Monthly Archives: March 2010

Taiwan’s Snack Food

All countries have foods that are indicative of their culture and taste buds. The Vietnamese have pho for breakfast and dinner, Beijing residents treasure their roast duck, the Japanese prize their high-grade sashimi and the Germans enjoy pig’s knuckles. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, so-to-speak, but Taiwan’s diverse culinary delights are what make its culture unique.

On a daily basis, Taiwanese people enjoy a wealth of inexpensive and unique snack foods. They include oyster omelets, steamed pork buns, spicy beef soup noodles, pearl milk tea, shaved ice, soup dumplings, Wan Luan pork hocks and stinky tofu. Found readily in any marketplace or at neighborhood food stalls, these inexpensive eats offer a truly Taiwanese experience.

The next time your visit or revisit Taiwan, be sure to sample some of Taiwan’s wide variety of delicious delicacies.

Night markets in Taiwan
“Treasure Islands” of Taiwanese snacks. Photo: Hsu Yu-tsai

Oyster Omelets
Oysters are mixed with potato and corn starch, combined with eggs, vegetables before being pan fried. They are usually served with a dribble of sweet and sour sauce. Photo: Chen Chien-yuan

Soup Dumplings (aka, Shanghai Dumplings)
These small steamed buns are filled mostly with seasoned pork. After steaming, they appear semi-translucent with hot broth inside. They are usually eaten with a little wine vinegar. Originally known as a Shanghai dim sum dish, these dumplings are the house specialty at Din Tai Fung Dumpling House in Taipei. The restaurant’s signature dumplings has both locals and tourists forming lines out of the door. Photo: Liu Ching-yao

Beef Noodles
Stewed beef over noodle soup are the ingredients of this basic, but classic dish. Legend has it this originated as a Muslim meal, but others say it was invented by war veterans from Szechwan who escaped to Taiwan with the Nationalist government. It is a favorite of the Taiwanese people. Photo: Chang Chih-chieh

Pearl Milk Tea
Originally developed in central Taiwan, this refreshing sweet cold drink is a mix of black tea, milk and tapioca pearls made from yam flour. Pearl milk tea is now popular with Asian-Americans as well. Photo: Chang Chi-yu

Shaved Ice
A large block of ice is finely shaved to produce a nice pile of fine powder. It is then topped with an assortment of condiments, which may include sweet red beans, sweet pearls, cooked taro, jelly and finished with a swirl of sweetened condensed milk. An all round favorite during Taiwan’s sweltering summer months. Photo: Hsu Juei-chen

Pyramid-shaped Glutinous Rice
Made of glutinous rice mixed with mushrooms, peanuts, egg yolk and pork intricately wrapped in several layers of bamboo leaves and then tied with string before boiling. Traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival, but now sold throughout the year. Photo: Kuan-chiun

Wan Luan Pork Hocks
The pork hocks are stewed with star anise, cassia twig and other Chinese herbs. Originally developed on a farm in Wan Luan Township in Southern Taiwan. It is now a much loved dish at night markets across Taiwan. Photo: Hu Po-shu

Stinky Tofu
Fermented tofu is fried until it becomes crispy. Normally cut into four small pieces, and then served with sweet and sour pickles. It can be truly stinky and is considered an acquired taste – definitely one for the more adventurous palate. Photo: Lo Ta-chiung

Special thanks to Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau for providing the photos.

Study Mandarin and explore Taiwan through scholarships

Each year, the Ministry of Education offers two types of scholarship for students interested in studying in Taiwan. These scholarships are a great opportunity to explore another culture with the reassuring cushion of a monthly stipend. Students can choose to apply for a long-term certification scholarship, like the Taiwan Scholarship Program or a one-year language program, like the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship (HES). Applications for both scholarship programs are being accepted now for this fall. The deadline is March 31, 2010.

Recently, Taiwan Insights caught up with three of last year’s scholarship recipients and asked them to give some overall impressions of their time in Taiwan.

“Studying Chinese was very humbling”

Before Kerry Seed left for Taiwan, he was a student at the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley. He wanted to learn Chinese with the intention of using it in his work as a reporter. He was in Taipei for five months, studying at National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU). Seed knew very little Chinese before entering his program at the Mandarin Training Center.

“Studying Chinese was very humbling. I felt like I had to work so hard to make even modest gains, but the work was very satisfying.” Besides taking one class per day for two hours, he also studied about four hours per day outside of class. “I really enjoyed my time in Taiwan. The people I met there were very friendly and willing to help me learn. I felt like I had a million teachers.”

One of the things he liked most about the program was his classmates. “My classmates were from all over the world, and meeting them was one of the most enjoyable parts of my stay in Taiwan.”

The most challenging aspect of his time in Taiwan was to manage his studies as well as exploring Taipei. His advice to anyone considering the program is to simply “Do it!!!”

