Taiwan is not an independent country but a part of China. At the beginning of the year, the country’s economy went into a recession as a result of the global economic downturn. The reason was a sharply reduced demand for the country’s export products, especially computers and other advanced electronic technology.
In the corruption trial against the country’s former President Chen Shui-bian and his wife Wu Shu-jen in February, he later pleaded guilty to so-called money laundering and forgery. However, Wu denied the allegations of fraud in the multi-million class. A month earlier, Wu’s son and daughter-in-law had also pleaded guilty to money laundering. In February, the country’s media reported that Chen had launched a hunger strike in prison, where he has been sitting since December 2008, awaiting his trial. In May, he was hospitalized as a consequence of his hunger strike. Chen was charged with a variety of crimes, including corruption, blackmail and money laundering. He denied all charges and stated that the prosecution was politically motivated. He claimed that China’s regime was behind the accusations as revenge because he, as a politician, was clearly fighting for Taiwan’s independence from mainland Communist China. In March, the controversial lawsuit against Chen was launched, which was accused, among other things, of fraud in the multi-million class and for receiving large sums in bribes. As before, Chen declared himself innocent of all charges and reiterated that the trial was part of the political power struggle.
Relations with the arch-enemy China continued to improve during the year, something they have done since Chen’s Democratic Progress Party (DPP) lost government power to Guomindang in January 2008. In April, the two countries signed a series of economic cooperation agreements, including China encouraging their companies to invest in Taiwan. The same month, the country was invited as an observer at the World Health Organization’s annual meeting of the WHO in May. Previously, China had stopped all attempts by Taiwan to participate in UN operations. In May, the opposition party DPP organized protest demonstrations against the Taiwanese government’s approach to China. Tens of thousands of people joined in the demonstrations held in the major cities.
In July, President Ma Yingjeou was elected chairman of the Goumindang ruling party. He received 92.5 percent of the party delegates’ votes. After this success, Chinese President Hu Jintao sent congratulations to President Ma, greetings that were answered by Ma. It was the first time since the end of the civil war in 1949 that the supreme leaders of both countries sent direct messages to each other. That same month, the Minister of Defense announced that the general military duty would be gradually abolished. The armed forces would be reduced until 2014 and transformed into an organization based on voluntary participation.
In early August, parts of Taiwan suffered the worst floods in half a century. It was typhoon Morakot that brought heavy rain across the country. In their quarters 2.7 meters of rain fell on August 6-12. The worst was the situation in the mountain areas in the south, with hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of homeless people. The government received sharp criticism for its slow and unprofessional response to the needy, which President Ma later apologized on several occasions. Subsequently, the government initiated extensive reconstruction work in the hardest hit areas. The government’s inadequate handling of the typhoon disaster was President Mas’s first major setback since he took office in March 2008. Several people in his immediate circle, including a few ministers, had to step down because of this. In September, the country’s prime minister resigned, Liu Chao-shiuan, taking on the ultimate responsibility for the government’s slow response to the disaster that resulted from the typhoon where at least 600 people perished in the floods. Liu was replaced by Guomindang Secretary-General Wu Den-yih. Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama visited Taiwan at the end of August to provide support and comfort to the victims of the disaster. His three-day visit had been approved by President Ma. The Dalai lama had been invited to the country by opposition politicians, and Ma understood that he did not dare to stop the visit, which was strongly rejected by the Beijing regime, for fear of public reaction.
The same month, President Chen’s wife Wu Shu-jen was sentenced to a year in prison for urging her children to lie in court in her favor. Earlier, the son, daughter and daughter-in-law had been sentenced to shorter prison sentences for menace. On September 11, Chen was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Taibei court. He was found guilty during his tenure of 2000-08 to have received bribes and engaged in fraud and money laundering worth a total of more than SEK 100 million. Chen’s wife Wu Shu-jen also received a life sentence for corruption-related crimes. The couple were sentenced to a fine of just over SEK 100 million.
When local elections were held in December, the DPP moved strongly forward, although Guomindang still got slightly more votes than the opposition. Assessors considered that the government’s criticized handling of the Morakot disaster and the economic downturn were behind Guomindang’s setback.