President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is Taiwan’s first female president and the second president from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), after former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
Following the DPP’s major defeat in the 2008 presidential election, Tsai, then a political outsider, stepped forward and rose to the DPP leadership at a time when courage seemed to be in short supply.
Despite initial losses in the November 2010 New Taipei City mayoral race and the January 2012 presidential election, her intrepidness and endurance finally started to pay dividends.
Under Tsai’s leadership, along with help from the unpopular policies of the then-ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the DPP regained momentum in the following general election.
On Jan. 16, 2016, Tsai won the presidency by a landslide, beating her KMT opponent, former New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), by a margin of 25 percent. Tsai was inaugurated as president on May 20, 2016.
In the past three-and-a-half years, Tsai has demonstrated she is a decent, effective and trustworthy leader. Her proven records in the economic and political realms have set an example for others. She therefore deserves a second term.
The global economy has suffered due to the impact of the US-China trade dispute and Brexit. However, the government has minimized the effects by undertaking an innovative trade and investment initiative named the New Southbound Policy, which Tsai originally proposed in September 2015 as part of her policy platform as the DPP presidential candidate.
The policy was created to reduce Taiwan’s dependence on China, and to improve Taiwan’s cooperation and exchange between 18 selected countries in Southeast and South Asia and Oceania in the areas of the “5 plus 2” innovative industries plan: the “Asian Silicon Valley” project, smart machinery, biotechnology-related projects, green energy, the defense industry, innovative agriculture and the circular economy.
The policy has achieved significant results since it was established on Sept. 5, 2016.
During the first 10 months of this year, The Ministry of Economic Affairs has approved 151 Taiwanese companies’ applications to return to Taiwan to invest a total of NT$623.6 billion (US$20.5 billion) in the manufacturing sector, which is expected to create about 54,970 jobs.
The ministry also said that it expects about NT$200 billion of the approved investments to materialize by the end of this year.
In addition to Taiwanese firms, foreign enterprises have invested heavily in Taiwan this year.
Based on Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates, global foreign direct investment (FDI) has been substantially reduced by 20 percent for the first six months of this year.
However, the inflow of FDI to Taiwan has reached more than US$7 billion, representing a 7 percent increase for the first 10 months of this year.
Taiwan’s GDP has maintained steady progress, with an average annual growth rate of 2.4 percent since 2016. The growth rate for this year is expected to be 2.5 percent, the best among Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong.
The inflow of FDI and return of Taiwanese companies from China should produce positive effects on the Taiwan economy in 2020 and after.
IMF data show that Taiwan’s GDP, measured in nominal US dollars, ranked 21st in the world last year at US$601 billion, and is the eighth-largest economy in Asia, after China, Japan, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
However, Taiwan’s GDP per capita adjusted by the purchasing power parity (PPP) in US dollars ranked 15th in the world last year at US$53,023. Taiwan’s PPP-based GDP per capita is larger than Germany’s US$52,559, France’s US$45,775, the UK’s US$45,705, Japan’s US$44,227 and South Korea’s US$41,361, according to the IMF.
Based on UN data of the top creditor nations sorted by their net international investment positions, Taiwan ranked the fifth-largest in the world with US$1,054 billion, less than Japan’s US$2,813 billion, Germany’s US$1,616 billion, China’s US$1,596 billion and Hong Kong’s US$1,309 billion.
Of the 141 economies, Taiwan is ranked the 12th-most competitive economy in the world, and ranked first in macroeconomic stability, according to The Global Competitiveness Report published by the World Economic Forum in October.
Stock market performance is a reflection of a nation’s general economic condition. Taiwan’s stock market capitalization for 2015, the final year of former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) tenure, was NT$25 trillion. In the first nine months of this year, it reached NT$32 trillion, a net increase of NT$7 trillion.
The current market value is the highest of the past 30 years. With the 10.46 million shareholders presently in the market, each could potentially gain an estimated NT$276,000, according to an Oct. 23 report in the Liberty Times (the sister newspaper of the Taipei Times).
The daily transaction value of the Taiwan stock market is about NT$105 billion, which is about NT$30 billion larger than that of 2015, and the TAIEX has exceeded 11,000 points, which was never achieved under the Ma administration.
China is the largest single source of tourists for Taiwan and has banned individuals from traveling to Taiwan in an attempt to hurt Tsai and the DPP ahead of the Jan. 11 elections. Despite China’s ban, the number of tourists is expected to reach a target of 12 million through the promotional efforts under the New Southbound Policy.
In geopolitics, Taiwan-US relations have been the best since the establishment of the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979. Tsai has earned the US’ trust. To counter bullying from China, the US Congress passed the Taiwan Travel Act last year, and recently the Taiwan Assurance Act and the TAIPEI Act to promote Taiwan foreign relations, as well as approving the sales of advanced military hardware to protect Taiwan.
Taiwanese are not old, poor and miserable as Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) has repeatedly said.
On the contrary, they are living well and happy. Based on last year’s Happiness Report published by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Taiwan ranked 26th in the world among the 156 countries included in the study.
Taiwan ranked third among Asian countries, after only Israel and the United Arab Emirates. By comparison, Singapore ranked 34th, Malaysia 35th, Thailand 46th, Japan 54th, South Korea 57th, the Philippines 71st and China a distant 86th. In this year’s report, Taiwan moved up a notch to 25th.
Finally, KMT presidential candidate Han is to be Tsai’s major rival in the election.
Han’s rise is attributed to certain factors: a backlash to government reforms, support from local KMT political factions, the pro-China media, and communist China’s “united front” and distribution of unverified media reports, in addition to his own political instincts.
Han is a populist. He did his graduate study in social science in Beijing, and he learned Maoist revolution tactics, such as spreading disinformation and fomenting class struggle. He is also making absurd campaign promises.
Han has proclaimed himself a proletarian, although in reality he is a multimillionaire, not a working-class person.
He used to admit that he loved to drink — frequently and to excess. He likes to fool around, and, of course, he likes to talk about sex. Han never tires of doing that.
Because of this, Han won a stunning victory in the Kaohsiung City mayoral election on Nov. 24 last year. It did not take long for voters to realize that he is ignorant about everything, deceptive and dishonest. Even high-school students question his honesty.
In his presidential campaign, Han has been trying to duplicate his success with the story of the “Kaohsiung Experience.” Nevertheless, people have already woken up and understood that he is untrustworthy. They will not be fooled again.
As the saying goes: “You can fool some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
The most urgent issue for Tsai is to combat misinformation ahead of the elections.
Taiwan would rather be led by a trustworthy Tsai than an untrustworthy Han. Taiwan needs Tsai’s leadership for four more years to protect its sovereignty and maintain national prosperity.
Lee Po-chih is a professor emeritus of economics and a former vice president of National University of Kaohsiung.
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