Monthly Archives: February 2010

Obama administration approves arms package to Taiwan

On January 29, the Pentagon formally notified Congress of the proposed arms package to Taiwan. President Ma Ying-jeou welcomed the decision saying it would bolster Taipei’s confidence in dealing with Beijing, reported the United Daily News. The deal did not cover sales of advanced F-16C/D fighter jets or the diesel-engined submarines which Taiwan had requested. However, these exclusions did not mean the purchases would not go ahead said Premier Wu Den-yih. The two sides are still discussing the weapons systems and negotiating the price, according to the Taiwan News.

Following Washington’s decision, Beijing lodged a strong protest, threatening to halt military exchanges with the US, review major cooperation issues and impose sanctions on companies involved in this transaction. Philip J. Crowley, U.S. State Department spokesman, described Beijing’s response as “predictable” and said the Chinese government has long opposed U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. “We did not consult with China before taking this action,” he said.

The proposed US$6.4 billion arms package includes two mine-hunting ships, 60 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, 12 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, 114 Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile systems and 60 ship-based communications systems. According to Wang Yu-chi, the Presidential Office spokesman, the U.S. announcement came as no surprise to Ma as he had already been notified some time before by the related ministries.

Upon hearing the news, the Opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen said that Taiwan’s success in getting the arms purchase was the result of hard work by the previous DPP administration. She urged the government to pursue a deal on the purchase of the submarines and F-16s.

Tsai also called on the government to establish an efficient coastal defense system in light of reports that a Chinese submarine had crossed into southern Taiwanese territorial waters on January 27. The government should not create the false impression that a war between Taiwan and China is impossible, because that would threaten national security by giving the military the wrong impression, Tsai said.

The announcement of US arms sales to Taiwan was greeted with applause from legislators from the ruling and opposition parties in Taiwan. The Taipei-based China Times said this proves that the majority of Taiwanese people are united on the issue of national security. Given the constant bickering between the two parties on most other issues, the consensus on the purchase of US arms makes for a refreshing change.

TECO official explains arms purchase

On February 4, Manfred P. T. Peng, the director of the Press Division of TECO-SF, wrote this letter in response to George Koo’s article “Arms Sales Adds Complexity to US-China-Taiwan Triangle.”

In response to George Koo’s article, I would like to point out:

1) In the last 30 years, successive US administrations have sold arms to Taiwan and this current package was proposed under GW Bush’s administration, not the Obama administration. As such, Beijing has no reason to be “caught by surprise.”

The proposed arms package is in keeping with the Taiwan Relations Act, passed by US Congress (1979) when Washington broke ties with Taiwan in favor of the People’s Republic of China. The act stipulates US’s non-official relations with Taiwan and requires the US government to provide Taiwan with sufficient arms of a defensive character to maintain the island’s security.

2) There have been big improvements in cross-strait relations since Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou took office in May 2008. However, Beijing has continued to increase their military spending without renouncing the use of force against Taiwan. Currently, China has over a thousand missiles targeting Taiwan.

The purchase of American arms will enhance the sense of Taiwan’s security and confidence, allowing the Ma administration to continue a political dialogue with China from a position of strength. Koo’s implication that President Ma is pandering to the approving rating with this arms sale does not make sense, since it is wholeheartedly supported by both the opposition and ruling parties.

3) Washington’s arms sales is not intended to rapidly reverse the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait, but a demonstration of political commitment by the US to Taiwan’s security and regional peace. With advanced weapons, Taiwan could increase the difficulty of a Chinese invasion and deter China from doing so. Taiwan has no intention of getting into an arms race with China. Any military actions across the straits would bring uncontrollable consequences to China as well.

Instead of adding complexity to the situation, the arms sale merely reflects the US-China-Taiwan triangular relations long established by the Taiwan Relations Act.

