, homeland and childhood with the promise of an education in Japan. However, the promises and their dreams were never fulfilled.

In December 1944, 25 Taiwanese boys were killed in a United States' air raid on Nagoya. Lee, at 17, was the oldest of the group, and assumed the responsibility of taking care of his "brothers, " who often got homesick and cried at night.

"We had a very hard time (in Japan) but we were a happy group of kids. Losing them (the 25 boys) just broke my heart, " Lee recalled, adding that 300 of them never returned to Taiwan after the war.

Those 25 boys, along with 30,304 Taiwanese soldiers killed in the war, including former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui's older brother, are still remembered at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine and have never officially returned to their homeland either, Lee lamented.

Lee said he often wonders how he was able to tell his grandchildren that "grandpa built fighter planes for the Japanese Imperial Air Force at your age" in a time when most university students in Taiwan have little understanding of Taiwan's history and when some of them even think it was Japan rather than the United States, that bombed Taiwan in war.

Liang Chih-hsiang, 82, was one of the very few who fought as a Japanese soldier in the South Pacific before being recruited and sent to China by the Kuomintang (KMT) government to combat the troops of the Communist Party of China.

Yang Liao Shu-hsia, 83, was a 16-year-old student in the Japanese territory in Shanghai when the war in the Pacific broke out. She volunteered to be trained and serve as a military nurse and was not able to return to Taiwan until 1947.

Stories like these could go on and on. Those who were involved in the war are now in their 80s and, as Lee puts it, will be "naturally fading away" soon.

There should be a memorial in Taiwan like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, which lists the names of those who died and those who remain unaccounted for in the Vietnam War, because the war experience is a collective memory of millions of people, said Jiang Chung-hwa, chairman of the Taiwan Extra-Patriot Veterans Association (TEPVA).

The association is seeking collaboration from dozens of civic organizations, as well as donations from the public, to establish a memorial park where a monument can be erected and ceremonies can be held annually for the families of the World War II Taiwanese soldiers and service members to commemorate their loved ones.

"There has been so little commemoration of the war in Taiwan in which millions of people were directly or indirectly involved. This is a strange society, " said TEPVA Secretary-General Chuang Sheng-huang.

Citing statistics from Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Chuang said that around 8,000 Taiwanese soldiers and more than 120,000 other service personnel were involved in the Pacific War, 15,000 of whom are listed as missing in action.

Taiwan's society today is known for its diversification, but the same goes for Taiwanese society in the 1940's, according to Chuang. "Some of the soldiers volunteered, while some were forced to fight for Japan. Some thought of themselves as Taiwanese while others regarded themselves as Japanese," he said.

"There were even some Taiwanese who volunteered to fight for the KMT in the Chinese civil war," he added.

"Irrespective of the political ideology, the war memories and humanity are the same then and now. What we're trying to do is to reveal history and let history speak for itself," he said. By Chris Wang CNA Staff Reporter ENDITEM/J

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Taiwan government faces challenges after ECFA: scholars

Taipei, Aug. 14 (CNA) The signing of a historic trade pact between Taiwan and China was just the start of a wide range of economic and political tasks for the Taiwanese government to overcome and cautiously review, scholars said.

The trade pact, known as the economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) , aims to liberalize cross-Taiwan Strait trade by eliminating tariffs and relaxing regulations. The two sides signed the agreement on June 29 and its screening by Taiwan's legislature is pending.

Almost all discussions before the signing were focused on "the early-harvest list, " which pinpoints sectors that benefit or suffer from the agreement.

The pursuit for a bilateral investment agreement (BIA) and the implementation of the ECFA, however, are now two of the most important issues at hand, said Jack Lee, a professor of economics at National Open University.

The BIA is not a new issue, and it's especially important for Taiwan because signing one with China would not only protect Taiwanese investors and businessmen in China, where laws and regulations are frequently not respected or implemented, but also attract foreign investment because the BIA would ensure foreign investors aare protected, Lee said.

Complaints of cross-strait business disputes filed to the Straits Exchange Foundation, a quasi-official organization that handles negotiations between Taiwan and China, increased from 291 in 2007 to 784 in 2009.

