President Tsai defends her performance on anniversary

Taipei, On the second anniversary of her inauguration, President Tsai Ing-wen (???) on Sunday admitted that the first two years of her presidency have been somewhat bumpy, but said that was natural because her administration has been pushing through a series of reforms to lay the foundation for a better future.

Speaking in a live-streamed half-hour interview with Watchout (??), an online platform, rather than holding a news conference, Tsai said she will make sure the reforms her administration has launched will be put into practice and said Taiwanese people will begin to see concrete results soon.

"We spent most of my first two years doing preparations. After doing so, the next two years of my presidency, we will speed up the pace of these proposed reforms," Tsai said on the two-year anniversary of her assuming office on May 20, 2016.

Over the past two years, Tsai said, her administration have been preparing legal frameworks to deal with many fundamental problems the country is facing. Reforms it is carrying out include providing affordable housing, especially for low-income young people; raising salaries; reducing work hours; and boosting Taiwan's low birth rate.

On salaries, Tsai's administration recently gave civil servants a 3 percent raise and is encouraging and even pressuring companies to boost salaries, such as by threatening to publicize publicly listed companies that pay low wages.

Her administration also has claimed that Taiwan has shaken off 16 years of wage stagnation from 2000 to 2016 and begun to see a notable increase in overall earnings, with average real monthly earnings reaching a new high of NT$47,271 (US$1,579) last year.

Tsai's administration has been helped by a recovering global economy and strong demand for exports. Taiwan's economy grew by 2.86 percent last year, a fairly good rate compared to the lows in previous years. It is expected to grow by 2.42 percent this year.

Despite this, sentiment among average wage earners has been low, especially because of low wages, the rising cost of living and high housing prices.

Partly as a result of this, Tsai's approval rating has dropped from nearly 70 percent when she first came into office to 26 percent and 33 percent, depending on the survey conducted, with her disapproval rating ranging from nearly 50 percent to as much as 60 percent.

The disapproval rating on her handling of cross-strait affairs was especially high, at 59 percent, according to one poll. But Tsai spent practically no time talking about relations with China in the lighthearted interview on Sunday, focusing instead on domestic issues.

Tsai noted that she recently visited the newly-constructed affordable housing units in Taichung City and talked with residents in the community. She was happy to see that the social housing units also came with a childcare center and a community service center.

To address the issue of housing, her government is aiming to put some 200,000 social housing units on the market over an eight-year period for rent at concessionary rates to people in a certain income bracket. Under the social housing plan, as of Feb. 1, the Taiwan government's social housing initiative has put almost 10,000 units on the market with thousands more under construction, according to the national Construction and Planning Agency.

These are part of the government's efforts to deal with Taiwan's declining birth rate, Tsai said.

According to the latest figure released on Saturday, fewer babies were born in Taiwan in 2017 than in any year in the last four decades except for 2009 and 2010. Last year also saw the lowest population growth in Taiwan's history -- further signs of Taiwan's rapidly aging society.

"This is one of the biggest challenges we are facing," Tsai admitted.

In response, Tsai said the government has introduced a series of measures to grapple with a declining birth rate, including a proposal announced by the Cabinet Wednesday to expand child-rearing subsidies to families with children between the ages of two and four years, as well as measures to help improve access to affordable childcare facilities for preschool-age children.

CHINESE TOURISTS:

Another issue Tsai's administration has faced is the steep drop in Chinese tourist arrivals to Taiwan since she took office, when China started to restrain its citizens -- and especially tour groups -- from traveling to Taiwan due to Tsai refusing to accept the "1992 Consensus" under which Beijing defines Taiwan as part of "one China."

The latest number shows that Chinese tourist arrivals to Taiwan has dropped 22 percent to 2.73 million in 2017. The Hotel Association of the Republic of China said the drop can be translated into a decrease of NT$40 billion in revenue to Taiwan's tourism sector last year.

Asked about the issue during the interview, Tsai pointed out that Taiwan is not the only victim of Beijing's efforts to restrict its tourists from traveling overseas due to political reason. Both Japan and South Korea had been subjected to such maneuvers, she said.

She said her government has been working hard to attract tourists from other countries.

According to Tourism Bureau, the number of inbound tourists last year has been maintained above the 10 million mark, at 10.7 million, a 49,000 increase compared to 2016.

Tsai said the next job for the administration is to make sure these visitors travel across the country instead of staying mostly in northern Taiwan so that tourism sectors across Taiwan will benefit from the increase in foreign visitors.

OPPOSITION'S RESPONSE:

Taiwan's main opposition party KMT this week issued a statement criticizing Tsai's performance over the past two years.

KMT spokesman Hung Meng-kai (???) said the ruling administration has repeatedly claimed that the economy has been booming during Tsai's presidency. However, he said Taiwan's GDP growth has been among the lowest in Asia over the past two years.

Consumer spending has continued to drop as well during Tsai's tenure, Hung said, arguing that people are not really feeling the salary increases that Tsai's government has claimed.

SUBHEAD: I don't look like Master Yoda: Tsai

During the interview, netizens posted questions for Tsai, including one that joked about the president's resemblance to Master Yoda, a fictional character in the Star Wars franchise.

"I certainly don't think I look like Yoda," Tsai said in response.

Asked whom she would prefer to shake hands with, Chinese President Xi Jinping (???) or her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou (???)? Tsai said she would shake hands with both of them, as she is a president with good manners.

She also answered a question on why she always prefers to wear pants instead of skirts. The president explained that she works very long hours and it would be more convenient for her to wear pants.

Another netizen, meanwhile, asked an interesting question on what Tsai would do if today is the end of the world.

In response, Tsai said she would love to walk on the street freely in Taipei, hinting at her longing for some privacy, which she apparently lost after becoming Taiwan's leader.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel