Thursday, March 31, 2011

Taiwanese players hopeful of success in new MLB season

Taipei, March 31 (CNA) The Taiwanese quartet of Chien-ming Wang, Kuo Hong-chih, Hu Chin-lung and Ni Fu-te are hopeful of a brilliant new Major League Baseball (MLB) season which begins April 1 Taiwan time.

Unlike in the past, local fans will be looking at left-handed reliever Kuo and utility infielder Hu, who have earned spots on the 25-man opening day rosters with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets, rather than Wang, the most popular of the four.

Wang has had a slow rehabilitation with the Washington Nationals after receiving shoulder surgery two years ago. He has never appeared in a game for the Nationals and his scheduled appearance in a simulation game earlier this month was shortened from two innings to one due to stiffness in his shoulder.

The 31-year-old, who had 55 wins and 26 losses with the New York Yankees from 2005-2009, has been placed on the 60-day disabled list and is looking at returning to the mound in May.

Kuo returned from a brilliant 2010 season in which he finished with three wins, two losses and 12 saves in 56 appearances, his best performance since making his MLB debut with the Dodgers in 2005. He became the first Taiwanese player to earn a spot in the MLB mid-season All-Star Game.

The 29-year-old left-hander, who has had four surgeries on his elbow, also broke the Dodgers franchise record of the lowest earned run average (ERA) , finishing the season with an ERA of 1.20. He struck out 73 while yielding only 29 hits and 18 walks in 60 innings.

Kuo, who signed a one-year, US$2.725 million contract with the Dodgers prior to the start of the season, is expected to start as a set-up man but could end up with a bigger role if closer Jonathan Broxton does not do well.

Kuo had a .087 ERA in seven appearances in spring training.

Meanwhile, Hu, 28, saw a change of scenery after being traded from the Dodgers to the Mets. The utility infielder batted only .296 in the spring but his defense was praised by Mets manager Terry Collins. He is expected to be the first man off the bench as a second baseman or a shortstop.

The Tainan native, who only appeared in 96 games in four years with the Dodgers from 2007-2010 due to his subpar batting performance, is hopeful of winning more playing time this season.

Left-hander Ni will have to start the season down in the Minors after appearing in 58 games with the Detroit Tigers from 2009-2010 as a reliever. The 27-year-old was sent to the Triple-A Toledo March 9.

Ni, who said his biggest adjustment from last year was to simplify his approach and to stop thinking too much, could be called up to the Majors if the Tigers need help with their lefty relievers. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

Ex-U.S. official supports Taiwan's IAEA participation

Taipei, March 31 (CNA) Taiwan's intention to participate in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should be encouraged, Randall Schriver, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs said Thursday.

Speaking to reporters in the middle of a March 27-April 2 visit, Schriver offered his support to remarks made earlier in the day by ruling Kuomintang Legislator John Chiang that Taiwan should seek IAEA membership, or at least increased participation in the international body, because the Fukushima crisis has highlighted the importance of nuclear safety.

"It's kind of a shame that it takes a crisis in all these different areas before somebody wakes up to the fact that Taiwan should be a member of these different organizations, " he said.

The international community did not notice that Taiwan was not a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Health Assembly (WHA) until the severe acute respiratory syndrome and avian flu outbreaks, or the IAEA until the Fukushima nuclear crisis, he said.

"To me, Taiwan should have a role in these organizations even before we get to the point of a crisis, " he said.

Schriver, who is now president and chief executive officer of the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank focused on Asia-Pacific affairs, said he did not know what level of support the Barack Obama Administration will offer should Taiwan seek IAEA membership.

However, previous U.S. administrations have always supported Taiwan's meaningful participation in international organizations that do not need statehood as a membership requirement, he said.

In organizations that do require statehood, he went on, Taiwan can participate as an observer or find other means of participating so that it can benefit from and contribute to those organizations. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

Ex-U.S. official warns Taiwan on Chinese espionage, military

Taipei, March 31 (CNA) Taiwan is advised to be vigilant over China's espionage activities and its increasing military capability directed toward the country, a visiting former U.S. official said Thursday.

China has been extremely active in its collection of intelligence around the world, and Taiwan should be very careful with regard to China's espionage activities, given that an average of 4,000 tourists arrive in Taiwan from there every day, said former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Randall Schriver.

Schriver, who is now president and chief executive officer of the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank focused on Asia-Pacific affairs, made the comment while referring to an espionage case last month in which an army general was detained to become the highest-ranking Taiwanese military official caught spying for China in more than two decades.

The former official spoke to reporters at the mid-point of a March 27-April 2 visit on a wide range of issues related to the triangular relations between the U.S., China and Taiwan.

Schriver expressed disagreement with the recommendation in a recent roundtable discussion in the U.S. that said the U.S. should re-examine its arms sales to Taiwan to seek better relations with China.

Joseph Prueher, former Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command and a former U.S. ambassador to China, said Tuesday in the roundtable titled "A Way Ahead with China " organized by the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs that the U.S. should take a fresh look at its involvement with Taiwan "outside of a military context."

On the bright side however, said Schriver, the seminar could turn out to be productive by reminding people about Taiwan and spur discussion.

He also said the throw-Taiwan-off-the-bus arguments were "pretty swiftly followed by a lot of negative responses from the policy community" and received bipartisan criticism in Washington.

Taiwan has to figure out what it wants to do to address the increasing cross-Taiwan Strait military imbalance, he said, adding that "the threat is there. It's clear. It's real."

While China said in its 2010 Defense White Paper released that same day that its military deployment is not directed toward the people of Taiwan, Schriver said the claim "does not appear to me to be factually correct."

The relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan is in "a very good state" and one that is "warm and mutually respectful, " Schriver said, adding that he could not think of any major obstacle in the future, despite the soured bilateral ties over the beef issue.

Schriver urged the U.S. to hold high-level talks with Taiwan to resolve the beef dispute because suspending talks is "counterintuitive." Meanwhile, he went on, "there are things we can do (to improve bilateral relations) notwithstanding our disagreement over beef."

Looking to the future, Schriver said that regardless of the outcome of Taiwan's 2012 presidential election, the U.S. will seek an opportunity to re-engage with Taiwan and put more energy into bilateral exchanges. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

Lawmaker calls for Taiwan's IAEA participation

Taipei, March 31 (CNA) A lawmaker called for Taiwan to join the international nuclear energy watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) amid Japan's ongoing Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis.

Taiwan should actively seek IAEA membership, or at least increased participation in the international body, because the Fukushima crisis has highlighted the importance of nuclear safety, John Chiang, a ruling Kuomintang (KMT) legislator, said in a session of the Legislative Yuan's Foreign and National Defense Committee.

Taiwan has not been a member of the Austria-based organization since its seat in the United Nations (U.N.) was taken by the People's Republic of China in 1971.

"Taiwan's relations with the IAEA should be more than just an inspection destination for the regulatory body, " Chiang said.

As a non-member, Taiwan, which currently operates three nuclear power plants, was not able to attend the IAEA General Assembly and has also been kept out of its technical meetings, which has hurt Taiwan's ability to obtain information on atomic technology and nuclear safety cooperation, Chiang went on.

The legislator urged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) to include the IAEA among its high priority targets for international participation, along with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Due to the potentially catastrophic impact of a nuclear crisis, China, which is on the IAEA's 35-member board, is not likely to oppose Taiwan's participation in the organization, Chiang said.

Taiwan has maintained regular contact with the IAEA, Foreign Minister Timothy C.T. Yang said, adding that there are staffers from the Atomic Energy Council posted in Taiwan's representative office in Austria as liaisons. Yang agreed to further review Chiang's proposal.

Taiwan signed an IAEA-ROC-USA "trilateral" safeguards agreement in Vienna in 1964 to transfer the responsibility of safeguarding nuclear materials from the United States to IAEA, according to the IAEA.

Taiwan has continued its role as a strong supporter of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) after its departure from U.N. and IAEA in 1971. In 1998, Taiwan further agreed to a Model Protocol for additional safeguards.

The IAEA had 151 member states as of November 2010. (By Chris Wang) enditem/ly

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

MOFA not sure what confidential notes in lost files

Taipei, March 30 (CNA) Foreign Minister Timothy C.T. Yang said Wednesday that he was not sure what "confidential diplomatic notes" were in the 36,000 official documents that were allegedly lost during the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration.

The Presidential Office said Tuesday it was asking the Control Yuan, the top government watchdog, to investigate a matter of possible dereliction of duty on the part of a group of officials working under former President Chen Shui-bian, after it was discovered that thousands of official files were missing.

It was found that during the DPP's eight years in power from 2000-2008, the Presidential Office received a total of 38,924 documents, including 25,398 confidential notes from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, only 6.76 percent of them had been properly filed, according to the Presidential Office.

"I'm not quite sure what the 'confidential diplomatic notes' were, but the MOFA does submit originals or transcripts of confidential diplomatic cables to our superiors if we think it is necessary," Yang told reporters.

"However, we do not use the term of 'confidential diplomatic notes' in the MOFA," he said.

Some of the documents sent to the Presidential Office from the MOFA were originals and some were transcripts, he said. Some of the original files were sent back to the MOFA with instructions from the Presidential Office, but some never came back, he added.

"I think the Presidential Office is in a better position to comment on the matter at this moment," Yang said.

Presidential spokesman Lo Chih-chiang said former DPP administration officials should be held accountable for the loss of the official files and they could be subject to criminal liability as well as administrative accountability.

In response to the allegations, DPP spokesman Lin Yu-chang said the figures provided by the Presidential Office were misleading because not all the documents were official files.