The issue of sovereignty -- one of the most sensitive and controversial topics in Taiwan-China relations -- would come into play if the sides tried to settle disputes through the World Trade Organization (WTO) , he said, adding that the method does not look feasible because it would take too much time.

Lee also said that Taiwan's and China's goals after the signing of the ECFA are different. While Taiwan is looking to protect its businesses with investment protection mechanisms, China is eyeing investment promotion, which means Taiwan would need to allow more Chinese investment flow.

"Current Chinese investment in Taiwan is less than US$100 million. China wants Taiwan to further open its door, " he said. "But Taiwan is not ready yet, fearing its national security would be jeopardized and its know-how would be 'stolen' if more Chinese investment came in."

If these concerns can be resolved by putting every detail down in writing, Lee said Taiwan will be able to attract more foreign investors by allowing more Chinese investment.

William Lin, a professor of finance at Tamkang University, said that Taiwan's intention to develop its service sectors in China will likely hit a snag in the financial and air transport industries.

"Financial service is such a sensitive and complicated sector that it's difficult to open to foreigners in any country. And Taiwan's businesses have been disappointed at China's unwillingness to open its air transportation market so far," Lin said.

Chang Wu-yueh, a political scientist at Tamkang University, said that politically, the "success" in ECFA negotiations reduces cross-strait tension and lays the foundation for more exchange, but it doesn't mean both sides are ready to engage in a comprehensive dialogue, especially a political one.

"In cross-strait negotiations, some see business opportunities and some see more than 1,300 missiles directed at Taiwan. The real answer probably lies somewhere in between," Chang said.

He advised the Taiwan government to assess China's different mindsets and goals of bilateral exchanges in three stages -- between June 2010, when the ECFA is signed; the time the deal is ratified and implemented leading up to the 2012 presidential election; and after 2013, when Chinese President Hu Jintao has retired and handed power to his successor.

Despite signs the people of Taiwan are generally happy with the current direction of cross-strait relations development, Taiwan's China policy has always been controversial and partisan domestically. That is why support for bilateral political talks is far weaker than for trade talks, Chang said.

Moreover, he said, the results of more bilateral trade exchange have not yet trickled down to benefit the general public, nor have they boosted Taiwan's national economy.

Chang said that with people growing impatient, key factors for the Taiwan government to win support for future negotiations include its success in landing more free trade agreements with major trading partners; boosting gross domestic product (GDP) growth; lowering the unemployment rate; and bridging the wealth gap. (By Chris Wang) enditem/bc

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Women's volleyball Grand Prix to be held in Taipei

Taipei, Aug. 11 (CNA) Beijing Olympics gold medalist Brazil highlights the four-team World Grand Prix Taipei 2010 that will be played in Taiwan on Aug. 20, a rare chance for local volleyball fans to see the best in the sport.

Brazil, Taiwan, Puerto Rico and Poland will play a round robin at the National Taiwan University Sports Center in Taipei from Aug. 20-22 as part of this year's World Grand Prix, organizer Chinese Taipei Volleyball Association (CTVA) said Wednesday at a press conference.

The World Grand Prix is an annual women's volleyball competition of 12 teams, four each from America, Europe and Asia.

It consists of two phases -- a preliminary round with a system of rotating host cities and one or more final rounds with one or more host nations.

In this year's event, the preliminary round spans three weeks, with the top six teams qualifying for the final round.

Taiwan, which is appearing in the event for the third time ever and the first time since 2007, has high hopes after being added to the event as a replacement for South Korea, which decided not to enter the Grand Prix this year, said CTVA secretary-general Chang Chin-jong.

The CTVA's main goal is for the Taiwan women's national volleyball team to finish in the top three in the biennial Asian championships -- the most important event aside from the Olympic Games to local sports administrators -- something Taiwan has never done.

The CTVA hoped to change that when it hired respected Japanese head coach Norimasa Sakakuchi to coach the women's junior team in 2006.

Sakakuchi coached the juniors to a fourth place at the Asian Junior Championships in 2006 and to a bronze medal finish in the same tournament two years later before taking over the national team.

Although Taiwan's national side could only manage a sixth-place finish at the Asian Women's Championships in 2009, it continues to train eight months every year and hopes for better performances in major competitions in the future, Chang said.

