Press Highlights 01 June 2017

Keywords: Cybersecurity Law, energy, nationalism, Hong Kong’s “High Degree of Autonomy”, Taiwan’s same-sex marriage.

China

Politics

1. Draft Intelligence Law for public comment and the Cybersecurity Law in effect

It is the first draft Intelligence law in China (its content in Chinese here). It aims to increase the powers of Chinese intelligence agencies to conduct surveillance both at home and abroad. The draft law demands the cooperation from individuals and organizations to access files, materials and places when intelligence agents show their identities. China Digital Times summarized news articles which reported concerns of NGOs and activists about the vague terms in the draft law despite its clear pledge to protect human rights in the process of intelligence work. The draft intelligence law follows the Cybersecurity Law (passed in 2016 and effective on 01 June 2017), the National Security Law (passed in 2015) and Counter-espionage Law (passed in 2014) as part of the legal grounds to increase national security during the Xi Administration.

  • //Intelligence work needs to be performed both within and outside China, and foreign groups and individuals who damage national security must be investigated, it added. If passed, the law will give authorities new legal grounds to monitor and investigate foreign and domestic individuals and bodies, in order to protect national security, it said. The draft showed authorities will also be able to propose customs and border inspections or “quarantines”, as well as “administrative detention” of up to 15 days for those who obstruct their work, or leak related state secrets.// Source: Reuters, 17 May 2017.
  • //The Ministry of State Security is widely known as the country’s top civilian spy agency. However, in recent years, the Ministry of Public Security – effectively the national police force – has taken on a more assertive role in domestic intelligence and counter-espionage, according to testimony from a US specialist on China’s intelligence services that was given to a congressional commission last year. The draft law allows intelligence officials to adopt secret investigative measures such as wiretapping, electronic surveillance and clandestine filming. Intelligence officials can also enter “restricted access areas”, skip customs and border inspections and seize vehicles owned by individuals or institutions.// Source: SCMP, 18 May 2017.
  • //法案第十五條及第十六條均列出情報機關的權限,但在字面上僅列明「經過批准,出示相應證件」,即可獲有關機關提供方便,以執行情報職務,而非說明要經過什麼人批准。在西方國家,這情報工作往往需經過獨立司法程序的批准。[…] 中國近年亦陸續制定及通過了有關國家機密安全等一系列法律,其中包括去年通過網絡安全法、2015年通過的國家安全法及2014年通過反間諜法。// Source: Hong Kong 01, 17 May 2017.

The Cybersecurity Law will be effective since 01 June 2017 despite controversies over the past year. Xinhua praised the law for protecting civilians’ privacy rights and limiting activities of online fraud by making clear the responsibility of Internet service provider, while noting that the law also requires individuals/groups to have a government permission in order to post news on social media. Other media such as Financial Times and Hong Kong Free Press among others expressed concerns about its implications for foreign business in China, such as potential theft of commercial secrets, increase in cost for operations, unfair competitions, etc., since now foreign companies have to store data relating to their operation in China within the country and undergo “security review” if the Chinese authority requests. The English version of the Cybersecurity Law can be found here by China Law Translate. AFP noted that the law also prohibits posting anything which demages “national honor”, “disturbs economic or social order” or “overthrowing the socialist system”. Some observers suggested that the authorities are not prepared to implement the Law right after 01 June 2017.