To link to George Koo’s article in New America Media, please click below:

The Flying Tigers

January’s edition of Taiwan Insights featured an article about the Flying Tigers and Arthur Chin. Chin’s grandson, John Gong, wrote a thank you e-mail to Taiwan Insights including some interesting photos. Gong works as the director of Constituent Services for US Congressman Devin Nunes, representing California’s 21st Congressional District. Among the pictures Gong included were photos of his family’s visit to Taiwan to attend the opening ceremony of the Arthur Chin Special Exhibition at the Republic of China’s Air Force Academy near Kaohsiung in 2009.

In 1937, when the Sino-Japanese war broke out, Claire Chennault recruited more than 200 American volunteer pilots and technicians to join Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist forces in fighting the Japanese in China. Before the United States declared war on Japan, the Flying Tigers were known as the American Volunteer Group (AVG). In 1943, AVG was dissolved and merged with the Nationalist Air Force, but the Flying Tigers retained their legendary name. During World War II, the Flying Tigers transported supplies from India to China, and supported British troops in their fight against the Japanese in Burma. The Flying Tigers shot down more than 2600 Japanese planes, but at a cost of 563 of their own.

Early February, Hong Kong-born director John Woo announced in Taipei that he has raised US$150 million to make a film documenting the Flying Tigers story. Woo is known for directing action packed Hollywood films such as Mission Impossible 2, Face/Off, Broken Arrow and Windtalkers.


Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Madame Chiang and Claire Chennault (Courtesy of the ROC Air Force Academy in Taiwan).

The logo of the Flying Tigers, reportedly designed by Walt Disney.

A special badge issued by the Nationalist Chinese government to the combat pilots of the Flying Tigers. It reads, “This foreigner has come to China to help in the war effort. Both soldiers and civilians should rescue and protect him.” The badge was sewn on the back of a fighter pilot’s jacket so that Chinese people could extend a helping hand to downed pilots.

A Nationalist Chinese soldier stands guard over the fighter planes of the Flying Tigers.

The painting “Hawks over China” by US artist Roy Grinnell depicted the story of Arthur Chin (Chen Rui-dian), who flew the Curtiss Hawk in dog-fights with Japanese airplanes. The original is on display at US Air Force Museum (Courtesy of John Gong).

An autograph signed by Bob Layher, a member of the Flying Tigers and presented to Manfred Peng, publisher of Taiwan Insights.

A group photo of Chinese and American pilots of the Flying Tigers. (Courtesy of the ROC Air Force Academy in Taiwan).

The opening of Arthur Chin’s Special Exhibition at the Nationalist Chinese Air Force Academy in November, 2009. From the left to right, John Gong (Chin’s grandson), Susan Gong-Ennis (Chin’s daughter), Chen Chao-min (then Defense Minister of Taiwan), Lei Yu-chi (commander of Taiwan’s Air Force), and Mike Tien (superintendent of the Air Force Academy) (Courtesy of John Gong).

Taiwan’s Haiti relief efforts praised

Almost a month ago Haiti experienced a magnitude 7.0 earthquake that left the capital, Port-au-Prince, in ruins. Besides causing death and destruction on a massive scale, the earthquake also destroyed the country’s already weak infrastructure. Within 24 hours of the quake, Taiwan dispatched five rescue and medical teams to Haiti. Being no strangers to earthquakes, the Taiwanese knew that time would be crucial if lives were to be saved amid the rubble. Since then, Taiwan has joined other countries in helping an estimated two million survivors to rebuild their lives.

Taiwan, a country rarely in the international spotlight, has truly risen to the challenge by mobilizing its resources quickly and effectively, something that has not gone unnoticed by the international community. The Wall Street Journal noted how Taiwan was pulling its international weight in Haiti despite being kept in a diplomatic no-man’s-land. “It should give those working to help Haiti pause to think that a prosperous nation ready and willing to shoulder such burdens is relegated to the wings of the international stage.” Taiwan’s quick action was also mentioned by Time magazine, which wrote, “some of the first search-and-rescue teams to depart for the devastated Haitian capital came from another small island on the other side of the globe: Taiwan.”

