Monthly Archives: December 2009

Taipei 101

Taipei 101, a landmark skyscraper in Taipei, Taiwan, opened for business on November 14th, 2003. The financial tower houses fashion boutiques, offices and conference halls. So named because of its 101 floors, the skyscraper totals 1,678 feet, and has five underground levels.

It was the world’s tallest building before being overtaken in 2007 by the Burj Dubai in Dubai, UAE. Upon completion, the Burj’s 141st floor reached 2,684 feet. The Taipei 101 elevators can ascend at a speed of 37.7 miles per hour, taking visitors from the 5th floor to the observatory on the 89th floor in just 37 seconds. It is the world’s fastest elevator.

At midnight on December 31st each year, fireworks are launched from Taipei 101 to welcome the new year. It is a breathtaking and colorful choreography of fireworks, often broadcasted around the world.

Taipei 101’s official website can be found at :

The pictures below, taken by the following photographers respectively, are posted on the Website of Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau. They are credited to: 1. Liu Pao-feng, 2. Huang Hsiao-shih, 3. Tsai Tong-ching, 4. Chen Tsu-cheng, 5. Chen Feng-jung, 6. Chen Kai-jen, 7. Pei Chi-yu, 8. Chao Yi-shiang.

Taipei 101, a landmark skyscraper in Taipei, Taiwan, opened for business on November 14th, 2003. The financial tower houses fashion boutiques, offices and conference halls. So named because of its 101 floors, the skyscraper totals 1,678 feet, and has five underground levels.

It was the world’s tallest building before being overtaken in 2007 by the Burj Dubai in Dubai, UAE. Upon completion, the Burj’s 141st floor reached 2,684 feet. The Taipei 101 elevators can ascend at a speed of 37.7 miles per hour, taking visitors from the 5th floor to the observatory on the 89th floor in just 37 seconds. It is the world’s fastest elevator.

At midnight on December 31st each year, fireworks are launched from Taipei 101 to welcome the new year. It is a breathtaking and colorful choreography of fireworks, often broadcasted around the world.

Taipei 101’s official website can be found at :

The pictures below, taken by the following photographers respectively, are posted on the Website of Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau. They are credited to: 1. Liu Pao-feng, 2. Huang Hsiao-shih, 3. Tsai Tong-ching, 4. Chen Tsu-cheng, 5. Chen Feng-jung, 6. Chen Kai-jen, 7. Pei Chi-yu, 8. Chao Yi-shiang.




Taiwan’s pop culture shines across the Chinese world

Last month, San Francisco offered two exciting film festivals – one showcasing Taiwan films (Taiwan Film Days), and the other, Chinese films (Chinese Film Festival). Even though Taiwan and China share a common cultural heritage, it is Taiwan which continues to dominate the Chinese world in pop culture.

Big movies vs. small movies

In a review of the festivals by the San Francisco Chronicle, the paper described the difference between the films offered by each country. “Mainland China makes films with a collective bent and Taiwan makes smaller, more independent and individualistic movies.” The article also noted, “The Chinese movies are bigger in scope, but the stories are contained within the Mainland borders. By contrast, the movies in Taiwan Film Days look outward.”

The review took a look at The Founding of the Republic and Red Cliff II, the latter is supposedly the most expensive film in Chinese history. Screened at the Chinese Film Festival, these two big movies had huge casts and production costs, while the Taiwanese movies were smaller and delicate, with diverse and international characteristics.

According to Graham Leggat, executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, “Contemporary Taiwanese films – like the society and culture from which they spring – are full of warmth and engaging vitality.”

Creativity exploded with the opening of society

It is an undeniable fact that Taiwanese pop culture really shines in the Chinese market through its music. The songs of Taiwanese singers A-Mei and Jay Chou can be heard from Beijing to Guangzhou in China. In Shanghai, Cheer Chen’s concert moved 10,000 concert-goers to tears.

Superband, a 70’s band consisting of Lo Ta-yu and three veteran Taiwanese singers, has performed over forty live concerts all over the Chinese world. With an estimated sale of 800,000 to 1 million tickets, its total box office sales total US$62 million. In Commonwealth magazine, Taiwanese music producer Chang Pei-ren explained Superband’s success. “The Taiwanese songs performed by Superband are all related to human emotions, interpersonal relations, or personal feelings.” It satisfies the common desires of all the Chinese people.

In the 1980s, Taiwan’s creativity exploded with the gradual democratization and opening of the island. Pop music flowered with Taiwan’s economic growth and political liberalization. The sweet gentle folk songs of the late Taiwanese pop singer Teresa Teng soothed the hungering souls in Communist China, resonating with the listeners there. Lo Ta-yu’s lyrics of social criticism also hit a chord with mainland intellectuals.