  • //Users now have rights to ask service providers to delete their information if such information is abused. Cybersecurity management staff must also protect information obtained, and are banned from leaking or selling the information, including privacy and commercial secrets. […] Those who violate the provisions and infringe on personal information will face hefty fines. The law also made it clear that no one can use the Internet to conduct fraud or sell prohibited goods. […] A regulation on online news requires individuals and groups to get government permission before releasing news on instant messaging apps or social websites.// Source: Xinhua, 29 May 2017.
  • //[a]nalysts have expressed fears it could help Beijing steal trade secrets or intellectual property from foreign companies. “The law is both extremely vague and exceptionally wide in scope, potentially putting companies at risk of regulatory enforcement that is not related to cyber security,” said Carly Ramsey, associate director at Control Risks, a risk-management consultancy. […] The law is part of a drive by Beijing to shield Chinese data from the eyes of foreign governments after US whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the US was spying on communications from multinationals, say analysts. […] Under the new law, companies must introduce data protection measures — a novelty for many Chinese businesses — and data relating to the country’s citizens or national security must be held on Chinese servers. Companies will have to submit to a review by regulators before transferring large amounts of personal data abroad. However, “critical” companies — a widely drawn definition that encompasses sensitive entities such as power companies or banks but also any company holding data that, if breached, could “harm people’s livelihoods” — will have to store all data collected in China within the country. These companies, and any services bought by them, must go through a “national security review” to ensure they and their data systems are “secure and controllable”. The measure allows Beijing to request computer program source code, which is usually known only by the software developer. National security reviews may also allow Beijing to delve into companies’ intellectual property, analysts warn. […] Multinationals will be hardest hit, as the data localisation measures prevent them pooling client data in cloud storage databases across the world. The need to store some data on China-based servers and the rest elsewhere will add to fragmentation and cost. […] But analysts suspect enforcement in China might be tinged with political goals. A proposed supplementary law on encryption, published in April, allows the government to demand “decryption support” in the interests of national security. Effectively, this means the government can force companies to decode encrypted data.// Source: Financial Times, 30 May 2017.
  • //While individual firms in China rarely speak out publicly against government policy, more than 50 trade associations and chambers of commerce signed a letter in May to the government seeking a delay. They argued that the law could impact billions of dollars of cross-border trade and lock out foreign cloud operators because of limits on how they operate in the country. “These measures will add costly burdens, restrict competition and may decrease the security of products and jeopardize the privacy of Chinese citizens,” according to the letter from bodies representing businesses based in the U.S., Europe, Japan, Korea, Australia, and elsewhere.// Source: Bloomberg, 15 May 2017.
  • //Paul Triolo, a cybersecurity expert at the Eurasia Group, wrote in a research note that regulators will likely introduce “new hurdles for foreign company compliance and operations” in industries, such as cloud computing, where China is actively seeking a competitive advantage. As a result, “companies with politically well-connected competitors could see their profile raised for things such as cybersecurity reviews”.// Source: Hong Kong Free Press, 31 May 2017.
  • //“The regulator is unprepared to enforce the law” and it is “very unlikely” anything will happen on June 1, said one participant, who asked for anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue. […] It is “crystal clear that the regulatory regime is evolving and does not simply switch on like a light June 1”, said Graham Webster, an expert on Sino-US relations at Yale Law School. […] The legislation also bans internet users from publishing a wide variety of information, including anything that damages “national honour”, “disturbs economic or social order” or is aimed at “overthrowing the socialist system”.// Source: AFP, 30 May 2017.

Economy and energy

2. Further reform on the oil and gas industry in China

On 21 May, Chinese authorities announced a reform plan for the country’s oil and gas industry, which vowed to give the market a greater role in determing the development of this sector by encouraging mixed ownership reform on the state-owned enterprises dominating the sector for long, and inviting more private companies to participate in the sector. According to Caixin Global, the reform on the price for natural gas is related to the awareness of carbon emission reduction by the Chinese government. The article also suggests that the oligachy of the Big Three in the oil sector is to be blamed for the lukewarm reform since 2015.