Ma pledges ongoing support

Last month, during President Ma Ying-jeou’s visit to the Dominican Republic, he made a point of meeting Haitian Prime Minister Minister Jean-Max Vellerive to personally deliver the relief supplies that had been brought on his chartered plane. Along with 10 tons of disaster relief supplies, Ma also increased Taiwan’s aid donation to US$10 million and gave the prime minister Taiwan-made satellite phones. Speaking to the media afterwards, Ma outlined the four most urgent tasks.

First, Taiwan will provide medical services to help prevent the outbreak of disease that could easily spread given the unsanitary conditions in many devastated areas. Already, teams of medical personnel have rotated into Haiti to offer medical assistance at health stations. On January 19, one such group comprised of 66 medical professionals (23 from the US) from the Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corp (TRMPC) transited through San Francisco on their way to Haiti. They brought 2 tons of medical supplies and equipment for Haiti. Upon that team’s departure, another medical team took its place. So far, three teams have already been sent, and over 5,000 victims treated as of January 28.

On January 27, Taiwan’s first shipment of Taiwanese medical supplies arrived in Port-au-Prince. The 6 tons of supplies were officially delivered to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) representative Henriette Chamouillet.

Second, Taiwan’s government plans to join other countries in building “villages of hope” for hundred of thousands of homeless Haitians. It hopes to build 200 homes capable of accommodating up to 1,000 people, increasing to 1,000 units to house 5,000 people.

Besides TRMPC, other civil organizations, as well as Taiwan International Health Action, have sent a combined 84 tons of relief supplies (worth US$378,000) which arrived in the Dominican Republic on January 18 for transportation to Haiti. The provision included: first aid supplies, foodstuffs, drinking water, clothing, tents and lighting equipment. In April, Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture (COA) will continue the flow of aid with a pledge of 200 tons of rice.

Third, Taiwan would like to establish farms and factories near the newly built housing so that the new tenants can be offered vocational training and jobs to get them back on their feet. The president will encourage Taiwanese businesses to work in Haiti to spur job creation. Already the TRMPC has allocated US$110,000 to Mercy Corps International for exactly this purpose.

Fourth, the government will also work with non-governmental organizations to encourage direct sponsorship of orphaned children through World Vision Taiwan and the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families. Currently, Taiwanese people sponsor 200,000 children overseas, according to the Taiwan News.

Taiwanese officials are also mulling the possibility of canceling or reducing Haiti’s public external debt, which reached US$1.8 billion in 2008. At least US$91 million of that amount is guaranteed by Taiwanese banks.

Tzu Chi’s inspirational work for Haiti

Beside government agencies, Taiwan’s biggest non-profit organization, Tzu Chi, has taken an active role in the relief work. Immediately after the earthquake, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation sent a team to evaluate the situation in Haiti. The foundation decided to focus its work in the district of Tabarre since it was designated by the UN to be a suitable place to accommodate survivors, and also because Tzu Chi had prior experience working with a local orphanage, the Institute for Human and Community Development (IHCD), there. Tzu Chi volunteers had visited and provided assistance to the orphanage just a year before the earthquake. When they returned to the area, they saw some of the plastic tarpaulins they had given out before being used to provide make-shift shelters.

Soon after the earthquake, Tzu Chi began stockpiling instant corn powder, a food staple in Haiti, and began including it, along with cooking oil, milk powder, beans, oatmeal, rice, gas stoves and reusable utensils, in their relief packages. After the initial small distribution on January 29 at IHCD, Tzu Chi has continued with several smaller distributions as well as a large distribution in the city of Tabarre in cooperation with officials from USAID, local churches, the Haitian police and UN peacekeepers from Jordan. This week, the foundation will conduct another large-scale distribution by providing food as well as medical and dental services to over 10,000 survivors.

Early February, Tzu Chi began its work relief program which pays Haitians for cleaning up their community in return for either food or cash. People registered to take part are delighted to be paid to clean up and to help in the reconstruction. It gives them a sense of hope, respect and pride. Participants are fed by Tzu Chi volunteers and they can also take meals back home for their families.

