AAA offers trip to discover Taiwan’s culture

Much ado is made about Chinese Lunar New Year, with most Taiwanese workers getting a week off to celebrate. However, Taiwan also has two other festivals that are quieter, more sedate celebrations of Chinese culture. Both use the contrast of darkness and night to highlight the beauty of light. One is the Moon Festival (aka Mid-Autumn Festival), which takes place during the autumn full moon. The other is the Lantern Festival, which follows immediately after Chinese New Year.

This year’s Moon Festival falls on Saturday, September 21. Already, Chinese bakeries and supermarkets are fully stocked with an array of decorative mooncake boxes. A popular gift during this festival, businesses give mooncakes to valued clients, while families give boxes to each other.

Mooncakes are typically round, but they can also be square. They are usually filled with red bean or lotus seed paste. In some, the cakes might have a preserved egg yolk or two in the center, symbolizing the full moon. The outer pastry is usually decorated with an intricate design of Chinese characters before being baked to a glazed golden brown. Due to the richness of each cake, they are usually enjoyed in slices.

During the full moon, family and friends gather to celebrate the festival by gazing at the moon while enjoying mooncakes. Today, this centuries old custom is continued in Taiwan and pockets of Chinese/Taiwanese communities worldwide.

Another festival popular in Taiwan is the Lantern Festival, which is held on the 15th day of the new lunar month. In the past, families might have taken the time to stroll near Taipei’s Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, to see the colorful light shows of giant lanterns and floats derived from Chinese zodiac animals or animated characters. These days, the festival is celebrated across the island.

In the 1990s, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau decided to promote the festival worldwide. Since 2001, many major cities around the island have held special events linked to the Lantern Festival. Nowadays, the Tourism Bureau compiles a long list of activities for local and international visitors. The festival has become so popular it is now a part of Discovery Channel’s “Fantastic Festivals of the World” program.

Taiwanese people still celebrate by making paper lanterns, writing their wishes on them before setting them adrift into the night sky. The sight of hundreds of lanterns floating towards heaven is truly breathtaking.

This year, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau, along with AAA Sojourns and television personality Liam Myclem, are offering a trip to see the Lantern Festival next year. The 10-day trip will depart on February 10 for Taiwan and Hong Kong. The bulk of the trip will be in Taiwan, discovering the island’s renowned food culture, famous night markets and taking specially arranged trips to Taiwan’s scenic countryside. Excursions to Sun Moon Lake, Antique Assam Tea Farms and other relaxing experiences will enliven the senses. The 2014 Taiwan Lantern Festival and Hong Kong Experience with Liam Mayclem starts at US$3,899.

More Bay Area students take Taiwan’s Mandarin Chinese test

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the 2013 Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language (TOCFL) was offered twice this spring in Bay Area schools. The TOCFL is Taiwan’s Mandarin Chinese test. It is administered under the direction of the island’s Ministry of Education. In all, 78 American students participated in the first testing of their proficiency in elementary, intermediate, advanced and proficient Chinese during the April 5 testing at the University of California, Berkeley. In the second exam, 31 students took the test at the International School of the Peninsula on May 9.

In recent years, Chinese language education has thrived in the Bay Area. In an effort to prepare students for the challenges of an increasingly connected world, American schools are standardizing Chinese language courses as well as Chinese immersion programs. To evaluate a student’s ability, a Chinese language proficiency assessment system was needed. This has made the TOCFL very useful for Chinese-language educators to gauge their students’ performance.

Since 2008, the Education Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco has promoted TOCFL among local American schools and universities offering Chinese language and East Asian studies. The test is widely recognized by many teachers as a useful assessment instrument. Students who take the test not only get a sense of their proficiency, but it also gives them added motivation to advance their language skills to the next level.

In October, another TOCFL will be administered at Brigham Young University (BYU), Utah. Given the steady growth in the number of Chinese language students at BYU, it is estimated that more than 90 students will take the test.

