I got to know “Wayne” sometime around 2013, when he had just come back from Taiwan and The News Lens was just getting off the ground. In fact, we’ve actually worked together. One Sunday a few years ago, I got a phone call that went, “Did you hear Chiang Wan-an said he was going to run for office?”

Taipei residents saw Chiang Wan-an transition to politics from working as a lawyer helping startups. On his first run, Chiang defeated a strong opponent, Luo Shu-lei, in the KMT primary and was elected as a legislator. Four years later, he defeated his DPP counterpart Enoch Wu and won re-election. Now, aged 43, Chiang has accepted the KMT’s nomination to run for Taipei Mayor. As he said during our interview, his rise proves that the KMT has young, “new blood.”

Early in the race, Chiang Wang-an was said to have joined with a “lie-flat” or “Buddha-like” mindset. But as election day approaches, he has reversed his image and has proposed many policies, particularly going all out attacking his opponents on the controversy around vaccines.

“In the past people always talked about ‘drifting north,’” speaking of how Taipei had once been a magnet for Taiwanese seeking a better life. “But now it’s turned into ‘leaving the north.’” Both of his eyes lit up when Chiang, who was born and raised in Taipei, spoke about the future. “I feel Taipei needs some changes.”

Mario Yang: When did you start to think of running for Taipei Mayor?

Chiang Wan-an: I was born in Taipei, went to school in Taipei, and grew up in Taipei. I’ve seen that in the last few years infrastructure construction in Taipei has stagnated. What astounds me even more is the severe population drain over the past six years — 200,000, a shocking number. Of these people, 60% are young adult parents bringing their children with them and moving out of Taipei.

In the past, people talked about “drifting north.” They came to Taipei in the hope that they could by their own efforts build a successful career, fulfill their dreams, and settle down here. Now it’s become “leaving the north.” That people are moving away from Taipei means this city can’t retain its talent, and is no longer as competitive as it used to be.

I think Taipei has arrived at a crossroads — the city needs to make a decision. It can’t afford to continue adhering to the old rules anymore. I was born and raised here. I feel Taipei needs some changes.

MY: Besides Taipei Dome, what else would you currently set as your priorities and push forward should you get elected?

CWA: Every time I’m out and about in my constituency, no matter what age group I encounter, “urban regeneration” resonates. This is because buildings in Taipei are just too old. Now, the old houses that are over 40 or 50 years old in Taipei are legion. This affects not only the cityscape but the safety of residents. A survey by the Ministry of the Interior found that if a 6.2-magnitude earthquake were to occur in Taipei, 4,900-plus buildings would collapse.

The Xinwei resettled tenements in the Da’an District I visited last month were built 40 years ago. More than 500 households lived there. The narrow hallways were cluttered with furniture, LPG cylinders, shoe cabinets, and even refrigerators. The living environment was extremely poor, and there were grave concerns over public safety. “Government-led urban renewal” was underway, but the project was stuck because the first phase required the permission of 90% of the residents, which was too high a threshold. The project hit a bottleneck as soon as 81% agreed to give their consent.

As a result, I proposed to “intervene early, expand capacity, and increase resiliency.” The threshold for the first phase should be lowered to enable the government to step in early. Budgets for manpower should be increased. Urban renewal evaluations should be expedited. Historical resettled tenements in particular should have their floor area ratios raised via assessments. We really don’t want to see any buildings come down or casualties due to earthquakes.

MY: You've led a legislator’s team. But now you have to face a city government’s team of 80,000. How will you lead these people?

CWA: After I was nominated by the KMT to run for Taipei Mayor, I instantly went to visit mayors of previous terms. Among them, mayor Huang Ta-chou told me, “Wang-an, in carrying out any municipal affair, you’ll come across all kinds of obstacles. But you have to remember to let your team know of your determination in doing something. You need to show your determination.”


Photo Credit: CNA

KMT candidate for Taipei mayor Chiang Wan-an appearing at a campaign event in New Taipei City, November 12, 2022.