Kevin Chen, Director General of Shanghai Insight Communications in China, said in an interview with Commonwealth that he grew up listening to the songs of Teresa Teng and Lo Ta-yu. “Taiwan’s pop music in the 1980s led us away from a closed society like a refreshing feeling in the spring… The cultural impact hit us from all directions. ” And Teresa Teng and Lo Ta-yu continue to have a solid fan base in China. According to a report from the Hong Kong-based newspaper Wen Hui Po, a web opinion poll conducted from 24 million Chinese internet surfers in July and August, 2009, showed that both singers were among the top people named as the most influential cultural figures in new China.

It is a difficult task to measure the size of Taiwan’s pop music output since pirated products account for about 90 percent of the Chinese pop music market according to Chang Pei-ren. Based on this reasoning, Chang estimated there have been at least five billion bootleg music CDs produced in China in the last 10 years.

Chang explains the strength of Taiwan’s pop music because the island’s musicians are generally well educated with a good command of the Chinese language as well as cultural insight. They have a great appreciation for romantic delicacy, entrepreneurship, and a broad view of the world.

Why Taiwan’s pop culture triumphs in China

Taiwanese scholars in general believe that Taiwan’s pop culture enjoys advantages over mainland Chinese pop due to three factors:

1) By adopting traditional Chinese characters, Taiwanese are more naturally influenced by traditional Chinese culture, enabling them to develop a better understanding and appreciation of it and enriching their creativity. In mainland China, the use of simplified Chinese characters along with a lost generation caused by the Cultural Revolution makes them feel more detached from traditional Chinese culture. There are still lingering negative influences in their understanding of culture and arts.

2) Since 1949, Taiwan has been evolving from the early stage of “complete absorption” of Western pop culture to a level of integration with local culture, and finally transcending to a new creative world. In mainland China, Western cultural exposure has been possible for only about thirty years and they are still at a stage of “adoption.”

3) Also, Taiwan had been under Japan’s political rule and cultural influence for fifty years. The delicate nature of the Japanese national character and its artistic styles has been implanted in Taiwanese pop culture. The mainland Chinese are generally anti-Japanese, rejecting the invasion of Japanese culture.

Chinese censorship limits broad storytelling

Taiwan’s television variety shows and idol shows are also very popular among Chinese people all over the world. “Here Comes Kangxi,” “Everybody Speaks Nonsense,” and “One Million Stars” have become the must-see programs by all Chinese around the globe. Kevin Tsai, the host of “Here Comes Kangxi,” is the number one Taiwanese figure getting the most hits on Chinese web.

The godfather of Taiwan’s variety show producer Wang Wei-chung explained, “Pop video culture develops well in a more free and democratic society which provides ample space for creativity. Chinese media must follow orders from the government. Most mainland programs are produced with serious consideration for government officials’ attitudes, unable to fully cater to the general audiences. Therefore they are disconnected from the market trend.”

He continued, “Traditionally, Taiwanese attached more importance to family values. There are a lot of family elements in Taiwanese dramas and television programs. They are full of delicate individual emotions.” However, due to China’s one child policy, young Chinese people have few brothers and sisters, decreasing interaction among family members. So the family elements produced in Chinese television series are not as “humane” and “interesting” as those in Taiwan.

There are extra marital affairs, single mothers and homosexual content in Taiwanese idol shows, which violate the official rules of China’s government and are not allowed on China’s television channels. Taiwan’s programs contain this type of content, allowing it to exercise potential influence over the young Chinese who watch them via bootleg DVDs and the internet, the Commonwealth noted.

Expanding influence throughout Southeast Asia

Southeastern Asia, including Hong Kong, has been the major market for Taiwan’s idol dramas. In 2008, Sanli E-Television (SET) produced an idol show “Destiny Love,” which grabbed a record high license fee of US$85 million in the global Chinese market. Later, Chen Ming-chang, the director of the show, was given big monetary incentives to work in China. Chen Yu-shan, director general of drama in SET, said, “Taiwan’s idol shows are a kind of dream weaver for the Chinese world.”

Well-known idol show director Tsai Yue-hsun said, “The modern sense, fashion style and the rhythm of Taiwanese idol shows have caught up to the levels of those in Japan and Korea.” She said, “A drama is a combination showing human life and social life. It is not easy to expect a mainland Chinese actor to enact delicate feelings, or to expect a Chinese director to use a camera to shoot these kinds of feelings.” Mainland Chinese video producers are good at making epic dramas and those about political struggles, while Taiwanese are superior in family dramas and love stories.