Hong Kong visitors’ affinity with Taiwan society

Last year, 35 million mainland Chinese people visited Hong Kong, with roughly half a million moving there to live over the past decade. The four-fold increase in the number of Chinese visitors to Hong Kong in just ten years – where local registered residents number seven million – has led some of its residents to seek the relatively spacious shores of Taiwan. Almost one million people from Hong Kong and Macao visited Taiwan last year and this number is expected to exceed one million this year, according to the Taipei-based Commonwealth monthly’s cover story, “Why the Hong Kong people are crazy about Taiwan?”

Distrust of China, love of Taiwan

The magazine reported that Mandy from Hong Kong has visited Taiwan twice. She still vividly recalls the owner of the bed and breakfast riding a motorcycle to deliver her breakfast when she toured Kenting National Park and Tainan a couple of years ago. Talking about the difference between the Taiwanese and the Hong Kong people, Mandy said, “I personally have the feeling that Taiwanese really serve their guests happily, and not just to make money.”

An anonymous visitor from Hong Kong said there are not enough resources in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s entry policy is not sound, but the problem is that the policies are decided by Beijing. Even though Beijing promised Hong Kong the implementation of “One country, two systems,” in the eyes of the Chinese, one country is more important than two systems. The idea of Hong Kong people running Hong Kong no longer exists, he said.

Ding Xueliang, a professor of the Social Science Division at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, worries that Hong Kong has become a headache for China’s leadership. He observed that the Hong Kong people are becoming more impatient and politically polarized.

Triangular relationship between China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Commonwealth reported that Hong Kong people have been increasingly infatuated  with Taiwan since 2008. Their identification with Taiwan has risen, while their identification with China has dwindled. Last year, the ratio of Hong Kong people who showed distrust in the Chinese government surpassed those who still have trust – a reversal for the first time in 12 years.

Hong Kong is in a perplexing situation, with the performance of its economy getting better and better, and the unemployment rate falling, yet conflicts are increasingly occurring. At the same time, the Hong Kong people are becoming more impressed by Taiwan. As a matter of fact, Taiwan is now the second favorite foreign country for Hong Kong visitors, after Singapore, but ahead of Canada, the United Kingdom and the US.

Emigration to Taiwan

Commonwealth reported China and Taiwan are promoting two very different core values: a rich country with a powerful military, versus a country that emphasizes a good life and humanity.

When Beijing was busy with propagandizing the success of Shenzhou 5 – the first human spaceflight mission in the Chinese space program, Taiwan was promoting the simple joy of daily living. Simon Lau, co-founder of the House News, the most promising internet news media in Hong Kong, indicated that Taiwan’s popularity is at a 30-year high.

Many Hong Kong people now revalidate their Republic of China (Taiwan) passports obtained while studying in Taiwan long ago. They plan to move to the island after selling their houses in Hong Kong post retirement, Commonwealth reported.

“Emigration to Taiwan” was a topic Lau talked about on a radio show. In response to a message left at the radio station, saying “Hong Kong is no longer the place we belonged to. Many things have changed and there is no way to tell what will happen in the future.” Lau responded, “Actually, we do see the direction of our future, but we just don’t want to accept or identify with the way we have melted into China.”

Escaping China’s influence

Wong Miu-yin has been to Taiwan seven times, serving internships at the New Homeland Foundation of the Taomi Eco village, Nantou County in central Taiwan. Part of her love for the island can be attributed to her devotion to a Taiwanese band member, but she is also politically consciousness of Taiwan’s democratic process. She does not forgo a chance to observe Taiwan’s presidential elections and the metropolitan elections.

Commonwealth commented that as more and more Chinese mainlanders flood into Hong Kong, there are increasingly cultural clashes, with more Hong Kongers feeling the intrusion.

The Hong Kong people are increasingly concerned that Beijing intends to merge Hong Kong with China. One observer said that theoretically, Hong Kong decolonized after the 1997 British handover to China, but now Beijing is sending people to Hong Kong, making decisions about Hong Kong’s affairs, and creating new colony. The feelings of the Hong Kong people for the Taiwan factor are not simple ones. Yet it is apparent that the story of Hong Kong means something to Taiwan, noted Commonwealth.

