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Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou addresses complaints in National Day speech
President promises more open markets and more jobs
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2012-10-10 03:31 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – President Ma Ying-jeou started his speech to mark the 101st anniversary of the Republic of China Wednesday with a reference to his plummeting popularity before promising more jobs and foreign investment.

Since winning re-election with more than half the votes last January, his performance in opinion polls has plunged to record depths of less than 20 percent.

“Some of our government's policies have received criticism from the public. This has at times been directed at me personally, and occasionally at my administration as a whole. Some charge that our policy measures have not been well thought out. Others say that we have failed to clearly communicate our intentions,” Ma said.

The president said his administration listened attentively to the complaints from the public, and had tried to make improvements. More concrete proposals would be on the way, he said.

The president promised economic reforms, trade liberalization and higher wages. Only last month, Council of Labor Affairs Minister Jennifer Wang resigned after Premier Sean Chen refused to raise the basic minimum wage to NT$19,047 (US$649) from next January 1. Critics accused the Ma Administration of sacrificing the interests of workers and low-wage earners to benefit Big Business and the wealthy amid a tough economic crisis. Wages have returned to levels not seen since 1998, according to official economic data.

“Our industry must move toward higher value-added development; only then will labor productivity increase and salary levels rise,” Ma said in his Double Ten speech.

Taiwan should become a supplier of key components, precision equipment and innovative services, the president said. The country should thus become an irreplaceable producer of top-quality technology products, he said.

Labor activists said he was only producing words that the public would like but no action had been visible yet.

Ma also emphasized the importance of international trade. “Once domestic and foreign investment grows, the economy will thrive, and jobs will increase,” he said.

The president promised to relax restrictions on foreign investment in Taiwanese businesses. “In the future, liberalized policies will become the norm, and barriers the exception,” he said. Premier Sean Chen reportedly immediately called meetings to discuss how to go about opening up Taiwan further.

Ma said his government needed to eliminate controls on the labor market to match modern trends while maintaining a balance between investment promotion and labor rights.

He promised further deregulation and more efforts to attract tourists, which were already expected to top 7 million this year. Ma underlined his prominent policy of trying to sign Free Trade Agreements with other nations, including Singapore, New Zealand, and the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement concluded with China in 2010.

Opposition Taiwan Solidarity Union lawmaker Huang Wen-ling said that Ma was still unaware that once China’s economy landed in trouble, Taiwan would do even worse because of the exaggerated reliance he had pushed the country toward. Any progress in trade relations with the United States would come too late, she said.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party said the Taiwanese economy’s main problem was that its businesses had lost their ability to create new jobs. At the same time, the results of economic growth were not distributed equally, with the gap between rich and poor continuing to grow, said DPP spokesman Lin Chun-hsien. All Ma had to offer in his two most recent National Day speeches were slogans, the opposition politician said.

The president had been in power for five years, yet people’s living standards had shown no improvement, while the distance between Taiwan and its direct competitors like South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore was widening, Lin said.

Former DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen said the speech sounded like one given by a president in his first year of office, not his fifth. His words were empty and would not allay fears over the economy, she said.

Neither Tsai nor current DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang attended the celebrations in Taipei. Visiting Chiayi, Su said that instead of making big pronouncements, Ma should travel to the countryside to understand how difficult things were for the public at large.

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