Opportunities to soak up local culture

Emily Rupp swapped the fall semester of her master’s program in Asia Pacific Studies at the University of San Francisco to study at National Taiwan Normal University. She had prepared for her trip by taking a summer intensive Mandarin Chinese class at the University of California at Berkeley just before her departure. Like Seed, she was in class for ten hours a week at the Mandarin Training Center.

When asked about her experience there, she mentioned how friendly she found the Taiwanese people. After her stay in Taiwan, she visited other parts of Asia and this confirmed her feelings that the people in Taiwan were “so much nicer than anywhere else in Asia.” She found “a lot of kindness.” In fact, she was overwhelmed to have perfect strangers invite her to their homes and go “all-out” with preparing a meal for her.

One thing that Rupp especially liked was Taiwan’s Tea Culture. “If you meet your friends here, you would meet for drinks, but the kids there hang out all night drinking tea…” She likened tea to the “social glue” in Taiwan, a drink minus the guilt normally associated with alcohol. She enjoyed going to the tea stations and getting a huge tea for merely a dollar.

She also found the food to be amazing and affordable, with a lot of vegetable and organic restaurants everywhere. One can get a completely healthy meal for US$3-4.

For anyone considering studying in Taipei, Rupp cautioned overseas students when renting a room. “Don’t pay more than NT$8,000 (around US$250) for a room.” In the Bay Area, US$600 a month might be reasonable, but it is way more than you need to pay in Taiwan.

Although the scholarship was sufficient to live on and pay the tuition, she advised students studying overseas to ask when their first scholarship check will arrive. Regardless, be sure to take extra cash. If the first stipend does not arrive right away, you might need a month or two of living expense and tuition money. Seed also suggested students take extra money.

Study Mandarin at Taiwan’s top universities

In June 2009, graduate student Zayar Ohn took a three-month summer break from his studies to enroll in Taiwan’s top-ranked university, National Taiwan University (NTU). As a former journalist in Burma, he arrived in America as a refugee and is now a graduate student at the Center for the Pacific Rim at the University of San Francisco. While in Taiwan, he enrolled in the NTU’s Language Center’s intensive Mandarin Chinese course, meeting for 15 hours a week. He found the class size to be perfect and his intensive language class not as grueling as he had expected.

While studying in Taipei, he lived in Xindian, a suburb of Taipei City. He got to know the public transportation well. In fact, the “fantastic transportation system” was one of his favorable impressions. “Buses and the subway are really clean.” He was less fond of the air pollution.

One thing that stood out for Ohn was Taiwanese politeness. “They did not yell at each other when they spoke. They spoke politely. People were nice, welcoming and considerate, when not driving a motor cycle on the streets.” Upon his return to San Francisco, he has a renewed appreciation of his pedestrian rights.

While in Taiwan, Ohn fell in love with Taiwanese Oolong tea. “I went to many tea houses. The only thing I bought for my home was tea.” He predicts he will not run out of tea for another year. “Brewing tea and making tea is an art in Taiwan.”

Taiwan scholarships now available

The scholarship program that Ohn, Rupp and Seed participated in was similar to the HES program. Whereas the program before allowed a minimum stay of three months, the minimum stay is now one year. The program is especially ideal for students looking to study Mandarin and to participate in cross-cultural exchanges. The monthly stipend is NT$25,000 (about US$770). Applicants wishing to apply to this program can visit find out more information at: .

Another scholarship is the Taiwan Scholarship Program. It is intended for students who wish to undertake a degree program in Taiwan. Although students need not be accepted into an accredited university or college in Taiwan when applying, the applicant MUST BE accepted to an accredited institution to be awarded the scholarship.

The program offers four different scholarships, of varying lengths and monthly stipends. The monthly stipends awarded range from NT$25,000 (about US$770) to NT$30,000 (about US$900). Applicants can apply for the Undergraduate, Master’s, Doctoral or the Pre-degree Mandarin Language Enrichment Program (LEP) Scholarships.

The LEP scholarship is a one-year scholarship intended for the recipient to study Mandarin Chinese. However, the award may be extended if the student continues on to another accredited program. The undergraduate scholarship is for a maximum of 4 years. Both LEP and the undergraduate scholarships provide a monthly stipend of about US$770. The graduate scholarships offer a slightly more generous scholarship of about US$900 a month.

Applicants accepted onto the master’s program can get the scholarship for a maximum of 2 years, while the doctoral program students can receive the stipend for up to 3 years. Applicants who wish to learn more about this program should visit:
. Applicants living in the state of Alaska, Northern California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington or Wyoming must send their completed documents to the Ministry of Education’s regional office in San Francisco before the deadline:

Attention: MOE Language Scholarship
Cultural Division
Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco
555 Montgomery Street, Ste. 503
San Francisco, CA

Interest applicants can also contact Jerry Chen at or

“Au Revoir Taipei” to premiere at Asian American Film Festival’s closing night, March 18

The 28th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) opens tonight with The Daily Show, a romantic comedy set in New York City, but with a South Asian flavor. The opening reception will be at the Asian Art Museum, featuring the electrifying beat of Non Stop Bhangra. The Dholrhythms Dance Company will also perform, and give free lessons to attendees. So don’t miss the choice desserts, drinks and a star-studded crowd dancing to the rhythms of bhangra, hip hop, reggae, and electronica.

