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Taiwan’s imports, exports at record low

UNEXPECTED: The head of the Ministry of Finance’s statistics bureau said her office was ‘shocked’ at the magnitude of the declines. Still, the trade surplus was US$1.86 billion

By Crystal Hsu
Thursday, Jan 08, 2009, Page 1

Amid the global economic downturn, Taiwan’s export-dependent economy is suffering, with exports sinking a record 41.9 percent year-on-year last month while imports took a historic dive of 44.6 percent, the Ministry of Finance said yesterday.

The bleak showing prompted the central bank to cut key interest rates by 50 basis points for the sixth time in four months to help stem the decline and boost consumption.

“Outbound shipments contracted 41.9 percent, or US$9.84 billion, to US$13.64 billion in December from a year ago, while imports shrank 44.6 percent, or US$9.48 billion to US$11.78 billion,” Lin Lee-jen (林麗貞), head of the ministry’s statistics department, told a press conference yesterday afternoon.

While both declines marked the biggest in history, the nation managed to retain a trade surplus of US$1.86 billion, the ministry’s report showed.

Lin attributed the drab exports to withering world demand for Taiwanese electronic and optical products. Sales of semiconductors and electronic products dropped 43.4 percent to US$2.49 billion last month, while liquid-crystal-display panels and mineral products fell 69.2 percent and 61.6 percent, respectively, the report said.

“The ministry is shocked at the magnitude of declines,” Lin said.

Shipments to China including Hong Kong, Taiwan’s largest trade partner, plunged 54 percent, or US$5.2 billion, to US$4.42 billion, the report said. Exports to the US slumped 23.5 percent to US$2.18 billion while shipments to Europe and Japan tumbled 29.5 percent and 21.9 percent respectively, the report said.

Shipments to ASEAN countries plummeted 46 percent to US$1.94 billion, the report said. Kevin Hsiao (蕭正義), director of UBS Wealth Management Research in Taiwan, said the nation’s economy was in worse shape than expected.

“The figures about China and ASEAN countries pose particular worries as they carry increasing weight in Taiwan’s foreign trade,” Hsiao said by telephone.

He warned of tough times ahead as the first quarter is considered an off season, when exports may post bigger drops.

Altogether, exports gained 3.6 percent last year, the lowest since 2002, while imports advanced 8.2 percent, leaving a surplus of US$14.83 billion, down 45.9 percent from the previous year, the report showed.

The central bank, seeking to reverse the trend, announced another rate cut in an unscheduled news conference 30 minutes later.

Central bank Governor Perng Fai-nan (彭淮南) said the bank’s board had lowered the discount rate, the rate on accommodations with collateral and the rate on accommodations without collateral to 1.5 percent, 1.875 percent and 3.75 percent respectively, starting today.

Perng attributed the rate cut to flagging exports that contracted for four straight months with the decline increasingly widening.

“Hopefully, the rate cut will help boost exports and consumer spending,” he said.

To that end, the central bank has lowered rates by 2.125 percentage points since September. Even so, Perng said the nation would not have zero-interest rates as capital requires funds to operate.

Tony Phoo (符銘財), an economist at Standard Chartered Bank, said the central bank would continue to ease monetary policy and lower the discount rate to 1 percent in the first half of this year.

The central bank yesterday again called on lenders to ease credit for cash-strapped companies and threatened to deny disobedient banks that tighten credit of the right to purchase certificate of deposits from the central bank as a way to relieve their excess liquidity.



Alliances to protest over Diane Lee

‘LAYING SIEGE’: Local alliances said that from tomorrow, they would surround the legislature around the clock until Legislator Diane Lee is relieved of her position

By Flora Wang, Ko Shu-ling and Rich Chang
Thursday, Jan 08, 2009, Page 3

Members of the Taiwan Association of University Professors and other pro-independence groups protest outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei yesterday to demand swift action on the case of Legislator Diane Lee’s alleged dual nationality. They plan to mobilize crowds to blockade the legislature starting tomorrow if the case is further delayed.