A total of 17 former DPP administration officials, including former President Chen Shui-bian who is currently serving a 17.5-year jail term for bribery, former Vice President Annette Lu and presidential aspirant Su Tseng-chang, were mentioned in the allegations. (By Chris Wang) enditem /pc

Diplomats in Japan to be relocated if radiation threat rises: MOFA

Taipei, March 30 (CNA) Taiwan's diplomats stationed in Japan could be relocated to the western city of Osaka if the Tokyo area sees higher concentrations of radiation from a crippled nuclear power plant, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official said Wednesday.

The ministry will relocate Taiwanese diplomats and other personnel posted in Tokyo and Yokohama to Osaka if the radiation level in the region exceeded 300 microsieverts per hour, Deputy Foreign Minister Thomas Ping-fu Hou said in a session of the Legislative Yuan's Foreign and National Defense Committee.

Hou was responding to an appeal by ruling Kuomintang Legislator Lin Yu-fang, who urged the MOFA to consider relocating Taiwan's diplomatic mission after 25 countries had done the same.

The MOFA official said the ministry has been monitoring the official reports of radiation contamination released by Japanese authorities and would move personnel if the threat grew.

A sievert (Sv) is a unit to evaluate the biological effect on human body. A microsievert is one millionth of a sievert.

A person typically would be exposed to 0.035 microsievert per hour in downtown Tokyo from background radiation. Radiation levels in the city were reported to be 0.120 microsievert an hour Saturday before falling to 0.115 microsievert an hour on Sunday, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Currently there are 110-120 people in Taiwan's representative offices in Tokyo and Yokohama and 20 in its Osaka office, according to Huang Ming-lung, secretary-general of the MOFA's Association of East Asian Relations. (By Chris Wang) Enditem/ls

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

EU unlikely to lift arms embargo on China: MOFA

Taipei, March 29 (CNA) There are currently no proposals on the table to lift the European Union's 21-year arms embargo on China, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official said Tuesday.

"There are no major institutions putting forward any such proposal... and the original factors that had led to the embargo have not yet been removed, " said Jeffrey Chuan-chin Kau, deputy director-general of the MOFA's Department of European Affairs, at a regular media briefing.

The EU imposed the embargo after the 1989 Tiananmen Incident, but human rights conditions in China remain a concern and, to date, China has not ruled out the use of force, if necessary, to annex Taiwan, Kau noted.

In addition, he said, the United States and Japan are both opposed to any lifting of the EU embargo.

It was reported in the international and local media in January that the EU was considering lifting the arms embargo on China. However, the story was denied by Guy Ledoux, then-head of the European Economic and Trade Office in Taipei, the bloc's representative office in Taiwan in the absence of official ties.

Ledoux told CNA in January that "there was no new element that would have influence on why the EU should suddenly change its position."

Lifting of the embargo was mentioned in an internal review by the EU of its relations with China, as officials tried to break down the pros and cons of different options and developments, Kau said.

In related news, Kau said that Taiwan's executions of nine death row inmates in the past year will not affect its overall relations with the EU.

Taiwan is keen on signing a Trade Enhancement Measures (TEM) or Economic Cooperation Agreement (ECA) with the EU to further liberalize trade, he said.

"We know that Taiwan was not on the EU's priority list for free trade agreement negotiations, " he said. "That's why we have been trying to tell our European friends that we want to move up the ladder." (By Chris Wang) enditem /pc

President, legislators push for U.S. arms sale to Taiwan

Taipei, March 29 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou and legislators urged the United States to sell Taiwan advanced weapons, including F-16 C/Ds fighter jets and submarines, in meetings with a former U.S. official Tuesday.

"The people of Taiwan will feel secure and confident to continue Taiwan's engagement with China on a variety of issues" if the U.S. approves the arms sale, Ma told former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Armitage, who served from 2001-2005 during the George W. Bush administration, is heading a delegation of security experts and think tank scholars on a visit to Taiwan.

In his meeting with Armitage, Ma expressed appreciation to the administrations of Bush and incumbent U.S. President Barack Obama for their approval of defensive weapons packages and their support for Taiwan's engagement with China.

Over 80 percent of the people of Taiwan supported maintaining the status quo in cross-Taiwan Strait exchanges, Ma told Armitage, and his China policy has been in line with the mainstream public opinion.

"We will neither speed it up nor slow down purposely, " Ma said, referring to the development of bilateral relations between Taiwan and China.

Taiwan intends to make nuclear safety a major topic on the agenda of its negotiations with China in the future, the president told Armitage.

Ma also hoped that improvements would be made in Taiwan's negotiations with the U.S. on a visa-waiver program, extradition agreement and on trade issues under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).

Lin Yu-fang, a legislator of the ruling Kuomintang, said during Armitage's visit to the Legislative Yuan that he could not understand why the U.S. had been reluctant to approve the sale of F-16 C/Ds and submarines given that Taiwan's legislature had reached a consensus on the issue.

Armitage said that the U.S. arms sale to Taiwan had many hurdles to clear in the past and has always been a complex issue, but he hoped that "our Taiwan friends don't judge the U.S. (commitment and support) by one issue."

The senior politician also met Mainland Affairs Council Minister Lai Shin-yuan Tuesday and was scheduled to leave Taiwan Wednesday.

The visiting delegation, most of whom served in former Republican administrations, will carry on without Armitage until April 2.

The delegation will be led by Randall Schriver, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs who is now president and chief executive officer of the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank focused on Asia-Pacific affairs. (By Chris Wang) Enditem/ls

More countries grant Taiwan visa-free privileges

Taipei, March 29 (CNA) Thirteen more countries or territories have granted Taiwan visa-free privileges, bringing to 113 the number of destinations for which Taiwanese travelers no longer need visas, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced in a press release Tuesday.

The French government has granted visa-waiver treatment for Taiwan passport holders for its 11 overseas territories of up to 90 days in a six-month period, according to the MOFA.

The territories include the French overseas regions of Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guyana, Reunion and Mayotte; the overseas collectivities of French Polynesia, Saint-Barthelemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and Wallis and Futuna; and the special collectivity of New Caledonia.

Meanwhile, the African countries of Tanzania and Mozambique have also extended visa-on-arrival treatment to Taiwan passport holders, the MOFA said.

Taiwan has since last year been on a drive to obtain visa-free privileges as part of efforts to commemorate the Republic of China's centennial.

Malaysia became the 100th country to grant Taiwanese citizens visa-free or landing visa privileges March 18. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

U.S. commitment to Taiwan unquestionable: Armitage

Taipei, March 29 (CNA) Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Tuesday the United States's commitment to Taiwan has been as strong as ever because America always supports countries that are democratic.

The U.S. support for democratic movements in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are examples that the Barack Obama administration has been always "on the defense of democracy and the will of the people, " said Armitage.

Responding to reporters' questions after his meeting with Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, the senior politician said he "wouldn't question the (Obama Administration's) commitment to Taiwan."

Arriving in Taiwan Sunday, Armitage had a tight schedule, meeting many officials, including President Ma Ying-jeou, members of the Cabinet, and DPP opposition leader Tsai Ing-wen.

Noting that Taiwan is a country of rapid changes, Armitage said Taiwan's economy is much better than before, and "the level of political discussion is much higher."

"It's hard to imagine this democracy is only 20 years old, " he said.

Armitage also found that the DPP is "much more mature" under the leadership of Tsai. But the DPP has not laid out its policies yet.

However, the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), he added, has been "very clear with its policy in cross-Taiwan Strait affairs, economic development and wealth distribution."

On U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, he said he was happy that the Obama administration "moved one package earlier and hope they'll move others."

When asked to compare the State Department's Taiwan policy under the Obama versus Bush administrations, Armitage said the State Department was able to have a bigger budget when he served. In addition, the Obama administration "has taken some time to learn (about Taiwan)."

"But we are lucky to have Kurt Campbell as assistant secretary because he understands Taiwan very well, " he said.

Armitage will leave Taiwan Wednesday. (By Chris Wang) enditem/ly

Monday, March 28, 2011

Taiwan, China will seek out common interests: DPP head

Taipei, March 28 (CNA) Taiwan and China will seek out common interests to maintain regional stability, Taiwan's main opposition leader Tsai Ing-wen told visiting former United States Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage Monday.

Armitage, who is leading a delegation of security experts and think tank scholars on a week-long visit to Taiwan, was briefed by the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP's) chairwoman on the party's China policy during a closed-door meeting that lasted for more than an hour.

Tsai, who has announced her bid for the party's nomination for the 2012 presidential election, said she told Armitage that while there are a lot of differences between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan is responsible for keeping the region peaceful and stable as a member of the Asian community.

She contended the DPP was better prepared to govern and make policy now than when the party was in power from 2000-2008 and said it was very concerned with growing poverty and income inequality in addition to the sovereignty issue.

Armitage said he could sense the DPP had undergone a major transformation and become a more responsible and mature political party with changes in generation, policies and ideology, former Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Kau said after the meeting.

Armitage, who has also met National Security Council Secretary-General Hu Wei-jen and Foreign Minister Timothy C.T. Yang Monday, is scheduled to meet President Ma Ying-jeou, Mainland Affairs Council Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng Tuesday. He will leave Taiwan Wednesday.

The visiting delegation, most of whom served in former Republican administrations, will carry on without Armitage until April 2.

The delegation will be led by Randall Schriver, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs who is now president and chief executive officer of the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank focused on Asia-Pacific affairs. (By Sophia Yeh and Chris Wang) Enditem/ls

Beef issue won't affect U.S. visa-waiver for Taiwan: Armitage

Taipei, March 28 (CNA) Former United States (U.S.) Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Monday that the ongoing beef dispute will not affect Taiwan's chances of negotiating a visa-waiver program with the U.S.

Armitage, who served under George W. Bush's administration from 2001-2005, is leading a group of former U.S. foreign policy and security officials in a weeklong visit, during which the delegation will meet with President Ma Ying-jeou and other high-ranking officials.