The closing night gala on March 18 will feature Au Revoir Taipei by Bay Area-native, and Taiwanese-American, Arvin Chen. Set in Taipei, this campy romance combines elements of film noir, classical musical and Taiwanese gangster films. Festival attendees will have the chance to see Taipei’s vibrant nightlife as a lovesick boy and a passive-aggressive bookstore clerk search for love in different pockets of the city.

The film’s North American premiere will show at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas at 7pm. The next evening, the films will be the opening feature at the San Jose Opening Night Gala Reception at Camera 12 Cinemas. A reception will follow at the San Jose Musuem of Art.

Another film with Taiwan roots at this year’s festival is Prince of Tears. Showing on the 13th in San Francisco (Clay), 14th in Berkeley (Pacific Film Archive) and 20th in San Jose (Camera), the film is a coming of age tale set during Taiwan’s brutal anti-communist crackdown in the 1950s. The film focuses on the lives of two young sisters and how living under terror can turn the most hopeful of dreams.
The 28th SFIAAFF will feature approximately 120 works in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose. The festival is presented by the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) and is the nation’s largest showcase of Asian and Asian American films. Since 1982, the SFIAAFF has been an important launching point for Asian American independent filmmakers as well as a vital source for new Asian cinema.

To find out more about SFIAAFF or to purchase tickets, please visit:

Monte Jade’s upcoming annual conference in Santa Clara

The 20th annual conference of Monte Jade Science and Technology Association (West Coast) and the 2nd Global Monte Jade Summit will be held at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA, on March 27. Newly elected Monte Jade chairwoman Lilly Chung said the main theme for the conference is “bridging two decades of technology innovation across the Pacific – celebrating the past and creating the future.”

Several prominent members of the business community and venture capitalists will participate in the meeting. Hsu Ta-lin, chairman and founder of H&Q Asia Pacific, will deliver a keynote speech at the opening ceremony. Bill Rutter, chairman and CEO of Synergenics, and chairman emeritus of Chiron Corporation will deliver another keynote.

Former Monte Jade chairman Ed Yang, a partner of iDVentures America and former CTO and VP of Hewlett-Packard, said participants at the conference will review strategies learned in their respective business environments around the world to help develop new opportunities in the future. He will moderate the Industry Luminaries Forum that will include panelists: David Lee (chairman of eOn Communications and Symbio, and senior advisor of SilverLake), William Miller (professor of Public and Private Management, Emeritus, Herbert Hoover Institute, Stanford University), Chintay Shih (former president of Taiwan’s ITRI), and Albert Yu (chairman of OneAnstrom and a former senior VP of Intel Corp.).

The second session will feature three panel discussions on the emerging mobile ecosystem, clean tech opportunities and the evolution of computing – cloud computing.

In the evening, Chao-Shiuan Liu, former premier of Taiwan and the Global Monte Jade Honorable chairman, will deliver a keynote speech on “How Taiwan faces the challenges after the global financial tsunami.”

The 20th annual gathering will also honor four outstanding businessmen for their achievements in the business arena as well as their contribution to society. The Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award will be awarded to: Bruce Cheng (chairman of Delta), Terry Guo (chairman of Foxconn International), Stanley Wang (chairman, president and CEO of Pantronix Corp.), and David Lee.

For more information about Monte Jade or to register for the conference, please visit their website:

Named after Jade Mountain (Yushan), the highest mountain in Taiwan, the Monte Jade Science and Technology Association, West Coast (“Monte Jade”) was set up in 1989 by a group of Chinese-American executives in Silicon Valley. The initial goal was to bring together high-tech experts from around the Bay Area and across the Pacific.

Monte Jade, incorporated as a non-profit organization in the State of California, held its first conference in San Jose in 1990. Today, there are 15 chapters worldwide. They include chapters in New York (East), Chicago (Mid-West), Washington DC, New England, Pittsburgh, Atlanta (South-East) Philadelphia, as well as in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Canada To better coordinate between the chapters, Monte Jade-USA was organized in 1993. The founding organization in the Bay Area is now known as Monte Jade-West Coast.

Election defeats a severe warning for KMT

The results of Taiwan’s by-elections for four legislators were announced on February 27. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won three seats in the counties of Taoyuan, Hsinchu, and Chiayi, while the ruling Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) took just one seat in Hualien. In Hualien, the DPP candidate Hsiao Bi-khim lost to the KMT candidate Wang Ting-sheng by 6,100 votes, but the result was notable because the DPP had again closed the gap in this KMT stronghold.