But it will not be easy, as seen in Taiwan's performance in the first round of this year's Grand Prix. It lost consecutive matches to Brazil, Italy and Japan in Brazil this past weekend, failing to win a set.

Yet Chang remains optimistic that Taiwan can eventually stand on the podium in an Asian Championships.

"If we work hard, the goal is not impossible, seen by Taiwan's surprising fourth-place finish in last week's 2010 Asian Men's Volleyball Championships," he said.

The CTVA hopes that the appearance of Brazil will attract more local fans, Chang said. Brazil has proved that it has replaced Cuba as the superpower in women's volleyball through its dominance in Beijing and by winning the last two and five of the last six Grand Prix.

Taiwan is scheduled to meet 2009 European Championship bronze medalist Poland on Aug. 20, Brazil on Aug. 21, and Puerto Rico, ranked 14th in the world on Aug. 22 in Taipei.

The top five teams in the preliminary round and host China will enter the final round, which will be played from Aug. 25-29 in Ningbo, China. (By Chris Wang) enditem/ls

Kuo on Taiwan's preliminary roster for Asian Games baseball tourney

Taipei, Aug. 11 (CNA) Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star pitcher Kuo Hung-chih has been listed Taiwan's preliminary 45-man roster for the Asian Games, which was made public by Taiwan's baseball association Wednesday.

The left-hander headlined a roster dominated by players performing in the United States at the major league and minor league levels.

The Chinese Taipei Baseball Association (CTBA) is still unsure, however, if Kuo will be able to join the team in Guangzhou, China in November.

It will not be easy for the Dodgers to make Kuo available for the tournament because of his injury-prone past, said national team manager Yeh Chih-hsien.

The 29-year-old Kuo is enjoying the best season of his six-year Major League Baseball career. As the Dodgers' main set-up man, he has a 3-1 record with three saves and a 1.41 ERA in 36 appearances.

The possibility of being rejected by the Dodgers or other clubs to release Taiwanese players for the Asian Games has not stopped the CTBA from trying to put together a strong roster.

"We're still planning to recruit the best players available for the Asian Games, " Yeh said.

Twenty of the 45 players on the roster are currently playing in foreign leagues. Brother Elephants slugger Peng Cheng-min is among 18 players from the Taiwan's professional league, the Chinese Professional Baseball League, while seven are amateurs.

Taiwan's recruiting strategy reflects its determination to defend its Asian Games title. It has pursued every Taiwanese player performing at a Class A-Advanced League level or higher, with the exceptions of Washington Nationals pitcher Wang Chien-ming and one other minor leaguer.

The CTBA is scheduled to name its 24-player roster to participate in the 2010 Intercontinental Cup tournament, which will be played in Taiwan in October, before deciding the final roster for the Asian Games.

Taiwan won its first baseball gold at the Asian games in Doha, Qatar in 2006. (By Chris Wang) enditem/ls

Friday, August 06, 2010

Where Taiwan's major trading partners stand on FTAs

A joint statement by Taiwan and Singapore Thursday that they have agreed to explore the feasibility of an economic cooperation agreement represents a breakthrough for Taiwan following its recent historic trade pact with China.

The Taiwan government has said that the economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China will prevent Taiwan from being marginalized in the Asia Pacific region, where economic integration is taking place rapidly.

The ECFA will also help to reduce cross-Taiwan Strait tensions and thus increase Taiwan's chances of securing trade deals with its major trading partners, as China will stop blocking the efforts in that direction, the government has said.

Taiwan is hoping that the Singapore initiative will be the first in a series of trade liberalization negotiations with other countries.

The level of success of Taiwan's efforts to forge other trade pacts will be seen as a barometer of whether the ECFA is living up to expectations.

The following are the positions of Taiwan's major trading partners on potential bilateral trade deals:
-- The United States

The U.S. has said that a full-fledged FTA with Taiwan is not on the cards at this time because it does not think Taiwan is fully prepared to open its market. However, it supports Taiwan's right as a World Trade Organization (WTO) member to sign FTAs with other members, the U.S. said.

"The United States has no plans to begin talks with Taiwan about an FTA at this time," said David Shear, a deputy assistant secretary of state, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Raymond Burghardt, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, made a similar statement at a round table meeting with the Taiwan press June 4.

The U.S. intends to improve bilateral trade ties with Taiwan under the framework of an existing Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) and there is not much enthusiasm in Washington for another FTA, he said.

Both sides will try to use a "block-building" format that will rely on a series of specific deals under the TIFA framework, such as a bilateral investment agreement and an agreement on avoidance of double taxation, to enhance cooperation, he said.

Taiwan and the U.S. have not held TIFA talks since 2007.

-- The European Union

The EU and Taiwan have been talking about the adoption of trade enhancement measures (TEMs) rather than an FTA.

Mauro Petriccione, director of the European Commission's Directorate General of Trade, said June 3 in Taipei that the EU member states will not give the commission permission to negotiate trade deals with Taiwan " unless they have some reasonable assurance that this will not damage our economic interests in China."

Petriccione also said China remained the key to whether the EU and Taiwan would be able to sign TEMs. He added that the possibility of an FTA between Taiwan and the EU at the moment is "very unclear."

Taiwan's top envoy to the European Union and Belgium Y.L. Lin said Aug. 2 in Brussels that the Taiwan government "has a high degree of willingness" to sign an FTA with the EU but should first seek to remove trade barriers.

The EU is Taiwan's fourth largest trading partner. In 2009, aggregate investment in Taiwan by EU member states exceeded US$27.4 billion, making the EU Taiwan's largest source of investment from abroad.

-- Japan

Japan, Taiwan's second largest trading partner, has been carefully evaluating the impact of the ECFA and considering its strategy beyond that.

Japan has said it would welcome closer economic relations with Taiwan.

Japanese officials have been quoted in the media as saying that it might be necessary to promote an FTA among Japan, China and South Korea.

Taiwan will liberalize its trade relations with Japan through a "block-building" approach, starting with investment protection and intellectual property rights protection, Nien Shinn-shyh, deputy secretary-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Association of East Asian Relations, told reporters July 7.

A spokesman for Japan's representative office in Taiwan, the Interchange Association, confirmed Thursday that both sides had held discussions in Tokyo on economic matters, including investment. However, no decision has been made on bilateral cooperation, the office said.

None of Japan's existing trade agreements with other countries are called free trade agreements, but rather Closer Economic Partnerships.

-- The Philippines

The position of Taiwan's closest neighbor to the south is not yet clear, as the new Philippines government has only been in office since June.

"Taiwan's proposal for an FTA with the Philippines will most likely be presented at the next meeting of the Joint Economic Conference scheduled for around the end of the year, " Antonio Basilio, managing director of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) in Taipei, said Thursday.

He said the existing Subic-Clark EPZ/Taiwan EPZ Economic Corridor Agreement could serve as a precursor to an FTA.

The economic corridor is a project aimed at linking the economic zones of the two countries to make the Philippines "Taiwan's entry point to the ASEAN market." It seeks to take advantage of the fact that products processed in the Philippines are regarded as ASEAN products and are thus allowed duty free entry to other ASEAN member countries.

Ramon Vicente T. Kabigting, the Philippines assistant secretary of Trade and Industry, was quoted as saying Friday that while the Philippines' will stick with the one-China policy, it will not rule out the possibility of an FTA with Taiwan.

-- Thailand

Thailand, Taiwan's 12th-largest export market, is reportedly one of Taiwan's priorities in its FTA efforts.

Porpot Chagyawa, the head of the Economic Affairs Section of the Thailand Trade and Economic Office in Taipei, said Aug. 2 that an FTA with Taiwan or any other country is a matter that requires careful assessment, as its effects could be significant.

However, existing mechanisms have provided a substantial foundation for the expansion of trade and investment between Thailand and Taiwan over the years, he said.

-- Malaysia

Malaysia, one of Taiwan's top investment destinations in Southeast Asia, reopened ministerial-level meetings with Taiwan on trade and economics on March 31 after a six-year hiatus.

According to a comment in the media by a Taiwanese official, Malaysia has said that the cross-strait ECFA "will facilitate the signing of an FTA between Taiwan and Malaysia."

-- Vietnam

Taiwan is Vietnam's fifth largest trading partner. There has been no indication of Vietnam's intention with regard to an FTA between the two countries.

