Taiwan, Nov 23 (AP/UNB) — China and its growing pressure campaign loom large as Taiwan holds elections for mayors and other local officials Saturday, in what is partly seen as a referendum on the policies of independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen.
Driven from power two years ago, the opposition Nationalists are hoping to regain territory by counting on their pro-business image and a more accommodating line toward Beijing, which detests Tsai for her refusal to endorse its stance that the self-governing island democracy is a part of the Chinese nation.
The China factor and the potential impact on the next presidential election are giving added weight to the polls, said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Taiwan's Tamkang University.
"It's more important than the usual local elections," Huang said. "Confidence has been disrupted by the overall environment and the difficult relationship with the mainland."
Key races include mayoral offices in the capital Taipei and southern port of Kaohsiung, where the Nationalists and ruling Democratic Progressive Party are fighting for votes. The elections are being portrayed as the largest ever on the island of 23 million, with about 19 million voters casting ballots for more than 11,000 local officials.
Economic growth, employment and pension reforms are also key issues, but while local issues may be of greatest importance to voters, the outcome will be presented nationally by both major parties as a "status check on the Tsai administration," said Derek Grossman, who studies Taiwan-China ties at the RAND Corporation.
Since her election in 2016, Tsai has walked a fine line on relations with China, maintaining Taiwan's de facto independent status that the vast majority of Taiwanese support, while avoiding calls from the more radical elements of her party for moves to declare formal separation from the mainland, from which it split amid civil war in 1949.
But she's also emphasized the importance of Taiwan's sovereignty, rejected Beijing's "One China" principle and sought to strengthen relations with the U.S. and other countries similarly skeptical of China's motives while working to diversify the island's economy away from the Chinese market.
While ties between Washington and Beijing are at their lowest ebb in years, Taiwan is benefiting from greater U.S. diplomatic and military assistance, despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties that were broken in 1979 when the U.S. switched recognition to China.
Beijing's response has been to sever contacts with her administration, cut numbers of Chinese tourists visiting and further the island's diplomatic isolation by barring it from multinational forums and wooing away its dwindling number of diplomatic allies, now reduced to just 17.
China's authoritarian leader Xi Jinping — who has said "unification" with Taiwan can't be put off indefinitely — has also stepped up military intimidation with war games and aerial training near the island aimed at advertising Beijing's threat to bring it under its control by force if necessary. Taiwanese officials have also warned that Beijing is seeking to sway voters through the spread of disinformation online similar to Russia's iinterfering in U.S. elections.
The impact of those moves on Taiwanese voters is hard to gauge and by law, no public opinion surveys can be published within 10 days of the elections.
However, Timothy Rich, an expert on Taiwan electoral politics at Western Kentucky University, says his research on Taiwan's diplomatic relations and public opinion shows that, rather than blaming Tsai, voters are angry at Beijing for limiting Taiwan's international breathing space.
Yet, there's little doubt that Beijing is hoping diplomatic, economic, and military pressure points undermine and ultimately sabotage support for Tsai, who is also party chairwoman and faces re-election in 2020.
"If the DPP loses ground, it will serve as confirmation for Beijing that its strategy of undermining the DPP and Tsai is working ... and thus it'll likely proceed apace," Grossman said.
Still, the election will likely be a tough slog for the Nationalists, who ruled the island for half a century after Chiang Kai-shek relocated his government here following the victory of Mao Zedong's Communists in Beijing. After losing both the presidency and their legislative majority, they have struggled with candidates who can both fire up their pro-China supporters and win over young Taiwanese who have increasingly turned to the DPP.
The Nationalists' best chance appears to be in the mayoral race in Kaohsiung, a DPP stronghold that has nonetheless appeared to be in play this year.
"What I expect is that the DPP will lose some key races, but it won't be a game changer unless the DPP does very poorly in the south," Rich said, adding that losing Kaohsiung would be "symbolically problematic."
A result that ends in Tsai stepping down as party chair could also energize the Nationalists and create problems for the DPP in the 2020 elections, he said.
Despite relatively healthy growth estimated at around 2.6 percent this year, many Taiwanese say they fear the impact of China's continuing undermining policies.
"The shortage of confidence across the Taiwan Strait and the lack of communication between the two governments have made Taiwan's business environment become more difficult," Huang said.
Performance in office, especially on the economy, is the most important factor for Taipei voter Giyun Lihang.
"Those elected need to act properly so people can earn more money, not like now where people are having a hard time," Giyun said.
Voters will also cast ballots on 10 referendums, including one on whether to amend the civil code to include same-sex marriage — which was legalized last year — and on whether to uphold a commitment to ban nuclear energy by 2025.
And in a highly symbolic but potentially impactful referendum, voters will be asked whether they wish to compete in future international sporting events including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as "Taiwan" instead of "Chinese Taipei" — they name the island is required to use at China's insistence.
Although the IOC has already ruled out any changes and warned Taiwan could even lose its accreditation, many see the vote as a test of support for independence and a means to fire up the DPP base.
China has already responded. Earlier this year, it forced a vote at the Asian Olympic Committee to withdraw the right of the city of Taichung in central Taiwan to host a youth competition scheduled for next year.