  • //”Market should play a decisive role in resource allocation and the government role should be better played in order to safeguard national energy security, boost productivity and meet people’s needs,” according to the reform guideline. The long-awaited reform of the sprawling state-controlled sector is a priority for Chinese authorities as the world’s second largest economy is slowing amid cyclical and structural changes. The reform is also a key plank of the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan for 2016-2020. […] The prime goal of mixed-ownership reform is to create a flexible and efficient market-oriented mechanism with the incorporation of private shareholders, to improve the management of state-owned companies. […] Dong Xiucheng, with China University of Petroleum, said the reform will give competitive firms easier market access whether it is state-owned or private.// Source: Xinhua, 22 May 2017.
  • // [n]atural gas is still a relatively insignificant component of the nation’s energy mix, comprising slightly less than 3% of total energy consumption last year. One limiting factor, experts say, is government-supervised price-setting by the Big Three state-owned energy giants–PetroChina, Sinopec and China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC). The pricing system has been blamed for rendering natural gas less competitive than high-carbon fuels. […] Central government officials, well aware that China’s is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, have spent years carving out elements of a market-oriented strategy for the natural gas sector. Gas-price reform has been among their priorities. […] Since price reform efforts are closely tied to the costs of natural gas distribution, exploration and pipeline operations, the government in recent months has introduced a string of new policies designed to boost the efficiency of domestic gas distribution and centered on the principle of “controlling pipelines but not prices.” […] [p]lans to reform oil and gas sector pricing on a national scale have been discussed since 2015 but have yet to materialize. As a result, the state-run energy oligopoly continues to retain a dominant influence over the oil and gas sector. The government has appointed none of its agencies to regulate and supervise these companies. […] Some experts say creating a new supervisory agency and encouraging a more competitive business environment would help streamline the market, giving more homes and factories access to clean-burning natural gas. A version of that basic plan was recently proposed in a report written by Deng Yusong, a director at the State Council’s Development Research Center. […] Some experts argue lowering prices and boosting competition could lead to chaos if the industry suddenly embraces a new wave of private energy companies. China could see conditions in the natural-gas industry deteriorate into the kind of chaos that gripped the coal-mining sector of the 1990s, when more competition was blamed for dangerous work conditions, mine accidents and under-the-table deals among private players.// Source: Caixin Global, 21 May 2017.

Background: The anti-corruption campaign under Xi Jinping has extensively targeted the oil and gas industry, which was regarded as the base of patronage of the fallen CCP leader Zhou Yongkang.

  • //Oil executive Jiang Jiemin rose to power in Communist China in time-honored fashion: by hitching his star to a mighty mentor. In Jiang’s case, that patron was another oil man, Zhou Yongkang, who went on to become the chief of China’s internal security apparatus and one of the country’s most powerful men. […] In return, say people familiar with his career, Jiang helped Zhou build power by using the oil giant to dispense patronage. In March last year Jiang ascended even higher, when he was named to run the agency that oversees all of China’s biggest state-owned companies. Their relationship was on display ahead of the party’s 18th congress in November 2012, when both attended a banquet for CNPC veterans of a 1980s drive to find oil in remote western China. […] The campaign against Zhou is roiling the entire Communist Party. A Reuters examination of the oil-industry component of the crackdown shows the extent of the purge, a drama that will have repercussions well beyond China. “The scale of the probe into CNPC is unprecedented, but perhaps the severity of corruption at the company is also unprecedented,” says Qing Yi, a Beijing-based independent economist.// Source: Reuters, 25 July 2014.
  • //Zhou [Yongkong] was previously head of state-run China National Petroleum Corp, the parent of PetroChina. In unusual frank public comments on the sidelines of China’s annual meeting of parliament, Fu Chengyu, former chairman of state energy giant Sinopec, said Zhou had poisoned the morals of the industry and officials. […] Beijing is expected to soon unveil a reform plan for China’s oil and gas sector, which is dominated by state giants CNPC, Sinopec and CNOOC. // Source: Reuters, 11 March 2016.

 3. China’s breakthrough in the extraction of “inflammable ice” in the South China Sea

Before the announcement of the reform on the oil and gas industry, China made breakthrough in extracting the “inflammable ice” (Methane hydrates) from the Shenhu area of the South China Sea with the needed technology. Widely hailed as an achievement on the Chinese media, other observers pointed out that the extraction is far from being profitable at the moment and its extraction could have negative consequence for global warming if Methane, which is trapped in the source and a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, was leaked out into the atmostphere.