Tex-Ray gives new life to clothes

Despite being a 35-year-old textile factory, Taiwan’s Tex-Ray has kept up with textile technology. This company has successfully developed a very soft and delicate metal fiber, one-tenth as thick as human hair, extracted from stainless steel. This is combined with a sensory system that is woven into the cloth and can be used as a physiological monitoring device to check a person’s heart beat and breathing.

Originally a yarn producer,  Tex-Ray’s main product lines now include yarn, fabric and finished clothes, with manufacturing facilities in Taiwan, Mexico and Swaziland. Ray Lin, 61-year-old chairman of Tex-Ray, knew his company could not survive by staying on as ODM of low cost garments and fabrics.

There are less than five companies in the world that can make metal fabric of this caliber. Today, Tex-Ray is the exclusive supplier for the largest European sports brand, BH, in making their bike wear, reported Commonwealth monthly.

Five years ago, Tex-Ray saw the potential of metal fiber and invested to set up a subsidiary, Kings Metal Fiber Technologies. At that time, smart clothes were an uncertainty. It was hard to know when the investment of over NT$100 million (US$3.3 million) on smart clothing research and development would pay off.

But fortunately, Kings Metal Fiber was able to enter the auto glass market with high temperature cloth made of stainless steel. When glass is removed from the heated furnace, this cloth is used as a soft and high temperature buffer material between the mold and the glass.

Now Kings Metal Fiber is the second largest maker of auto glass cloth in the world, taking a 25 percent global market share, reported Commonwealth.

With this strong financial support, Tex-Ray used the metal fiber produced by Kings as the raw material to form another subsidiary, AiQ, and continued to develop and produce other types of smart clothing.

In the manufacturing process, AiQ combined the sewing and bonding techniques of textile production with an electronic monitoring system. As the end user wears the clothes to exercise, his or her physiological signals can be transmitted via blue tooth technology to a smart phone or tablet device.

A piece of smart clothing is combined with input from a combination of technological experts in textiles, electronics and medical devices. Lin knew it would be difficult to pool these specialty fields into a finished Tex-Raywell product, but he took a chance. “Sometimes it was a gamble in the beginning, but later you find this is the threshold others can’t easily enter,” Lin told Commonwealth. This year, Tex-Ray is expected to receive orders for 10,000 metal fiber items of clothing, costing about US$35 apiece.

Swiss institution recommends strengthening Taiwan’s competitiveness

At a time of slow global economic recovery, Taiwan is well placed in the worldwide competitive index, ranked 11th out of 60 economies, according to the World Competitiveness Scoreboard 2013. Released by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) located in Lausanne, Switzerland, the 25th perspective on world competitiveness has the island listed as one of the “winners”. The island has moved up the rankings since 1997 when IMD first produced a unified ranking of advanced and emerging economies. China and South Korea also ranked highly, but behind Taiwan.

Better performing than South Korea

Stephane Garelli, head of IMD’s World Competitiveness Center, told Commonwealth monthly that the frequent winners in the World Competitiveness Scoreboard, such as Switzerland, Sweden and Germany, share common characteristics. They focus on manufacturing industries, export trade, and small and medium sized businesses. Garelli adds, “All these are the strengths of Taiwan too.”

South Korea, one of Taiwan’s main regional competitors, has not done well in the last five years, coming in 22nd in the World Competitiveness Rankings. Garelli noted that the South Korean economy depends entirely on big conglomerates, while Taiwan has many small and medium sized businesses which are more energetic and diversified.

Commonwealth reported that in the last five years, Taiwan has experienced an annual average commodity price increase of 1.38 percent while that for South Korea was 3.32 percent. Besides, Taiwan’s GDP, based on the rate of purchasing power parity (PPP), was US$37,252 in 2012, US$7,000 more than that of South Korea.

In the questionnaire indexes of labor/management relations and employee dedications, ranked Taiwan 14th and eighth respectively while those for South Korea were way behind at 56th and 42nd.

In other words, despite South Korea’s promising export performance, it is facing a rising rental market and commodity prices, and poor labor/management relations.

Taiwan’s weakness analyzed

According to Commonwealth’s analysis, in the four categories of competitiveness rankings, Taiwan dropped the most in business efficiency. With poor product innovation and little increase in added value, showing that Taiwan is certainly at a disadvantage.