Speaking to reporters in the afternoon after meeting Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) , the senior politician answered questions on the beef dispute, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and the presidential election in 2012, for which Tsai was seeking DPP nomination.

Armitage said he believes the beef dispute is "separate" and will not affect Taiwan's chances of joining the U.S. visa-waiver program, given that the current visa refusal rate for Taiwan is less than 3 percent.

He was briefed by the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the de facto U.S. embassy in Taiwan, on major Taiwan-U.S. issues before meeting National Security Council Secretary-General Hu Wei-jen and Tsai.

On the arms sales issue, Armitage told reporters that he did not know what the ultimate plans of the Barack Obama administration are, but he believes the U.S. has been serious about the issue and wants to continue providing arms for the defensive needs of Taiwan as required by the Taiwan Relations Act.

Looking forward to Taiwan's presidential election, Armitage said the U.S. always believes that "whatever happens when national elections are held is going to benefit the people of Taiwan. We feel quite comfortable that the US-Taiwan relationship will remain strong."

Armitage is scheduled to meet President Ma, Mainland Affairs Council Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng Tuesday. He will leave Taiwan Wednesday.

The visiting delegation, most of whom served in former Republican administrations, will carry on without Armitage until April 2. The delegation will be led by former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Randy Schriver, who is now president and chief executive officer of the Project 2049 Institute, a right-wing think tank focused on Asia-Pacific affairs.

Executive director of the Project 2049 Institute Mark Stokes, former Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Christina Rocca, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs John Gastright are also on the delegation. (By Chris Wang) enditem/ly

Amnesty International urges Taiwan to suspend executions

Taipei, March 28 (CNA) Human rights group Amnesty International (AI) urged Taiwan to commute the death sentences of more than 70 people as it released its annual report on the death penalty Monday.

Taiwan's four executions in 2010 and five more in 2011 "are a step backwards" for the country, which was once considered a leader in the movement to abolish the death penalty in Asia, AI Secretary-General Salil Shetty wrote in a letter published alongside the organization's report "Death Sentences and Executions in 2010."

Taiwan ended a more than four-year hiatus with four executions last April and another five earlier this month, drawing criticisms from the European Union and human rights groups and placing it among 22 countries that carried out executions in 2010.

The executions "stand in stark, disturbing contrast to a rising tide of world opinion" to abolish capital punishment, Shetty wrote, noting that a total of 31 countries abolished the death penalty in law or in practice during the last decade.

To date, 139 countries have ended the death penalty, either in law or in practice, according to the AI report.

AI's Taiwan office also released the first report on the death penalty by a local human rights group and submitted a 10-point recommendation to the Taiwan government Monday.

The group urged the government to halt executions, to submit a timetable for the eventual abolition of the death penalty, to improve the victim protection system, and to improve the transparency of death penalty-related information.

It was "ironic" that the five executions were carried out only four weeks after President Ma Ying-jeou apologized to the family of Chiang Kuo-ching, a 21-year-old Air Force private who had been wrongly convicted and executed for the rape and murder of a young girl in 1997, AI Taiwan's Deputy Secretary-General Tony Yang said.

The president's action sent mixed messages to the international human rights community, which had troubles figuring out why Taiwan resumed the executions after signing two United Nations human rights covenants -- the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights -- in 2009, Yang said.

"At the end of the day, the abolition of the death penalty is a test of the politicians' values and faith, " said Kao Yung-cheng, Deputy Convener of Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP) , a major player in Taiwan's effort to end capital punishment.

"You can't always use popular mandates, crime deterrence, or religious, cultural or political principles as justifications, " Kao said.

Kao added that if Mongolia was able to adopt a moratorium on capital punishment in 2010, "I don't see why Taiwan cannot do it."

On a global level, AI found two regions mostly responsible for the majority of executions -- Asia and the Middle East.

The total number of executions has declined from at least 714 people in 2009 to at least 527 in 2010. However, these numbers do not include China, where AI believes thousands of people are executed each year behind the regime's shroud of secrecy. (By Chris Wang) enditem/ly

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Taiwan Beer rolls into Taiwan pro basketball finals

Taipei, March 27 (CNA) American forward Emmanuel Jones scored 21 points as Taiwan Beer beat defending champion Yulon Luxgen 76-75 Sunday in Game 4 of the best-of-seven first round playoffs, to roll into the 2011 Super Basketball League (SBL) Final.

Jones, a 1.96-meter forward, made five crucial free throws in the last one minute and 30 seconds to help Taiwan Beer rally from a 12-point third-quarter deficit for the 4-0 series win at Hsinjhuang Stadium in New Taipei City.

Taiwan Beer, which won back-to-back titles in 2007-2008, advanced to the finals for the first time in two years. It last appeared in the tile series in 2009, when it lost 4-3 to Dacin Tigers.

Cheng Jen-wei added 18 points for the regular season champion (22 wins, eight losses) , which made four three-pointers in the 23-12 fourth quarter to turn the game around.

Yulon, which beat Dacin 4-2 last year to win the title but fell to 15-15 this year in the regular season, was swept in a best-of-seven series for the first time in the team's history.

Taiwan Beer will enjoy an 11-day break before the best-of-seven finals April 8, also at Hsinjhuang Stadium.

The other finalist was to be decided later Sunday after Game 4 between Dacin Tigers and Pure Youth Construction. Dacin is also eyeing a sweep after three straight wins.

The seven-team SBL, the top tier basketball competition in Taiwan, was established in 2003. Yulon Luxgen won four titles in the league's first seven years. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

Taiwanese player honored in U.S. NCAA Division II basketball

Taipei, March 27 (CNA) A Taiwanese basketball player was named Most Outstanding Player in the United States National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II basketball championship Sunday, even though his team lost in the title game.

Chang Tsung-hsien scored 35 points, the fourth highest personal score in championship's history, for Brigham Young University-Hawaii in a 71-68 loss to Kentucky's Bellarmine University to become the first player from a losing team to be named MOP since 1998.

"I don't really think too much about the award. Individual awards don't mean much to me. I wanted to help us win a title. That was the most important thing for me, " Chang, a 1.92-meter shooting guard, was quoted as saying by the NCAA's website.

"It was a good experience, especially to play in a championship game. I worked hard to help my team any way I could. I wish I could have done more, but I enjoyed having a chance to play here, " he added.

Chang, who goes by the nickname of "Jet, " tallied 78 points in two games in the Final Four and is the first Taiwanese player to win the MOP honor.

He also shot 14-of-17 from the field and made seven 3-pointers en route to a career-high 43 points in a 110-101 win over West Liberty University in the national semi-final March 25.

Chang, who hails from Taiwan's eastern county of Yilan, led Hsin-rong High School to Taiwan's high school league title in 2006. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

Taiwanese tennis player crashes out of Miami Masters

Taipei, March 27 (CNA) Taiwan's Lu Yen-hsun saw an early season slump continue Sunday when he lost to world No. 14 Mikhail Youzhny of Russia 6-0, 6-1 in the second round of the Miami Masters tennis tournament.

Ranked No. 43 in the world, Lu has never made it past the second round in any ATP Tour tournament he has played this year.

Lu last played Youzhny in January in a highly publicized exhibition series in Taiwan that also featured tennis great Andre Agassi of the United States and Marat Safin of Russia.

However, he was no match for his familiar foe in Miami, having trouble with both his return and his service game. Lu had five double faults and managed to win only eight points on his returns. He is now 0-2 in career head-to-head matchups against Youzhny.

After making an impressive run to the final eight at Wimbledon last year, Lu has managed to win only three singles matches this season -- over Lleyton Hewitt of Australia at India Wells, a first-round win over Pere Riba of Spain in Miami and a Davis Cup win over Gong Maoxin of China in Shanghai.

The 27-year-old will next pair up with German partner Florian Mayer to go up against Xavier Malisse of Belgium and Britain's Jamie Murray in the men's doubles first round.

In women's doubles, meanwhile, Chan Yung-jan of Taiwan and Zheng Jie of China lost to India's Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina of Russia 6-2, 4-6, 10-7 in the first round.

With compatriot Chuang Chia-jung and Anatasia Rodionova of Australia also bowing out in the women's doubles first round, Hsieh Su-wei, who teamed up with Romanian Monica Niculescu for a 6-3, 7-6(4) opening round victory, is the only female Taiwanese player left in the tournament. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Taiwan fails to advance in soccer tournament

Taipei, March 24 (CNA) Taiwan lost to Turkmenistan 2-0 Wednesday in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur to see its dream of making the round of eight in the 2012 Asian Football Federation (AFC) Challenge Cup dashed.

Taiwan suffered its second straight Group B defeat in the 16-team group stage after losing the March 21 opener 3-0 to India.

Avoiding the ignominy of being the only winless team in the group will be the only incentive for Taiwan when it meets Pakistan in its final match scheduled for April 1.

The biennial tournament was established in 2006 by the AFC with the goal of giving countries in the "emerging associations class" -- the lowest of three AFC classes -- more exposure and game experience.

Eight teams -- the winners and runners-up of four four-team groups in the tournament -- will qualify for the AFC Challenge Cup 2012 finals.

The other three rounds of 16 groups are being played this week in Myanmar, the Maldives and Nepal.

Taiwan reached the group stage after defeating Laos by an aggregate 6-3 in a home-and-home qualifier in mid-February.

Taiwan's world ranking rose from an all-time low of 180th in April 2009 to its current 147th -- three spots shy of its best-ever ranking of 144th set in August 2006 -- according to the Chinese Taipei Football Association. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

Taiwan irked by name change, gets correction

Taipei, March 24 (CNA) Taiwan lodged a successful protest with the Indonesian government after it listed Taiwan as part of the People's Republic of China on its foreign ministry's website, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said Thursday.