  • //China has for the first time extracted gas from an ice-like substance under the South China Sea considered key to future global energy supply. Chinese authorities have described the success as a major breakthrough. Methane hydrates, also called “flammable ice”, hold vast reserves of natural gas. Many countries including the US and Japan are working on how to tap those reserves, but mining and extracting are extremely difficult. […] Methane hydrates are thought to have the potential to be a revolutionary energy source that could be key to future energy needs – likely the world’s last great source of carbon-based fuel. Vast deposits exist basically underneath all oceans around the the globe, especially on the edge of continental shelves. Countries are scrambling for a way to make the extraction safe and profitable. […] While indeed a breakthrough, China’s success is still only one step on a long journey, Prof Linga [Associate Professor from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the National University of Singapore] explains. “It is the first time that production rates actually seem promising,” he says. “But it’s thought that only by 2025 at the earliest we might be able to look at realistic commercial options.” But Mr Linga also cautions that any exploitation of the reserves must be done with the utmost care because of environmental concerns. The potential threat is that methane can escape, which would have serious consequences for global warming. It is a gas that has a much higher potential to impact climate change than carbon dioxide.// Source: BBC, 19 May 2017.
  • //”Many countries along the Maritime Silk Road have a demand for combustible ice mining,” said Qiu Haijun, director of the trial mining commanding headquarters. “With the advanced technology we could help resolve the energy resource problem and boost economic development and exchanges between countries,” Qiu said.// Source: Xinhua, 18 May 2017.
  • //Methane hydrates, where molecules of methane gas are trapped in a lattice of ice crystals, exist in conditions of low temperature and high pressure, such as at the bottom of Japan’s deep ocean trenches. While they offer a potent energy source, the release of methane into the atmosphere as permafrost melts is regarded as one of the worst potential accelerator mechanisms for climate change.// Source: Financial Times, 04 May 2017.

In relation to China’s global acquisition of resources, an analysis on SCMP pointed out that China has been stepping up efforts in exploring the Arctic Circle alongside with the One Belt One Road Initiatives, as remarked by Li Xiguang, a professor at Tsinghua University who paraphrased another Tsinghua professor, Hu Angang, as saying in a speech last month that was not reported in mainland media.

  • //“Beijing’s strategy does not stop at belt and road,” Li Xiguang, a professor at Tsinghua University told a forum in Hong Kong on Saturday. Li is leading a field study on the economic corridor China and Pakistan are building as part of the trade route. “The full name of the strategy will be ‘One Belt, One Road, One Circle’, and the circle refers to the Arctic Circle,” Li paraphrased another Tsinghua professor, Hu Angang, as saying in a speech last month that was not reported in mainland media. Hu is a leading economist in China and is the director of the Centre for China Studies at the university. “The Arctic region is rich in gold and many other mineral resources, which are yet to be exploited. So this region is probably included in China’s strategy,” Li said, although he acknowledged the term “one circle” was not included in any official documents. […] The region could provide an alternative supply of energy for China, lessening its dependence on existing routes, according to Chinese strategists. China is not an Arctic littoral state but has in recent years stepped up its engagement in the region.// Source: SCMP, 21 May 2017.

Economy

4. Downgrade of China’s credit rating

For the first time since 1989, the credit rating agency Moody’s has downgraded China’s credit rating from Aa3 to A1, which serves as an investor benchmark for analysing the country’s economic performance. The Chinese authority’s response was prompt and an article on SCMP explained why it is frustrating to the Chinese government to receive a news like this.