Taiwan is advised by Garelli to develop more medium-sized businesses, like core German businesses with about 100 employees, focusing on technology and exports. If they can achieve the best in each field, they would do well in terms of competitiveness, he said.

Secondly, he suggests that the island should diversify its products and export markets. High-tech products account for 46.4 percent of Taiwan’s exports, the highest in the world. Besides that, Garelli suggests that Taiwan should also develop its biotechnology and healthcare.

He added, Taiwan’s exports focus on the US, European and Chinese markets. With the subprime mortgage crisis and European bond crisis, in addition to the slow growing Chinese market, Taiwan’s exports are bound to be impacted.

Alan Eusden, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, also suggests that the Taiwan government ought to improve the process for foreign investment on the island, including an easier application process. “There is more for Taiwan to do to attract foreign investment, compared with other Asian countries,” he said.

The Commercial Times pointed out that the fundamental reason for Taiwan’s weak economy is a result of insufficient investment. Here, investment does not refer to the stock market or the housing market, but real capital formation of fixed assets.

As for the ratio of private investment in GNP, Taiwan has dropped to 14.9 percent in 2012 from 15.4 percent in 2011, lower than the 17-18 percent during the years of the global financial tsunami, and far less than the average 24 percent level of South Korea. Although South Korea’s economic growth was poorer than that experienced by Taiwan in the first quarter of this year, South Korean private investment was still higher, which means South Korea is not worried about a short term recession.

The Taiwanese government has always paid more heed to private investment in the manufacturing industry, but less so to the service industry, which is severely underfunded. Taiwanese investment in restaurants and hotels accounts for 12.9 percent of GDP (2008), 11.1 percent (2009), 12.5 percent (2010) and 11.7 percent (2011). As an industry with priority development from the government, it is not sufficient. How can more foreign tourists be attracted to Taiwan?

The service industry accounted for almost 70 percent of Taiwan’s GDP, creating almost 60 percent of the job opportunities. Proportionally speaking, Taiwan’s government is not providing enough attention and resources to the service industry.

Setting up Asia’s NASDAQ

The Economic Daily News said in an editorial that Taiwan’s current domestic investment is not just lower than that of foreign competitors, but even lower than in previous years. This is the key element of Taiwan’s slow economic growth.

The paper noted that Taiwan’s real capital formation of fixed assets and private investment in the last five years is lower than that for 2007, and net investment measured last year was only 60 percent of that in 2007. In recent years, the government and the financial industry spared little effort to provide funding to domestic production investment while mostly working on expanding the financial business and profits only. Scarce attention was put on the financial industry’s main mission to support domestic investment. The government’s policies of setting up an international financial center and Asia-Pacific-capital-raising plan are all to serve foreign investors, not to improve domestic investment.

Taiwan is rich in capital because its savings rate and export trade account for seven percent of its GDP. Taiwanese scholars proposed to take advantage of the local capital to set up a NASDAQ in Asia to provide baited capital to attract foreign high-tech companies to carry out manufacturing and R&D in Taiwan before going public there. The government and financial industry should also come up with similar active methods to use the rich Taiwanese capital to invest domestically so as to promote economic growth.

By implementing FEZ, Taiwan aims to be a free trade island

On July 12, President Ma Ying-jeou said that the free economic zone (FEZ) initiative is a central plank in Taiwan’s national development strategy and will create favorable conditions for the island’s expanded participation in regional economic integration. “We believe the FEZ project will help boost the local economy and expand Taiwan internationally. It is a policy-making goal the country must not fail to achieve,” Ma said.

”By increasing administrative efficiency and easing regulatory flow on capital, goods and talent, the initiative will fast-track Taiwan’s effort in joining regional trade blocs such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).”

The president made the remarks while receiving representatives from local business associations.

Generated values estimated

Kuan Chung-ming, minister of the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD), said that due to implementing the FEZ, it is estimated that the volume of ocean freight will grow by 41 percent in the next two years, and airport shipments will increase by 35 percent.

And in the area of international medical care, Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta added the FEZ will focus on “critical illness”, setting up initial test sites in Taoyuan, Taichung, and Kaohsiung. It is expected that these “International Medical Services Centers” will be ready by the end of this year. He is confident that medical services will perform well, estimating that over 170,000 people will come to Taiwan for medical treatment within two years, bringing in US$30 million.