Since taking office in May 2008, President Ma Ying-jeou’s KMT has lost five of the six elections including the election for city mayors and county magistrates at the end of 2009, and five by-elections for legislators. President Ma described this latest by-election defeat as a “severe warning” to the ruling KMT.

After this by-election, the number of DPP seats in the Legislative Yuan increased from 30 to 33, with the KMT retaining 75 and independents holding onto five spots. In the January 2008 elections, the KMT won 82 seats and the DPP took only 27. But since March 2009, the five legislative by-elections have seen a steady increase in the DPP tally.

Morale of opposition boosted

According to the Taipei-based China Times, the ruling party’s defeat can be attributed to several factors: the internal split of the KMT in Taoyuan and Hsinchu, the DPP’s efforts to rebuild trust among undecided and young voters, the low voter turnout (only 36-42 percent) and the absence of KMT voters in particular. Declining poll results for the KMT can also be attributed to the economic downturn, rising unemployment, the government’s unimpressive rescue efforts of Typhoon Morakot victims and the controversy surrounding US beef imports.

According the Central News Agency, the KMT’s secretary-general King Pu-tsung admitted that this election was a failure for the party. King said that the long-term problems of the KMT should still be dealt with despite the defeat. He will intensify efforts to reform the party by stopping the widespread practice of vote buying and exchanges of benefits with local politicians.

Commentator Liao Chin-tin said in the paper that low voter turnout showed the disappointment felt by voters that the legislators of both parties had left their positions unfilled in order to engage in the magistrate’s election.

After the presidential election defeat in 2008, DPP chairperson Tsai Ying-wen has rallied the party by winning five elections. This has boosted the morale of all DPP members. Tsai is expected to win another term as the DPP chairperson in May.

KMT facing uphill struggle

The Five Municipal Elections of Taipei City, Kaohsiung City, and the greater Taipei, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung municipalities will be the next important elections before the 2012 presidential election in Taiwan.

The China Times noted that the DPP has a chance in the 2012 presidential election if it can hold onto its traditional strongholds of greater Kaohsiung Municipality and greater Tainan Municipality, and make a breakthrough in Taipei City or the greater Taipei Municipality. As such, the DPP has begun to position itself. Su Tseng-chang, the premier under the previous DPP administration, announced on March 3 his intention to run for Taipei city mayor at the year-end Five Municipality Elections.

The Central News Agency reported that Liao Kun-jung, professor with the Political Science department at National Chung Cheng University, predicts that the KMT will suffer another setback in the Five Municipality Elections, but they might perform better in the presidential election. He said the low turnout in recent elections is directly due to the KMT’s supporters’ general sense of apathy, but Liao expects they will still turn out to vote for President Ma. Liao stressed that Ma is likely to face a difficult election, but at this time, no obvious challenger has appeared to oppose him within the ruling party.

Political commentator Ku Er-teh noted after the 2008 presidential election that all the six elections are local ones and the DPP might not duplicate its recent successes in the 2012 presidential election.

Pres. Ma makes case for trade pact with China

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou held a press conference on February 9th to explain the reasoning behind his administration’s policies concerning the negotiation of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China. He said the pact would include measures focusing on tariff reductions and exemptions as well as legal protection of investment and intellectual property rights. The overall aim is to boost Taiwan’s competitiveness.

President Ma expressed his worry that Taiwan’s competitiveness will be adversely affected by free trade agreements (FTA) between the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, which from January this year reduced customs duties on 90 percent of trade between some of the countries.

In order not to be left behind, Taiwan needs an ECFA with China, according to Ma. There has been huge change in Asia over the last decade. In 2000, there were only three FTAs signed in the region, but by 2009 the number had increased to 58. Only Taiwan and North Korea are yet to sign an FTA.

Three key issues to ECFA

An ECFA with China would stimulate foreign direct investment in Taiwan and assure that the island is not marginalized in the region. An ECFA should also help create more job opportunities for Taiwanese people by addressing tariff reductions, the protection of investment and intellectual property rights.

First is the matter of tariff reductions and exemptions. In 2008, bilateral trade reached over US$130 billion, with Taiwan exporting US$100 billion-worth of goods to China and importing US$32.5 billion from the mainland. With low or zero tariffs, Taiwan would benefit from increased export volumes.

Second is the need for investment protection. An estimated 100,000 Taiwanese businesses have invested in China, with the total investment topping US$80 billion. Taiwan needs a comprehensive set of measures to safeguard the island’s business interests when they encounter unfair or unjust treatment in China.

Third is the protection of Taiwanese intellectual property rights, including trade marks, patents, and special processing and innovations. Through arrangements under an ECFA, Taiwanese firms would be able to avoid becoming the victims of Chinese pirating.