Currently, more food, blankets and portable restrooms are on their way to Haiti from the United States and Taiwan. On February 4, Tzu Chi’s third major shipment, with enough food for 1.6 million meals, left its headquarters in Hualien, Taiwan.

A time for wider recognition

Taiwan has a long standing relationship with Haiti. It is one of the countries that continue to recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country. Even before the earthquake, Haiti was a country in need of assistance, and Taiwan has tried to do its part.The Taipei-based International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) have been working with local farmers to see if a Taiwanese strain of rice called “Taichung-shien No. 10” would grow well there. With the ICDF’s assistance, farmers in Haiti have planted 3,000-hectares on farms in the Artibonite region. When the earthquake struck, the ICDF donated US$50,000 towards purchasing 50 tons of locally grown rice to boost post-quake relief. Buying locally is the best form of assistance since farmers are provided with a market for their products and the money spent remains within Haiti. Besides working with traditional farmers, ICDF is also supporting fish-farming in southern Haiti.

Before the earthquake, Haiti was ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world, at 153 out of 177 nations. Located all the way across the globe, Taiwan went the extra mile to help Haiti. In many other parts of the world, Taiwan has also stepped up to the plate to offer assistance to many other countries in their hour of need. Perhaps now is the time to acknowledge just how much more Taiwan could do if it were a full fledged participating member of the international community.

President Ma transits through San Francisco

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou arrived in San Francisco on Jan 25 for an overnight layover en route to Honduras and the Dominican Republic. He was greeted at the San Francisco International Airport by Raymond Burghardt, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), and by Jason Yuan, Taiwan’s chief representative in Washington, D.C.

During his stay, he met with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Oregon Congressman David Wu, and talked on the telephone with 11 US senators and house representatives on the issues of US beef imports, US arms sales and Taiwan’s aid to Haiti.

According to the World Journal, Ma made the most of the telephone conference calls which were attended by Taiwan’s Secretary General of the National Security Council Su Chi, Agricultural Minister Chen Wu-hsiung, Economics Minister Shih Yen-shiang, Foreign Minister Timothy Yang and Information Minister Su Jun-pin.

The congressional members Ma spoke to included US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Kit Bond (vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee), Eni F. H. Faleomavaega, (chairman of Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Global Environment), Robert Menendez (chairman of Senate Taiwan Caucus), Saxby Chambliss (ranking member of the Senate Agricultural Committee), and Congressman Dave Camp, who joined with three other representatives in a letter to the US Trade Representative demanding Washington suspend trade talks until Taiwan lifts its ban on US ground beef and bovine offal.

Ma’s delegation emphasized that the calls were defined as “communications with Congress” only. Over half of the senators and house representatives Ma talked to were from agricultural states or constituencies. They all expressed their concerns about Taiwan’s policy toward US beef imports. Ma explained that Taiwan welcomes American bone-in beef with the exception of ground beef and bovine offal over public health concerns.

The Central News Agency reported after listening to Ma’s explanation, that most of the US congressmen understood Taiwan’s attitude and stance. Ma expressed his hope that they would communicate with their constituents to avoid further misunderstanding about Taiwan’s position.

Ma also met with prominent Asians, such as John S. Chen (chairman of the Committee of 100), David Ho (well-known Taiwanese American AIDS researcher), and Steve Chen, (the co-founder of YouTube and another famous Taiwanese American entrepreneur). He also visited the pharmaceutical company IMPAX Labs, run by a Taiwanese American entrepreneur in Hayward, CA.

The president continued on to Central America where he attended the inauguration ceremony of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa. He then traveled on to the Dominican Republic for a short visit to express his concern for neighboring Haiti, which was struck by a catastrophic magnitude-7 earthquake on January 12. His chartered flight carried 10 tons of disaster relief supplies that were unloaded in the Dominican Republic and driven into Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

Celebrate the Lunar New Year with Taiwan Films

The Chinese Center of the San Francisco Public Library, in association with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco, presents an afternoon of Taiwan films on Friday, February 12, 2010. The program begins with a documentary, Taiwan’s Ecological Ambience, and is followed by Taiwan’s breakaway blockbuster, Cape No. 7.