Local media reported Thursday morning that the Indonesian foreign ministry listed Taiwan as "Taiwan, PRC" on a webpage that specified which countries' tourists can apply for a visa-on-arrival.

MOFA subsequently asked Taiwan's representative to Indonesia to file a protest to the Indonesian government. Concurrently, MOFA submitted its own objection to Indonesia's representative office in Taipei, MOFA spokesman James Chang said.

The Indonesian government quickly corrected the error Thursday afternoon, replacing the "Taiwan, PRC" reference with "Chinese Taipei."

"Chinese Taipei" is the most common moniker for Taiwan when participating in international organizations, including the International Olympic Committee, the World Health Assembly, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

Similar name-changing incidents have occurred often in the past. This happens either because foreign governments and organizations do this voluntarily as part of their "one-China policy, " or are forced to do so under pressure from a Chinese government bent on claiming Taiwan as its own.

Such incidents in the past have included calling the island "Taiwan, China, ""Taipei, China," and Taiwan, province of China." (By Chris Wang) enditem/ly

Former U.S. official to visit Taiwan

Taipei, March 24 (CNA) Former United States Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is leading a delegation of think tank scholars that will visit Taiwan later this week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said Thursday.

Armitage, who served from 2001-2005, will be joined by a group of former U.S. foreign policy and security officials in a weeklong visit, during which the delegation will meet with President Ma Ying-jeou and high-ranking local officials, according to Bruce J.D. Linghu, director-general of the MOFA's Department of North American Affairs.

Linghu described Armitage as a vital player in forging closer U.S.-Taiwan relations and said he is still an opinion leader in U.S. diplomacy. Armitage is scheduled to visit Taipei March 27-30.

The delegation, most of whom have served in former Republican administrations, include former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Randy Schriver, who is now president and chief executive officer of the Project 2049 Institute, a right-wing think tank focused on Asia-Pacific affairs.

Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute, former Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Christina Rocca, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs John Gastright will be among the delegation members.

They are also expected to meet National Security Council Secretary-General Hu Wei-jen, Foreign Minister Timothy C.T. Yang and Mainland Affairs Council Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan to discuss a wide range of topics, according to Linghu. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

NZ police confirm death of Taiwan national in quake

Taipei, March 23 (CNA) New Zealand police confirmed Wednesday that a Taiwan national had been killed in the Feb. 22 earthquake in Christchurch.

Lee Hsin-hung, a 32-year-old female from Taiwan, and three Chinese nationals were among seven more people confirmed dead in the quake, according to a press release issued by New Zealand police.

This brought the total number of confirmed deaths to 155. New Zealand police had earlier estimated a death toll of 182.

Lee had been listed as missing since Feb. 22 when a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck the Canterbury region in New Zealand's South Island.

She was reportedly a student at King's Education language school, which was located in the Canterbury Television (CTV) Building that collapsed in the quake.

James Chang, a spokesman for Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, declined to comment on Lee's death, citing her family's right to privacy. (By Chris Wang) enditem /pc

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Taiwan to face Turkmenistan in crucial Asian football match

Taipei, March 22 (CNA) Taiwan's national soccer team will face Turkmenistan Wednesday in Malaysia in a crucial match that could determine whether it advances to the next round of the Asian Football Federation (AFC) Challenge Cup.

After a 3-0 defeat to India in the opening match of the 16-team group stage Monday, Taiwan will need a win over Turkmenistan at MBPJ Stadium in Kuala Lumpur to be reasonably placed to finish in the top two of the group and advance to the round of eight.

The biennial tournament was established in 2006 by the AFC with the goal of giving countries in the "emerging associations class" -- the lowest of three AFC classes -- more exposure and game experience.

Eight teams -- the winner and runner-up of four four-team groups in the tournament -- will qualify for the AFC Challenge Cup 2012 Finals.

"Yesterday's outcome was not good but actually we played well. I believe we'll have a shot tomorrow if we take care of our transition game and seize scoring opportunities, " said Taiwan coach Lo Chih-tsun.

Previous Challenge Cup runner-up Turkmenistan joined India at the top of the tough Group B Monday after defeating Pakistan 3-0.

Taiwan reached the group stage after defeating Laos by a combined 6-3 in a home-and-home qualifier in mid-February.

Taiwan's world ranking rose from an all-time low of 180th in April 2009 to the current 147th, three spots shy of its best ever ranking of 144th, set in August 2006, according to the Chinese Taipei Football Association (CTFA).

The other three round of 16 groups are being played this week in Myanmar, Maldives and Nepal.

North Korea beat Turkmenistan in the 2010 finals.

(By Chris Wang)


Taiwan's lone holdout in Libya

Taipei, March 22 (CNA) The only Taiwanese businessman left in Libya, where Western coalition forces started launching air strikes over the weekend, insisted on staying in the North African country to protect his business and employees, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said Tuesday.

MOFA spokesman James Chang said his ministry has been in close, daily contact with the lone Taiwanese holdout and has urged him to leave the country since late February, when the situation in the North African nation began deteriorating.

"He was reluctant to leave the country where he has operated his factory for more than three decades and insisted on staying to protect his more than 300 employees, " Chang said.

The businessman also said the situation on the outskirts of Libya's capital, Tripoli, where his factory is located, appears secure.

However, Chang went on, MOFA is ready to provide assistance if he decides to return to Taiwan.

Taiwan also urged Libya to respect the United Nations Security Council resolution, which mandates Gadhafi stop military action against his own people, or face a U.N. sanctioned no-fly zone, which authorizes "all necessary measures" to protect civilian areas and prevent Gadhafi from using Libyan airspace, said Chang.

President Ma Ying-jeou has also expressed concern over the safety of overseas Taiwanese in North Africa and the Middle East in a meeting with the National Security Council on Monday.

All Taiwan nationals, including diplomats, have been evacuated from Libya, where a rebellion has broken out against the country's dictator since mid-February. (By Chris Wang) enditem/ly

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Taiwan group off to successful start at Auckland festival

Auckland, New Zealand, March 15 (CNA) Taiwan's U Theatre made it first appearance at the 2011 Auckland Arts Festival Tuesday night with a successful performance that drew praise from the New Zealand audience.

The performance of the "Sound of the Ocean" by the group, one of the main attractions in the last week of the March 2-20 biennial arts festival, won a three-minute round of applause from the near-capacity audience in the 1,500-seat ABS Theatre at Aotea Center.

"I was blown away by the beautiful drumming in which every beat was so impeccably and beautifully timed. You could feel within yourself each vibration, " New Zealander Phil Tchernegovski said on the sidelines of a post-show cocktail party.

Tchernegovski, whose son went missing during a trip to southern Taiwan in 1998 and was never found, said he was especially impressed with the "throat singing" part of the 90-minute performance.

"It was mind-blowing and added a new dimension to the show, " he said.

Sound of the Ocean, a five-part piece that was created in 1998, is one of the most popular presentations in U Theatre's repertoire.

It depicts stories of water and life though the sound of large drums, gongs, the classic Chinese seven-stringed zither, mantra chants and ceremonial primitive human calls.

"It was a powerful and beautiful performance. I sincerely hope U Theatre will visit Auckland again in the future, " said Lily Ho, a Taiwanese living and working in Auckland.

The festival's artistic director David Malacari, who managed to bring U Theatre to Auckland after four years of preparatory work, described the show as a "beautiful journey."

It was "everything that I hoped it would be and more," he said at the post-show party.

U Theatre is scheduled to stage three more performances of "Sound of the Ocean," from Wednesday to Friday at the same venue.

Taiwan's First Lady Chow Mei-ching, who is on a six-day visit to Auckland to support the company and attend charity activities, watched the show from her seat on the second tier of the theater and afterwards congratulated the troupe on its performance.

In related news, Chow donated dozens of books, including children's storybooks and a collection from the National Palace Museum, and documentary DVDs on Taiwan geography and history to the Central City Library in downtown Auckland Tuesday morning.

The first lady also read stories of Chinese traditions in English and Mandarin to children at a storytelling session at the library.

The donation was valuable to the library -- one of 55 in the city's public library system -- because of the heavy usage of the Chinese-language children's books due to the large Chinese population in the region, said Geoff Chamberlain, manager of service delivery at the library. (By Chris Wang) enditem /pc

Auckland festival director happy to finally welcome U Theatre

Auckland, New Zealand, March 15 (CNA) After four years of talks, preparations and trips to Estonia and Taiwan, David Malacari finally landed Taiwan's U theatre for the biennial Auckland Arts Festival, and he believed the audience will love it.

"It was a show that you found very hard to forget, " said Malacari, the artistic director of the biennial arts event, recalling his impression after seeing U Theatre perform for the first time, in Hong Kong in 2006.

He first heard about the company in a speech in Hong Kong in the same year and immediately fell in love with the group, which combines contemporary Western theatrical techniques with Zen Buddhist philosophy, Malacari told the Central News Agency in an interview on the sidelines of the festival, which runs from March 2-20.

He flew to Tallinn, Estonia to see U Theatre perform "Sound of the Ocean" again before deciding to bring the company to Auckland, he said.

"It's taken two festivals to finally bring the company to Auckland," Malacari said as he described the enormous amount of time, energy and funding needed to invite big artistic companies because of the airfares involved as well as getting the timing right and finding the right venues.

U Theatre will be one of the featured groups in the last week of the festival, and Malacari believed that the audience would immediately connect with it during its four performances of "Sound of the Ocean" from March 15-18 at ASB Theater in Aotea Center.

U-Theatre's work is rooted in ongoing exploration of indigenous Taiwanese and Chinese culture and deep respect of the natural environment, and the "Sound of the Ocean, " which plays on those themes, was highly praised by Malacari.