In relation to “value added agriculture”, the Ping-tung Agricultural Biotechnology Park in eastern Taiwan alone will generate value from the originally planned NT$4 billion (US$133.4 million) to NT$10.8 billion (US$360 million) by 2017. Industrial cooperation will bring in private investment of NT$6-11 billion (US$300-366.7 million).

President Ma stressed that “we do not need to debate whether Taiwan will reach the world through mainland China or join the world to get to the mainland, as both routes can be taken simultaneously. This is not an issue of either-or.”

Taiwan has been an active proponent of trade liberalization for over three decades, especially since President Ma took office in May 2008. Efforts by the government to improve cross-strait relations in the past five years have seen Taipei and Beijing conclude the FTA-like Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in June 2009 and Trade in Services Agreement last June, with another trade pact set to be completed by year-end.

Marching toward goal of free trade island

Recently, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched the “three arrows”, including reversing the depreciation of the Japanese Yen, promoting financial growth and structural adjustment, so as to boost the island’s long sluggish economy. Nicknamed “Abenomics”, it has won some approval. Similarly Taiwan’s government also introduced the FEZ project, using internationalization and trade liberalization to inject new momentum to counter Taiwan’s economic downturn.

Given the lack of consensus from the Taiwanese people on the liberalization of the economy, the government planned to set up the FEZ in specific areas. If the implementation of the FEZ proves to have little negative impact on domestic industries, and can help to attract investment and enhance the competitiveness of Taiwan’s economy as a whole, they will be extended to the whole country, further accelerating Taiwan’s goal to become a free trade island.

For this purpose, the government launched a plan of “five sea ports and one airport,” designating harbors in Suao, Keelung, Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung, as well as Taoyuan International Airport as free trade areas, integrating and extending the industrial zone connections to further attract domestic and foreign investment. The choice of industries in the first stage will include transnational industrial cooperation, smart logistics, international medical care and value added agriculture.

Matching measures in the FEZ policy package include no tax on overseas profits used as real investment in the FEZ, R&D tax credits, tax breaks and other business tax incentives. Further enhancing Taiwan’s attractiveness are new measures making talent recruitment easier, with no residency restrictions for white-collar workers coming to Taiwan, no report of overseas income, and no tax on half of the pay in the first three years.

Upon passing the FEZ special law in the Legislature, the government would carry out the second stage of development work. In addition to zones established by the central government, local governments will be able to apply to set up pilot zones according to areas available for development and transportation conditions.

As for concerns about the standard of imported mainland Chinese agricultural products, and whether international medical care services would affect the rights and interests of Taiwanese locals, the CEPD has considered these worries. In response, they said that fully processed agricultural products are for export only, and are not allowed to enter the Taiwan market. Furthermore, international medical services will only cater to visiting foreign patients, and will not take any patients with Taiwanese health insurance or take money for the national health care program.

Enjoying some advantages, injecting new momentum

Minister Kuan said with its different strengths, Taiwan should take a different route from mainland China, and not compete with the Chinese on land size, wages and production costs. Taiwan should strengthen the business environment by doing its best to make business requirements as transparent as possible.

China is actively working to attract more foreign investment by granting tax incentives and fees concessions. However, Kuan noted that Taiwanese businessmen are fully aware that there are a lot of unwritten rules and hidden costs of doing business in China.

The Taiwanese business community is are excellent at putting ideas or innovations into the market and have more knowledge about China’s market and better marketing experience than foreign merchants. Kuan believes that in light of the strategic layout and planning, foreign investors would much rather cooperate with Taiwanese companies when investing in China.

Though foreign companies might want to set up factories in China, they are also worried that the Chinese do not have sufficient mechanisms to protect intellectual property rights and hence are reluctant to leave key technology in China. Meanwhile Taiwan offers more protection of intellectual property, a real advantage for the island.

The promotion of the FEZ is part of Taiwan’s trade liberalization policies since joining the World Trade Organization ten years ago. This policy direction will help attract investment and create more employment opportunities, thus injecting new momentum into Taiwan’s economic growth, Minister Kuan stressed.