Shown in the Koret Auditorium in the lower level of the Main Library, 100 Larkin Street (at Grove), San Francisco. All programs at the library are free.

2:00 – 2:50pm
Taiwan’s Ecological Ambience (documentary)
Discover a kaleidoscope of birds, butterflies, plants, animals and other natural wonders found in Taiwan. Produced by Taiwan’s National Cultural Associations and ETTV.

2:50 – 5:00pm
Cape No. 7 (feature film)
The winner of more than fifteen awards, this film offers a glimpse into the ordinary lives of the people living in a picturesque coastal town in southern Taiwan. It weaves two stories, filled with comedy, romance and music, set sixty years apart.

Orz Boyz! at Tacoma’s Sister Cities Int’l Film Festival on Feb. 25

Starting February 4, Tacoma kicked off the 8th Annual Sister Cities International Film Festival celebrating some of the most outstanding films offered from around the world. On Thursday, February 25, Orz Boyz! will be the featured film representing Taiwan.

Orz Boyz! is a moving story about the camaraderie between two mischievous boys with a powerful imagination. With the two main characters nicknamed “Lair No. 1” and “Lair No. 2,” the story is funny, yet filled with romantic dreams and yearning.

The festival began on February 4 and continues until April 8. However, Orz Boyz! will only be shown on February 25 at 7:30pm. Each Thursday’s event begins at 6:30pm with authentic international cultural entertainment for everyone to enjoy. Tickets are $10 and can be purchase at the Blue Mouse Theater at 2702 N. Proctor or online at

Taiwan seeks to address economic concentration

Several economic indicators have revealed an optimistic upswing in Taiwan’s export-oriented economy after being hit particularly hard by the global financial crisis. According to the November monitoring index released by the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD) on December 28, seven of the index components – including customs-cleared exports, manufacturing sales and the industrial production index – indicated a vibrant economic situation for the first time in 25 months. However, the CEPD said the monitoring indicators do not suggest Taiwan’s economy is overheating because the situation in 2008-2009 was so extremely dire.

National Central University’s Research Center for Taiwan Economic Development has also released survey findings showing that the consumer confidence index rose to a 20-month high of 65.39 in December 2009, marking a return to the level seen before the recession. According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), Taiwan’s exports in December 2009 continued to improve, totaling US$31.73 billion, up almost 53 percent from a year ago. By region, orders from China showed the fastest recovery, with positive growth starting in July 2009, while those in Europe still lagged behind.

Taiwan’s product, market concentrations hampered growth

During the Southeast Asian financial storm of the late 1990s, Taiwan’s performance was the best among the four Asian Tigers. But in the latest global financial downturn, Taiwan has been slower to recover. The Commonwealth magazine attributed this weakness to Taiwan’s concentration concentration on select sectors over the last decade.

Taiwan has depended too heavily on exports, which have contributed higher growth rates to the economy than has domestic consumption over the last four years. Export volumes have relied too heavily on two industries: semiconductors and flat liquid crystal display (LCD) panels. The biggest problem is that Taiwan has placed too much emphasis on expanding the scale of production in a bid to head off competition from overseas, but has failed to take control of technology and the market. This problem has been highlighted by the overproduction of computer memory chips.

Another problem is that over 40 percent of Taiwan’s exports are concentrated with China and Hong Kong. An over dependence on exports and a reliance on a few markets has also served to weaken Taiwan’s economy.

South Korea, on the other hand, which was hit the hardest in the late 1990s, has now become the strongest Asian Tiger. It has developed a rather balanced economy: strong in electronics, petrochemicals, metal manufacturing and transportation.

You Chi-chung, deputy director of the Industrial Economics and Knowledge Center of the Industrial Technology and Research Institute, said Taiwan’s value added ratio has dropped from 27.8 percent in 1999 to 18.46 percent in 2008. He noted that one of the problems in Taiwan’s industrial structure is that the capability of creating added value is pretty low, which has harmed household incomes and the quality of life.

