President-elect needs to hit the ground running

President-elect needs to hit the ground running
Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen shouts slogans during a campaign rally in Taichung, Taiwan, January 13, 2016.
PHOTO: Reuters

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- For President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, who was elected with a strong mandate and backed with a legislative majority, the time for policy specificity has become critical. Before Tsai's election, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je surmised that the economy and China would be the greatest challenges facing her.

Across the Taiwan Strait, China will be watching carefully to interpret Tsai's first actions.

China's state-controlled media, having acknowledged Tsai's electoral victory, declared: "It was not a defeat for the peaceful development of cross-strait relations." However, the leader of its newly established multilateral institution, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) upped its rhetoric yesterday on Taiwan's membership ineligibility, indicating that the new waters on cross-strait relations were still being tested, and would remain uncertain.

At home, her victorious party, having preached political reconciliation, faces the uncertain future of a once-powerful Kuomintang, and the upsurge of the New Power Party, which would like to see the outgoing ruling party politically castrated.

A legislative majority does not preclude the need for the robust societal consensus needed to tackle a monumental issue such as pension reform, so Tsai will need to tread delicately.

In fact, both of these challenges must be seen as interlinked before any successful venture to tackle them can hope to succeed.

Tsai could tackle both domestic and wider external economic issues by focusing on social policies at home that will have greater implications if tackled effectively and compassionately.

Bottom-up Development

One of the most pressing issues for the economy is how current production networks and the export-oriented economy (especially that which depends on labour outsourcing to China) can be revamped to create livelihoods especially for the island's young people.

Tsai could bridge partisan gaps and strife by doubling her efforts to ensure greater social equality that should transcend ethnic and national identity.

By adjusting minimum wage standards to a living wage law reflecting current economic circumstances, wealth could flow more fairly and reshape a stagnant economy, stimulating not only an economy based on material consumption, but on human development and social development.

The bitter pill for businesses may not be so bitter, if they consider that helping raise the standard of living for workers would have a multiplier effect in boosting the economy as a whole.

Revamping Coexistence

Tsai will need to go beyond acknowledging the interlinked nature of the cross-strait political economy if she wants to reconfigure it to ensure a more even distribution of those economic benefits to a greater swath of those involved in its production.

The effort of creating a social dimension to the cross-strait political economy would ensure a more socially secure Taiwan Strait.

While the Ma administration may have made important forays into normalizing and institutionalizing cross-strait economic ties, Tsai could improve the quality of those ties by enhancing the position of small and medium-sized enterprises with the innovative and entrepreneurial advantages that may invest in the mainland.

Not only does the government need to adopt supportive policies for innovative companies, it needs to encourage those that can utilize socially and environmentally sustainable production methods both within Taiwan and outside.

Not only would these practices be harder to replicate, they could have a wider ripple effect in improving and enhancing production practices while ensuring fairer social redistribution.


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