He especially lauded its drumming, which "gives audiences a visceral quality with almost a contemplative and meditative feeling that is so compelling."

The festival, launched in 2003, aims to feature Pacific Rim and Asia Pacific artists because of the multicultural environment of the Auckland community, which has a large East Asian and Pacific Island population, according to Malacari.

The festival's director said he had met with several Taiwanese artists and groups when he last visited Taiwan and was hopeful to bring more Taiwanese artists to the world stage when opportunities permitted.

Malacari has over 30 years experience in the cultural sector in various roles, including 12 years with the Adelaide Festival. He joined the Auckland festival in 2004 and was the event's director in 2005, 2007, and 2009.

The experienced organizer said his biggest gratification from organizing arts events is to introduce people new art forms and groups and to "open up people's eyes and teach them something about the part of the world that they're not familiar with."

He also found some similarities in Taiwan's indigenous culture and Polynesian culture, which scientific research has confirmed as having shared connections. (By Chris Wang) Enditem/ls

Monday, March 14, 2011

Taiwan aims to forge closer bilateral ties with New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand, March 14 (CNA) Taiwan is hopeful that it can forge closer bilateral ties with New Zealand, especially on the economic and tourism fronts, Taiwan's representative to New Zealand said Monday.

New Zealand is in favor of the free trade system, which is seen as beneficial to an export-driven economy such as Taiwan, which is why Taiwan wants to establish closer economic relations with the South Pacific country, said Elliot Y.L. Charng, representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in New Zealand.

"We support anything that is beneficial to bilateral economic cooperation, including the possibility of exploring an economic partnership agreement (EPA), " Charng told CNA on the sidelines of a visit to New Zealand by first lady Chow Mei-ching.

A former deputy chief representative of the Ministry of Economic Affairs' Office of Trade Negotiations, Charng said establishing closer economic ties is at the top of his agenda.

However, the potential for tourism should not be overlooked, he went on, given that the number of Taiwan tourists visiting New Zealand has increased by 40 percent since the country granted Taiwanese passport holders visa-free privileges last year.

Charng said his office is also planning to expand a popular working holiday program under which up to 600 young people can sign up for the program every year, allowing them to spend a year on vacation in New Zealand and to take casual work to finance themselves.

Charng said most Taiwanese businessmen, immigrants and students living in New Zealand, especially those in Christchurch, have settled down and tried to get their lives back to normal in the aftermath of a devastating magnitude 6.3 earthquake that struck the South Island city Feb. 22.

Lee Hsin-hong remained the only Taiwanese national listed as missing to date, and the TECO has been in close touch with local police for the latest information about quake victims, he said.

Some Taiwanese students in Christchurch have returned to Taiwan, while others have opted to transfer to schools in Auckland or Australia to continue their studies, he said, adding that most Taiwanese-owned local businesses were not seriously affected by the earthquake.

The diplomat said cultural exchanges are also important and that the first lady's visit, during which she is scheduled to visit local schools and attend performances by the Taiwanese dance troupe U Theatre at the Auckland Arts Festival this week, is a perfect example that more interaction will be helpful in each side gaining a deeper understanding of the other's culture. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

Taiwan's first lady shares stories with Auckland students

Auckland, New Zealand, March 14 (CNA) Taiwan's first lady Chow Mei-ching visited a middle school in New Zealand Monday and shared stories about Chinese traditions with the students there.

Chow's visit to the ACG Parnell College, a private school that offers an international grade 1-13 curriculum, was a part of her six-day tour of the country for the purpose of cultural exchanges.

The first lady told two stories -- one about the Chinese zodiac and the other about a "Mouse Wedding." She spoke in English and Mandarin to a class of around two dozen students, most of whom had been learning Mandarin for two years.

Before the 30-minute storytelling session, the teacher introduced Chow and briefed the students on Taiwan's geographic location.

One of the students, 17-year-old Webber Chen of Taiwan, presented Chow with an oil painting that he said he had done last year and wanted to give to "someone special."

"There's no better person to receive this painting than the first lady," said Chen, who has been studying in New Zealand for the last two and a half years and aspires to be an architect.

"It's a great pleasure to have Ms. Ma, the first lady of Taiwan, here today," school principal Larne Edmeades told the class. Chow "appreciates and understands young people" very well because she's the mother of two daughters, Edmeades said.

Since President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008, the first lady has embarked on several such cultural exchanges that have focused primarily on students. She is scheduled to visit other schools during her tour of Auckland from March 13-18.

Chow is in the New Zealand city with U Theatre, a renowned Taiwanese dance troupe that was invited to perform at the Auckland Arts Festival 2011.

Chow has also personally endorsed many Taiwanese artists and cultural groups and accompanied them on performance tours abroad. (By Chris Wang) enditem /pc

Sunday, March 13, 2011

First lady in Auckland to support Taiwan's dance troupe

Auckland, New Zealand, March 13 (CNA) Renowned dance troupe U Theatre was ready for its first performance in New Zealand as Taiwan's first lady Chow Mei-ching arrived Sunday as the troupe's honorary leader to show her support.

U Theatre is scheduled to deliver four shows, titled "Sound of the Ocean, " as one of the featured groups at the biennial Auckland Arts Festival from March 15-18 during the event's final week.

The troupe was invited to the festival by David Malacari, the event's artistic director, four years ago in Hong Kong, said U Theatre founder and artistic director Liu Ruo-yu, after Malacari saw U Theatre.

"The invitation was actually made four years ago. It (the invitation) was very meaningful for us, " Liu said.

"Sound of the Ocean" was inspired by water and depicts water's cyclical journey from a tiny drop to the crashing waves of the mighty sea with an assortment of temple bells, drums, gongs and cymbals, Liu said.

Around a dozen dancers and technical staff arrived in Auckland on March 10 to prepare for the show, according to Liu.

Chow, who has been devoted to charity work and providing support for sports and arts groups since she became the first lady in 2008, arrived in Auckland at 6:30 p.m. Sunday and visited the troupe at the hotel where Chow will stay with the dancers.

Accompanied by Elliott Y.L. Charng, Taiwan's representative to New Zealand, Chow remembered every dancer by name and embraced them with hugs outside the hotel lobby.

The first lady is scheduled to appear at U Theatre's rehearsal and performances as well as visiting local schools for charity purposes during her stay from March 13-18.

The Auckland Arts Festival 2011, which is taking place from March 2-20, includes dance and music performances as well as visual arts and theater. The four festivals held to date have attracted a combined 880,000 people, according to the organizer.

Founded by Liu in 1988, U Theatre combines contemporary Western theatrical techniques with Zen Buddhist philosophy. It has been known for its disciplined training in various forms, including acting, martial arts, drumming, Tai-Chi, dance and meditation on the mountains on the outskirts of Taipei. (By Chris Wang) enditem/ls

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Chen Wei-cheng named national baseball team manager

Taipei, March 9 (CNA) Former professional team manager Chen Wei-cheng has been named manager of Taiwan's national baseball team, the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association (CTBA) announced Wednesday at a press conference.

A CTBA committee selected Chen over Hsieh Chang-heng for a two-year term from 2011-2013, during which he will lead the national team to compete in the World Cup and the qualifiers of the World Baseball Classic.

Chen, 44, coached Sinon Bulls of the four-team professional league Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) from 2001-2003 and led the team to the 2003 Taiwan Series.

He has also been serving as an assistant to the former national team manager Yeh Chih-hsien since the 2009 World Baseball Classic and was part of the Taiwan coaching team at the Asian Games and Intercontinental Baseball tournament last year.

He will leave his post as manager of the Kao Yuan University baseball team to take up his new job.

Hsieh, 49, was also in the running for the national team manager position, but did not get the nod. A former professional pitcher, he was the pitching coach of the national team from 2007-2008 and is currently the manager of the New Taipei City amateur baseball team. (By Chris Wang) enditem /pc

Taiwan relaxes visa requirements for Filipino workers

Taipei, March 9 (CNA) Taiwan announced Wednesday an immediate relaxation of its visa application requirements for Filipino workers, after Manila replaced its immigration chief in an apparent effort to resolve a diplomatic dispute between the two sides.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has named Ricardo David Jr. to replace Ronaldo Ledesma as commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration, the Philippines' Malacanang Palace said in a statement Wednesday.

On Monday, the Philippines Department of Justice also removed Faizal Hussin from his post as head of the Bureau of Immigration Intelligence Division and appointed Maria Antonette Bucasas as his replacement.

The two personnel changes were viewed by Taiwan as a form of apology from the Philippines over its deportation of 14 Taiwanese fraud suspects to China on Feb. 2, which resulted in a month-long rift between Taiwan and the Philippines.

"With these changes, the Philippine government has shown goodwill and regret, " Taiwan Foreign Minister Timothy C.T. Yang said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

"The Republic of China government announces the immediate relaxation of some visa application requirements for Filipino workers," he said.

However, Taiwan's other retaliatory measures against Manila will remain in place for now, the MOFA indicated. They include an extension, from 12 days to up to four months, of the process for screening applications by Filipinos seeking to work in Taiwan.

In addition, Taiwan is planning to recall its representative to the Philippines, although it has not yet set a date for doing so. On Feb. 10, the Taiwan government also announced that Filipinos would be required to submit their Social Security System Card, instead of any other social security document, as part of their applications to work in Taiwan.

Taiwan had been seeking an apology from Manila, which cited its "one-China policy" as the reason for sending the fraud suspects to China instead of to Taiwan.

However, Taiwan softened it stance after the Philippines sent a presidential envoy, Manuel Roxas, to Taipei Feb. 21 to try to iron out the issue with top government officials.

After a marathon meeting between Yang and Roxas, the two sides issued a joint seven-point consensus that mentioned the Philippines' intention to punish any of its officials found to have mishandled the deportation case.