Although Taiwan’s singers and idol dramas might be known throughout Southeastern Asia, the island’s filmmakers have managed to make a name for themselves further abroad. “While there is a generation of legendary auteurs, like Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Tsai Ming Liang, whose works are known far and wide.” In Leggat’s opinion, “The new generation of Taiwanese filmmakers are making smaller and arguably more personable and accessible films that bridge the gap between popular and art cinema culture in a new way.”

According to the Commonwealth magazine, China’s current environment has not been able to breed people like Lo Ta-yu or Jay Chou. The pop culture of the Chinese world still depends on Taiwan’s lead for certain things.

Taiwan seeks hi-tech talent in Santa Clara

A hi-tech recruitment mission from Taiwan held a two-day job fair at the Santa Clara Hyatt Regency Hotel on Nov. 13-14th. It was the first leg of its ten-day four-city tour to the United States, offering more than 1500 positions for medium to high level managers and engineers to work in Taiwan.

This is the seventh such mission initiated by Taiwan’s government to attract professionals from the US since 2003. At a press conference, Chang Jin-fu, cabinet minister and leader of the mission, said this mission differed from previous ones in that it was seeking more overseas talent for Taiwan’s six emerging industries. In addition, the mission demonstrated Taiwan’s ability to bounce back in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

Chang said the recruitment mission had successfully hired over 3,700 professionals to work in Taiwan in the last six years. This year the mission is made up of 25 companies and eight research institutions, offering at least 1,538 jobs in management, engineering, semiconductor research and development, information technology, optical-electronics, metal materials, biotechnology, pharmaceutical manufacturing and green technology.

Over the past few decades, Taiwan has built a solid foundation in semiconductors, flat panel displays and information technology geared towards the overseas market. Hit by the global financial crisis, Taiwan’s hi-tech markets have shrunk. In the face of this reality, Taiwan’s government has taken an initiative to promote six emerging industries: biotechnology, tourism, green energy, healthcare, quality agriculture, culture and creativity.

The mission this year provided more job opportunities in the six emerging industries in addition to those in the semiconductor sector. In order to facilitate the recruitment of international talent, Taiwan’s government has recently approved the issuance of “Employment Passes,” “Scholastic and Commercial Travel Passes,” and “Permanent Residence Cards.”

Companies joining the mission with job openings included Chi-Mei Optoelectronics, Delta Electronics, Chunghwa Telecom, Macronix, Etron, Gemtek, Brickcom, Hon Hai, Mediatek, Cadence, Davicom, Arcom, Asia Pacific Microsystems, Coban Asia, Everlight Electronics, LePower, PharmaEssentia, Shenmao, Parts Channel, Applied Materials, and Impax.

After its stop in California, the mission headed to Dallas, TX, Chicago, IL, and Boston, MA, before returning to Taiwan on Nov. 23rd. Beside recruiting new employees, the job fair also promoted investment in Taiwan and forged connections with the US hi-tech enterprises.

According to the Taiwan Trade Center, San Francisco, who was one of the sponsors of the two-day job fair in Santa Clara, there were 381 on-site registrations at the one-on-one job interview site, a 47 percent increase over 2008. The total number of interviews conducted this year was 910, a 23 percent increase over last year’s figure. Among those interviewed, 28 people were hired and committed to work in Taiwan.

Introduction before screening A City of Sadness

Last month, Manfred P.T. Peng, the director of the Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco, shared some background information about the 228 Incident with the audience of A City of Sadness. The screening of a new print at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco celebrated the film’s twentieth anniversary. It won the Golden Lion at the 1989 Venice Film Festival.

The historical drama was one of director Hou Hsiao-hsien earlier works. It followed the tumultuous lives of the Lin family in the aftermath of the violence surrounding the 228 Incident in 1947, and the cultural conflicts between the newly-arrived mainland Chinese and the native Taiwanese. The film was the first Taiwanese movie to deal with the tragic 228 Incident, which was a taboo topic in Taiwan for half a century.

When did the 228 Incident take place?

In 1945, World War II ended with Japan’s defeat. Japan returned Taiwan to China. During this time, Chiang Kai-shek and the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) government were engaged in fighting the Communists in China.

In 1947, Chiang’s troops suffered setbacks in the Civil War and his government was in a state of disarray. On February 28th, conflict between residents and the KMT administration broke out in Taiwan. The riots were brutally suppressed. This uprising and the aftermath would be known as “the 228 Incident.”

