Taipei to focus on firing up economy

Mr Lin led the finance ministry from 2002 to 2006. He also drafted the economic proposals that helped propel Ms Tsai's DPP to its election victory. She said the full lineup of her first Cabinet will be decided next month.
Mr Lin led the finance ministry from 2002 to 2006. He also drafted the economic proposals that helped propel Ms Tsai's DPP to its election victory. She said the full lineup of her first Cabinet will be decided next month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

President-elect names ex-finance minister as PM and promises a 'reform Cabinet'

TAIPEI • Taiwan's President-elect Tsai Ing-wen has pledged that her first Cabinet would focus on economic and financial issues, as she named a former economist as premier in a bid to kickstart the island's flagging fortunes.

But in announcing former finance minister Lin Chuan as her premier yesterday Ms Tsai pointedly avoided discussing China, following a barrage of warnings by Beijing over the past week or so.

Ms Tsai is from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and was elected by a landslide in January, but does not take over from the defeated Kuomintang (KMT) government until May.

"I assure you that Lin's Cabinet will not only be a financial and economic Cabinet, but also a Cabinet with execution and communication ability," she told reporters.

The full lineup of the new Cabinet will be decided next month, according to Ms Tsai.

It will also be a "reform Cabinet" dealing with a range of issues from funding for political parties to pensions, she added.

She has also pledged to boost Taiwan's economy by focusing on five areas: biotechnology, green technology, national defence, smart machinery and the Internet of Things.

Mr Lin, 64, who led the finance ministry from 2002 to 2006, drafted economic proposals that helped propel Ms Tsai's DPP to its election victory.

Her election came at a tricky time for Taiwan's export-dependent economy, which barely emerged from recession in the fourth quarter.

Taiwan last month slashed its growth prediction for 2016 from 2.32 per cent to 1.47 per cent after a worse-than-expected 2015 saw the island sink into recession at the end of the year. Exports slumped 13 per cent year-on-year in January - the longest consecutive period of decline since 2009.

China, with which her DPP has an uneasy relationship, is Taiwan's top trading partner and Taiwan's favourite investment destination.

Many ordinary Taiwanese feel that trade pacts signed with Beijing during an eight-year rapprochement under the KMT have failed to benefit them. In a speech after her win, Ms Tsai said "suppression" would harm cross-strait ties and emphasised the need for Taiwan to forge an economic path that is not overly dependent on China trade.

Top Chinese officials and leaders have lined up to issue warnings to the proudly democratic island since China's annual meeting of Parliament began earlier this month.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said last week China would never allow the historical tragedy of Taiwan being "split" from the rest of the country to happen again, warning the island against any moves towards formal independence.

China appoints a Taiwan delegation every year to its annual parliamentary session, to back up its sovereignty claims over the island.

Last Thursday, on the sidelines of the session, Mr Wang Yifu, who leads the Taiwan delegation, said the DPP's independence platform "makes the world feel uneasy".

Mr Wang had been asked by a reporter to comment on Ms Tsai's pledge to develop bilateral relations under the framework of Taiwan's Constitution which stipulates that Taiwan and the Chinese mainland are part of "one China".

Ms Tsai has previously said she would maintain peace with China, and pledged to maintain the "status quo" with China.

Mr Wang said the pledge "contradicts" the independence clause in the DPP's own charter, adding that she would have to "prove (the DPP) is not a Taiwan independence party".

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2016, with the headline 'Taipei to focus on firing up economy'. Print Edition | Subscribe