By Brian Hioe

Compared to the three policy presentations that have taken place to date, the presidential debate held yesterday allowed for more substantive exchanges between the three presidential candidates who will be running in Taiwan's 2020 elections: Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party, Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang, and James Soong of the People's First Party. It was the only presidential debate scheduled for this election cycle.

The increased exchanges were likely due to the format of the debate, which required more engagement between the candidates as well as outside experts. But for the most part, the candidates repeated many of the same talking points from their previous policy presentations.

Opening statement

In his opening statement, KMT presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu trotted out many of his past attacks on Tsai. He accused Tsai of having failed to help underprivileged groups such as farmers, fishermen, and workers, and claimed that she was using the Hong Kong protests opportunistically to boost her election chances. He also said Tsai was attacking him by using fake news and manipulating the media.

While Han has faced accusations of abandoning Kaohsiung to campaign for president, he denied the possibility of doing so and said he was different from Tsai, who had announced new plans to economically develop southern Taiwan just 20 days before elections.

James Soong instead focused on the need for Taiwan to maintain a delicate balancing act between the United States, China, and Japan. Then he claimed there was too much factionalism within the DPP at present and that the DPP had become “KMT-ized,” seizing the KMT’s party assets and taking them for its own.

Tsai’s opening comments, on the other hand, stated that Taiwan faced a choice between defending its democratic freedoms or acquiescing to China, and emphasized that she saw Taiwan as in firm need of protecting the future of its young people. She pointed out that Han had primarily focused on attacking her without offering any concrete policy of his own, and accused Han of using fake news and slander.

She raised that while the KMT constantly accuses the DPP of seeking to destroy the Republic of China, the ROC framework has remained despite having two DPP presidents in office before. A united Taiwan could not be defeated, Tsai said, which was why she had appointed Soong as Taiwan’s representative to APEC twice in the name of bipartisanship.

Second-round: Han's aggressive outbursts at local media questioning

The second round of the debate consisted of outside experts, drawn from the media, asking questions of presidential candidates. This consisted of the editor-in-chiefs of Taiwan’s largest media outlets, including the United Daily News, China Times, Central News Agency, Apple Daily, and Liberty Times.

On the issues of national defense, both Soong and Han claimed that the U.S. sold Taiwan unnecessary and expensive weapons and that the U.S. was unreliable as a partner. Tsai emphasized Taiwan’s ties with other democratic countries and the advanced technology used by the Taiwanese military.


Photo Credit: CNA

KMT presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu said there's no winner in wars and no loser in peace, and that avoiding military conflicts is the best strategy a president can adopt.

The media representatives then questioned about the economy and the Tsai administration’s changes to the Labor Standards Act, which has worsened conditions for workers. Tsai responded that the original changes proposed by the DPP were altered by opposition parties, resulting in the passing of an unsatisfactory bill. Meanwhile, Han claimed that he would defend public policy and provide subsidies for labor.

One of the most notable moments during the session was when Han reacted strongly against a question from Tsai Ri-yun (蔡日雲), the editor-in-chief of the Apple Daily. He was asked about the alleged monetary transactions between him and a "Ms. Wang" but he accused the Apple Daily of defaming him, unduly reporting on his private life, and having negatively impacted the media environment in Taiwan. Han’s outburst has led to some accusations against Han that attacking the media in such a manner illustrates his authoritarian, undemocratic tendencies. After the debate, Han also refused to take questions from media outlets he viewed as disfavorable to him.

Third-round: Continued attacks on Tsai by Han

The third round of the debate allowed for candidates to cross-examine each other.

Han again accused the DPP of being corrupt and claimed that the Tsai administration was dominated by the New Tide faction of the party. He said Tsai lived a materially comfortable life as a puppet of the New Tide faction and accused her of actually being the one to sell out Taiwan.

In her rebuttal, Tsai accused Han of undermining Taiwanese democracy, frequently displaying misogyny and racism in his comments, and having abandoned his commitments to Kaohsiung. Between Han and Tsai, Soong generally tried to stake out a middle ground in insisting that he was loyal to the ROC, but that he would not compromise the sovereignty of the ROC, while agreeing with Han’s attacks on the DPP’s factionalism.

韓國瑜辯論會批媒體 蔡總統:應尊重第四權

Photo Credit: CNA

DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan is a place with freedom of speech and the media should be respected, and said Han "overreacted" during the media Q&A session.

Nevertheless, Han made several unusual statements during the third round of the debate. Han began the third round with an odd claim that all candidates should beware of that the gods were watching them. When Tsai questioned his policy on increasing nuclear energy consumption without knowing where to dispose the nuclear waste, Han suggested that it does not matter whether Taiwan builds the fifth, sixth, or seventh nuclear reactor since the safety of nuclear plants was illustrated by European Union countries.

Han also referred to Tsai as a “dictator” several times during his time.

Closing statement

In Tsai's closing statement, she again emphasized the need to defend democracy for the sake of Taiwan’s young people, and that she did not hope Taiwan would become like Hong Kong, with the future of an entire generation at stake due to Chinese authoritarianism.

Soong denied that he had ever accepted any funds from China, claimed that there was a need to go beyond factionalism in politics and to instead focus on the national interest, and called on Tsai not to use Hong Kong as a wedge issue.

自評辯論表現 宋楚瑜:呈現出做總統的高度

Photo Credit: CNA

PFP presidential candidate James Soong evaluated his own performance at the debate and said he has shown his capacity to be the leader of Taiwan.

Han’s comments struck an entirely different register, first asking his audience members to close their eyes, then primarily orienting his closing remarks around the claim that he would be an entirely different president than past presidents, seeing as he was not an NTU law department graduate, as with all of Taiwan’s other past presidents—and that, in this way, he was a different kind of politician.

Few new topics were introduced in the presidential debate, seeing as it more or less summed up what had already been said previously at the three presidential policy presentations. However, Han’s performance was likely worse than at the previous policy presentations, given the gaffes he made in the course of the debate. It is probable that having to field questions affected his performance since answering questions doesn't seem to be his strong suit.

READ NEXT: Presidential Candidates Clash During Policy Presentation

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article from New Bloom.

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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