Thursday, May 05, 2011

MOFA denies miscommunication with AIT over visa fee announcement

Taipei, May 5 (CNA) There was no miscommunication between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) over the timing of a news release on lower U.S. visa application fees, a MOFA official said Thursday.

It was reported in the local media that the AIT, the United States representative office in Taipei in the absence diplomatic ties, was displeased with the MOFA for unilaterally announcing Wednesday an upcoming reduction in U.S. visa application processing fees.

MOFA spokesman James Chang said in a press briefing that the incident was not a "blunder" as described by the media.

The MOFA received a written notice from the AIT on May 2 and released the news Wednesday for two reasons, he said.

"First of all, we saw the announcement as great news for people and secondly, we wanted to get it out as soon as possible because Taiwan was planning to simultaneously lower its visa fees for U.S. passport holders, " Chang said.

The news release by the MOFA's Bureau of Consular Affairs (BOCA) stated that the cost of a general non-immigrant U.S. visa will be lowered from NT$4,340 (US$140) to NT$4,200 with effect from May 9. However, the announcement was removed from the bureau's website Wednesday night after the AIT expressed concerns.

Chang declined to comment on whether the BOCA's had mishandled the matter, but he denied that the bureau had intentionally sent out the press release before the AIT to "take credit" for the change.

In a telephone interview with Central New Agency Thursday morning, AIT spokesman Christopher Kavanagh said that the "AIT is the sole, definitive source of information about consular fees."

"At this time, the current fee for a general non-immigrant visa remains NT$4,340," he said.

The spokesman did not elaborate on whether there had been any miscommunication between the two sides, neither did he say when his office planned to issue an official release on the fees.

He said the AIT usually adjusts the exchange rate for calculating visa fees in accordance with regulations.

The AIT will inform the Taiwan Post Office of the change, and the post office will implement it within a practicable period of time, he said.

He said that when the change goes into effect, AIT will post the new visa fees on its website and they will be implemented "immediately."

The AIT usually adjusts its visa fees when the average appreciation of the New Taiwan dollar in any particular month exceeds 5 percent.

The MOFA recently urged the AIT to reduce its visa fees in light of the appreciation of the Taiwan dollar. (By Chris Wang) enditem /pc

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

New energy policy to emerge within two months: MOEA

Taipei, May 4 (CNA) Economics Minister Shih Yen-shiang said Wednesday his ministry will present a new energy policy within one to two months after being grilled by legislators who questioned the government's effort to ween Taiwan off fossil fuels or nuclear power.

Shih pledged to come up with a new policy after briefing legislators on Taiwan's alternative energy policy and energy saving efforts in a session of the Economics Committee.

Taiwan plans to increase renewable energy sources as a percent of the country's total electricity generating capacity from the current 6 percent to 16 percent, or 10,858 megawatts, by 2030, Shih said, with a quarter of it coming from offshore wind turbines.

He also expected the installed capacity of solar energy to increase to 2,500 MW by 2030 -- from 8.5 MW today -- to provide another quarter of Taiwan's renewable energy.

But Shih did not offer a clear position on nuclear power, which accounts for 21 percent of Taiwan's total power production at present.

Public demand for renewable energy has been on the rise in the wake of a nuclear crisis that gripped Japan after a powerful earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Honshu.

More than 15,000 people marched in Taipei on April 30 to oppose nuclear power, worried that Taiwan, which is as vulnerable to earthquakes as Japan, could very possibly also face the threat of a nuclear disaster.

Lee Chun-yi, a legislator of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), suggested increasing Taiwan's liquefied natural gas (LNG) capacity to replace nuclear power, but Shih was not enthusiastic about the idea.

He said it would take six to eight years and at least NT$150 billion to replace one of Taiwan's six nuclear reactors with natural gas turbines.

Replacing the capacity of all six reactors with natural gas turbines would cost more than NT$1 trillion, and "we haven't even talked about where we will purchase the LNG from," the minister said.

"It's been a dilemma for us. If we replace nuclear power with other types of power, such as LNG, that will drive our carbon emissions up, " Shih said.

Lee countered that the public would rather face the threat of high emissions than the threat of a nuclear disaster, especially after what happened in Japan, which he said is why the DPP has proposed a "nuclear-free homeland."