President responds to public concerns

In addressing concerns that an ECFA might hurt certain domestic industries, Ma said that the government has formulated three types of assistance program to help offset the impact. “Rejuvenation” assistance is aimed at helping industries that are at risk but have not yet been hurt. “Systematic adjustment” assistance is aimed at improving the operations of industries that have begun to suffer, though not as heavily. In the case of industries experiencing severe setbacks, a “damage relief” program administered by the Ministry of Economic Affairs will provide assistance up to NT$95 billion (about US$3 billion) over a 10-year period.

In response to concerns that Taiwan will allow mainland labor and agricultural imports, the president underscored the fact that agreements under the World Trade Organization framework do not address movements of labor, and it will not be included in these cross-strait negotiations.

As for agricultural products, he pointed out, whereas the previous Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration had lifted restrictions on the import of 1,415 types of mainland products, his administration has not lifted restrictions on even a single additional category of agricultural goods.

As for the DPP’s suspicions that China harbors political designs to use economic agreements to make Taiwan more dependent, President Ma said the surging growth of Taiwan’s trade with China and investment there is normal. It is in keeping with China’s place as a factory to the world and its ballooning worldwide trade.

Talk on ECFA gains momentum

According to the Central News Agency, Premier Wu Den-yih said on March 6th that Taiwan and China hope to sign ECFA in May or June, depending on the progress of the negotiations. Both sides will have to negotiate on their “early harvest” lists, which refer to the industries and services on both sides that will be granted immediate tariff concessions or more liberal trade terms under the ECFA, Wu noted.

Momentum seems to be building on China’s side for the negotiation to be concluded, following the first round of talks that was held in late January. The second round of ECFA talks is slated for late March in Taipei.

Who wins with ECFA?

Taiwan and China have begun negotiating the details of the FTA-like Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with a hope of scheduling an official meeting this May or June. Among the important preliminary items under discussion are Taiwan’s petrochemicals, textiles, mechanical equipment products and automobiles entering China tariff free. As the main source of Taiwan’s foreign exchange, these four industries create total exports worth NT$280 billion (US$8.75 billion), accounting for 30 percent of Taiwan’s total exports.

Commonwealth monthly reported that in order to minimize the holdups in the official negotiation process, the associations of these four industries have had their chairmen working with China since 2009. According to these businessmen, they have done their part in the give-and-take negotiations with their counterparts, and now await the formal announcement of negotiations between the two governments.

Petroleum, textiles seek equal footing with ASEAN

The petrochemical industry accounts for 20 percent of Taiwan’s total exports. In all, 40 percent of Taiwan’s petrochemical exports head to China, making that country the island’s biggest market. Most of Taiwan’s petrochemical exports are in upper string raw materials that are sent to China for processing. As an example, Formosa Plastics Corporation has a fleet of vessels to ship raw materials from its complex in Mailiao, Yunlin County, to production facilities in eastern China for further processing.

For the petrochemical industry, the most important issue is not the quality, but fast delivery and competitive costs. The addition of tariffs in China would have an enormous impact on Taiwan’s petrochemicals. Starting from January 2010, ASEAN member countries now enjoy zero tariffs on their petrochemical exports to China, meaning that Taiwan’s petrochemical raw materials are now priced 5 to 10 percent higher than those of ASEAN members.

For all intents and purpose, the textile industry is lumped with the petrochemical industry. Taiwan Textile Federation sent a delegation led by W.U. Wang, executive director of Formosa Chemicals and Fiber Corp., to sign a memorandum with his Chinese counterpart in July 2009. There they learned that almost half of Taiwan’s textile exports might enjoy zero tariffs once the ECFA takes effect.

The significance of the ECFA does not lie in increasing the strength of Taiwan’s petrochemical industry, but in achieving an equal footing with the ASEAN nations. It is also crucial for the petrochemical industry to retain the supply chain in Taiwan. Wang said by maintaining similar competition conditions, the ECFA will prevent Taiwan becoming more dependent on China.

Mechanical equipment Industry depends on China

Like petrochemicals, Taiwan’s mechanical equipment industry is also heavily dependent upon exports, which account for 60 percent of total exports. China is the also the largest market for Taiwan’s mechanical equipment products, receiving 30 percent of Taiwan’s total exports in this sector.

For the mechanical equipment industry, the ECFA would not only reduce the tariffs of exporting to China, but the agreement could mean that Taiwanese firms might set up manufacturing plants in China. Operating in Taiwan has all the advantages except Taiwan’s real estate is more costly and is also farther from the end-market consumers.