Kuan said that although there might not be immediate economic benefits from setting up the FEZ, experience garnered from many countries that have done so has shown that a more open market will certainly be helpful to Taiwan’s long-term economic growth.

Opportunities, challenges in Service Trade Agreement with China

On July 8, President Ma Ying-jeou said the newly signed cross-strait Service Trade Agreement is very important to Taiwan because it will serve as an example for other countries as they look to trade with Taiwan in the future. The international community will see how determined Taiwan is to promote free trade and its willingness to maintain high quality commitments, reported the United Daily News. The president was responding to the agreement signed between Taiwan and China on June 21, the first free trade pact between the two sides since executing the FTA-like Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) three years ago.

Marginal benefits now, bigger rewards down the line

President Ma pointed out that mainland China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner. Chinese capital has amounted to almost US$800 million since it was permitted, and has created 6,700 job opportunities in Taiwan so far. So this should allay concerns expressed by people in Taiwan about the risks of closer business ties with the mainland.

The cross-strait service trade agreement was negotiated based on the fourth article of the ECFA. Under the agreement, the mainland will open 80 service sectors to Taiwanese firms, while Taiwan will open 64 sectors to mainland businesses. The sectors to be opened relate to commerce, telecommunications, construction,  the environment, health, society, tourism, entertainment,  ransportation and finance.

However, according to analysis by the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research in Taipei, GDP is projected to increase by US$97 million to US$134 million, translating into about 0.025 percent to 0.034 percent of Taiwan’s GDP, reported the Central News Agency. Furthermore, Taiwan’s service sector export value is projected to increase by US$378 million, and the total import value will go up from US$61 million to US$63 million, showing that the open market pact will increase exports of Taiwan’s service sector industries. Also, employment in the service sector is predicted to increase up to 11,923 people, translating into a 0.15 percent to 0.16 percent hike in Taiwan’s total employment.

The Taipei-based China Times reported that the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Ker Chien-ming criticized the pact by saying it will only increase Taiwan’s GDP by a marginal 0.025 to 0.034 percent. However, Economics Minister Chang Jia-juch believes that even though the benefits of signing the pact are not immediately apparent, the cross-strait economic agreement is an important step toward Taiwan’s continuing liberalization and internationalization. “If trade between Taiwan and China is not normalized, it is impossible for Taiwan to become an active member of the global community, much less to sign free trade agreements with other countries, or to join the regional economic integration such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),” he said.

Need not worry about competition from the mainland

The Economic Daily News said in an editorial that at a time of rapid global economic integration, Taiwan has to be active in joining the ranks, and the signing of the cross-strait pact is an important step in this process. Generally speaking, the signing of the service trade pact will do more good than harm to Taiwan’s national interests, according to the commentary.

The paper said in an analysis that it is worth noting that some areas opened to China in the pact are significant, including the fact that Taiwanese banking firms will be allowed to set up local branches in China. Depending on the type of businesses, Taiwanese companies may now hold a majority stake of between 51 to 75 percent of their business in China. The agreement permits Taiwanese stock brokerage firms to achieve a 51 percent stake, and to further broaden their businesses. E-commerce companies are allowed to set up outlets in China with 55 percent majority ownership, allowing Taiwan’s PC Home, an opportunity to compete directly with China’s Taobao. Large retail chain stores from Taiwan can also acquire 75 percent ownership, allow them better control and a greater return on their investment. Furthermore, Taiwan’s movie industry can enter the Chinese market without restrictions, as can the medical industry, by opening privately owned hospitals in more provinces in China.

All these measures are far more extensive than concessions given to foreign enterprises from other countries, allowing Taiwanese service firms greater opportunities in China. On the other hand, Taiwan is also opening some service industries to Chinese investors, a move that will bring competition for Taiwanese firms.  However, the maturity and competitiveness of Taiwan’s service sector is more advanced than those of their Chinese counterparts. The targeted capital and investors are from high-level Chinese executives, not from low-paid laborers. Taiwanese workers need not worry about losing their jobs to their Chinese counterparts, noted the Economic Daily News.

