As the Lunar New Year holiday comes to an end, the public and private sectors resume operations, and a new Cabinet will take over today. As premier, Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) will face great challenges this year in seeking to revive the sluggish economy and restore public trust in President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration.
Amid widening political divides, Jiang’s Cabinet must make it a priority to strengthen communication with the legislative branch. Cooperation from the lawmakers will be crucial, especially when the government’s pension reform proposals, drafted last month by Jiang and a task force he led as a vice premier, will be sent to the legislature for approval in April. Thorny issues such as whether to begin operations at the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市) must also be dealt with.
While Ma has insisted that a nuclear-free homeland remains the government’s ultimate goal, the plant has already begun testing to prepare for commercial operation. Jiang’s Cabinet must address public concerns about the necessity of this power plant and explain the government’s policy on the matter.
At the top of the agenda for the new Cabinet is the resumption of bilateral talks with the US under the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). While the US has expressed optimism about resuming the talks this year, American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Raymond Burghardt called for the opening of the Taiwanese market to US pork products containing residue of the feed additive ractopamine during his trip to Taiwan earlier this month.
The Ma administration eased the ban on US beef products containing a permissible level of ractopamine residue in July last year, to remove what the US viewed as a barrier to resuming TIFA talks that were suspended in 2007. However, the government has promised to keep pork containing traces of ractopamine on the banned list. As a new round of negotiations under the TIFA are scheduled to be held soon, Jiang must strive to keep this promise and ensure that food safety is not sacrificed for these talks.
In cross-strait relations, Taiwan and China are continuing economic and trade talks after the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in June 2010.
While the agricultural sector and local businesses face threats from the import of Chinese products, the Ma administration seeks to strengthen cooperation with China this year after the Straits Exchange Foundation and its Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, reached a consensus last month to set up offices on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
The Ma administration has ignored growing concerns about damage that closer cross-strait relations may have on Taiwan’s sovereignty. Jiang and his Cabinet should handle the post-ECFA talks and the establishment of offices on each side with great caution.
To prepare for the new legislative session that begins on Feb. 26, Jiang met with Cabinet members on Friday to discuss major issues, including the floating fuel price mechanism that sparked public complaints about price increases during the Lunar New Year holiday. Jiang, who served as the head of the Executive Yuan’s task force on price stabilization, will have to account for the changes caused by the reversal of a freeze on fuel prices during the holiday, and address public discontent over the flip-flop policy.
Jiang urged his Cabinet members on Friday to communicate more with the Democratic Progressive Party and citizens, and to consider public reaction before designing policies.
Both Ma and former premier Sean Chen (陳冲) made similar pledges, but failed to deliver on their promises. Jiang’s Cabinet must work harder, because Taiwanese will not react kindly to stalemate or tolerate a government that fails to put the nation’s interests first.