In 1949, Chiang’s government relocated from the mainland to Taiwan.

Why did it happen?

Three factors contributed to the 228 Incident:

1. Since the 16th century, a large number of Chinese moved from China’s coastal provinces to Taiwan. In 1895, the Qing Dynasty was forced to cede Taiwan to Japan after being defeated in the First Sino-Japanese War. Separated from the Chinese mainland for 50 years and ruled by Japan, the Taiwanese had developed differences in language, living habits and political perceptions from the newly arrived mainlanders. These differences led to conflict.

2. Before the end of World War II, Taiwan had been the most modern colony under Japan. After 8 years of war with Japan, the soldiers sent by Chiang to take control of Taiwan were in a bad shape. The Taiwanese were disappointed at the appearance and discipline of the troops from the motherland. Most of the KMT officials were corrupt and incompetent, refusing to let Taiwan’s elites participate in public affairs. Under the guise of controlling the riots, they went on to massacre Taiwan’s intellectuals.

3. The incident occurred at the critical moment of the Civil War. Chiang was losing in China, costing millions of military and civilian lives, and probably based on the fear of communism spreading, did not manage the crisis in Taiwan peacefully.

Who killed whom?

After the incident, Chiang’s troops cracked down on the uprising by executing dissidents and others in the general population. The killing spread throughout the island. The estimated death toll ranges from 10,000 to 30,000. Among them, approximately 3,000 mainlanders were killed by angry Taiwanese.


The 228 Incident impacted Taiwan in three major ways:

1. The incident resulted in suspicion and mistrust between the Taiwanese and the mainlanders. It also sowed the seeds of the Independence Movement by claiming Taiwan was not a part of China, which caused the island’s identity issue.

2. The victims of the incident included top intellectuals of the time (lawyers, doctors, journalists and entrepreneurs), creating a talent gap in Taiwan’s elite society. This hampered Taiwan’s consciousness after the period of Japanese occupation.3. After the incident and the end of the Civil War, Chiang’s government imposed martial law, putting restrictions on the lives of not just Taiwanese but mainlanders as well. Human rights and political participation were frozen, retarding the island’s democratic development. Time healed much of this national trauma with the passing of Chiang in 1975 and as his son, Chiang Ching-kuo, adopted economic and political reforms in the 1980s. For decades, Taiwanese and mainlanders have worked towards a better future, with equal educational opportunities, social mobility, intermarriage, and a shared determination that Taiwan will not fall under the military threats of China.

In 1995, the first ethnic Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui publicly apologized for the mistakes made in the 228 Incident on behalf of the government and the ruling KMT. Financial compensation was paid to the victims and their surviving family members. The massacre is now included in school textbooks and is a well-researched topic in Taiwan. On the island, February 28th is now a national holiday known as Peace Memorial Day.

Local election results prompt Ma administration soul searching

President Ma Ying-jeou, chairman of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), vowed to continue pushing for reforms and said his party will humbly conduct a thorough review of current administrative policies in the wake of the local elections which reduced the party’s control of county and city governments by two. The total number of counties contested at the elections was 17, among them four were won by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and one by an independent.

Ma declined to characterize the outcome of the latest elections as a defeat for the party, but did say that the election results were “not satisfactory.” With the economy in deep recession and experiencing a high unemployment rate, Ma described voters as “very kind and generous” towards the KMT at the elections.

On December 5th, 65 percent of the roughly seven million eligible voters in Taiwan and its offshore islands went to the polls to elect 17 new county magistrates, 592 county councilors, and 211 township chiefs.

The “three-in-one” elections excluded the administrations in Taipei City and Kaohsiung City, both of which enjoy special municipality status. No elections were held in Taipei County, Kaohsiung County, Taichung City, Taichung County, Tainan City, and Tainan County since they are due to be upgraded or merged into special municipalities. In December 2010, elections in Taipei City, the New Taipei Municipality (originally Taipei County), Greater Taichung, Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung municipalities will be held. These are considered to be the most important elections prior to the 2012 presidential election.

KMT suffers setback, opposition gains ground

The KMT won elections in 12 counties, maintaining a ruling majority in northern and eastern Taiwan, and on the offshore islands. The KMT lost in Ilan County, which is a region heavily influenced by the DPP. The victor in Hualien County was a former KMT member, who violated KMT discipline rules to enter the election. The United Daily News called this election one with “no surprises.”

