Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Wild Card

* Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu led a delegation on a whirlwind tour through Kuala Lumper and Singapore this week. The purpose of the visit was to promote fruits and other agricultural products from the southern port city to SE Asia. The trip was largely viewed as a big success that inevitably fuelled speculation on Han's plans, if any, toward next year's presidential race.
* The popular mayor does not stop with just one trip to SE Asia. He plans a tour of southern port cities in China next month to, again, promote agricultural goods of Kaohsiung. In addition, Han will visit the US in April, when he will give his first public speech since taking over as mayor.
* According to various opinion polls in recent weeks, Han remains the odds-on favourite from the Kuomintang (KMT) to win the 2020 presidential election. It's unclear if he plans to run next year, but it's difficult to see him walking from the near-feverish support among Pan-blue's rank-and-file, demanding his candidacy as the only prescription for a sure victory next year.
* As the local media continues to hype up the possible showdown between Han and Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je--the two leading politicians in Taiwan, on and off the Internet--in the 2020 contest, it remains a distinct possibility when the campaign kicks off in the second half of the year. If and when that happens, the DPP candidate--whether it's President Tsai Ing-wen or former Premier William Lai--will likely be marginalised. Issues like cross-Strait relation and nuclear energy figure to be the key in this emotion-laden race.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Decision Time?

* In the next thirty days, Taiwan media will stay preoccupied with the island's 2020 presidential and legislative elections as nominations approach--specifically who will run and who will sit out. Primaries for both the KMT and the DPP will begin around March-April, but the former remains divided over how the presidential primary will be conducted. No matter how the issue is resolved in the end, controversy will linger for months, thus making party unity a difficult, if not impossible, goal to attain.
* The ruling DPP appears to have slowly recovered from the devastating loss in last November's mayoral election. In addition, Chinese President Xi Jin-ping's remarks on January 3 have proved to be, ironically, a popularity booster for Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen as her job-approval rating and level of support have both rebounded since beginning of the year. It seems highly unlikely that the DPP will nominate anyone but Tsai in next year's presidential race.
* Another wild card is Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je. An unconventional politician, Ko's popularity has steadily declined in recent months, and many believe the once physician-turned-politician has not done much to improve the quality of life in Taiwan's capital city over the past four years.
* Though political pundits expect Ko to make official his presidential bid soon, he is non-committal at this time. With a trip to the US next month, most expect a decision by April. If Ko does throw his hat into the ring, it will make the 2020 race another three-way contest, reminiscent of the 2000 campaign between James Soong, Lien Chan, and Chen Shui-bian.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Off to the Races?

* The 9-day Chinese New Year recess is now over, and things are slowly returning to normal in Taiwan. Besides the ongoing pilot strike of China Airlines, a lot of the media attention is on the upcoming presidential campaign, scheduled for mid-January 2020.

* Barring something unforeseen, the ruling DPP will likely nominate incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen. The only suspense remains who will be her running mate this time around. Former Premier William Chin-teh Lai remains a distinct possibility.

* As for the KMT, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the nomination mechanism and if the field of presidential aspirants can agree and willingly participate in it. There is no indication that an intra-party split is inevitable, but competing camps have already voiced concerns that could make party unity a lofty and unattainable goal. Without party unity, the KMT will be in an uphill battle, despite the convincing victory in last November's mayoral elections.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Misplaced Optimism?

* Just when most thought the US-China trade war would likely come to an end before the 90-day deadline, President Donald Trump struck a cautionary tone over another summit with Chinese President Xi-Jin-ping before the end of the month.
* In the next two weeks, Washington's focus is clearly on the second US-North Korea summit during February 27-28. The challenge will be more formidable for both Trump and Kim Jong-un, and there is no indication that some concrete deliverables are imminent.
* Trump's recent statement could be a tactical move to apply pressure on Beijing to ensure an agreement at the second Trump-Kim summit. At the very least, Washington wants to make sure that there's very little, if any, room for Beijing to maneuver amidst rising expectations over denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.
* Despite attempts by all sides to leverage one thing with another, i.e. trade deal with a denuclerization pact, it seems unlikely US-China trade war will continue indefinitely. However, getting a trade deal done is just the beginning, and frictions will not disappear overnight.