The mechanical equipment industry maintains a complicated supply chain. While in Taiwan, all the sub-contractors are within a 50-kilometer range, in the mainland, they are spread across hundreds of kilometers. Mechanical equipment is heavy and costly to transport by land. For Taiwan, transportation costs could be reduced and delivery speeded up if items were shipped by sea instead of over land. This is why only 20 percent of the mechanical equipment businesses invest in facilities in China. With the ECFA in place, Taiwanese firms would take advantage of lower costs in China to increase their global market share.

Auto sales shrinking

Unlike the petrochemical and mechanical equipment industries, Taiwan’s auto-makers are facing shrinking sales, estimated at 300,000 cars annually. With such a small market, they can’t afford to develop brand names and must count on promoting joint ventures with foreign companies to reduce production costs.

For the auto industry, the ECFA would help simplify the sale of 12 million Taiwan-made cars to China annually. Chen Guorong, general manager of Taiwan’s Yulon Motor, told Commonwealth that the ECFA offers an opportunity for Yulon to cooperate with China’s Geely Automobiles to develop a lower priced car. Yulon plans to import cheap Chinese auto components for assembly in Taiwan, with 40 percent added value to sell in Taiwan or export to other markets. This would convert ‘Made in China’ to ‘Made in Taiwan.’

However, Chen also understands that the ECFA poses a risk of converting Taiwan’s market into a part of the Chinese market. For example, after the merger of markets across the Taiwan Strait, Nissan, which has had a long term partnership with Yulon, might stop production in Taiwan, and only manufacture autos in China for export to Taiwan.

Japan and Korea poses greatest threat

Although these four industries have their own reasons for promoting the ECFA with China, their real intention is to block stronger competitors of Taiwanese goods – Japan and South Korea. A high ranking manager in the petrochemical industry said, as a matter of fact, Taiwan is not afraid of ASEAN plus one (China). The real threat to Taiwanese industry is Japan and Korea plus one (China).

In the face of China’s rising market, the largest in the world, Taiwan’s main strategy is to sign an ECFA with China before Japan and Korea, thus gaining a competitive edge over those two countries. This is one reason Japan and Korea have been avidly watching the ongoing progress of the free trade agreement developments between Taiwan and China.

Taiwan builds confidence in its soft power

Through innovation and packaging, Taiwan’s snack food culture has extended Taiwan’s visibility and soft power according to the Singapore-based United Morning Daily. As a small island and diplomatically isolated, Taiwan has little power in a global fist fight, instead, it has significant influence by using its soft power. Taiwan’s soft power is evident in the island’s music, movies, snack foods, literature, arts, religion and designs.

Taiwan has long been influenced by other cultures and lifestyles according to Commonwealth monthly. Before World War II, Taipei was one-third Japanese. In a very short time, the Japanese disappeared to be replaced by Chinese mainlanders. After the Nationalist Chinese government moved to Taiwan, the US forces came to help defend the island against the Communist Chinese, building up American bases and communities in Taiwan. This introduced American music, literature, arts, and lifestyle to Taiwanese people.

Taiwan has adjusted to a history of immigrants and adjusted itself to the different nationalities drifting in and out. As a part of the adjustment, the island has been sensitive to changes and trends that have helped in the development of a unique Taiwanese operational style in global markets.

Pioneer of 24-7 model

Taiwan pioneered the 24-7 business model, which has spread to other parts of the world. There were 9,204 convenience stores in Taiwan as of the end of 2008, an average of one store per 2,500 persons. Making Taiwan No. 1 in the world in terms of convenience store density. Another type of 24-hour business is the karaoke video (KTV) store.

While Taiwan might have its Starbucks chain, it also has its special blend of local Taiwanese drinks. Pearl tea, a mixture of black tea, milk and chewy black tapioca balls made from yam flour, was first developed in Taichung in 1987. The drink, also known as Boba or Bubble tea, has now spread throughout Asia and beyond. In the San Francisco Bay Area, pearl tea cafes are as prevalent as Starbucks in some neighborhoods.

Instant noodles are snack food invented in Taiwan and now popular throughout the world. They have become the inexpensive snack food of choice for many college students.

Even a regional food like Shanghai dumplings have been popularized by Taiwan’s Din Tai Fung Dumpling House. Although Shanghai might be the birthplace of these delicious soup dumplings, Taiwan’s Ding Tai Fung has become famous for producing these labor-intensive dumplings in each of its restaurants around the world.

Asia’s new trend setter

As a fashion leader in every lifestyle trend, Taiwan has become an important cultural center in Asia. In particular, for every ten workers in Taipei, there is one who works in an area related to culture, and out of every five companies, you will find two working in a culture-based job. According to statistics from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Taiwan’s cultural innovation industry generated NT$600 billion (US$18.7 billion) in 2007, with a total of 210,000 employees.

Well-known writer Lung Ying-tai observed, Taiwan is the desert rose in the Chinese cultural world. Hong Kong visitors like the Eslite Bookstore, which is open 24 hours a day. Chinese and Japanese visitors flood the National Palace Museum to purchase souvenirs of the famous Jadeite Cabbage.