In 2005 at, the last local elections of county magistrates and city mayors (including those places where no elections were held this time), the KMT won 50.96 percent of the total votes. This time they only won 47.8 percent. The DPP, except for losing to the KMT by 2.7 million votes at the 2008 presidential election, the party gained 45.3 percent of the total ballots, an increase from the 41.95 percent. The margin between the DPP and the KMT has now closed to only 2.5 percent. This time, the DPP gained ground in every county and city except in Hualien County, where the DPP made no candidate nominee.

Most media outlets in Taiwan attributed the DPP’s small victory to the success of its election maneuvering by Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen, and considered her the best DPP candidate for Taipei City mayor in 2010. Tsai has a PhD in Law from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Some media consider her as a strong candidate against Ma when he runs for re-election in 2012. Commenting on the election results, Tsai said the significance of the elections is that “people cast a no confidence vote against the Ma government.”

Given the state of the economy, the Liberty Times attributed the KMT’s defeat to Ma’s failure at the mid-term elections. However, the Taipei-based China Times said the DPP was sure to win more votes based on the KMT’s unimpressive administrative performance and not because of Tsai’s leadership, or the DPP’s efforts to reform.

Let battle commence

Professor Chen Chao-chien at Min Chuang University said the DPP’s small victory is the result of a “pendulum swing effect.” Due to the repeated scandals suffered by the previous DPP government, wavering voters used their votes to penalize the DPP at the 2008 presidential election. This time around, they are doing the same to give a warning to the ruling KMT.

Even after losing two counties at the elections this time, the KMT still controls a majority in the county magistrates. This will not hurt the ruling KMT’s administrative capability and will have only a limited impact on the stock market and relations across the Taiwan Strait.

However, the elections are the first round of skirmishes before the 2012 presidential election battle begins. The second round will be the elections of five special municipality mayors in 2010. The southern municipalities of Kaohsiung and Tainan have traditionally been under DPP leadership. In recent years, Taipei City and the New Taipei Municipality in the north have also been in the hands of the DPP. The KMT will surely face a tough fight in 2010.

AIT chief reassures Taiwan

Raymond F. Burghardt, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), reassured President Ma Ying-jeou on Nov. 24th that U.S. policy towards Taiwan has not changed. He came to Taipei to brief the Taiwan government following President Barack Obama’s recent visit to China. Both issued statements of mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and territory.

During a joint press conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao, President Obama mentioned the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), the US legislation that is the framework governing unofficial relations between Taipei and Washington, including sales of arms to defend Taiwan.

In the December 2009 issue of Global View, the Taipei-based monthly magazine surveyed Taiwanese citizens following Obama’s visit to Asia. More than 46 percent of the respondents trusted Obama, while only 17.5 percent trusted China’s president. In the same survey, 52.3 percent believed that the United States would secure Taiwan’s interests, while only 19.6 percent believed that China would do so.

Issues discussed at the meeting with Burghardt included a trade and investment framework agreement (TIFA) between Taiwan and the US, the possibility of the two sides signing an extradition treaty, the US sale of F16C/D jet fighters to Taiwan, US beef imports and a visa-free program for Taiwanese visitors.

On US beef, the Taipei Times reported that the Ma administration would impose the so-called “three controls and five checks” measures. This refers to border controls and various safety screening measures. Ma said that none of the measures would violate the protocol on bone-in beef signed with Washington and would conform to the regulations of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The import of American beef remains the most contentious issued on the table. Taiwan recently signed a protocol with the US to expand market access for US beef to include bone-in beef and other beef products that have not been contaminated with “specific risk materials.” In a separate meeting with Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, Burghardt said the issue of beef imports from the US had been politicized ahead of Taiwan’s December 5th local elections and is basically a “phony” issue. It was an issue which Wang, Premier Wu Den-yih, and DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen have all disagreed on.

Premier Wu said it is a real issue of concern to the public and the government promised to adopt administrative measures to block imports of ground beef and bovine offal. Chairperson Tsai had a long argument with Burghardt on the issue. Meanwhile, Taiwan Solidarity Union chairman Huang Kun-huei said the Consumer Union – a US based consumer protection foundation – is still engaged in a dispute with the US Food and Drug Administration over testing in US facilities.

The Taipei-based China Times reported the beef market opening measure has drawn strong criticism from opposition politicians and consumer rights activists who are launching a referendum campaign to force the government to renegotiate the bilateral beef trade protocol signed with Washington in October. The paper reported that the Taiwan Consumers’ Foundation collected over 190,000 signatures to initiate the referendum, but due to the election they were not presented to the Central Election Committee for examination to avoid further polarization of the issue.