  • //”The downgrade reflects Moody’s expectation that China’s financial strength will erode somewhat over the coming years, with economy-wide debt continuing to rise as potential growth slows,” the ratings agency said in a statement, changing its outlook for China to stable from negative. China’s Finance Ministry said the downgrade, Moody’s first for the country since 1989, overestimated the risks to the economy and was based on “inappropriate methodology”. […] A growing number of economists believe that a massive bank bailout may be inevitable in China as bad loans mount. Last September, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) warned that excessive credit growth in China signaled an increasing risk of a banking crisis within three years.// Source: Reuters, 24 May 2017.
  • // The central bank’s tightening stance is expected to continue for at least another one to two quarters, meaning China’s rate increases will continue, said Chen Long, an economist with Gavekal Dragonomics. “The policy focus this year is curbing property bubbles and cracking down on disorder in financial activities within the banking system,” Chen said. Derek Scissors, a researcher with American Enterprise Institute, said China should address domestic problems such as the delayed deleveraging. “The real challenge for China is domestic leveraging, not capital outflow … A lot of money is being wasted. That’s the real challenge for China. Stop wasting money at home,” he said.// Source: SCMP, 24 May 2017.
  • //China’s financial deleveraging will continue given that a regulatory clampdown on risky lending hasn’t “achieved its goals”, a state-run newspaper said in a commentary on Wednesday. The Economic Daily, which is run by China’s cabinet, published the article just days after Premier Li Keqiang said.// Source: Reuters, 17 May 2017.
  • //Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics at Oxford Economics in Hong Kong, said the downgrade should not have been a surprise to the Beijing but it could have been frustrating for it. “This is happening at a time when [Beijing is] trying to advocate further investment made by foreigners in China’s market,” Kuijs said. The downgrade came just weeks after China announced it would let foreign credit rating agencies do business on their own on the mainland. No date has been set but when the change comes in, foreign rating agencies will be able to rate Chinese bond issuers in the domestic market independently. They also will no longer have to form joint ventures with local majority partners. […] “The asset market, including bonds and equities, has been volatile enough, and they don’t want investors to react in panic to the negative news [of the downgrade],” Chow [DBS Bank economist Nathan Chow] said. “They want to have everything under control.” Beijing’s mistrust of foreign rating agencies is not new. In late 2011, central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan said China must develop its own rating agencies because the big three global ones were not reliable.// Source: SCMP, 30 May 2017.

Society

5. The controversy over a Chinese student’s speech at the University of Maryland

A Chinese student Yang Shuping has recently sparked a social controversy with her speech at the University of Maryland where she praised the United States for its freedom of speech, democracy, and fresh air. Her speech resented Chinese students abroad and at home, who criticized her for belitting the motherland with deceptions. John Pomfret, a former Washington Post bureau chief in Beijing, wrote on Washington Post that the strong response to Yang’s speech from many Chinese reflects China’s deep-seated fear of American ideas despite China’s rise globally. An interesting discussion by academics and Chinese students in the US on this incident can be found on China File Conversation.

  • //A Chinese student in the US who praised America’s fresh air and freedom of speech in her graduation speech has apologized after Chinese internet users accused her of belittling her own country and told her never to return to China. Yang Shuping studied at the University of Maryland and delivered her speech on Sunday celebrating the freedom of speech and democracy she enjoyed in the United States. […] “People often ask me, why did you come to the University of Maryland. I always answer, fresh air,” she began, prompting laughter. “I grew up in a city in China where I had to wear a face mask every time I went outside, otherwise I might get sick. However the moment I inhaled and exhaled outside the airport, I felt free … at the University of Maryland.” […] Jiang Xinliang, a fellow Chinese student at the University of Maryland, posted on social media: “I would be so pissed off if anyone disgraced my country with deceptions. Eighty per cent of what Shuping said were deceptions and lies.” Yang responded on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, describing the response to her speech as “beyond my expectations” and “deeply disturbing”. “The speech was only to share my own experience abroad and did not have any intention of denying or belittling my country and home town. I deeply apologise and sincerely hope everyone can understand, have learned my lesson for the future,” she wrote.// Source: SCMP, 23 May 2017.
  • //Yang did publicly what many Chinese students I’ve met in the United States have done privately: She praised America’s clean air and America’s freedoms. […] Yang’s observations touched off a firestorm in China and even in the United States. More than 50 million people viewed her speech online. Chinese students associated with the government-backed Chinese Student and Scholar Association accused her of not loving China. More significantly, the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, called her speech “biased” and quoted one observer as telling Yang: “What you gave is not free speech, but rumor-mongering and currying favor.” […] The fact that the apex of China’s media — or other Chinese-government organizations – should concern themselves with the opinions of one of the 350,000 Chinese students studying in the United States or the invitation list for commencement speakers at a California university speaks to a deep-seated fear in China of American ideas. While there’s a lot of talk these days about China’s irresistible rise and the United States’ unstoppable fall, China’s government remains paranoid about the pull of American ideology on its people.// Source: Washington Post, 25 May 2017.

