While COVID-19 ravaged and devastated most of the world, Taiwan was praised and viewed as a model to follow in the way it kept the pandemic at bay, allowing its citizens to largely go about their normal lives unaffected. However, the self-governed island now finds itself in the midst of political turmoil as four critical proposals hang in the balance.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen found herself in hot water as she struggled to convince the public to veto four proposals that were put to a public decision on Dec. 11.
No. 4 Nuclear power plant
The first proposal Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been pushing the public to reject is the reactivation of an unfinished fourth nuclear power plant. The DPP claims the plant is dangerous to public safety and should remain closed.
However, as reported by South China Morning Post, rampant energy shortages have resulted in periodic blackouts across the island. Backers of the proposal claim the blackouts have not only disrupted daily life and businesses, but have also threatened industrial production, particularly the output of big chip companies.
Taiwan is one of the world’s top producers of chips, with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) leading the way as the world’s largest contract manufacturer of integrated circuits. Taiwan’s semiconductor companies have been thrust into the spotlight in recent months as a global chip shortage has crimped the production of cars and electronics, impacting consumer goods.
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Tsai’s government maintains that restarting the shuttered nuclear plant could prove disastrous as it is located in an earthquake zone. Furthermore, the DPP claims there is nowhere on the island to safely dispose of hazardous nuclear waste.
The reactor, run by state-owned corporation Taiwan Power Company (Taipower), was decommissioned in May of this year after announcing its permanent closure due to a lack of used fuel storage capacity. The plant, named Guosheng unit 1, had a 40-year operating license due to expire on Dec. 27. However, due to Taiwan’s nuclear-phase out policy and enhanced safety protocols, the plant was forced to shut down months ahead of schedule.
Activists: Tsai breaking environmental protection promise
The second proposal calls for the protection of an algal reef in the northwestern province of Taoyuan where Tsai’s government is aiming to build a liquefied natural gas terminal. Activists claim the LNG terminal could harm various aquatic wildlife and endangered species and accuse the president of going against her promise of protecting the environment. Tsai’s government, however, claims the terminal is vital in ensuring power and irrigation supplies.
The project, which was halted for several years, has a fair chance of passing according to local polls. If passed, the proposal would help achieve the government’s goal of using the LNG facility to boost its current energy production and produce half its total power by 2025. It would also help to supply Taiwan’s semiconductor plants which require vast amounts of energy and water.
“If we can’t build this third LNG terminal, we will really have an electricity supply problem,” Economy Minister Wang Mei-hua told reporters last month.
Ban on American pork and decision on future referendums
The third proposal will ask voters whether or not to reinstate a ban on pork imported from the U.S. and treated with the additive ractopamine, a substance used to promote leanness.
According to the Center for Food Safety, ractopamine is associated with major health problems in food-producing animals, such as “downer” syndrome and severe cardiovascular stress. Furthermore, it has also been linked to heart problems and even poisoning in humans who consume large amounts of it.
SCMP reported that Tsai had lifted the ban in January, citing requests from the U.S. and the need to remove trade restrictions to qualify for membership of regional trade blocs. The main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), has urged the ban to be reinstated on food safety and public health grounds.
Lastly, the public will also decide on whether future referendums should be held at the same time as public office elections. While the KMT says the move would cut costs, Tsai’s government says it would lead to confusion and disorganization.
‘An uphill battle’
Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation chairman You Ying-lung said that despite the Tsai government’s all-out campaign to convince the electorate on these four proposals, survey results showed the administration was fighting an uphill battle.
“In just a month, the approval rating of Tsai has dropped close to 8 percentage points, meaning her efforts to persuade the public to support her policies have been discounted,” he said, adding that the government’s and the DPP’s popularity had also dropped 6 and 0.8 percentage points, respectively.