Lai Shyh-bao, a legislator of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), said that judging from public opinion, Taiwan will not likely be able to keep all four of its nuclear power plants -- three active and one still under construction.

He suggested that one possible scenario would be to retire the three operating nuclear power plants, whose reactors started operating between 1978 and 1985, and keep the new No. 4 plant.

KMT Legislator Ting Shou-chung said Wednesday he was one of a few lawmakers who could no longer support the further development of nuclear power because of heavy pressure from anti-nuclear constituencies.

Lawmakers also blasted the government for not doing enough to promote green building and energy conservation and efficiency or restructure the country's industrial base and phase out high energy-consuming industries.

Shih argued, however, that electricity prices are a major factor in making government policy on energy, and said Taiwan's extremely low prices would be a thing of the past as renewable energy capacity grew.

"The government has determined that alternative energy development is the only option and there is no looking back, " Shih said. "However, you can't expect to keep electricity prices at the current low level with all of these changes being made, " he added. (By Chris Wang and Ann Chen) Enditem/ls

Monday, May 02, 2011

Taiwan advised to be on alert following bin Laden's death

Taipei, May 2 (CNA) Scholars and officials in Taiwan said on Monday that the country should be on alert and implement measures to make sure it is safe from possible retaliation by terrorists following the killing of Osama bin Laden by the United States.

On Monday morning Taiwan time, U.S. President Barack Obama announced in a televised statement that the U.S. forces had killed bin Laden in a targeted operation in Pakistan. The al-Qaeda leader was the mastermind behind the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 Americans.

Yen Chen-shen, a political scientist at National Chengchi University, said that since Taiwan is a strong U.S. ally, the country should be on alert with its border control and cannot ignore the threat of terrorist attacks or anti-U.S. violence.

"You can't say it's not possible, " Yen said, referring to terrorist threat to Taiwan in the wake of bin Laden's death.

The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the de facto U.S. embassy in Taiwan, and Taipei 101, a 509.2-meter skyscraper which was officially listed as the world's tallest building from 2004-2010, could be terrorist targets, Yen added.

Commenting on the meaning of the morning's biggest international story, Yen said bin Laden's death is expected to boost American morale as well as Obama's re-election campaign.

However, according to Yen, the U.S. is expected to continue its "fight against terror". Still, bin Laden's death gives the U.S. one more reason to consider pulling out of Afghanistan and redeploying its military forces somewhere else, such as on the Korean Peninsula.

Cheng Chien-jen, a former Taiwan representative to the U.S., said Taiwan should impose measures to prevent possible retaliation from terrorists despite the fact that it has never been targeted before.

Meanwhile, the AIT office in Taipei relayed a message from the U.S. State Department, warning American citizens traveling and residing abroad about the increased potential for anti-American violence. Overseas Americans are urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and to avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations.

The office did not provide any information about its security measures or whether their visa screening process will be tightened. (By Chris Wang) enditem/ly

Filipino-Taiwanese workers demand labor rights

Two groups -- Filipino workers and Filipino- Taiwanese -- stood out among labor protesters on International Workers' Day Sunday because they had extra grievances to air against the government.

While domestic labor rights groups still dominated the agenda of the protests, which were held to demand Taiwan's government carry out immediate reforms to the labor law, these two groups simply wanted to change the fact that they are not even protected by that law.

The first group, Filipino migrant workers, are denied coverage because of profession.

Despite some improvements, those who work as home caretakers, many of whom are from the Philippines, are still being exploited and receive unfair treatment, said Dave Chang, Chairman of the 2,000-member strong Migrante International Taiwan Chapter, a local organization that supports the rights of migrant workers.

To come to Taiwan, migrant caretakers must go through a broker system that absorbs most of their monthly wages, demands long working hours without overtime pay, and provides no off-days, he said. Caretakers usually have to work for 24 hours a day.

In addition, Chang said these caretakers receive a monthly salary of NT$15,840, far below the minimum monthly wage of NT$17,880 set by the government, because these workers are not covered by the Labor Standards Act.

"And 99 percent of migrant workers' passports are kept by the employers or brokerage agencies to prevent them from escaping (Taiwan)," Chang said.

