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Lunch with TPP Chairman Ko Wen-je

The ECCT arranged a Premium Event lunch with Dr Ko Wen-je, Chairman of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and his party’s candidate for Taiwan’s 2024 presidential election. In his speech, Ko touched upon environmental, energy and political issues.

Ko noted that he was the first mayor from Taiwan to address the European Parliament in 2018 in a speech in which he addressed issues of democracy, freedom, diversity, openness, rule of law, human rights, care for the underprivileged and sustainability. According to Ko (and the TPP) since these are universal values, there is no reason why China cannot eventually become democratic.

On sustainability, Ko noted that during his tenure as mayor, Taipei was the first city in Taiwan to pass an ordinance committing the city to reach net zero emissions by 2050. He added that his record on environmental issues also received top ratings of Taipei residents, including the banning of disposable and melamine resin utensils, beginning the process to upgrade the city’s public bus fleet from fossil fuel to electric versions, waste management regulations, and enhanced support for recycling mechanisms. Regarding the path towards a circular economy, Ko highlighted a social housing project in the Nangang district initiated during his tenure, designed so that all materials can be reused at the end of the project’s useful life.

On the subject of energy policy, Ko stressed the need for a rational, pragmatic and scientific approach. He said that while the safety of nuclear energy has improved since the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters, there are still risks. Decisions on nuclear energy therefore need to be made based on the risks and cost benefit analysis. Ko said that it is the right strategy to ramp up Taiwan’s renewable energy capacity and eventually phase out nuclear energy but that it would be rash to phase out nuclear power before there is sufficient renewable energy capacity in place. Instead, the life of current nuclear power plants should be extended if it can be done safely, while the feasibility of opening the now mothballed fourth nuclear power plant should be reviewed. Ko also questioned the government’s interim target for natural gas to account for 50% of the energy mix. This, he said, poses a serious risk to Taiwan’s energy security given the reliance on natural gas imports and the lack of sufficient local gas storage capacity. He concluded that ensuring a stable power supply should be the number one priority.

Ko also supported the drive towards electric mobility and the necessary charging infrastructure but stressed that switching to EVs would be self-defeating if the source of power for charging them is fossil fuels, hence the need to ramp up charging infrastructure and renewable energy capacity simultaneously.

On the subject of cross-Strait relations, Ko cited his own experience of co-hosting and participating in eight forums with Shanghai as well as hosting the 2017 university games (Universiade). Exchanges with Chinese counterparts was done on the basis of what Ko referred to as the “principle of five mutuals”, namely know, understand, respect, cooperate and 諒解 (Liàngjiě, which translates roughly as understanding). According to Ko, Taiwan understands China better than any other country and understands the world better than China does. For this reason, Taiwan is ideally placed to serve as a bridge between China and the world.

Relations between the two sides should be based on deterrence and communication. In terms of deterrence Taiwan needs to have a strong defence and therefore Ko would increase defence spending to ensure a necessary level of deterrence. In terms of communication, Ko said that dialogue is essential to avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication and reduce the risk of accidents, which is the usual reason why wars begin. Taiwan’s approach should be to minimise risks as far as possible. Communications could begin with discussions on uncontroversial topics such as culture and sports and later move on to the economy and eventually politics. Taiwan should be prepared for war and not afraid of war but also not provoke a war.

In the Q&A session, on a question about bilingual nation policy, Ko said that as Taipei mayor, schools in the city made progress in bilingual education. If he is elected president, he would support and promote bilingual education across Taiwan.

On a question about offshore wind policy, Ko said that Taiwan should respect market forces and that localisation policies should only be supported if there are good reasons for them.

On a question about foreign talent, Ko said that the government should be more responsive to market needs and recommendations from businesses.

On a question about healthcare spending, Ko acknowledged that spending on healthcare overall in Taiwan is too low and supported a recommendation to gradually increase spending to around 8% of GDP. As to how spending should be distributed, he did not elaborate, noting that TPP would soon be announcing its healthcare policies. Ko also made the point that healthcare was one of two industries (along with education) that should remain socialist. However, he also said that there was room for the private sector. In particular, once drugs have been approved, patients should be able to purchase them out of pocket.