The paper also said the long-stalled TIFA talks between Taipei and Washington are expected to resume in early 2010. This was according to William A. Stanton, the Director of the American Institute in Taiwan, who addressed a forum hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei on Nov. 24th.

Stanton said the TIFA’s agenda should not be limited to economic and trade issues. “Given the shared values and beliefs between Taiwan and the United States, issues of mutual cooperation concerning the enhancement of transparency in government, energy, environmental protection and labor need to be addressed,” he said. “U.S. imports of rice and pork should also be included.”

For those in the Ma administration and the opposing Democratic Progressive Party who feared Obama’s visit to China as a potential back track of US commitments to Taiwan, Stanton insisted that there has been no change in US policy toward Taiwan. As for the issue of beef imports, Stanton said he is somewhat frustrated in dealing with the issue, but it is also a positive reflection of Taiwan’s democracy.

Taiwan’s exclusion at Copenhagen detrimental to global progress

Although Taiwan has representation at the ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCC), President Ma Ying-jeou has said that only if Taiwan’s officials were able to participate fully at the conference can the international community truly learn more about Taiwan’s efforts to reduce energy use and cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Attendees at the conference (also known as COP-15 – that is, the 15th session of the Conference of Parties), taking place in Copenhagen, Denmark, from December 7th to 18th, are discussing a post-Kyoto framework and formulating the world’s carbon reduction targets beyond 2012. Taiwan’s representation at the conference, led by Minister Stephen Shen of Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), is relegated to the level of a non-governmental organization, due to the island’s exclusion from the formal UN processes.

Since 1995, Taiwan has participated under the name of Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), which the UNFCC Secretariat has listed under the name of “Hsinchu, China.” This slight has dampened the spirit of the Taiwanese deprived of the opportunity to participate fully and effectively. In one case, an environmental organization decided against attending altogether upon hearing its application would be under the name “China.” Wang Chin-shou made the decision as president of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union. According to the Taipei-based China Post, he thought the government’s stance against COP-15 was too “passive.”

The Taipei-based Environment Quality Protection Foundation decided to attend despite being designated under “China.” Hsieh Ying-shih, the foundation’s chairman said, “It is an international political reality.” Besides, climate change issues extend beyond the boundaries of sovereign countries. In addition to ITRI and the foundation, Taiwan’s Institute for Sustainable Energy has also applied as an NGO.

As the world’s 20th largest economy and as the 18th largest trading country, Taiwan’s economic activities have a direct bearing on the stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region in particular. Furthermore, with substantial business interests in Southeast Asia, Taiwan is in a position to influence environmental stewardship outside its own borders. Excluding Taiwan from participating in the dialogue at COP-15 would be seriously detrimental to real progress given that the island is a key production hub, with inextricable links to global economic and trade growth.

Taiwan doing its bit to tackle climate change

In spite of Taiwan’s limited participation, the island has been enacting legislation to meet international standards. It has a greenhouse gas (GHG) management plan, passed the Renewable Energy Development Act, with a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Bill, and an Energy Tax Bill is in the pipeline.

According to Taiwan’s EPA, in 2008, the country reduced its total electricity consumption by 4 billion kilowatt-hours, helping to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 4.4 percent. It is the first time the nation has ever witnessed negative emissions growth.

To further minimize air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, last month the Executive Yuan approved an amendment to the Commodity Tax Act which would allow individuals purchasing a hybrid vehicle with a new plate registration to be eligible for a US$777 tax deduction. Furthermore, the Ministry of Economic Affairs will also propose the elimination of commodity taxes on electric vehicles along with a subsidy to each purchaser, reducing payments from US$3107 up to US$15,535.

As an industrialized country, Taiwan has weighted its development with its efforts to curb carbon dioxide emissions. Although Taiwan is in line with international moves to inspect, report on, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the task ahead would make more sense if the island was a full participant of the global community.

In August of this year, Taiwan was hit with Typhoon Morakot, the deadliest typhoon in fifty years. Yet, this force of nature only crystallized Taiwan’s stark vulnerability to global climate change and the island’s willingness to curb global warming.

Taiwan and China sign historic finance deal

Taiwan and China signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Nov. 16th, paving the way for financial sectors on both sides to have greater access to each other’s financial markets. Taking effect on mid-January 2010, these three documents will cover banking, insurance and securities.

In order to avoid political controversy, Taiwan’s chairman of the Financial Supervisory Commission, Sean Chen, signed the documents as a “representative of the financial regulatory organization” for the Taiwan side, while his Chinese counterpart did the same as a “representative” for the mainland side.