Pro-localization groups said yesterday they would protest at the legislature tomorrow to vent their anger over what they called the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-dominated legislature’s partisan handling of Legislator Diane Lee’s (李慶安) suspected US citizenship.

The KMT caucus drew criticism for blocking a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus proposal during Tuesday’s plenary session that sought to unseat Lee. Although the KMT agreed with a DPP motion to move the proposal from slot No. 47 on the plenary agenda to the top of the list, the KMT later proposed referring the proposal for further cross-party negotiation instead of immediately calling for a vote on the issue.

The KMT caucus said the legislature should not handle the motion before Feb. 1 — the deadline for Lee to present documents to prove her loss of US citizenship.

However, the KMT’s move was interpreted by the DPP as an attempt to shield Lee. The DPP caucus protested the move by immediately withdrawing from all negotiation sessions with the KMT.

Tomorrow’s demonstration, co-sponsored by the DPP, the Taiwan Association of University Professors, the Taiwan Calling for Referendum Amendment Alliance, the Taiwan Teachers’ Alliance and other pro-localization groups, will continue around the clock until Lee is relieved of her legislative position, organizers said.

Taiwan Association of University Professors chairman Tsai Ting-kuei (蔡丁貴) said protesters would assemble in front of the legislature at 9am tomorrow. During the “siege,” Tsai said protesters would block the legislature’s entrance so that legislators would only be able to get in but not out of the legislature.

Tsai said the organizers had laid down basic rules for the siege, which are protesters should not enter the legislature, hurt anyone, oppress anyone, retreat or hit back in response to provocation.

Lee has been the center of a dual-citizenship controversy since March last year when the Chinese-language Next Magazine alleged that she still holds valid US citizenship.

The Nationality Act (國籍法) bans all government officials from holding dual citizenship.

In a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs late last month in reply to Taiwan’s inquiry on the citizenship status of all sitting legislators, the US State Department said that Lee “has previously been documented as a US citizen with a US passport and that no subsequent loss of US citizenship has been documented.”

Lee, however, insisted she automatically lost her US citizenship when she was sworn in as a Taipei city councilor 14 years ago.

Lee yesterday accused the DPP of trying to resolve the controversy through “political means” before the Feb. 1 deadline.

Lee told a press conference yesterday that the DPP’s claim that the US had completed a review of nullification of her citizenship was “seriously misleading.”

She showed the press a copy of a letter she said she received from Edward Betancourt, director of the US State Department’s Office of Policy Review and Interagency Liaison on Tuesday.

“It said: ‘Any reports that Ms Lee’s case has been closed are not accurate,’” she said in English.

Lee said the office would also contact her as soon as the State Department finishes its review of documents proving the loss of her US citizenship. Lee, her office and her lawyer did not provide individual copies of the letter to reporters at the press conference.

Lee vowed to present proper documentation to the legislature by the end of this month.

When asked whether she considered herself “morally flawed” on the case, Lee said: “The law is the key to this case. We are waiting for the law to clarify the matter.”

Commenting on the planned “siege,” KMT caucus secretary-general Chang Sho-wen (張碩文) yesterday said the DPP and a number of pro-independence groups should be charged with “intimidating” legislators for besieging the legislature and attempting to force lawmakers to rule on Lee’s case tomorrow.

Chang urged the DPP and the groups to abort their planned “drastic measures,” adding that their plan lacked legitimacy.

Chang yesterday also offered an apology to the public over the dual-nationality controversy surrounding Lee.

“Although the public reacted negatively to Lee’s case, we, the 113 lawmakers, should not resort to a vote to relieve the seat of a legislator who won the support of 80,000 to 90,000 people [in the election last year],” Chang said.

But not every KMT lawmaker supported the caucus’ action.

“Lee is no longer a KMT member. Shouldn’t the caucus adjust its attitude toward her case? After all, the caucus should also consider the feelings of other caucus members,” KMT Legislator Ho Tsai-feng (侯彩鳳) said.

At a separate setting yesterday, KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) told reporters that the legislature had decided to “handle the matter in accordance with the law.”