According to him, both political parties -- the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) -- have failed to address the issue, but the KMT "at least has been more willing to have dialogue with us, " which was not the case during the DPP administration in 2000-2008.

Another group that turned out en masse were those who have Republic of China (ROC) passports, but not full-fledged rights as citizens. These are overseas Taiwanese who grew up in other countries, and as a result, do not carry the identification card that most Taiwan citizens have, the prerequisite to registering for national labor and health insurance. The government has denied this group an identification card since 1991, when it instituted tighter border controls.

Even after moving to Taiwan, they must stay for at least six years before they can apply for permanent residency and gain the benefits of public insurance programs.

Dozens of members of the Concern Alliance for Filipino Chinese (CAFC) turned out on Sunday, carrying signs with slogans, such as "stateless," to voice their dissatisfaction.

The alliance said many of its members have to leave Taiwan once every six months to maintain their legal residence status in Taiwan.

"These people have been labeled by the immigration law as 'ROC nationals without citizenship', " said Lorna Kung, Chief Executive Officer of Scalabrini International Migration Network Taiwan and a CAFC consultant. "I don't think you can legitimately explain what a 'national without citizenship' is. It is ridiculous."

A report conducted by the Control Yuan in January stated that out of the more than 60,000 ROC nationals without citizenship, more than 2,000 are Filipino-Taiwanese. The report recommended a national panel on human rights be convened to tackle this issue.

There are about 800 Filipino-Taiwanese in our membership, said a core CAFC member surnamed Tsai.

Tsai, who obtained his identification card prior to 1991, said he joined the organization because he wants to speak out for other Filipino-Taiwanese so that everyone can enjoy the same rights. By Chris Wang CNA Staff Reporter enditem/ly

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Protesters demand instant reform of labor conditions in Taiwan

Taipei, May 1 (CNA) Thousands of labor rights activists marched through the streets of downtown Taipei on International Workers' Day Sunday, criticizing the country's labor policies and calling for immediate improvement of working conditions.

Local unions and non-government organizations (NGOs) representing labor and the underprivileged staged separate protests in front of the Executive Yuan in the morning, expressing their anger over what they said were worsening working conditions in Taiwan.

Another demonstration was staged by local unions in the afternoon, with the protestors making similar appeals.

The demonstrators said the past and current administrations had chosen to side with employers and to alienate the working class. The administrations failed to solve the issues of unemployment, stagnant wages, overtime work, income inequality, tax injustice and poor protection of labor rights, the protesters said.

The "peace dividend" created by President Ma Ying-jeou's detente with China since he took office in 2008 has benefited only employers, said Wu Rong-yuan, chairman of the Taiwan Labor Party, in the first protest.

The working class has been suffering as a result of increasing income inequality over the past two years, Wu said.

Under the watchful eyes of around 100 police deployed to guard the gate of the Executive Yuan, a protester surnamed Ho said in the protest that young people have to endure a working environment of long working hours, low wages and temporary employment opportunities.

The minimum monthly wage in Taiwan has risen by only NT$600 (US$21) since 2007, he noted.

"It is impossible to take care of your parents when you have to live hand to mouth, " Ho said.

The ruling Kuomintang (KMT) and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which was in power from 2000-2008, have to share the blame, said Ke Yi-min, founder of the local NGO Raging Citizen Act Now (RCAN).

"The DPP started the temporary employment policy and the KMT has followed suit, " he said. "Both parties have increased labor exploitation in Taiwan."

Along with RCAN, several NGOs and unions said they have suffered enough betrayal at the hands of politicians and they are considering nominating candidates of their own choice for the January 2012 legislative elections.

"Now is the time to take political rights into our own hands, " " Ke said.

During the afternoon, union members from various cities across the country continued to blast both major political parties.

In front of the DPP headquarters in Taipei, protesters threw plastic bags of dung at a huge banner that read "Incompetent DPP."

Hours later, they did the same thing in front of the KMT headquarters.

Labor Day protests have become an annual event in Taiwan, but Sunday was the second consecutive day that thousands of protesters hit the streets of Taipei City.

On Saturday, over 16,000 demonstrators took to the streets to protest against nuclear energy, urging the government to scrap its plans for the construction of the country's fourth nuclear power plant, amid fears sparked by the recent nuclear disaster in Japan. (By Chris Wang) enditem /pc