However, Huang Chih-peng, director-general of Taiwan's Bureau of Foreign Trade and one of the main negotiators in Taiwan's ECFA talks with China, has been designated as Taiwan's representative to Vietnam. By Chris Wang CNA Staff Reporter enditem /pc

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Taiwan, Canada to play for 5th place in world baseball tourney

Tokyo, Aug. 5 (CNA) Taiwan's national university baseball team bounced back from a disappointing loss and its worst finish in the World University Baseball Championship to rout Sri Lanka 21-0 in five innings Thursday in Tokyo, Japan.

The Taiwan team is scheduled to play Canada for the fifth place Friday in Tokyo's Meiji Jingu Stadium. But whether Taiwan wins or loses that game, this year will be its worst showing at the tournament. Taiwan finished third in 2008, second in 2006 and fourth in 2004 and 2002.

In the quarterfinal game against Japan Wednesday, Taiwan was blanked 0-13 in seven innings.

The defeat dealt a devastating blow to the team but also served as a great lesson, said team manager Yeh Chih-shien, who has participated in all five championships.

"These players are among the best at the college and amateur level in Taiwan, " he said. " We've learned from the loss that Taiwan still has a long way to go to compete with the best teams in the world," he added.

By Thursday, the team had reorganized and it blasted 19 hits against Sri Lanka. Newcomer Huang Yi-kun had three hits, including two home runs, and drove in six runs.

Yeh, who was not happy with Taiwan's inconsistent offense, said that the key against Canada will once again be the team's offensive performance.

The semifinalists in the tournament are Cuba, South Korea, the United States and host Japan.

The tournament will end Saturday. (By Chris Wang) enditem /pc

Taiwan to hold first ever Yangmingshan marathon

Taipei, Aug. 5 (CNA) For the first time ever, Taiwan will hold a marathon on Yangming mountain in suburban Taipei on Saturday, the organizers said Thursday.

"Road running events have been held on Yangmingshan over the past 18 years, but never a marathon, " said Sunny Chen, secretary-general of the Chinese Taipei Road Running Association.

About 5,000 runners, including 32 foreign participants, will compete in the Yangmingshan Summer Marathon, on a scenic 42 kilometer route up and down hills, Chen said. The course starts at 450 meters above sea level and winds uphill to an altitude of 750 meters then drops to 45 meters above sea level, she said.

The Yangmingshan marathon is the second race in a series of four seasonal international marathons sponsored by the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) and held in Taiwan's major national parks this year.

The idea is to attract more people to the country and give them an opportunity to experience its natural beauty and biodiversity, according to the MOI.

The spring marathon, which took place in Kenting National Park in southern Taiwan, attracted 5,000 runners, Chen said.

The autumn event will be held in Kinmen National Park in the offshore Kinmen County and the winter race will be staged at Taroko National Park in eastern Taiwan, she said.

Among the top foreign runners who will be competing Saturday are Kenyan Bernard Mutai and Carolyne Chemutai Komen, both of whom are familiar with Taiwan.

Mutai, 31, won two marathons in the southern city of Tainan in 2008 and 2009. Komen, 19, won the women's category of the Tainan marathon this year.

According to Mutai, one of the challenges this time around will be the high temperatures in Taipei, which have risen to 38.4 degrees Celsius this past week.

Mutai said he has never ran a mountain race in such high temperatures.

A half marathon and a 7-kilometer road race will also be held alongside Saturday's marathon. (By Chris Wang) enditem/pc

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Taiwan struggling ahead of Morakot anniversary

The Taiwan government is working hard to complete a massive reconstruction plan as the anniversary of the most deadly typhoon to impact Taiwan in half a century approaches.

Typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan Aug. 8, 2009, leaving 677 dead, 22 missing and causing more than NT$100 billion in damages. The storm produced 2,777 millimeters of rainfall and mudslides that wiped out Siaolin in the southern county of Kaohsiung, killing around 500 in the village alone.

A Morakot Post-Disaster Reconstruction Council was soon established to handle a wide range of reconstruction works, including resettlement of typhoon victims, a victim employment plan, the repair of breached dikes and dredging of rivers, the distribution of relief funds and the revitalizing local industries, especially in agriculture and fisheries. A budget of NT$151.9 billion was allocated for relief and post-disaster reconstruction.