Half a century ago, Taiwan lacked a strong point of view, culturally. The people followed a generalized global fashion trend, one which pointed toward Paris, New York and Japan. But nowadays, Taiwanese confidence in its cultural contribution has shifted and the world is taking note.

First Taiwan-made film raises climate change profile

Taiwan’s first documentary on climate change premiered on February 22nd in Taipei. Produced by Sisy Chen, “Plus or Minus 2 Degrees Celsius” urged the discussion of climate change as a top national security priority in Taiwan. Chen told local news media that the name of the film came from the consensus reached at the Copenhagen Summit in 2009 that the world temperature should be controlled within 2 degrees Celsius in order to head off further deterioration in the world’s climate.

The 70-minute film, produced over five months, and with NT$8 million (US$250,000)-worth of financial support from Taiwanese businesses, local media, researchers and volunteers, seeks to educate Taiwanese people about the importance of balancing environmental protection with economic growth.

Taiwanese amongst first climate change victims

The film cites the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) statement of 2007, that global temperature is likely to rise by between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees C (2 and 11.5 degrees F) during the 21st century and that sea levels may rise 18 to 59 centimeters (7.08 to 23.22 inches).

Using those statistics combined with information compiled by researchers from Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, Chen came to realize that some parts of Taiwan would be under water along with low-lying island nations such as the Maldives and Kiribati. Taiwan’s affected areas would include Dongshih in Chiayi County, Donggang and Linbian in Pingtung County, and Mailiao in Yunlin County in the South, where Taiwan’s largest petrochemical complex is located.

If global temperature is not controlled, sea-levels are predicted to rise further, and the second group of climate change victims could include all the delta areas of the world, such as the Ganges Delta in South Asia. These rising sea levels would also threaten to submerge Taiwan’s Ilan plain, the metropolitan Taipei basin and metropolitan Kaohsiung. Chen warned that the Taiwanese will be among the first wave of flood refugees in the global warming disaster.

Government urged to enhance climate security

The film urges its audience to send e-mails to President Ma Ying-jeou to elevate the concern within government regarding the issue of Taiwan’s climate security to the level of national security and to start a green revolution so as to “save the earth, save Taiwan and save our children.”

In an editorial, the Taipei-based China Times took the government to task for asking the people to reduce carbon emissions while the state-owned Taipower company is still prioritizing the construction of more power plants, petrochemical complexes and steel plants. The government seems a long way from matching words with action to tackle the looming catastrophe.

Commonwealth magazine paints a gloomy picture for Taiwan and its ability to cut emissions, saying that the international reality after the Copenhagen Summit on global climate changes brings heavy pressure to bear on Taiwan. Like Taiwan, many of its neighbors set hugely ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions at the meeting.

China pledged that the level of carbon emitted per unit of GDP in 2020 would be 40 to 50 percent lower than in 2005, while South Korea stated that its carbon emissions in 2020 would be 30 percent lower. Meanwhile, Taiwan has set a goal of reducing carbon emissions between 2016 and 2020 to the level of 2008, and to cut emissions to the level of 2000 by 2025.

Participation in emissions trading needed

For Taiwan alone, this goal is likely to be unachievable, said Wu Tsai-yi, president of the Taiwan Research Institute (TRI). According to current economic development trends, Taiwan’s GDP is predicted to grow 3.5 percent per year. This means Taiwan would have carbon emissions of 460 million metric tons in 2025, doubling that of 214 million metric tons in 2000. That is an average growth of 10 to 12 million metric tons per year.

A more realistic way for Taiwan to reduce carbon emissions is to go overseas to buy carbon rights or participate in emissions trading, also known as Cap and Trade, in addition to regional tree planting and the clean development mechanism (CDM). Under the Kyoto Protocol, this special arrangement allows industrialized countries with a greenhouse gas reduction commitment to invest in ventures that reduce emissions in developing countries as an alternative to more expensive emissions reduction in their own countries.

Wu said, according to the TRI study, every 10 million metric tons of carbon emissions would generate 0.06 to 0.08 percent of economic growth. If emissions cannot be cut, Taiwan has to limit its economic growth. According to Commonwealth, although Taiwan has ambitious cabon emissions reduction goals, it is not clear yet how the island could cope with this new situation after the Copenhagen Summit.

Who do Taiwanese people trust most?

According to the March issue of Taiwan’s Reader’s Digest, Master Cheng Yen of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation tops the list as the most trusted person in Taiwan. She held a huge 22 percent lead over Lee Chia-tung, the former president of Chi-nan University, who placed second. She was followed by President Ma Ying-jeou in third, Dr. Henry Lee (US-based forensic scientist) in fourth, His Eminence Paul Shan Kuo-hsi, S.J. (Roman Catholic Church Cardinal) in fifth and Master Aki (grand chef of the national banquets) in sixth.