Hong Kong


Politics

1. Zhang Dejiang’s clarification of policy toward Hong Kong ahead of its 20th Anniversary of being Special Administrative Region

Zhang Dejiang made a 50-minute-long speech which laid out the central policy toward Hong Kong in a great detail. Specifically, he emphasized the role of the central government in supervising the governing team in Hong Kong about whether they uphold the Basic Law and whether they are loyal to the country and Hong Kong. He also suggested a closer examination of the city’s internal affairs.

  • //Zhang Dejiang, one of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, said at the Great Hall of the People on Saturday that Beijing would invoke a number of “implicit powers” – which have so far not been paid close attention to during the first 20 years of the city’s handover. “It should be stressed that [Hong Kong’s] governing teams… must be made up of patriots who respect the Chinese people, sincerely support [China’s] resumption of sovereignty and pose no threat to [Hong Kong’s] prosperity and stability,” he said, referencing late leader Deng Xiaoping. […] “The central government is responsible for supervising whether [Hong Kong’s] public officers uphold the Basic Law, and whether they pledge allegiance to the country and [Hong Kong].” […] Leung Chau-ting, head of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, said he was concerned about Zhang’s suggestion that understanding of the Basic Law could carry weight when civil servants’ jobs are assessed. […] Zhang also called for a closer look at other powers that the central government could use to scrutinise the city’s affairs, including that of instructing the chief executive and assessing legislation reported by the Legislative Council. The power to assess legislation has so far been considered a ceremonial power as the National People’s Congress has never objected to any reported laws.// Source: SCMP, 27 May 2017.

Political commentator Bruce Lui argued that what Zhang Dejiang said also reflects Xi Jinping’s policy toward Hong Kong and is likely to last beyond the 19th CCP National Congress. In 2012, Xi Jinping has announced his policy toward Hong Kong and Macau, which was to put “national sovereignty” and “national security” as of paramount importance. Lui also analyzed that there are four points to note in recent Zhang’s speech, namely, the re-definition of “high degree of autonomy” for Hong Kong, emphasis on the role of law in governance to curb localism and pro-independence discussion, building up of “patriotic” governing team under the central supervision, and the continued promotion of national education in Hong Kong.

  • //[我]們可一起理解「習精神」在張德江講話有何新的反映。第一,界定「高度自治」:中央罕有提出「在任何情况下都不允許以『高度自治』為名對抗中央的權力」。[…] 第二,勇於用法律武器:「我們要以更加堅定的立場,以強大的法律武器和勇於開拓的創新精神去解決遇到的各種問題,攻堅克難,砥礪前行,繼續保持香港的繁榮穩定和發展。」習近平的「依法治國」就是要有法律在手,作為中共管治的工具。[…] 而一批港澳智囊則研究用各種法律手段來收復包括港獨和本土等香港問題,其中包括對基本法第27條(保障言論等自由)作解釋,主張將港獨和本土等問題剔除於該條文的保障範圍。對此,北京再次催促特區政府盡早就基本法第23條立法 […] 第三,確立愛國團隊 […] 第四,推動國民教育:「要格外重視和切實加強對香港青少年的國情教育和法治教育,從小培養他們正確的國家觀念、民族觀念和法治觀念,將他們塑造成為愛國愛港、遵紀守法、奮發有為的新時代人才。」// Source: Ming Pao Daily, 31 May 2017.