According to Yang, the Philippines promised to continue its judicial and congressional investigations into the matter, which means there could be more reprimands.

Taiwan's punitive measures against the Philippines could be removed after Manuel Roxas returns to Taipei for follow-up discussions "very soon, " the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) indicated.

Meanwhile, Antonio Basilio, managing director of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) -- the Philippines' de facto representative office in Taiwan -- said Wednesday that his office appreciates "the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' efforts in resolving this issue, and we look forward to further strengthening our friendship."

MECO Chairman Amadeo Perez Jr. sent a letter to the MOFA Tuesday, under the authorization of President Aquino, reassuring Taipei that Manila was taking steps to resolve the dispute, Yang told reporters.

In the letter, Perez reiterated the Philippines' "deepest regrets" for any hurt feeling the incident may have caused and recognized Taiwan's allegations of possible lapses and mishandling by Philippine immigration authorities.

Perez said the MECO has initiated a process for the establishment of a mechanism for mutual legal assistance and to arrange a joint feasibility study for an Economic Partnership Agreement, Yang added. (By Chris Wang) enditem /pc

Taiwan to resist pressure on death penalty: justice minister

Taipei, March 9 (CNA) Justice Minister Tseng Yung-fu said Wednesday at a legislative hearing that Taiwan would continue to respect the rule of law and continue enforcement of the death penalty despite condemnation from the European Union (EU).

Speaking at a hearing of the Legislative Yuan's Judiciary Committee just five days after Taiwan executed five death row inmates, Tseng said Taiwan was determined to govern according to the law, and he promised legislators that he "can handle any pressure."

The five executions have been condemned by the EU, the European Parliament and many human rights groups, including Amnesty International, since being carried on March 4.

In response to lawmakers' questions, Tseng said he had not received any information on reported suggestions by EU parliamentarians to scrap Taiwan's EU visa-waiver treatment because of the executions.

There was no linkage between the two issues, Tseng said, because Taiwan did not make any promises on stopping or suspending the implementation of the death penalty to the EU during the bloc's screening of an EU visa-waiver for Taiwan, which took effect on Jan. 11.

But he noted that Taiwan would explain its stance on its continued use of capital punishment to the EU to deal with the concerns it has raised.

Taiwan's March 4 executions were carried out less than a year after the MOJ resumed the enforcement of the death penalty last April under pressure from the families of victims of violent crime, ending an unofficial moratorium that had existed since 2005.

President Ma Ying-jeou has said Taiwan hoped to abolish the death penalty in the future, but most legislators, pressured by their constituents, oppose the abolition of capital punishment.

Chou Yi, a ruling Kuomintang (KMT) legislator, urged the justice minister at the hearing to carry out executions of death row inmates because "we cannot wait for another year for the next executions."

But Tseng responded that there was no timetable for future executions, saying he could not predict when executions would happen.

The ministry will not deliberately postpone executions, but "there are currently no new execution orders on my desk either, " the minister told lawmakers. (By Chris Wang) enditem/ls

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Taiwan committed to further opening to China: vice president

Taipei, March 8 (CNA) Taiwan is committed to opening its economy further to China despite the enormous challenges ahead in cross-Taiwan Strait relations, Vice President Vincent Siew said Tuesday.

Taiwan should have confidence in the free trade system, Siew said at a symposium that marked the 20th anniversary of the Straits Exchange Foundation, a quasi official organization authorized to deal with negotiations across the strait.

With this in mind, Siew said, Taiwan will further open its market and economy to China in the wake of the signing of the historical Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) between the two sides last June and the implementation of tariff concessions under the ECFA.

Siew's comments reflected a statement by President Ma Ying-jeou in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday that Taiwan's current opening to China was only "25 percent to one third" of what it should be.

Relations between Taiwan and China have changed dramatically over the last two decades after more than 30 years of isolation in the wake of the Chinese Civil War in the late 1940's, Siew noted. China has now become Taiwan's largest trade partner, main foreign investment destination and premier tourist destination, he said.

However, there are many challenges ahead because cross-strait relations are constantly changing, Siew said.

Taiwan will not "place all its eggs in one basket" and has been seeking to be part of the regional economic integration, making efforts in areas such as exploring an economic partnership agreement with Singapore, he said.

In its engagement with China, he said, Taiwan will not focus on short-term economic gains to the detriment of long-term social stability.

On March 2, Taiwan announced a new list covering 25 areas in the manufacturing sector, eight in the service sector and nine in the public construction sector that would be opened to Chinese investment.

It brought to 247 the total number of industry areas that have been opened to Chinese investment since the first round of liberalization was announced on June 30, 2009. (By Chris Wang) enditem /pc

U.S. comfortable with improved cross-Taiwan Strait ties: AIT head

Taipei, March 8 (CNA) The United States encourages increased cross-Taiwan Strait dialogue and is not nervous about warming ties between Taiwan and China, the top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan said Tuesday.

The U.S. does not feel "nervous" or "left out" because improving cross-strait ties are good for both sides of the strait, the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific region, said William Stanton, Director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Taipei Office.

"A peaceful and stable Taiwan Strait is a godsend" for all, he said in a speech at a symposium to mark the 20th founding anniversary of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) , a quasi-official organization that deals with cross-strait negotiations.

Taiwan, as a vibrant and thriving democracy, has fair and free elections that provide "a mechanism for ensuring that your administration and its policy, particular on critical issues such as cross strait ties, remain in line with the will of the people, " he said.

The diplomat reaffirmed the U.S.' strong support for peaceful resolution of cross-strait differences and said that Washington will continue to play "an important, if indirect, role" in Taiwan-China relations.

He said the dramatic transformation of cross-strait exchanges in the last three decades highlighted people-to-people interactions, some of which were unimaginable in the mid-1980s when he first visited Taiwan.

Some examples of such interactions are the one million Taiwanese who do business in China and now call it home, the 365 direct flights across the strait every week, the 4,000 Chinese tourists arriving in Taiwan every day on average, and the more than 5,000 Chinese students who are studying in Taiwan, he said.

The U.S. intends to keep working with Taiwan on the visa-waiver program, export control and arm sales and strongly supports Taiwan's meaningful participation in international organizations, Stanton said.

The U.S. encourages Taiwan to further engage with China in the future "at a pace and scope politically approved by the people of Taiwan," Stanton said.

Noting that Taiwan ranked as the U.S.' ninth largest trade partner last year, the director said he would like to see increased trade between the two sides.

The value of two-way trade between the U.S. and China in 2010 was US$90 billion, he noted. With a population of 23 million as opposed to China's 1.3 billion, two-way trade between the U.S. and Taiwan that year totaled US$59 billion, which explains the importance of Taiwan-U.S. trade ties, said the AIT director.

The AIT is the de facto U.S. representative office in Taiwan in the absence of bilateral diplomatic ties. (By Chris Wang) Enditem /pc

Beef row complicated by mix of science, politics: ex-U.S. official

Taipei, March 8 (CNA) Science is often used as a political and economic bargaining chip in international talks on food safety, as seen in the recent dispute over beef between Taiwan and the United States, a former U.S. official said recently.

"The issues of agriculture and food safety are often used as chips for politicians. Unfortunately, I don't think these things will stop in the foreseeable future, " said Joseph Jen, an undersecretary for research, education, and economics in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from 2001-2005, in a March 4 interview with CNA.

"True science has been ignored so far, " said the 72-year-old scientist, who emigrated from Taiwan to the U.S. in 1962 and retired last year as the dean of the College of Agriculture at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

Political and economic factors are usually placed above food safety in most international agricultural negotiations because most countries send diplomatic officials, rather than scientists, to handle the talks, Jen said.

The recent dispute between Taiwan and the U.S. over imports of U.S. beef is just one example of the complexity that arises when

science is mixed with politics, he said.

Taiwan's legislature passed an amendment in January 2010 that banned imports of selected beef products from countries, including the U.S., with documented cases of mad cow disease in the past decade.

That meant that U.S. beef products seen as posing potentially health risks, such as ground beef and organs, were barred from entering Taiwan, in contravention of a bilateral beef trade protocol signed by the two countries in October 2009.

Tensions over beef arose again this past January, when American beef products found to contain residues of ractopamine -- a feed additive promoting leanness in livestock that is banned in Taiwan -- were taken off the shelves of local stores.

The move prompted the U.S. to call off a long anticipated meeting under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) , an official framework for Taiwan-U.S. dialogue on trade and economic issues in the absence of diplomatic ties.

Jen said Taiwan's decision in 2010 was not based on scientific research, because the probability of contracting mad cow disease by consuming U.S. beef was lower than being hit by a car.

As for this year's dispute, Jen said Taiwan cited the European Union's zero tolerance policy on ractopamine to justify the ban and would wait for the conclusions of a meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission in July that will set maximum residue levels for ractopamine before reconsidering the issue.

But even then, politics and science are mixing because the EU and the Codex both have been heavily influenced by politics, Jen said.

"Its (the Codex's) science is politically approved science, not the real science, " he said, calling the EU "the main culprit" of mixing science with politics, starting with its condemnation of U.S.-produced genetically modified organism (GMO) products.

Food safety is a complicated issue because many people and processes are involved in the production chain, said Jen, who received his bachelor's degree in agricultural chemistry from National Taiwan University in 1960.

"The keys for modern-day scientists are 'probability' and 'risk assessment' as there is no such thing as a 'zero risk.' There is no magic wand which can solve anything in a blink of an eye either, " he said.

Jen acknowledges, however, that it always takes a long time for scientists to conduct research and reach a consensus, and before that happens, every government gets to make its own policies and decisions.

"I don't think I am in a position to recommend to Taiwan's government what to do. I think it will do what it thinks is the best for the people of Taiwan," said Jen, who was visiting Taiwan for the first time in 23 years.