Inconvenient hidden facts

Business Weekly commented by saying China seems to give Taiwan special treatment on the surface, but the cross-strait service trade pact hides some “tricks” in its contents.

First, the pact gives Taiwan access to the Chinese market and special privileges, but the final say is still controlled by China. For example, China allows Taiwanese operators to set up privately owned hospitals, but approval is needed from different levels of the Health Ministry, from the central government to ranking officials of the provincial health authorities.

How difficult can this be? An actual case involves a Taiwanese application to set up a hospital specializing in handling test tube babies, one of Taiwan’s medical strengths. Approval from the central government was obtained in 2008, but it was blocked at the city and provincial level. The local level finally approved it in 2011, but a license was issued for in-patient care, not allowing the company to engage in actually creating test tube babies. In the end, this process was a waste of five years for those involved.

Furthermore, more lead-time and strategic planning is required to enter China’s domestic market. Another example involves the travel business. The pact allows Taiwanese people to run travel agencies in China, but they are required to limit their operations by only planning domestic trips for their travelers at first. The Chinese government will judge them on this first before allowing them to apply to run an international travel agency.

Also, another key stipulation is that the service trade pact only allows businesses to operate in certain locations and provinces. As a result, China’s e-commerce market is open only to those Taiwanese who have invested in Fujian, the coastal province close to Taiwan. Taiwanese banks can set up branches in Fujian only. With the exception of those Taiwanese who want to invest in the nursing home business can do this in Fujian and Guangdong provinces in the South only, although three licenses are needed for stock brokerage firms setting up in Shanghai, Shenzhen (Guangdong) and Fujian.

The ECFA is an economic contest for both Taiwan and China. The next five years will take the competitors to half time, giving benefits to Taiwan on the one hand, while also attracting more Taiwanese talent, capital and businesses to work and invest in China. In another five years, the second half of the game will take place, Taiwan’s agricultural products will be thrown into the mix, and the complete opening of the service market will be achieved. At that time weaker industries needing protection will also be put on the bargaining table with China. Will Taiwan be ready then, Business Weekly asked.

Taiwan’s Miniwiz promotes recycled waste for building materials

You probably have never heard of Arthur Huang, but maybe you have heard of his creation EcoArk, the main exhibition hall at the Taipei International Flora Exposition. EcoArk, a nine-story green structure built using 1.5 Polli-Brick was a resounding hit upon its unveiling and has since earned many top international prizes in the green building arena. Huang and the company he founded, Miniwiz, are now internationally known to be on the forefront of creating stellar installations made from recycled materials.

Given his reputation, his projects are now closely followed by the international press and designers. EcoArk’s creation was featured in an hour-long documentary by National Geographic. Last year, New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg awarded him the coveted New York City Economic Development Corporation’s Venture Fellow and this year, his Feather Pavilion won the 2013 International Design Excellence Awards® (IDEA).

In an area where environmentally friendly buildings can be tagged onto a building simply using solar panels or built using energy efficient green materials, Huang goes much further. He is a purist and insists on using materials made of 100 percent waste. Case in point is the Nike Flyknit Collective, the Feather Pavilion was designed and constructed using 100% recycled materials. By using recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, Huang developed a material with similar strength, firmness and flexibility.

Born in Taiwan, Huang left to study in the United States at 11. Back then, he was the stereotypical Asian nerd, with overly large glasses dominating his face and high water pants. His gentle geekiness did not make him very popular. Although scholastically strong, he was physically lacking. Cognizant of his image, he shed his glasses and started exercising daily.

At 18, he entered Cornell University to study architecture and became drawn to environmental protection. After obtaining a Masters of architecture degree from Harvard University, he launched his Miniwiz business in New York City.

Upon returning to Taiwan, Miniwiz built a cooperative relationship with Nike. In building the Feather Pavilion, he used Polli-Bricks and yarn extracted from PET bottles that Nike also used in its closely woven sneakers. This public space would win the distinguished Gold prize from the Industrial Designers Society of America this year, and now permanently displayed in Shanghai.

