Sparks fly during Taiwan's first televised 2016 presidential election debate

Sparks fly during Taiwan's first televised 2016 presidential election debate
(L-R) Taiwan's 2016 presidential election candidates, People first Party's James Soong, Kuomintang's Eric Chu, and Democratic Progressive Party's Tsai Ing-wen join hands at the start of their first televised policy debate in Taipei on December 27, 2015.

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Sparks flew during the first televised 2016 presidential election debate on Sunday, quickly heating up in its opening rounds amid questioning from local media representatives on cross-strait relations and the bid for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) membership.

Cross-strait relations were on the table as Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Eric Chu and local media representatives grilled Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) nominee Tsai Ing-wen on her "ambiguous stance" on the "1992 Consensus."

Both People First Party (PFP) candidate James Soong and Chu openly stated their support for the "1992 Consensus." The "1992 Consensus" is not a document, but a cross-strait understanding, Soong said, using political leverage and active negotiations as ways to clarify Taiwan's sovereignty. Chu remained steadfast on his support for the "1992 Consensus," and reaffirmed the need for positive co-operation with mainland China.

Tsai, on the other hand, stated her continual "clear" stance, despite Chu blasting Tsai's ambiguity - "to seek common ground and set aside their differences." She stated her belief that future interactions with China could be conducted in a rational manner and that mainland Chinese leaders and decision makers would give the nation a certain level of respect.

Nominees Spar over TPP and US Pork

A local media representative named TPP negotiations as a major challenge for the next president to tackle, grilling the three candidates on whether they would "crack under pressure" from the public on their policies in addressing a possible bargaining chip from the US for a ticket into the TPP - importing US-pork containing the growth hormone ractopamine.

Tsai vowed to implement "10-times stricter" standards on imported goods, from labeling to manufacturing processes, by adhering to standards imposed by Japan and South Korea. She also proposed product differentiation - restricting usage of growth hormone pork among domestic products to maintain quality against foreign imports. Addressing her own policy on the TPP bid, Tsai stated that a domestic industry facelift and internationalization are both needed to improve the nation's pork and livestock sectors.

Chu named food safety a non-negotiable factor on the pork issue, reiterating his steadfast will to join the TPP, a statement made during his November trip to the US Taiwanese pork consumption differentiates from the US, therefore stricter food safety guidelines must be laid down to let the US know why Taiwan rejects ractopamine-laced US pork imports, he said.

Soong, the only candidate who has rejected growth-hormone pork imports, stated his "firm reserved stance."

"We should not sacrifice our people's health for economic development," he said. Apart from US pork, Soong addressed cooking oil as a food safety concern as well. Asking why the nation couldn't import quality oil from Europe, Soong stated that Taiwan has a demand of at least 60,000 tons of oil a year, yet the largest pork industry heavyweight, Taiwan Sugar Corp. could only contribute 55,000 tons.

In the first round, each political candidate presented their policies, while in the second round, candidates answered questions from local news media representatives, followed by a candidate cross-examination and closing statements.

The debate was hosted by the Public Television Service and monitored by Acer Inc. founder Stan Shih, kicking off at 2 p.m.

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