Today, the re-elected Tsai Ing-wen takes her oath as President of Taiwan for a second term of four more years. So will Lai Chin-te, former Premier and Tainan City mayor, also known as William Lai, assume the vice-presidency.
Elections were held last January 11, and the winners assume office on May 20. Taiwan allows its president two terms of four years each, similar to what we had under the 1935 Constitution before martial law, and similar to the American practice.
While we await the policy directions of the re-elected President Tsai which she will deliver in her second inaugural address this morning, there is an interesting sidebar to the event.
Vice-President Chen Chien-jen who did not seek re-election leaves office and said that he would return to Academia Sinica, there to continue his research as an epidemiologist. Academia Sinica is Taiwan’s highest research institute, and has become one of the best in the world since the 2003 SARS pandemic.
Dr. Chen makes history as the first vice-president of Taiwan to decline receiving a pension, which amounts to about US $6,020 per month. Instead, the outgoing vice-president said that the best gift the people of Taiwan could give him is the successful prevention of the spread of the new coronavirus pandemic. As a renowned epidemiologist, Vice-Pres. Chen advised the Ministry of Health in its efforts to ensure the now globally-acknowledged recognition of Taiwan’s control of community transmission of the COVID-19 pandemic, without resorting to a lockdown.
Thanking the Taiwanese people, Chen emphasized that it “was an absolute honor to have served as vice-president for the last four years.” Chen was plucked from the scientific and health profession to become Pres. Tsai’s running-mate in 2016. In the party primaries leading to the 2020 elections, William Lai contested Tsai for the presidential nomination, and in an effort to unite the ruling DPP, they later teamed up.
Chen is a devout Catholic who walks every day from his house to the Jen Ai Catholic Church in Da-an District to hear mass officiated by a Filipino parish priest, Fr. Alex Abiera.
I have met outgoing Vice-President Chen on many occasions and what struck me most was his humility and unassuming friendliness. I once kidded him about us being distant relatives because my middle name, Tan, is the Fukien equivalent of the Mandarin Chen.
As of Monday evening, Taiwan still had no community outbreak of COVID-19, with 440 cases remaining static for the last three weeks. Of the 440 cases, 349 are imported, and 55 cases are indigenous. Seven have died. The figures would have been lower if not for a returning navy vessel whose sailors went on R and R after docking in Kaohsiung.
As a result of the violation of strict health protocols, no less than two admirals of the Taiwan navy resigned.
As the pandemic’s crisis in Taiwan recedes, Taiwan is now considering loosening restrictions on visits by business travelers. Details of the plan are still being worked out, such as which countries are going to be exempt from the travel bans, and whether such travelers would be required to present a health certificate before boarding a flight to Taiwan.
Already, the travel “bubble” between Australia and New Zealand, where visitors between the two countries would have no travel restrictions, is being studied to include Taiwan, where there used to be a daily Air New Zealand plane co-shared with EVAir.
As a result of the crisis, MECO has suspended the issuance of visas since the middle of March. We have also cut down our work week to three days a week in order to save on operating expenses – besides, there are no applicants for visas, anyway.
This is a huge financial drain for MECO, which relies on visa application fees for 80 percent of its total revenue, there being no government appropriations for MECO. If the economy back home has been disastrously affected by the pandemic, so too is our de facto embassy in Taiwan.
And incidentally, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her fiancée, Clarke Gayford, were initially turned away from a café in Wellington, the nation’s capital, because it was too full on account of the required social distancing rules under the COVID-19 guidelines.
The incident at the Olive restaurant happened two days after the country relaxed its lockdown rules which allowed the re-opening of eateries and cafes.
It was only after some customers had finished their brunch that the waiter ran after the prime minister who was nonchalantly walking away to look for another café with her fiancée.
How marvelous that there still are places in this world where the “high and mighty” do not have any sense of entitlement, as in the examples set by the Vice-President of Taiwan and the Prime Minister of New Zealand.