The four problems of Taiwan’s economy

In a review of Taiwan’s export-heavy economy over the past decade and to cope with the sobering realities brought on by the global financial crisis, the Economic Daily News made the following editorial observations and comments about Taiwan’s unbalanced economic structure:

1) Taiwan should reduce its over dependence on exports. From 2000 to 2007, Taiwan’s average real fixed investments increased by only 0.6 percent annually, being basically stagnant. In order to maintain continuous growth in the economy and employment, Taiwan promoted export-led growth, which accounted for 70.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2007, a big jump from 49.2 percent in 1999. In the wake of the latest global recession, it should come as no surprise that Taiwan’s exports have been severely hit and overall economic growth has been dragged down to a record low of negative 2.53 percent.

2) Taiwan should diversify its exports instead of focusing on a few industries. During the last decade, Taiwan strongly supported the development of the semiconductor industry and the flat LCD industry, including electronic components, computers, electronic and optical products. Eighty percent of these products were destined for export. In recent years, these capital-intensive investments accounted for 70 percent of total investment across all manufacturing industries, but their added values only accounted for 28.8 percent of all manufacturing industries, while indirect taxes paid by these industries accounted for less than 5 percent of the total.

3) The export sectors should cut their reliance on imports. Although exports accounted for a high portion of Taiwan’s GDP, the raw materials, components, and part-manufactured products relied heavily on imports. Although Taiwanese firms have worked tirelessly to expand exports, more than half of their earnings were used to pay other countries for imports of raw materials and components.

4) Taiwan should expand its service sector. Over the past decade, Taiwan has hired more service industry employees, but their labor productivity increased by only 1.8 percent annually, less than half of the 3.9 percent in the manufacturing sector. The real value added by the service sector accounted for only 67.2 percent of total GDP in 2007, a drop from 68.9 percent in 1999. Apparently, the sluggishness in the service sector contributed in dragging down the growth of the economy as well.

Wide diversification not wise

However, in an interview with the Commomwealth magazine, Du Zi-chen, vice president of the Commerce Development Research Institute, disagreed with the Economic Daily News. With limited resources, Taiwan is not able to develop every industry. Based on its own competitive strengths, Taiwan must select some key areas to be its strategic focus, he said.

After the global financial downturn, Du noted, the world sees three new emerging trends: reshuffling within sectors, the emergence of developing markets, and the prevailing need to cut energy use and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Taiwan should divide its resources in a ratio of 70:30, that is, to put 70 percent of its resources into continuing to develop its already strong foundations, while devoting 30 percent to developing emerging opportunities.

In regard to building on Taiwan’s solid foundations, Du said, Taiwan should continue promoting the semiconductor wafer foundry business, IC testing and the packaging industries. As for new opportunities, Du sees some quality markets emerging in the coming 20 years, that is, an estimate of 1.5 billion emerging consumers with per capita annual income growth ranging from US$1,000 to US$3,000 to US$10,000. Taiwan is certainly poised to take advantage of these new consumers with its close proximity to 70 percent of the markets and its track record of making a good competitive product, said Du.

How lucky will you be in the Year of the Tiger?

The legend of 12 Chinese Zodiac animal signs was first noted in China in the first century. Chinese people believe that each zodiac sign represents a certain personality. At the beginning of each new lunar year, each zodiac sign faces a new fortune. This is a popular belief in Chinese communities worldwide.

Lunar new years are based on an annual cycle of 12 animals. In order, the animal signs are: rat, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. The Year of the Tiger will begin on February 14, 2010 and lasts until the next lunar new year on February 5, 2011. Any baby born within this period is a tiger.

A simple algorithm to calculate which zodiac animal sign you belong to is to divide your birth year by 12, the remainder, such as 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 0, 1, 2, and 3 will represent a rat, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig, respectively.