In relation to Lui’s analysis about the increasing role of law in China’s strategy in Hong Kong, a variety of views appeared on the SCMP about the implications of Zhang’s speech:

  • //“I do not think there is any new element to support the view that Beijing is tightening its grip on Hong Kong,” said Professor Albert Chen Hung-yee, a member of the Basic Law Committee under the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. Chen, one of the 170 guests invited to listen to Zhang’s speech, added that it was “more about a systematic summary of the views of central government officials and mainland academics raised in recent years”. […] He [Nathan Law Kwun-chung, an Occupy student leader turned lawmaker] argued that Zhang’s speech marked a further departure from the original intent of the Basic Law. “The central government’s thirst for power [over Hong Kong] is all but apparent. ‘One country, two systems’ will only decline further than it ought to,” he said. […] Tian Feilong, a Beijing-based Basic Law academic with Beihang University and another guest on Saturday, called it the “new normal” for Beijing to further “institutionalise” its powers over Hong Kong. These powers will become an important subject for Beijing to study Hong Kong policies,” he said. “When it matures, Beijing’s supervisory power will be incorporated into Hong Kong’s laws by way of the NPC Standing Committee interpreting the Basic Law, issuing decisions or drafting laws that will be added to Annex 3 of the Basic Law.” […]“Increasingly Beijing is telling us that what the Basic Law means is what the central government says it means,” said Johannes Chan Man-mun, a former law dean at the University of Hong Kong. “Beijing’s version of the true meaning of the Basic Law is what the central government interprets it to be. This is a classical reflection of the communist understanding of the law – that it is an instrument to serve political needs and therefore its interpretation depends on political needs,” Chan added.// Source: SCMP, 30 May 2017.

Taiwan


Politics

1. Kuomintang’s new leader elected amidst challenges to the party

Six candidates ran the election. Before the result, the election was seen as competition between three competitors: incumbent chair Hung Hsiu-chu, former Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin and former Vice President Wu Den-yih during the Ma Ying-jeou’s presidency. At the end, Wu won over 52% of the votes cast and claimed victory. The new leader faces challenges such as uniting KMT which currently sufferred from internal split, the probe into KMT’s assets improperly acquired as accused by the DPP-led government, and the upcoming mayoral elections next year.

  • //With more than 60 per cent of votes counted, Mr Wu, 69, received more than 141,000 of an estimated 264,000 votes cast, garnering 52.24 per cent of the total votes in the most hotly contested leadership elections in the party’s history. […] Mr Wu’s closest rival, KMT’s incumbent chair Hung Hsiu-chu, received 19.5 per cent. […] The former mayor of southern Kaohsiung city will face the challenges of uniting and rebuilding a party plagued by bitter infighting and financial woes after its assets were frozen in a probe into its allegedly ill-gotten assets. […] Analysts say another crucial test for the new KMT chief is whether he can rally the party together to pick up seats in next year’s mayoral and councillor elections, or even dislodge Ms Tsai from power in the 2020 presidential elections.// Source: Strait Times, 20 May 2017.
  • Only about one-tenth of Taiwan’s population favors unification with the mainland. Hung, who assumed her seat in March 2016, strongly supports unification, setting the party further apart from the will of the people. Hung met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November, aiming to show that she had Beijing’s ear as relations cooled following Tsai’s election. But this only deepened the rift within the Kuomintang. It will be a test for the next chair to see whether the party can be unified. […] Hung and Hau hail from families that are relatively recent arrivals from the mainland, coloring them to many as friendly to China. Wu’s Taiwanese ancestry goes further back, earning him support from those in the Kuomintang who favor independence.// Source: Nikkei Asian Review, 26 April 2017.
  • // According to state-run Xinhua, Xi’s note to Wu Den-yih, a former vice-president of Taiwan who became the new KMT chairman on Saturday, underscored the need for the “1992 consensus”, an agreement that there is one China. […] Wu said the two sides should deepen understanding of the 1992 consensus. […] Liao Da-chi, professor of political science at National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung, said Wu would have to hit the ground running. There is no time for the new chairman to have a honeymoon. He must act quickly to pick up the embattled party from its previous electoral defeats and must speedily introduce reforms to win support not only from the general public but also those from the younger generation,” Liao said.// Source: SCMP, 21 May 2017.

Society

2. Taiwan becomes the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage

On 24 May 2017, the constitutional court in Taiwan ruled by majority of the judges in favor of legalization of same-sex marriage by declaring the current civil law unconstitutional as it does not allow same-sex marriage. The court’s intepretation of the Constitution was initiated by a citizen who faced rejection by the government to register his marriage with another same-sex partner. The ruling upheld the rights to free marriage and equality among citizens according to the constitution and asks the legislature to revise the civil law accordingly within two years or the ruling will allow legal same-sex marriage afterward. The debate on the possibility of same-sex marriage legalization has gone on for some months and some efforts by the DPP-dominant legislature toward this goal have caused huge social controversies (see here for details by Quartz).