The top choices

Known as the “Asian Mother Theresa,” Master Cheng Yen founded the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation in 1966 with a commitment to promote the religious spirit of charity. After every major disaster in Taiwan, Tzu Chi volunteers are first to arrive on the scene to help. With a vast number of volunteers, they are able to match – if not surpass – government agencies with their efficiency in rescue and relief work. Even in remote corners of the earth, Tzu Chi volunteers are often the first to send medical assistance. Master Cheng Yen’s name has been put forward for the Nobel Peace Prize, notably, by the 2008 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine Harald zur Hausen who believes she is the most qualified candidate for the honor.

The Digest’s multiple-choice survey polled Taiwanese people about a range of areas. With respect to public welfare, unselfish and high morals, and professionalism, Master Cheng Yen ranked first. She was followed by Cloud Gate Dance Theater founder Lin Hwai-min (5), former president Lee Chia-tung of Chinan University (7), and “the forever civil servant on TV” Chang Hsiao-yen (10). All are long-term volunteers in public service seen to bring social stability.

Others receiving a high degree of trust included movie director Ang Lee (3) and former US Major League Baseball player Wang Chien-ming (8). They are considered to be persistent, focused and highly idealist. Professor Li Ding-chan of The Institute of Sociology in Tsinghua University said. “The top ten are all outstanding professionals and long-term hard workers in their professional fields. They all have the attitude of dedication and stability, no negative news or tricks, thus winning the trust of the people.”

Money does not equal trust

Comparatively speaking, those associated with “monetary power” ranked lower. In particular, entrepreneurs’ reputations of being trust-worthy took a beating in the face of the global financial crisis. According to Liu Wei-kong, an associate professor of sociology at Soochow University, “In the last year’s financial turmoil, the public showed antipathy for the money game; and the decoupling of social wealth and social responsibility led to low public trust in entrepreneurs”

The only person that bucked this trend was Morris Chang, chairman of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., who ranked in ninth place. Although a business owner, Chang gives the impression of honesty. Once at a shareholders’ meeting, Chang warned investors that wafer prices for the next quarter would not be good, asking investors to be conservative.

Foxconn chairman Terry Gou is also ranked in the top 20 at number 14. According to Liu’s analysis, Gou has been actively engaged in public service. “His performance after Typhoon Morakot in August 2009 was better that that of the government. He has a reputation as the Bill Gates of Taiwan.”

Media prominence does not equal trust

In the Digest’s survey, the low rankers were politicians, talk show hosts, TV pundits and entertainers. Professor Ku Chung-hua of National Cheng Chi University pointed out, “Taiwan’s journalists have their own political stand points, and the media relates sensational news to high ratings. This is the reason why they fail to win public trust.” Chang Ly-yun, researcher at the Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica, said, “It is a great irony. The media, which control public opinion in society, and the politicians, who control the operation of the government, should be trusted by the people because they are all involved with public interests. Instead, they occupy the lower rankings.”

At the same time, being a popular artist does not mean they are trusted. Jay Chou, once named “Asian Little Superstar” holds 52nd place. “You can see the good or bad reputation of the media from Jay Chou’s ranking,” said radio host Wang Tzu-sou. “Why should Jay Chou, who was listed by CNN as one of Asia’s 25 most influential people in the world, get such a low ranking? One of the possible reasons is that he has been tarnished by his many romantic scandals. So regardless of how prominent you are, once you hurt your image, your credibility is also discounted.”

Former presidents trailed at the bottom

According to Reader’s Digest, the survey asked respondents to make a single choice among the most trusted figures, Master Cheng Yen was again ranked first and the national banquet chef Aki came in at sixth place. These rankings did not change, but President Ma Ying-jeou’s ranking jumped to third from 37th place. Political commentator Nanfang Shuo said that this is because Ma enjoys national visibility. In the multiple choices survey, Ma is ignored because respondents picked others, but in the single choice survey, respondents remembered him. It is interesting to note that in the multiple choice survey, former President Lee Teng-hui ranked 75th while another former President Chen Sui-bian came in last at 80th.

Japanese-American scholar Francis Fukuyama said in his book Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity that trust is a form of social capital, and only a high degree of trust in society can lead to the creation of higher economic prosperity. Professor Ku agrees that Taiwan’s social trust is indeed in fragile shape, but the operation of a modern society depends on the political and economic systems, not on an individual. “So, trust in individuals is full of risks, not as good as the trust in a system.” Ku said that if social trust has been low for a long time, the economy will not recover easily.

In the survey, the Reader’s Digest listed 80 celebrities from all walks of life in Taiwan and asked respondents to pick those they trusted most. The survey was conducted by Digital Edge, which sent out 16,200 e-mails and received 1,003 responses. The final tally was taken from 760 valid responses in late October 2009.