Tokyo, Nov 22 (AP/UNB) — Nissan's board of directors will meet Thursday to decide whether to dismiss its chairman Carlos Ghosn following his arrest on suspicion of underreporting his income.
Earlier this week, alliance partner Renault voted to keep him as its chief executive but appointed Thierry Bollore, the chief operating officer, as interim chief.
Nissan Motor Co. Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa has said Ghosn should be ousted. Ghosn is suspected of under-reporting $44.6 million in income from 2011 to 2015, according to Tokyo prosecutors.
Nissan's board consists of nine members, including Ghosn and a representative director named Greg Kelly, who also was arrested Monday on suspicion he collaborated with Ghosn in false financial reporting. A majority, or at least four votes out of seven, is needed to move ahead on their dismissal.
Ghosn and Kelly will remain on Nissan's board, regardless of the outcome of Thursday's vote, as that decision will be up to the shareholders. No date has been set for a shareholders meeting.
Ghosn is also chairman at Mitsubishi Motors Corp., a Japanese automaker that's partnering with Nissan. The smaller automaker said it is scheduling a board meeting next week.
Ghosn and Kelly have remained in custody since their arrests Monday.
Under Japanese law, suspects can be held for 20 days per possible charge without an official indictment. Additional charges can be tagged on, resulting in longer detentions. Neither has been charged so far.
The maximum penalty upon conviction for violating finance and exchange laws is 10 years in prison, a 10 million yen ($89,000) fine, or both.
Ghosn, 64, served as Nissan's chief executive from 2001 until last year. He became chief executive of Renault in 2005, leading the two automakers simultaneously. In 2016, he became chairman of Mitsubishi Motors Corp. after Nissan took it into the alliance.
Kelly, 62, joined Nissan in the U.S. in 1988, and became a board member in 2012. His background over the years has been in human resources and alliance management.
Analysts say the future of Nissan's alliance with Renault, and other automakers, must be as closely watched as what happens to the executives. Renault owns 43 percent of Nissan, and Nissan owns 15 percent of Renault.
Over the years, Ghosn has served as an important symbol of Nissan's revival. He steered the maker of the Leaf electric car and Infiniti luxury models out of near-bankruptcy since 1999, when he was sent in by Renault to reshape Nissan.
Now, the alliance must press on without Ghosn.
Nissan's CEO Hiroto Saikawa has said it was time for a change, and that too much power was concentrated in Ghosn, with too little transparency.
Reports say Nissan managers were balking at proposals to have the two companies merge.
Janet Lewis, managing director and head of industrial research, Asia, at Macquarie Capital Securities in Tokyo, said an adjustment was needed to give Nissan more say in the alliance, but the alliance remains crucial for both companies.
Besides financial ties through the share ownership, the companies share technology, like the basic parts for vehicles are built.
The automakers need to be like housemates rather than in a marriage, Lewis said.
"So they have to find a way to share their house and share all of their expertise because it's very necessary in terms of new automotive technology, new platform development," she said.
"They need to figure out how they can continue this and still live happily together in the same house."
Singapore, Nov 21 (AP/UNB) — Asian markets fell on Wednesday after a trade dispute between the U.S. and China stalled a weekend meeting, dimming hopes that it could be resolved once their leaders meet.
KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 dropped 0.6 percent to 21,447.53 and the Kospi in South Korea was down 0.9 percent at 2,064.34. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index slipped 0.4 percent to 25,745.55. The Shanghai Composite lost 0.3 percent to 2,638.77. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.6 percent to 5,636.50. Shares fell in Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines but rose in Singapore.
WALL STREET: Broad losses by the world’s largest technology companies pulled U.S. indexes lower on Tuesday and into the red for the year. They were reacting to new national security regulations proposed by the Trump administration, which could limit exports of high-tech products in fields like quantum computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Apple plunged 4.8 percent, Microsoft lost 2.8 percent and IBM gave up 2.6 percent. The S&P 500 index fell 1.8 percent to 2,641.89 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 2.2 percent to 24,465.64. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite shed 1.7 percent to 6,908.82. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks dropped 1.8 percent to 1,469.01.
US-CHINA TENSIONS: Over the weekend, a meeting of 21 nations at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea ended without a final communique. That put the spotlight on a trade dispute between China and the U.S. that shows no signs of abating. Draft versions of the communique showed that the U.S. wanted strong language against what it says are unfair Chinese trade practices, while China wanted clear opposition to protectionism and unilateralism. U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are scheduled to meet at Group of 20 summit later this month, but it is unclear if the talks will spur a reduction in tensions.
ANALYST’S TAKE: Attempts by the U.S. to condemn certain trade practices were a “surprise” as many expected that “the heat may have come out of the issue” after the midterm elections, Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney, said in an interview. “The simultaneous pressure on industrial commodities and shares points to an escalation of global growth concerns,” he added.
ENERGY: Oil prices rebounded Wednesday after plunging on worries of rising supplies and softening global growth. Benchmark U.S. crude added 65 cents to $54.08. The contract dropped $3.77 to close at $53.43 in New York, its lowest price in more than a year. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 71 cents to $63.24. It fell $4.26 to $62.53 in London.
CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 112.91 yen from 112.76 yen late Tuesday. The euro strengthened to $1.1372 from $1.1367.
Hanoi, Nov 20 (AP/UNB) — Vietnam and India have agreed to boost their trade while expanding their cooperation in defense and security, among other areas.
Speaking to reporters at a joint press briefing in Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind said Tuesday that he believes the bilateral trade volume will reach $15 billion by 2020, up from $12.8 billion last year.
"We agreed to encourage our industry to tap into the growing economic opportunities in our own countries and in the region," Kovind said. "India-Vietnam economic relations are on an upswing."
"We committed to further deepen our defense and security cooperation. I reiterated India's commitment to provide training support for Vietnam's armed forces," he added.
Kovind said he and Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong also reviewed the implementation of an Indian credit line of $100 million to build high-speed patrol vessels for Vietnam's coast guard.
Trong, who is also head of the Communist Party, said the two countries will find ways to boost their modest investment.
Currently, India has 182 investment projects worth $816 million in Vietnam, while Vietnamese businesses have a mere seven projects worth some $6 million in India.
Kovind is on a three-day visit to Vietnam, where he is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc later Tuesday before departing.
Yokohama, Nov 20 (AP/UNB) — Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn, who became one of the auto industry's most powerful executives by engineering a turnaround at the Japanese manufacturer, was arrested Monday and will be fired for allegedly underreporting his income and misusing company funds, the automaker said.
The scandal reverberated across the globe and abruptly threw into question Ghosn's future as leader of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, which sold 10.6 million cars last year, more than any other manufacturer.
Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa said Ghosn was taken into custody after being questioned by prosecutors upon arriving in Japan earlier in the day. Ghosn is of French, Brazilian and Lebanese background and lives in both France and Japan.
Nissan said Ghosn, 64, and another senior executive, Greg Kelly, were accused of offenses involving millions of dollars that were discovered during a monthslong investigation set off by a whistleblower. Kelly was also arrested.
"Beyond being sorry I feel great disappointment, frustration, despair, indignation and resentment," Saikawa said, apologizing for a full seven minutes at the outset of a news conference.
Yokohama-based Nissan Motor said it is cooperating with prosecutors in their investigation.
Saikawa said Nissan's board will vote Thursday on dismissing Ghosn and Kelly, whom he described as the mastermind of the alleged abuses.
"This is an act that cannot be tolerated by the company," he said. "This is serious misconduct."
Saikawa said three major types of misconduct were found: underreporting income to financial authorities, using investment funds for personal gain and illicit use of company expenses.
He said that because of the continuing investigation, he could not disclose many details. But he promised to tighten internal controls, saying the problems may have happened because too much power was concentrated in one person.
"We need to really look back at what happened, take it seriously and take fundamental countermeasures," he said.
Ghosn officially still leads the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance as CEO and chairman. But experts said it is unlikely he will be able to stay on there or at Renault, where he is also CEO. Renault said its board will hold an emergency meeting soon.
"The last thing one of the world's biggest automakers needs is the disruption caused by an investigation into the behavior of a man who has towered over the global auto sector," said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in London.
The companies in the alliance own parts of each other and share investments in new technologies, among other things. Renault owns 43 percent of Nissan, which owns 15 percent of Renault and 34 percent of Mitsubishi.
Renault SA stock plunged more than 8 percent in France. Japanese markets had already closed when the scandal broke.
Ghosn was at Nissan for 19 years and signed a contract this year that would have run through 2022. His compensation, high by Japanese standards, has been a source of controversy over the years.
According to NHK and the Kyodo News Service, Nissan paid Ghosn nearly 10 billion yen ($89 million) over five years through March 2015, including salary and other income, but he reported receiving only about half that amount.
The allegations are a serious blow at a time when Nissan is still getting over a scandal in which it admitted altering the results of emission and fuel economy tests on vehicles sold in Japan.
Ghosn is credited with helping bring about a remarkable turnaround at Nissan, resuscitating it from near bankruptcy by cutting thousands of jobs and shutting plants. His triumph made him something of a national hero in a country where foreign CEOs of major Japanese companies are relatively rare.
He also looms large in France, where he previously turned Renault around and made it into a global player, notably in electric vehicles. He led the French carmaker through major job cuts and an expensive and contentious bailout, earning the nickname "Le Cost Cutter."
Ghosn became a nemesis of French unions and left-wing politicians, who saw him as a symbol of capitalism's excesses, particularly its rich executive pay packages.
Renault shareholders in 2016 voted against Ghosn's pay package as too generous, but the board ignored the move.
That angered then-President Francois Hollande. Hollande's socialist government imposed limits on executive pay at state-run companies and tried to do the same in the private sector but backed down amid concerns such action would scare away foreign investment.
Ghosn served as Nissan's chief executive from 2001 until last April. He became chief executive of Renault in 2005, leading the two major automakers simultaneously. In 2016, he became Mitsubishi Motors' chairman.
Saikawa said the scandal was a "negative outcome of the long regime of Mr. Ghosn."