My Silicon Valley experience tells me the role of the government is to help remove all kinds of barriers caused by laws and regulations. The same goes for city governance. To make progress, you need to think outside the box and dare to break through limitations of the laws and regulations. This is what I’ve always insisted on. I was also like this on the floor of the Legislative Yuan. Concerning many important motions, I insisted on what I thought was right.

MY: Everybody has their own views, but why are the decisions you make right?

CWA: One key point is that you need to go and get to know the needs of residents and listen to what they have to say. My philosophy for city governance is public-private partnership and [a] bottom-up [approach]. What bottom-up refers to is our future decision-making model. We go to understand what problems the grassroots expects to be solved, reach a consensus, and from the top-down move municipal affairs forward.

Legislators are always in constant contact with their constituency. Be it pushing for a bill or holding the government accountable, we do so from the people’s standpoint. The needs and expectations of residents are our first consideration.

MY: Your wife said something very interesting in your book. She doesn’t think you’re an authoritarian leader. I’m curious about what kind of leader or manager you feel you are.

CWA: In fact I just deal with matters on their own merits. As everyone clearly knows from my performance on the floor of the Legislative Yuan, I don’t like to express myself through strong language, dramatic body movements, or self-made catchy slogans. I maintain my own style: I’ll insist on what’s right. When you’ve done something wrong, I’ll point it out in a serious manner. This is the work style I’ve stuck to along the way. Surely I think it will remain so in the future.

MY: You said the KMT didn’t have that much of an influence on you while you grew up. Why did you still choose the KMT when you decided to run after returning home from the United States?

CWA: After I came back to Taiwan, I was helping lots of startup teams participate in meetings with the government regarding law amendments. These meetings, however, would invariably end up with nothing concrete and be left unsettled. This made me feel a little hopeless. I thought instead of lobbying loudly outside of the system, I might as well take a dive into it to properly advocate for bills. This would help not only the industries but Taiwanese people, as well.

To be honest, at that time, I didn’t think I would win the primary. If I lost, I would just continue to work hard for another four years and give it another try next time. Now that I’ve chosen to go down this road, I’ll no doubt persist.

This was why I decided to run for election at that time. I certainly identify with the KMT. People feel the KMT doesn’t have young, new blood. I hope with my run I can tell the public that there are young people who are willing to participate in public affairs.

As for what I identify with the KMT on, one of the most important factors includes Mr. [Chiang] Ching-kuo’s full commitment to public affairs and care for the people. This has left a profound impression on the hearts of Taiwanese people to this day. In addition to the Ten Major Construction Projects, TSMC, which many young people enjoy talking about, was the result of a collective decision coming from government officials such as Chao Yao-tung and Sun Yun-suan, as well as technological experts from civil society. This is the result of foresight, the key that helped lay the groundwork for long-term national development.

MY: Should you not win this election, what sorts of plans or ideas do you have in mind for the future?

CWA: I feel once one has taken on a job, he should just do it well. I always do my best to advance toward my goals not just when I was a lawyer, but also when I was a legislator or a candidate. I’ll walk through all the streets and alleys of Taipei City, hold each pair of hands tightly, and win the approval of the people. As long as I’m afforded the opportunities, I’ll continue to speak and tell residents what my policies are face-to-face.

I also hope that in the post-pandemic era, Taipei should host large-scale international conferences and exhibits, or festivals, like South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, every year. It was originally a music festival, and then it incorporated film and multimedia, and integrated startups and technologies. The event attracts international tourists and professionals to Austin each year. It turbocharges Austin’s development and boosts the tourism, travel and lodging, transport, food and drinks, and retail industries. I hope that Taipei can host such a large-scale international event.

MY: Simply put, you think you definitely will win? [smiling].

CWA: I need to win so that I can put all these ideas and plans into practice, one by one.

This interview originally appeared in The News Lens Chinese edition. Translation is by Edward Ying-jen Lin.

READ NEXT: An Interview with Taipei Mayoral Candidate Huang Shan-shan

TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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