He urged the media to play a positive role in promoting food safety and relaying accurate messages to people, because media reports too often cause panic by magnifying negative effects. (By Chris Wang) Enditem/ls

Monday, March 07, 2011

Taiwan's military budget questioned as China ramps up spending

Taipei, March 7 (CNA) Lawmakers expressed concerns on Monday over Taiwan's decreasing military budget, saying that it paled in comparison with China's increasing military spending and was insufficient to meet the country's security needs.

The legislators were reacting to China's announcement last week that it would increase its defense budget by 12.7 percent in 2011 to $601.1 billion yuan (US$91.7 billion) , roughly 10 times Taiwan's estimated 2011 military budget of US$9.2 billion.

President Ma Ying-jeou pledged during his presidential election campaign in 2008 that Taiwan would complete the implementation of an all-volunteer military by 2014 and that the military budget would be equal to at least 3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

But ruling Kuomintang (KMT) lawmaker Chang Hsien-yao said at a legislative hearing Monday that the Ministry of National Defense (MND) had failed to meet the 3 percent target, of concern because the ongoing transformation to an all-volunteer force is driving up personnel costs.

"That (the personnel costs) will crowd out spending on logistics and military procurement if there is no increase in our overall military budget, " Chang said.

Questions over the military budget's adequacy were brought into focus in a missile drill in mid-January when less than 70 percent of the missiles launched hit their targets.

Lawmakers at the time blamed the poor performance on a shortage of funding for logistics and maintenance. The problem will persist if things do not change, Chang said, because personnel costs will account for half of the country's military budget by 2014.

In response to Chang's concerns, Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu acknowledged that funding shortfalls had hurt maintenance, citing weapons systems purchased with a special budget (outside the military's regular budget) that did not receive enough subsequent funding for maintenance.

Chang said that if the ministry were not able to increase its budget, it would have to adjust funding in each budget category, most likely requiring a dramatic reduction in personnel costs. Doing that, however, would impede the president's all-volunteer military pledge.

Taiwan's defense budget has fallen over the past three years, from US$10.4 billion in 2008, to US$9.6 billion in 2009, and US$9.3 billion in 2010.

The NT$297.2 billion budget for 2011 (equal to US$9.2 billion when figured at the NT$32.3 per U.S. dollar exchange rate in place when the budget was drawn up last year) represents only 2.2 percent of Taiwan's estimated NT$13.73 trillion GDP.

Even when the MND adds spending that is not directly tied to military functions, such as social welfare and housing subsidies for veterans and their dependents, the "broad" defense budget of NT$374.8 billion is 2.73 percent of estimated GDP, still short of the target.

Though the budget for 2011 has already been approved, Shuai Hua-min, a KMT legislator and the co-convener of the Foreign and National Defense Affairs Committee, said bluntly on Monday that the MND's 2012 budget would be rejected if it were less than 3 percent of GDP.

Even after China's statement last week, the MND said Taiwan would not engage in an arms race with China or markedly increase defense spending, but would instead make the best use of the budget it had to defend the country. (By Chris Wang) Enditem/ls

VP, ex-Philippine president discuss deportation dispute

Taipei, March 7 (CNA) Vice President Vincent Siew and former Philippine President Fidel Ramos agreed Monday that Taiwan and the Philippines should resolve a month-long diplomatic row as soon as possible to restore relations.

The senior politicians held a breakfast meeting on the last day of Ramos' five-day visit to Taiwan and discussed a wide range of issues, said Matthew Lee, director-general of the Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Siew and Ramos did not speak to reporters after the one-hour meeting in downtown Taipei, which was Ramos' last engagement on his tour that was focused on attending a golf tournament and leading a delegation of businessmen from the Philippines to explore business opportunities in Hsinchu, Nantou and Changhua cities in Taiwan.

According to Lee, Siew reiterated the Taiwan government's position on Manila's deportation of 14 Taiwanese fraud suspects to China Feb. 2 and said that the Philippines authorities should complete their investigations as soon as possible and hold accountable any government officials who were found to have mishandled the case.

Taipei and Manila should also establish a mechanism for mutual legal assistance to combat transnational crime, Lee quoted Siew as saying.

Ramos reiterated in the meeting that the Philippine government's investigation and possible reprimand of any officials who had mishandled the case were more important than a formal apology, Lee said.

The former president pledged to use his influence to help resolve the issue so that Taiwan and its southern neighbor could continue to build their longstanding friendship, Lee said.

Ramos said that he would report to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III upon his return to Manila Monday, according to Lee.

During his Taiwan visit, Ramos said repeatedly that it was private trip was for sports and business purposes.

On one occasion, he told reporters that the 80,000 Filipino workers in Taiwan had made a significant contribution to the country's economy.

Since the dispute over the deportation erupted, Taipei has tightened its screening of Filipinos seeking to work in Taiwan. According to the Council of Labor Affairs, it could now take up to four months to screen applications by new Filipino workers, compared with the previous 12-day maximum period. (By Chris Wang) enditem /pc

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Taiwan suffers first loss to China in Davis Cup history

Taipei, March 6 (CNA) Taiwan rallied on the last day of the Davis Cup in Shanghai but was eventually disappointed after suffering a 3-2 defeat to China in the Asia/Oceania Group 1 tie of the competition Sunday.

The setback was Taiwan's first loss to China in Davis Cup history. Taiwan beat China 3-2 in the Asia/Oceania Group 2 semifinal in 2003 and had another 3-2 win in the Group 1 relegation playoffs first round in 2007.

Yang Tsung-hua, ranked the world's No. 308 in men's singles, lost to world No. 368 Wu Di of China 6-3, 6-2, 2-6, 6-0 in the decisive singles match Sunday at the Xianxia Tennis Center, ending Taiwan's hopes.

Earlier in the day, Lu Yen-hsun -- Taiwan's top-ranked player on the men's ATP Tour at No. 42 -- outmatched world No. 299 Gong Maoxin in straight sets 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 to tie the score at 2-2 following Taiwan's disastrous showing in the first day of the tournament on Friday.

China stunned Taiwan in the opening day singles to take a 2-0 lead, with Gong beating Yang 5-7, 6-1, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 8-6 in five hours and Wu shocking Lu 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 7-5, 9-7, leaving Taiwan trailing 2-0 in a best-of-five tie.

The opening-day singles losses forced team captain Ho Kuo-long to change his lineup, replacing the duo of Chen Ti and Yi Chu-huan with the Lu-Yang combo. Taiwan ended up playing Lu and Yang in all five matches.

Lu teamed up with Yang for the men's doubles Saturday and beat the duo of Gong and Li Zhe 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-5) in three hours and 44 minutes to cut the deficit to 2-1.

Taiwan has never advanced to the World Group, the tournament's top tier in which 16 countries compete. Taiwan's best Davis Cup performances were in 2005, 2006 and 2009, when it reached the second round in Group 1 of the Asia/Oceania Zone

Lu's singles victory Sunday was his first win this year, but he remains winless on the men's ATP tour, losing all six matches he has played. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

Philippine Congress trying to solve dispute with Taiwan

Taipei, March 6 (CNA) A visiting Philippine congressman assured Taiwan Sunday that the Philippines is trying to resolve the diplomatic rift between the two countries smoothly and as soon as possible.

The longstanding friendship between the Philippines and Taiwan should be valued despite the recent dispute, said Roy M. Loyola.

Taiwan and its Southeast Asian neighbor have been engaged in a tense diplomatic row over Manila's deportation of 14 Taiwanese fraud suspects to China Feb. 2, with Taipei subsequently imposing retaliatory measures that include tightening the screening procedures for Filipino workers applying to work in Taiwan.

The congressman was accompanying former Philippine President Fidel Ramos and a group of businessmen on a March 3-7 visit to Taiwan to explore business opportunities.

Loyola's remarks echoed those of Ramos, who told reporters on the sidelines of a golf tournament in the central county of Changhua that the incident should not be allowed to affect the friendly ties between the two sides.

The Philippines extended a "goodwill gesture" in sending Manuel Roxas as a presidential emissary to Taiwan to explain the matter and has pledged to hold any government officials who mishandled the case accountable, Loyola said.

Taiwan's anger over the incident is a "normal reaction" and understandable, he went on.

"However, I respect the feelings of the Taiwanese government. And I'm thankful that some Taiwanese are supporting Filipino workers in Taiwan, " Loyola said, referring to a protest organized that day by local groups opposed to Taiwan's decision to freeze Filipino workers.

The Philippine Congress is conducting an investigation into the case, Loyola said, but added that he was not in a position to disclose its progress.

Taipei has said it will wait for the results of the investigation and follow-up measures before making its next move. The retaliatory measures are now still in place.

Antonio Basilio, managing director of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office -- the Philippines' representative office in Taiwan -- told CNA that same day that both sides are "close to a solution." He did not elaborate. (By Chris Wang) ENDITEM/J

Friday, March 04, 2011

Advocacy group condemns new executions

Taipei, March 4 (CNA) An alliance opposing capital punishment held a candlelight vigil Friday night to protest the execution of five death row inmates and lashed out at President Ma Ying-jeou and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).

The inmates were executed at three prisons in the evening, less than a year after the MOJ resumed the enforcement of death penalty last April, ending an unofficial moratorium that had existed since 2005.

Dozens of advocates, led by the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP) , made a brief statement before placing five candles and five black mourning bands at the gates of the MOJ. They also observed a five-minute silence in protest.

"We have said too much, but the MOJ never officially responds to the controversy. We decide not to talk tonight, " said Lin Hsin-yi, Executive Director of the TAEDP.

In a press release, the anti-death penalty organization criticized President Ma, who personally apologized to the family of Chiang Kuo-ching, a young soldier wrongly convicted and executed 14 years ago, and who now "turns around and carries out five more executions that may well be wrongful."