Today, Miniwiz has an annual business of NT$300 million (US$10 million), of which foreign customers account for over 50 percent. Taiwanese customers are still not comfortable with the higher expense tagged onto building materials from recycled wastes, so Miniwiz is more popular outside of Taiwan.

Roan Ching-yueh, a Taiwanese architect and writer, told Commonwealth that Huang has challenged the current frame of the world. He continues to break the stereotypes imposed upon him in by race, culture and industry. “He has a vision. If Taiwan can’t take advantage of his vision, I would feel sorry for Taiwan,” Roan said.

Trust index places families, doctors, teachers top

As Taiwan becomes more populated and increases its level of international engagement, one might expect the leading moral and ethical issues governing trust to decrease, but that apparently is not the case. Since 2001, the Ethical Promotion Association has conducted a bi-annual survey of social confidence in an effort to gauge the level of trust among Taiwanese people, with the results indicating an upsurge in trust.

In the 2001 survey, 34 percent of respondents said they trusted the “majority of people in society.” While this year’s survey indicates that this has increased to 64.5 percent.

In ethnic Chinese societies, more importance is generally paid to relationship dynamics of the so-called five ethics: father to son, brothers, husband to wife, friends and between a king and his subjects. Of lesser importance is the relationships between individuals and unknown strangers, which is considered the sixth ethic or public morality.

Teng Pei-yu, secretary general of the Ethical Promotion Association, believes that Taiwanese people have made much progress in society. Foreign observers have the impression that Taiwanese people are willing to help, are kind and warm. This has been reinforced by following recent natural disasters in China and Japan, when Taiwan’s people were very generous with their donations and in showing their concerns for the welfare of these neighboring countries.

With regards to the degree of trust conferred on certain people in Taiwanese society, the survey showed that family members ranked consistently at the top for the last six surveys, while doctors and teachers come in second and third.

Government officials and legislators are the least trustworthy, followed by real estate agents and financial advisors respectively. The last two have only recently been added in this survey.

In a cross analysis of people’s political tendencies, plus a comparison of previous surveys, regardless of political affiliation, trust in government officials has dropped three to four percent on average.

Despite ranking officials having come in lower on the trust index, the confidence placed in ordinary civil servants has risen year to year, now coming in as the fifth most trusted people. This was likely influenced by improved customer service training at the local level, generating a positive impression from survey respondents.

According to Global Views, the internet was also included in this year’s survey, with those surveyed expressing a high level of mistrust in the internet. Specifically, 87.8 percent of citizens are suspicious of dating or social networking sites, 75.8 percent do not trust the messages circulating on the internet, 59.5 percent do not have confidence in credit payments and monetary transactions via websites, and 49.6 percent do not trust internet purchases.

As for the media, the public expressed more confidence in print media, and more doubts about the trustworthiness of television. In fact, 45.1 percent do not trust news coverage on TV, compared with the survey results from 2001, showing that the confidence rate has dropped by 18.3 percent.

Sun Chen, former chairman of the Ethical Promotion Association, said in an analysis that the level of trust in a society is a “social asset.” With long observation of Taiwanese ethical changes, Sun concluded the “relationship between parents and children is now (in Taiwan) not so close as before, but the relationship between individuals and social groups has improved somewhat,” reported Global Views.

Vox Nativa Children’s Choir visits the Bay Area

On July 6, Bay Area audiences had the rare privilege of hearing the Vox Nativa Children’s Choir at Jubilee Christian Center. Made up of Taiwan’s aboriginals who are known for having great rhythm, strong vocals and unique harmonies, their singing is well appreciated in any culture. Their visit was sponsored by the Wisdom Culture Education Organization (WCEO) in the Bay Area.

Founded in 2008, Vox Nativa is a nonprofit special weekend music school in Hsing-yi Village of Nan-tao County (central Taiwan) with the goal of achieving social reform in the aboriginal community through nurturing gifted aboriginal children. At the same time, they hope to preserve and promote aboriginal culture, and instill a sense of cultural pride and identity. The singers are made up of aboriginal children aged 9 to 13 years old selected from the poverty stricken villages in the foothills of Jade Mountain, the highest peak in East Asia.

The pictures were taken by Ben Hwang during the performance at the Jubilee Christian Center.

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