During a person’s zodiac year, the person must be particularly cautious in conversation and behavior so as to prevent any possible crisis. In Taiwan, on the eve of a person’s zodiac year, some people can be found in the temples performing a ritual of “safeguarding the zodiac star” in which they pray for safekeeping by giving their names, birth dates and addresses to the gods.

According to the World Journal, the luckiest animal signs for the Year of the Tiger are horse, goat, and dragon while tiger, monkey, pig and snake land at the other end of the spectrum.

In the year of the tiger, Feng Shui consultant Ms. Mak Ling-ling predicts that those people born in the years of the horse and goat can make a fortune, but it can’t be done with undue haste. Those born in the year of the dragon will get their normal incomes but don’t expect any windfall. Those born in the years of tiger and monkey will have big ups and downs with their fortunes. Monkey and pig signs have a better chance of making money away from their place of birth. Snakes won’t make a fortune, but they will get help from rich females.

Mak added those born in the year of the rabbit will get help from rich males during the tiger year. So they should ask for financial advice from older men or better yet, partner with someone more experienced in investments. Chickens should hold no high hopes in investment, so better jump out of the market upon making a small profit and not be too greedy. It is better for dogs to make their own individual investment and not team-up with others. Blessed by the “love star,” cows will find a good lover for marriage, which in turn will improve their fortunes and bring good connections.

Fortune teller Li Ming-chu points out, those born in the years of the tiger and monkey will have much trouble in the year of tiger. They will encounter lots of fluctuation and would be advised to consult with others before taking any action. Those born under the sign of the pig should be careful of potential adversaries and pay attention to their own health.

Metaphysician Long Cheng-tien expressed similar thoughts that in a tiger year people should stay put and work locally instead of moving around in their zodiac year. If you are a monkey, you should keep a low profile as not to attract jealousy. Monkeys will face changing lives, frequently traveling or transferring to other places to work.

Feng Shui expert Li Chien-jun noted that pigs will have lots of accidents in the year of tiger, but they will finally get unexpected help. Fortune teller Lin Chen-yi advises tigers and monkeys not to make speculative investments in the year of the tiger. A monk at Yu Yang forecasts that pigs, snakes, goats and rats can improve their fortunes this year.

Actually, even people under the same zodiac may have different fortunes. According to Chinese numerology, every person is born on a different date and time. So his or her fate is different. Feng Shui expert Tsai Cheng-lun said, “Numerology provides a direction, but it’s not the only path.”

Whether you believe in the characteristics and the fortunes embodied in each animal, take it with a grain of salt since no single factor should ever be used to make a decision.

Networking sites promote collective voice

Online social networks and microblogging sites, where text is limited to just over 100 characters, are fast becoming the main way many people communicate in Taiwan. This is changing how high-tech and low-tech businesses reach out to consumers. Already, online communities are intermingling with the non-virtual world, with old classmates finding each other and specific groups banding together to share information. This new generation of social networking is offering people a collective voice, something not previously realized with mere blogging.

In a recent I-Survey of Eastern Online, surfing the internet ranked third as the most popular activity for Taiwanese users. The top activity for people ages 18-29 was watching television, followed by chatting. Seventy percent of the people between the ages of 13 and 29 said their friends know their web connections in blogs, MSN or Facebook, one of the most popular social networking sites.

Facebook age

Based in Palo Alto, CA, Facebook became popular in Taiwan upon introducing a Chinese-language version in 2008. The company and other microblogging sites have ignited the explosive power of social networking by organizing collective bargaining in purchasing gourmet foods to mobilizing disaster rescue workers. Its users span a wide range of age and social-economical boundaries, from elementary school kids to white-collar managers.

The Commonwealth magazine reported that the online game Happy Farm offered by Facebook was among the top most popular activities for Taiwanese users in 2009. Recently, this led Taiwan’s Premier to issue a warning to government officials not to indulge in playing this game during office hours.