President Ma Ying-jeou, who was criticized for mishandling the post-disaster relief and subsequently suffered in approval ratings, pledged to relocate all the victims by the anniversary and reiterated the point in his weekly video address on July 31 -- but that goal will not be completed in time.

According to Premier Wu Den-yih, as of Aug. 2 only 1,480 of 2,586 affected households have moved into newly constructed permanent homes. Wu cited weather conditions in the worst-hit eastern and southern Taiwan regions for the shortfall.

The reconstruction work may not live up to people's high expectations, but Wu said on Aug. 1 that the government had done its best. Some lessons the government learned in the aftermath of the deadly typhoon were probably as important as the reconstruction work itself, the premier said, such as making disaster relief a core task for Taiwan's military forces and the integration of government agencies involved in relief efforts.

Wu also praised efforts by Taiwan's civic organizations in the past year.

All 63 repair projects in the most dangerous areas have been completed, Yang Wei-fuu, director-general of the Water Resources Agency (WRA) under the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), said in a press conference Wednesday. Although less than 70 percent of all repair projects have been finished, they will be done by the next high-water season in 2011, Yang added.

Dredging of rivers is among the most difficult tasks, Yang said, noting that 1.2 billion cubic tons of gravel had filled river beds and reservoirs after the typhoon. The project is ongoing, but it will take years to finish the dredging, he said.

The WRA had dredged 87.2 million cubic tons of gravel -- approximately the same volume as 42 Taipei 101 buildings -- as of Aug. 1, he said. However, Dredging of the Taimali River in the eastern county of Taitung is way behind schedule, he added.

The MOEA also offered financial relief and mortgages to businesses in several towns in the worst-hit areas as well as providing assistance to businesses in the sectors of farming, fisheries, livestock and forestry.

The Council of Labor Affairs has said it has provided 13,940 employment opportunities for typhoon victims under its "August 8 Temporary Work Plan."

By Chris Wang CNA Staff Reporter


Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Taiwan pledges more participation in fishery organizations

Taipei, Aug. 3 (CNA) Government officials pledged during an international forum Tuesday to forge closer participation in international fishery organizations to prove Taiwan's commitment as a responsible member of the global fishery community.

"As an important player in the high seas fishing industry, Taiwan has been promoting its partnerships in various organizations, " Council of Agriculture (COA) Minister Chen Wu-hsiung said in his opening remarks at the opening ceremony.

The International Fishers' Forum (IFF), co-hosted by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, a U.S. federal organization tasked with managing and implementing laws governing fishing activity, and Taiwan's Fisheries Agency under the COA, has brought together officials and scholars from 25 countries for the three-day forum.

The forum is geared toward commercial fishery operators, management authorities, experts in marine spatial planning, fishing technology experts, seafood retailer representatives, marine ecologists and fisheries scientists.

Over the past decades, fishing has contributed greatly to Taiwan's food security and economic stability, said Fisheries Agency Director-General James Sha.

However, the country, which has one of the largest blue water fishing fleets in the world, has been accused several times of over-fishing and fish laundering by international fishery organizations.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) decided in 2005 to cut Taiwan's bigeye tuna fishing quota of 14,900 tons in that year by 70 percent to 4,600 tons. The sanction was not lifted until a year later.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan is full member of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean and the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna. It has cooperator status in the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission and the ICCAT.

In addition, it is an observer in the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission and an "invited expert" of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission.

The government has fine-tuned its fishery policy to make sure international regulations are upheld and the sustainability of fish stocks is improved, Sha said, adding that the forum is hopeful of deciding upon a "Taipei statement" before its conclusion.

In addition to improving the sustainability of fish stocks and protected species with which these fisheries interact, the IFF also intends to bring the fishing industry into the relatively new dialogue of marine spatial planning and management -- a process that brings together multiple users of the ocean to decide on how to make best use of ocean resources.

"Marine spatial planning is a relatively new topic for us, but we are keen to understand more about it and do the best we can to make our industry better, " said Hsieh Wen-Jung, chairman of the Taiwan Deep Sea Tuna Longline Boat-Owners and Exporters Association. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J