The TAEDP, which claimed that some death-row inmates were wrongly convicted, said it will disclose and discuss details of the five cases next week.

Ma reiterated that Taiwan signed two United Nations human rights covenants -- the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights -- in 2009 and described the signature of the covenants as an achievement, said Lin Feng-cheng, Executive Director of the Judicial Reform Foundation.

According to the enforcement rules of the two covenants, the government should complete a review within two years to decide if capital punishment violates human rights and signatories should not carry out executions before related procedures concerning requests for amnesty have been completed, he said.

"What President Ma has done was not in line with the covenants at all, " Lin said.

"It took 15 years to prove Chiang's innocence and there should never be another Chiang in Taiwan, " he added, referring to the wrongfully executed soldier.

Lin also criticized Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu, saying that he was handed the position because of his pledge to carry out executions. Nine executions have been carried out since Tseng became minister in March 2010.

Taiwan's resumption of executions last year was criticized by the European Union as well as human rights groups such as Amnesty International.

Wang Ching-feng, Tseng's predecessor as minister of justice, resigned amid a political storm sparked by her statement that she would not sign any death warrants during her term.

In an MOJ statement, the five inmates executed Friday were identified as Guang Chung-yen, Wang Kuo-hua, Chung Teh-shu, Wang Chih-huang and Chuang Tien-chu.

Forty convicts remain on the death row, according to official tallies. (By Chris Wang) enditem/jc

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Legislative by-elections seen as crucial for two main parties

Taipei, March 3 (CNA) The by-elections this weekend for two seats in the Legislative Yuan are seen as crucial for both the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) and the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the run-up to the next national legislative poll and the 2012 presidential election.

Southern Taiwan voters will cast ballots Saturday for legislators in the fourth districts of Tainan and Kaohsiung cities, in the first poll since the highly competitive special municipality elections last November.

The two legislative seats became vacant when William Lai was elected mayor of Tainan City and Chen Chi-yu was appointed as deputy mayor of Kaohsiung City.

With the departure of Chen and Lai, both of the DPP, their party was left with 31 of the 109 legislative seats, as opposed to the KMT's 73.

However, despite its overwhelming majority in the legislature, the KMT is not taking the by-elections lightly, particularly after its string of losses in by-elections since 2008 when President Ma Ying-jeou took office.

Addressing a rally in the DPP stronghold of Tainan last week, Ma who is also KMT chairman, urged voters to support the KMT to avoid "one-party domination" in the electoral district.

The battle in that district is between the KMT's Chen Shu-hui and former Tainan City Mayor Hsu Tain-tsair of the DPP.

In Kaohsiung, where voters also tend to favor the DPP, Ma has recruited a former DPP member Hsu Ching-huan to run against Lin Tai-hua of the DPP.

Hsu's "loyalty" will not be a problem, Ma said.

Meanwhile, DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, along with other party heavyweights, has been stumping in the south, calling for a DPP "sweep of both seats."

The DPP heavyweights have described the by-elections as "a prelude to the ever important legislative election and the 2012 presidential election."

Tsai is in the spotlight in the by-elections, not only because of her position as party leader, but also because she is considered a frontrunner for her party's presidential nomination and is seen as a potentially strong challenger against Ma's re-election bid in 2012.

Regardless of who wins the by-elections, their terms will be short as all 113 seats in the legislative will be up for grabs again in a few months time.

The next legislative elections are due in December 2011 or January 2012, while the presidential poll is scheduled for March 2012. However, the Central Election Commission (CEC) is considering a proposal to combine the two elections and will make a decision by June this year.

Two other legislative seats that are currently vacant will not be filled before the next legislative elections.

They were left vacant by KMT legislator Shyu Jong-shyong, who was appointed deputy mayor of the central city of Taichung, and Lin Cheng-er, an aboriginal legislator whose seat was forfeited because of election-related bribery. (By Chris Wang) enditem /pc

Taiwan visit has no political overtones: ex-Philippine president

Hsinchu, March 3 (CNA) Former Philippines President Fidel Ramos said Thursday upon arrival in Taiwan that his visit was not about resolving the diplomatic row between Taipei and Manila and was in no way political.

Ramos, who is leading a 35-member delegation, is scheduled to attend a golf tournament, visit the Hsinchu Science Park, and meet with the Hsinchu and Changhua county magistrates.

Responding to reporters' questions in Hsinchu, the 82-year-old Ramos said the recent consensus reached between Taiwan and the Philippines was "more than enough" to resolve the row over the latter's deportation of 14 Taiwanese fraud suspects to China on Feb. 2.

"We have no political mission," Ramos said.

Ramos did not say whether he was scheduled to meet with President Ma Ying-jeou, Vice President Vincent Siew or Foreign Minister Timothy C.T. Yang, but the CNA has learned that a meeting with Siew is on the agenda.

Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) in Taipei maintained Thursday that Ramos' visit was a private one focused on sports and business.

In Hsinchu, Ramos highlighted the idea of "Asian prosperity, " saying that Asian neighbors should work together to achieve prosperity.

He said he was impressed with the contribution of the 90,000 Filipino workers in Taiwan.

"Taiwan needs their services" because they are skilled, English-speaking Christians and "a good bunch of workers to work with," he said.

His comments were made against the backdrop of Taiwan's tighter screening of Filipino applicants seeking to work in Taiwan and calls in the legislature and elsewhere for Taiwan to freeze the importation of Philippine labor in response to the deportation row.

Taiwan has since softened its stance on the issue and is no longer pressing for a formal apology from Manila, while the Philippines has promised to hold accountable any officials found to have mishandled the matter.

Ramos said Wednesday in a press release issued in the Philippines by his private foundation that Manila's refusal to apologize had "endangered the economic synergy that exists between the two countries."

"The 'One-China' policy should not have been invoked by the Aquino Administration as the basis for that controversial deportation," he also said in the press release. (By Chris Wang) enditem /pc

No arrangement for ex-Philippine president to meet Ma: MOFA

Taipei, March 3 (CNA) No arrangements have been made for former Philippine president Fidel Ramos to meet with the president or the foreign minister in his five-day visit to Taiwan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said Thursday.

Sources said Ramos will meet with Vice President Vincent Siew instead.

Ramos will arrive in Taiwan amidst a diplomatic row between Taiwan and the Phillippines over the latter's deportation of 14 Taiwanese fraud suspects to China on Feb. 2.

It still remains unclear whether Siew and Ramos will touch upon the controversy during their meeting.

MOFA and the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) in Taipei both maintained that Ramos's visit is a private trip focused on sports and business.

Ramos is leading a 35-member delegation to Taiwan March 3-7, during which the 82-year-old senior politician will attend a golf tournament, visit Hsinchu Science Park, and meet with the Hsinchu and Changhua county magistrates.

"The 'One-China' policy should not have been invoked by the Aquino Administration as the basis for that controversial deportation, " Ramos said in a press released issued Wednesday by his private foundation.

The hard-line position of "no apology" from the Philippine government "has endangered the economic synergy that exists between the two countries, " Ramos said, referring to Taiwan's subsequent retaliatory measures against Filipino workers in Taiwan. (By Chris Wang) enditem/ly

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

U.K.-Taiwan trade in 2010 shows strong growth: BTCO

Taipei, March 1 (CNA) Two-way trade between the United Kingdom and Taiwan grew robustly in 2010 to NT$240 billion (5 billion pounds) and the positive trend was expected to continue with Taiwan's gradual development into a service-oriented economy, the top UK diplomat in Taiwan said Tuesday.

"Our trading relationship has always been strong and it is clear from these figures that trade has recovered strongly from the global economic downturn, " said David Campbell, director of the British Trade and Cultural Office (BTCO) , the UK's de facto representative office in Taiwan.

Citing the latest statistics from the UK Revenue and Customs Department, Campbell said British exports to Taiwan last year totalled NT$50.4 billion, which was a significant increase of 40 percent from 2009 and way above the average 25 percent to the Asia-Pacific region for the same period.

Taiwan exports to the UK also rose last year, soaring by 38 percent compared with 2009, according to Campbell. Taiwan's main exports to the UK were telecommunications equipment, sound recording equipment, electrical machinery and appliances, office machines and automatic data processing machines, he said.

The pattern of Britain's exports to Taiwan is interesting to watch, Campbell said. Of the total 1.7 billion pounds in goods and service exports to Taiwan in 2010, physical goods accounted for 1 billion ponds, while financial, educational and other services made up the other 700 million pounds, he said.

Four or five years ago, the volume of UK service exports to Taiwan was only around 200 million to 300 million pounds, he said, noting that there has been a tremendous growth of Taiwan's service market.

Reviewing the bilateral trade relations, the director underlined the importance of the Taiwan market to the U.K., saying that the UK was exporting more to Taiwan than to Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines combined.

Taiwan's total exports to the UK were around 3.3 billion pounds (NT$159.2 billion) , which showed a trade surplus in Taiwan's favor, he said.

In terms of investment, a number of Taiwanese brands are now better known now in the U.K., he said. They include the computer maker Acer -- an official sponsor of the 2012 London Olympics -- and mobile phone maker HTC, which acquired a British company for 30 million pounds few weeks ago, Campbell said.

The UK is expected to lower its corporate tax from 28 percent to 24 percent -- the lowest rate in the G7 countries -- in four years, which would be an incentive for Taiwanese investors, he said.

British companies in Taiwan were most concerned about the government procurement issue and said that they deserved a level playing field with local competitors to apply for tenders, he said.

"We hope that real progress can be made in 2011 on market access issues, to further boost trade between Taiwan and the UK, " he said, adding that the next meeting of the Taiwan Britain Business Council will be held in Taipei in May. (By Chris Wang) enditem /pc