Besides Facebook, Twitter and Plurk are also popular according to PC Home Online chairman Jan Hung-Tze

Collective bargaining and culture

In taking advantage of the collective online community, consumers are banding together to maximize their buying power. Taiwan’s group purchasing website “Ihergo” has accumulated about 260,000 members, mothers or grandmothers coming together to buy snacks, gourmet foods or nutritious products. The total amount of online sales of “Ihergo” reached NT$630 million (US$20 million) in 2009, a growth of over 400 percent from 2008.

Alvin Wood, co-founder of Plurk, said it is interesting that when he plurks “Good Morning” in Taiwan, he gets a dozen or even a hundred responses. This kind of phenomena would not happen in the United States. He feels that the collective culture is more appealing to Asians, who have a stronger desire to seek a connection with others. This is more so in Taipei than other Asian cities, said the Commonwealth magazine.

Taiwanese have been eager to forge interpersonal communications, which had been hidden in the traditional communities of the physical world, but can now be easily realized by plurking a “Hi” or playing an online game on Facebook.

Banding together to help

New social networking sites, once thought of as fresh online toys for the young, increased in importance during Typhoon Morakot and in its aftermath. In August 2009, Typhoon Morakot caused the worst flooding Taiwan had seen in 60 years. The disaster also led the Taiwanese to develop a massive online media. Internet surfers used Plurk and other social networks to transmit live updates of disasters to an online disaster center, supplementing the government’s official disaster relief system.

During the recent Haitian earthquake, the American Red Cross made it easy to donate by asking people to simply text “HAITI” to 90999 and an automatic donation of US$10 would be deducted from the person’s cellphone bill. Online users also set up simple links to their favorite donations sites with personal appeals on their social networking page.

Why the fascination?

Commonwealth said that online users of microblogs need only spend five seconds to check out the title of a discussion topic, and if they are interested, they can connect to the official website. The initiative is entirely in their hands. These microblogs supplement the marketing gap left by websites (considered too mass market) and instant messaging services (too personalized and limited to one-to-one conversations). The contact scope of microblogging is smaller than that of websites or blogs, it is less costly, but enables a microblogger to focus on targeting consumers more precisely.
The Chinese-language version of Plurk has drawn over 300,000 members in Taiwan. A surprising array of enterprises, from breakfast shops to high-tech companies. Last May, even the 80-year-old Taiwanese opera troupe, Ming Hwa Yuan Arts and Cultural Group, began using Plurk to promote its new Taiwanese opera performances and to survey audience opinions.

Microblogging changing advertising strategies

The craze for social networks is gradually impacting existing advertising and media models. Taipei-based China Motor Corporation devoted 20 to 30 percent of its marketing budget to online social media, “almost equal to the amount spent on television commercials,” asserted China Motor advertising director Jessica Kao.

Computer vendors like Acer Inc. and ASUSTeK Computer Inc. have extended their rivalry to the social networks. Acer has actively organized a Facebook community that is 2,690 strong and growing. “You would have to spend a lot of money to find that many Acer notebook PC fans,” says one Acer marketing executive. The company used their Facebook page as a focus group to test consumer reaction to different notebook specifications and discovered that they liked smaller notebooks, which was markedly different from the specs originally drawn up by the company. Acer immediately adjusted its sales model. ASUS has also established a social media presence to generate anticipation for new products. It does so by engaging its users in discussions about new models.

High Tech Computer Corporation (HTC) has made an even more concerted effort to plunge into social networking, using Facebook to post videos of tests run on its latest handsets, and updating pages of product information on a daily basis. Its Facebook followers have grown into a community of 6,890 fans, who enthusiastically share their feelings about using HTC smart phones.

Consumer electronics firm BenQ has used the Plurk site as a marketing tool, claiming 1000 fans of the company’s latest news and events. One customer, who was unhappy with BenQ’s slow repair service complained directly at Plurk. BenQ’s online representative found it and responded to it right away. “If you’re going to go after social media as a way to get in touch with consumers, you need to be 101 percent sincere and operate over the long term,” said Luke Chen, the Project manager at BenQ. The worst thing would be for the business sector to just plunge into social media without staying engaged.