Taiwan’s presidential candidates attended their first televised policy presentation on December 18. This is the first time all three candidates — incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT), and James Soong of the People’s First Party (PFP) — appeared jointly in public to discuss their campaign platforms.

Although each candidate had a total of 30-minute screen time to present their proposals, no one delivered a cohesive policy outline. Instead, all candidates used their time to bash each other.

Tsai Attacks Han over Beijing Ties

Tsai has usually avoided criticizing her political rivals, but she blasted Han over several controversies during the presentation. She attacked Han’s racist and sexist rhetorics, purchase of an expensive mansion during a period of unemployment, and alleged profiting from illegal mining operations on public land.

Han has frequently branded himself a “commoner citizen,” but Tsai challenged his self-characterization by questioning his extravagant purchases.

Tsai also used several ongoing DPP policy proposals by to attack Han’s association with Beijing. She mentioned Han’s recent visit to the Hong Kong Liaison Office and DPP’s proposal of an Anti-Infiltration Bill to punish clandestine ties with Beijing. But James Soong opposed the bill, arguing that the 2 million Taiwanese who reside in China will be scrutinized.

Banzai, Republic of China”

A major point of disagreement in the discussion was the attitude towards Taiwan’s Republic of China constitution.

“Long Live the Republic of China!" Han proclaimed three times during the presentation, then said he was disappointed President Tsai had not followed suit. In response, Tsai posted on Facebook that she wished Han would still have the courage to yell the same slogan in China.

Though Tsai does not reject and sometimes uses the term “ROC” to appeal to the Taiwanese public, it has has not sat well with hardline DPP voters, who see the name as a remnant of oppression from the authoritarian Taiwan.

Many countries, including the United States, have ceased to recognize Taiwan as the ROC since 1979, but the debate over whether to keep the sets of institution currently governing Taiwan still remain unresolved.

How is Taiwan’s economy doing?

Another major difference between the candidates is the perception of how the Taiwanese economy is performing amid the US-China trade war. Han claimed that Taiwan’s economy has not grown since Tsai took office, and accused Tsai of “marginalizing” Taiwan, referring to the country’s exclusion from free-trade agreements like CPTPP and RCEP.

Tsai stated that Taiwan has undergone economic transformation by improving its investment environment and infrastructure, while other countries are struggling from the U.S.-China trade war. Taiwan has also decreased its dependence on China and its economy has been performing the best among “Asia’s Four Little Dragon” in the past three quarters, according to Tsai.

Tsai and Han had vastly different narratives of Taiwan’s economy, a topic greatly divided between party lines.

The next debate

The December 18 presentation was the first joint public appearance by the three candidates together on television. A formal presidential debate is scheduled for December 29.

Debate continues to be centered around the status of the ROC, a complex and seemingly obscure topic candidates spend significant time talking about in public debates.

As Tsai and Han continue to criticize each other, the biggest winner might be James Soong. His presidential bid, the fifth run since 2000, has been commonly seen as a campaign to boost his party’s profile and his allies in the district legislative election. For just running along, he gets as much air time in these debates as Tsai and Han.