The contents of the documents cover the exchange of financial information, establishment of financial institutions, financial supervision, and setting up a mechanism for dealing with risk management, which is crucial in dealing with the aftermath of a global financial crisis. Further details will be ironed out when Taiwan’s Strait Exchange Foundation (SEF) and China’s Association for Relations across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) meet to discuss the FTA-like economic cooperation framework agreement (EFCA) on December 21st to the 25th in Taiwan.

In an interview with the Commonwealth magazine, Chen likened the MOU to a “general admission ticket to a theme park. You must have a ticket to be allowed to enter. But there are more requirements you need to meet to be able to enjoy the rides and attractions.” He noted the signing of the MOU would allow the financial sectors of Taiwan and China to enter each other’s market. As for what preferential conditions China would give to Taiwan, this will be discussed at future ECFA negotiations between the two sides.

The Taipei-based China Post reported most foreign investors hailed the MOU as a long-term positive step to the development of Taiwan’s financial markets with the anticipation of a greater inflow of capital. A few, however, cautioned it might trigger profit-taking by some investors in the short-term.

International ratings agency Moody’s considered the MOU to be more favorable to Taiwan’s financial sector than to the Chinese mainland because closer relations across the Strait will undoubtedly bring extra business opportunities and diversified profits for Taiwan’s financial sector. Moody’s said Taiwan’s financial institutions enjoy the advantages of speaking the same language and of belonging to the same culture, but they need to have long-term plans and strategies in place as well.

According to the Taiwan News, government officials presented a report to the Legislature, and left immediately to sign the documents, leaving no time for a thorough discussion on the issues. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) criticized the government for not standing firm on the name issue of “Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu Customs Area” it had used under the World Trade Organization (WTO), but instead, accepting a one China-like framework. The DPP demanded to have the full MOU reviewed by the Legislature.

Newspaper editorials on the island saw the MOU as both an opportunity and a challenge for Taiwan. The United Evening News said the MOU went beyond dealings between the SEF and ARATS to create a new precedent without violating the spirit of the WTO.

The Taipei-based China Times said the seven Taiwanese banks, which already have offices in China can now be upgraded with branch offices there. In future ECFA negotiations, Taiwan’s government should ask China to allow Taiwanese banks to participate in local currency business immediately, without a waiting period of three years. Hopefully, future talks will also stress preferential conditions for Taiwan’s insurance companies and securities sector.

However, given that Chinese banks are much bigger in scale than those in Taiwan, the China Times noted it might leave Taiwan’s smaller banks vulnerable to mergers if they are not innovative and healthy. Only banks with excellent performance and huge capital support will be able to explore the new frontiers in China.

The Commercial Times also sees other problems arising since China’s currency RMB has steadily appreciated, tempting Taiwanese to convert their currency to RMB instead. This would change the financial landscape and weaken Taiwan’s financial position.

In any case, the MOU with China is significant since it provides for new opportunity to negotiate the ECFA and a normalization of economic and trade relations between Taiwan and China. It is significant since it allows more open markets for the two sides. Taiwan’s financial services can develop new stages in a huge market, in addition to serving the Taiwanese already doing business in China. As it stands, Taiwan currently has similar MOUs with thirty other countries, according to The Economic Daily.

Taiwan to set up Kindle-like platform

Taiwan’s government is set to spend US$66.2 million over the next five years to promote the development of the island’s e-reader industry. The government hopes this will help local businesses set up Chinese-language content exchange platforms similar to Kindle, Amazon’s electronic books and digital media.

The exchange platform of Kindle is a closed platform, which displays content by using a proprietary Kindle format (AZW), while the ones in Taiwan would use the EPUB standard platform to allow integration of different industries and multi-national cooperation, including the use of different language content, not just Chinese.

According to the Economic Daily News, the government hopes to cash in on the digital publishing industry which will reportedly generate US$3.1 billion for the local and international market by 2013.

Besides helping local businesses to develop this sector, Taiwan also hopes to work with China in formulating the Chinese-language e-reader standards and service model. The paper said businesses in Taiwan and China can leverage their respective advantages to establish a common set of standards for Chinese e-readers and digital content, which includes format compatibility, testing of hardware and software support, and cooperation in developing software of digital rights management and online intellectual property protection.

The two sides are expected to hold a bridge-building conference on Cross Strait Cooperation and Exchange Information of Digital Content in June 2010 to discuss the common standards for digital publishing and e-readers to serve the global Chinese-language market.