“If somebody cannot produce the evidence before the deadline, the KMT will ask the legislature to tackle the matter in a speedy manner,” he said.

Meanwhile, a group of pan-green Taipei City councilors yesterday said they would launch a signature drive to recall Lee, in the hope of gathering a sufficient number of endorsements by the middle of next month to file a petition at the Central Election Commission.





Judicial double standards a concern

By Su Tseng-chang 蘇貞昌
Thursday, Jan 08, 2009, Page 8

It has been almost 40 years since I obtained my license to practice law. I have fought for democracy and human rights for half my life. The recent conduct of Taiwan’s prosecutors and courts has me deeply worried.

The purpose of the judiciary is to protect human rights and decide what is right and what is wrong, thus serving as the last line of defense for social justice. The process and outcome of a trial should not only convince the parties involved, but also be acceptable to society at large.

The Criminal Code (刑法) clearly details all penalties, while the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法) and the Court Organic Act (法院組織法) comprehensively state how prosecutions and trials should proceed. A verdict may be rendered invalid by a tiny procedural flaw. This is called “procedural justice.” Even the worst criminals can only be declared guilty in accordance with strict legal procedures; otherwise, illegal punishment, revenge or trials with predetermined outcomes will prevail.

Take for example some recent controversial cases. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Tainan City Councilor Wang Ting-yu (王定宇) was — in just eight days — indicted for allegedly mobbing a Chinese official, with prosecutors recommending a relatively heavy 14-month jail sentence. In cases involving the alleged misuse of special allowances for government officials, both the DPP and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) reported hundreds of officials, but to this day, only five former ministers who are seen as being close to former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) have been indicted, and after five months, courts have yet to begin trial proceedings.

In one case, DPP Chiayi County Commissioner Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) was originally released on bail but the decision was overruled after repeated appeals by prosecutors. In another, DPP Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬) was detained without a summons, and was only released without bail after staging a hunger strike. Finally, former vice premier Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) was detained for 50 days but the court was in session only three times during that period. All these cases have led to serious questions about double standards in investigative and legal applications and show the KMT government’s disregard for human rights.

As for the alleged corruption cases involving former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), Judge Chou Chan-chun (周占春) released Chen without bail, but the court decided to combine his cases with the ongoing investigation into Chen’s handling of his state affairs fund, a case presided over by Judge Tsai Shou-hsun (蔡守訓). This effectively transferred the power to decide whether to detain the former president to Tsai. Regardless of Tsai’s decision, the move has damaged the credibility of the Special Investigation Panel (SIP) of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office and the Taipei District Court.

Since the court originally granted the prosecutors’ request to detain Chen for two months — a period that can be extended once, thus giving prosecutors four months — they had ample time to look into the matter thoroughly. Instead the SIP rushed to indict Chen in less than a month and filed the cases in court. After the court released him without bail, prosecutors filed repeated appeals to have the release revoked. This haste reminds us of the joint press conference in mid-September when all eight SIP prosecutors pledged to resign if they failed to complete the investigation by the end of last year.

In terms of case assignment, there is a principle of “court-appointed judges” aimed at avoiding manipulation of judges or verdicts by the judicial authorities. However, the Taipei District Court has not adhered to this principle, leaving much room for speculation and once again damaging judicial credibility. For example, if the court believes that the corruption cases against Chen should be combined with the earlier state affairs fund case, why did it submit them as new and separate cases in the first place? And since Chou was put in charge of the new case by lot, why were they combined with the ongoing state affairs fund case only after Chou twice released Chen without bail? The timing of the decision to combine the cases would suggest that it was done just to change judges.

Moreover, the court did not follow the traditional method in combining cases that has been practiced for years, as it combined the four corruption cases with 14 defendants with the previous case with only four defendants.

Adding to our concern is the fact that Chou’s court is a specialized court set up especially for major financial crimes, and not a regular court.

These abnormal measures have destroyed the court’s credibility. This begs the question of how convincing a future verdict can be.

Su Tseng-chang is a former premier.

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