By Elaine Hou CNA Staff Writer
Undeterred by his failure in Taiwan's presidential elections in 2000 and 2012, James Soong (宋楚瑜), chairman of the People First Party, announced in August his third presidential bid and vowed, if elected, to lead the nation out of its difficulties and help it return to prosperity.
During a televised debate among the three candidates earlier this month, Soong said that Taiwan is in dire straits after 16 years under Kuomintang (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administrations, and offered plans to get the country's economy moving again.
The DPP led Taiwan for eight years from 2000-2008, and the KMT has subsequently led the nation for eight years.
"We can see what their administrations have brought to today's Taiwan. Two eight-year terms have crushed Taiwan into the ground," he said.
In an effort to bolster the economy, he proposed a "trident plan" aimed at creating three Singapore-like free trade zones in northern, central and southern Taiwan.
According to this plan, the free trade zone in northern Taiwan would be developed by connecting the ports of Taipei and Keelung, and Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, focusing on the e-commerce and cultural and creative industries.
In central Taiwan, Taichung harbor and Taichung's Chingchuankang Airport would constitute a free trade zone to bolster the sector of precision machinery and traditional industry, while Kaohsiung Harbor and that city's international airport would form a southern free trade zone with an emphasis on the green energy sector, Soong said.
The 73-year-old has also advocated dividing the country into six economic zones -- Taipei-New Taipei-Keelung; Taoyuan-Hsinchu-Miaoli; Taichung-Changhua-Nantou; Yunlin-Chiayi-Tainan; Kaohsiung-Pingtung; and Eastern Taiwan -- and playing on their strengths to encourage each area's economic development.
Voicing support for Taiwan's 1.35 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that employ 8.66 million people, he said that the "government cannot ignore the bottlenecks they face."
He vowed to help small companies upgrade their production, get access to financing, improve marketing channels and strengthen the caliber of their people.
Also on Soong's economic platform is a plan to surpass South Korea, seen as Taiwan's major competitor, by 2030. The approach will be to establish a "partner government" that would connect Taiwan's overseas representative offices with Taiwanese companies to expand their presences overseas, he said.
What Taiwan's SMEs need the most is an international channel to sell their products to other countries, and the representative offices can be helpful in this regard by collecting information on business opportunities overseas, according to his platform.
On the issue of workers' rights, Soong pledged that he will review the system of dispatch workers, starting with government agencies and state-owned enterprises.
Dispatch workers are people employed by manpower agencies and farmed out to companies on a contract basis.
Criticizing the dispatch worker system as unreasonable, Soong said many government agencies and state-owned enterprises hire such workers to save money, because they usually receive lower salaries than regular employees and are generally not covered by labor or national health insurance.
Meanwhile, he went on, one of the top priorities of his platform is to improve the country's Internet infrastructure, aiming to surpass Internet-related development in South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore in the next few years.
In terms of Internet speed, he set a goal of having it ranked among the world's top 10 from its current ranking of 33rd. He also vowed to offer free broadband Internet access to low- and middle-income families, and to replace the country's broadband Internet network with an optical network.
Noting that Taiwan has fallen behind among the Four Asian Tigers (Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore) in terms of average rate of GDP growth, he stressed that a leader should have three missions in bringing back hope to the country.
First is the vision of the country's direction, second is making good use of the country's resources and distributing them fairly and efficiently, and third is to make good use of all of Taiwan's talent to form a "grand alliance" to solve the country's problems, he said.
During his campaign, Soong tried to highlight his ability to coordinate between different groups based on his experience as governor of Taiwan Province in the 1990s. Before his tenure as governor of Taiwan, he also served as head of the Government Information Office.
Soong said he has the ability to make Taiwan better due to his previous executive experience, but needs the support of the public.
"Aged over 70, why haven't I given up on my ideals? It's because I want to retrieve the pride of Taiwan," he said, asking for Taiwanese voters to give him an opportunity to do so.
(By Elaine Hou)