  • //Announcing the result of a two-month-long constitutional review on Wednesday afternoon, the panel of 14 judges ordered the legislature to either amend the Civil Code or introduce new provisions to recognise same-sex marriage within two years. The court said that the current regulations are in violation of constitutional rights to the freedom of marriage and equality among citizens. “The current provisions of the Marriage Chapter do not allow two persons of the same sex to create a permanent union of intimate and exclusive nature,” wrote the court in a press release. “This is obviously a gross legislative flaw.” […] Wednesday’s review was brought to court by two parties, one of which is Chi Chia-wei, a 59-year-old gay rights activist who first attempted to register a marriage with his male partner in 1986. With Taiwan under martial law at the time, he was imprisoned for five months. The legislature responded to his petition calling homosexuality “a perversion of a minority.” […] Existing regulations stipulating marriage as a union between a man and a woman have also been challenged in a bill proposed by legislator Yu Mei-nu of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. The Legislative Yuan passed the first of three readings of the bill last December, but a final review is not expected until later this year.// Source: Hong Kong Free Press, 24 May 2017.

It is expected that the landmark ruling in Taiwan as the first Asian country with predominant Chinese culture to recognize same-sex marriage might have implications for Mainland China and Hong Kong, where similar current is underway but faces challenges. A book reivew article by Tiantian Zheng on the book titled Queer/Tongzhi China: New Perspectives on Research, Activism and Media Cultures, which documents the cultural and political obstacles to the LGBT movement in China, will appear on China Perspectives (02/2017).

  • //Li Yinhe, a professor from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Taiwan’s ruling held greater significance for the mainland than would the same-sex marriage legislation of Western countries. In the past, Li said, when Western countries passed laws to allow same-sex marriage, mainland authorities would turn a blind eye to this display of progress, saying those nations’ situations, cultures and values differed from China’s. “Now Taiwan, sharing the same language and ancestors with the mainland, has approved it and it will really prick the mainland public and authorities to [give it] serious thought,” she said. […]“The mainland society will be greatly affected due to the same language and same culture with Taiwan and I believe that the mainland will be pushed by this case toward the marriage equality direction,” said Sun [Hunan-based gay rights campaigner Sun Wenlin]. After Spain legalised same-sex marriage in 2005, many Spanish-speaking countries followed suit over the ensuing years, he said. In a groundbreaking case, two years ago, Sun and Hu went to the Civil Affairs Bureau of Furong District of Changsha to get legally married, but were turned down because they are both male. The couple challenged the bureau in a lawsuit and lost its case – the first of its kind in China. […] Li, the academic who has advocated marriage equality for years, said there is little progress in the legislation on the mainland since strong discrimination exists against gay people and there is no channel that would allow them to make their voices heard by a top legislator.// Source: SCMP, 25 May 2017.
  • //LGBT rights advocate Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit says Hong Kong’s gay community can only hope for social change through the judicial system because the government is passive in tackling sexual orientation discrimination. “Gay rights can only be fought in the courts. The government rarely takes the initiative to review its policies and ensure equal rights for gay people,” Sham, of civil group Rainbow Action said on an RTHK programme on Tuesday. Sham’s remarks came after a landmark decision at the High Court last Friday, which ruled that gay civil servants are entitled to welfare benefits for their spouses. The ruling will take effect on September 1. […] Marco Wan Man-ho, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, said the difference is owing to the fact that Hong Kong’s tax law states clearly that marriage is only between a man and a woman, while the Civil Service Regulations stipulate that “spouses” may enjoy welfare benefits without defining the term. […] “Only the government’s decisions were being challenged,” he added. “Technically, the ruling did not touch on the definition of marriage.”// Source: Hong Kong Free Press, 02 May 2017.

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