The Commercial Times reported that Taiwan will see a dozen electronics companies enter the hardware area of e-readers manufacturing by the end of the first quarter of 2010. As a new emerging industry combining high technology, internet, and digital content, e-readers are expected to take over part of the internet surfing function of notebook computers, making phone calls, listening to music and reading books.

Poised for the expanding market, Far EasTone Telecommunications, one of the three largest mobile networks in Taiwan, has already applied for a government subsidy to become the first provider of a value-added mobile service for digital reading through the WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) technology. It is working with book publishers, software developers and hardware manufacturers of e-book devices to create a new service model in the application of e-books.

Other Taiwan companies are also vying for a share of the e-reader industry and are ready to be dominant players. Prime View International, a major supplier to Amazon Kindle, has invested US$215 million to acquire the digital ink technology developer E Ink Corp. in the US in June, 2009. Other Taiwanese electronics manufacturers interested in the e-reader industry include Asustek Computer, Foxconn Electronics, and AU Optronics, the latter has also signed an investment agreement with an American e-paper manufacturer.

SE Asia more important than ever for Taiwan’s businesses

Even before the advent of ASEAN plus China and the signing of free trade agreements between many of the Southeast Asian countries, Taiwan in the mid-1980s looked towards Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnams for business opportunities. These countries have large ethnic Chinese populations, an educated labor force, stable infrastructure and lower production costs. For Taiwanese businesses to gravitate towards these Southeast Asian countries was a natural progression.

During that same period, Taiwan’s political relationship with China remained contentious, leading to the 1996 “Go Slow, Be Patient” principle promoted by former President Lee Teng-hui, aimed at limiting investments in China. The feeling of caution continued during the eight years of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration as well. However, this all changed when President Ma of the Kuomintang took office last year.

In the 1980s, Malaysia responded to a lack-luster economy and mass unemployment by encouraging Taiwanese investments. With one-quarter of Malaysia’s population being ethnically Chinese, or having ties with Taiwan, finding qualified help was not difficult. Also, as a former British colony, the country’s legal system was much more developed than China’s.

Like Malaysia, Thailand also has an educated and skilled workforce. Large-scale investment from Japan’s automakers over the last 30 years has helped the country to develop its infrastructure. Last November, Thailand sought to attract investments from Taiwan by setting up the Office of the Board of Investment (BOI) in Taipei. Although Malaysia and Thailand might have more developed infrastructure and a better-educated workforce, these advantages also increase production costs and have driven some businesses to take the route of lower production costs in China and Vietnam.

Today, there are about 40,000 Taiwanese people contributing to the rapid development of Vietnam. Investment-driven trade between Taiwan and Vietnam reached US$9.15 billion last year, with Taiwan enjoying a trade surplus of US$6.73 billion. Although Vietnam does offer relatively cheap labor, its poor infrastructure and a less educated work force are limiting factors. The country’s more restrictive policies also hampered investments in Vietnam. Until this past January, foreign companies had to have a Vietnamese partner in order to enter the retail sector there.

As more ASEAN agreements take effect, Taiwanese businesses have also hedged their bets by setting up production bases in certain Southeast Asian countries in the hope of taking advantage of free trade agreements of that country. Currently, Taiwan is at a significant disadvantage by not having free trade agreements with any other Southeast Asian counties.

With the signing of a comprehensive ECFA – economic cooperation and framework agreement – with China, Taiwan will not only enjoy favorable rates of duty with China, but also have the chance to sign free trade agreements (FTA) with other Southeast Asian countries. Without these FTAs, Taiwan will end up paying substantially more duty which will reduce Taiwan’s share of the regional trade pie.

A case in point is Chew Boon Swee who would like to import cakes from Isabelle Taiwan Co. If he were to import directly from Taiwan, he would have to pay a 25 percent duty as opposed to 5 percent if he were to import them from the pastry maker’s mainland Chinese plant. This will all change once ASEAN plus China takes effect, eliminating the duty.

“ASEAN’s effort to build closer ties with its trading partners is good news for businesspeople in the ever-growing trading block, but not for those in Taiwan, if Taiwan continues to be excluded from it,” says Jerry Yang of the Ho Chi Minh City TECO office. Currently, China accounts for 54 percent of Taiwan’s exports and 78 percent of Taiwan’s overseas investments, according to the October 2009 issue of Taiwan Review. As an export economy, with as much as 40 percent going to China, Taiwan simply cannot afford to be omitted from the benefits of belonging to ASEAN.

With the onset of ASEAN plus China due to take effect on January 1st, 2010, Taiwan is gearing up to face the challenges and benefits from this new alignment with ASEAN along with other FTAs due to emerge over the next several of years.