Tag Archives: cross-strait

Direct flights beckon more flyers

It has been over a year since the launch of direct flights between Taiwan and China. Since August 31, 2009, flight frequency has increased significantly. According to Taiwan’s national airline China Airlines (CAL), passengers who used to take a flight every six months are more likely to fly once a month, while those who flew once a month are doing so every two weeks.

More frequent flyers

Chuang Zi-ming, general manager of the Fubon Financial Holding Company, was assigned to Xiamen, Fujian, Province in China in March. It takes a little over an hour to fly between Taipei and Xiamen. Generally he works in Xiamen during the week and returns to Taipei to stay with his family on weekends. Before the start of direct flights, senior Taiwanese executives had to work in China for a couple of months just to take a short vacation home, reported Global View monthly.

According to Taiwan’s Civil Aviation Bureau, there were 14,492 flights across the Taiwan Strait in the first year after direct flights were offered, providing 6,686,803 passenger seats, carrying a total of 5,237,142 passengers, reaching a 78.32 percent flight capacity load. Average weekly passenger numbers more than doubled, from 46,000 to 99,000, compared with the charter flights that operated before the launch of direct flights.

Bridging the divide

Chuang told Global View that direct flights are a good bridge for the development of the economies across the strait. In general, direct flights have brought more frequent interactions between Taiwan and China.

Taiwan is strategically located between the three big economies of the world – China, Japan and the US. Taiwan has the potential to play a pivotal role as the operations center of the Asia-Pacific region. Kao Koong-lian, deputy chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation, which represents Taiwan in negotiating with China, said Taiwan would loose its advantage if there were no direct flights between the two sides.

Also, according to the magazine, direct flights facilitate strategic planning by Taiwanese businesses in taking advantage of the division of labor between Taiwan and China, and increasing the competitive strength of Taiwan’s industries and products on the international market.

An economics professor at National Chengchi University, Lin Chu-chia, noted a new business model which takes the orders in Taiwan, processes them in China and then exports them from Taiwan. In this scenario, Taiwanese businesses move the semi-assembled products manufactured in China and assemble them in Taiwan, thus adding value as a Taiwan-made product.

Global View pointed out that, with regard to product research and development, direct flights reduce the time and energy spent on air travel, thereby  allowing R&D engineers and management executives to concentrate on improving product design and business management, which benefit both sides of the strait. In addition, the FTA-like Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed between Taiwan and China in June also adds to Taiwan’s industrial development.

Chang Ping-tsao, chairman of Taiwan’s General Chamber of Commerce, who often travels across the strait, said direct flights plus ECFA, and the rapid development of China’s high-speed rail projects will allow Taiwanese business managers a chance to further utilize the Chinese market to increase competitiveness and to create an international brand name.

Encouraging cross-strait investment and tourism

Direct flights plus China’s inland transportation development allow more frequent interaction among people, creating more demand for various financial products, including financing, monetary exchange, investment, life insurance, and travel insurance, according to Chuang. All these are opportunities for Fubon.

A survey by Global View in May showed that 53.6 percent of foreign businesses would increase their intention to invest in Taiwan due to direct cross-strait flights, in addition to ECFA.

Already, benefits can be seen in increased investments in Taiwan. In September, Taiwan’s economics minister signed 27 letters of intent to invest with international companies. Worth NT$108.25 billion (US$3.55 billion), it is expected to create 13,000 new jobs. Among them, Hewlett Packard will invest NT$3.6 billion (US$118 million) to set up a new R&D center, the largest of its type ever established in Taiwan.

Also, Taiwan’s domestic market has received a boost due to direct flights, which bring more Chinese visitors to Taiwan, as well as foreign investment, which both aid the island’s economic recovery.

According to statistics from the Tourism Bureau, the tourist market in the Asia-Pacific region declined 2 percent in 2009, but Taiwan has experienced a growth of 14 percent, the highest in Asia. As of August, foreign visitors to Taiwan increased 28 percent over the same period last year, while the average percentage growth in tourism was 5-6 percent in the region. Chinese visitors who take advantage of direct flights are the main reason for Taiwan’s tourism spike, which is also reflected in Taiwan’s overall economic growth this year. In August, the government upgraded GDP growth to 8.24 percent in 2010 with over 70 percent coming from domestic demand.

Direct flights bolster airline profits

Global View said if the upper limit of Chinese tourists allowed to enter Taiwan is relaxed from 3,000 (currently) to 5,000 a day, there will be 730,000 more Chinese tourists a year, which would translate to about NT$45 billion (US$1.47 billion) in foreign exchange income.

The magazine reported in the tourist high season in July and August this year, two major Taiwanese airlines, China Airlines and EVA Airways, created record high single month revenues. For example in August, EVA reported revenues of NT$9.843 billion (US$320 million). This is the fourth straight month EVA generated a monthly record high, adding to its annual growth of 49.06 percent.

Both CAL and EVA have turned their past losses into profit this year. Masterlink Securities Corporation predicted CAL will make a profit of NT$10.881 billion (US$356.7 million) and EVA NT$6.843 billion (US$224.3 million) respectively. For 2011, both companies are expected to continue this trend, with CAL making NT$11.826 billion (US$387.7 million), about a 9 percent growth rate, and EVA making NT$7.431 billion (US$243.6 million), about 6 percent growth.

Negotiations on FTA-like agreement with China closes in Taipei

The second round of official negotiations on the ECFA (Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement), a FTA-like agreement, between Taipei and Beijing drew to a close on April 1. After a day and a half of discussions in Taoyuan, not far from Taipei, China agreed not to export agricultural products or allow laborers to the island. The two sides will also work to ensure that Taiwan’s less competitive manufacturing and agricultural sectors are not adversely affected by the signing of the ECFA, according to sources familiar with the issues.

When finalizing their early harvest lists, both sides took into consideration the other’s concerns and pressing needs, and selected items that were easier to reach a consensus on, according to the Commercial Times. Petrochemicals, textiles, machinery, automobile manufacturing, components and parts, among others, were suggested by Taiwan to be included in the final lists.

Huang Chih-peng, Taiwan’s chief negotiator and director-general of the Ministry of Economic Affairs Bureau of Foreign Trade, pointed out that Taipei and Beijing have reached a high degree of consensus on the items to be included, though the final details will still require some fine-tuning. Despite this, he said, “the time is not ripe to make an official announcement.” Several items on Taiwan’s proposed list include sectors that the mainland regards as important or key developing industries, and towards which they currently feel they are in a disadvantageous position.

In considering the opposition party’s objections on the ECFA, President Ma Ying-jeou and the Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen have agreed to face off in a debate on April 25. “Through the debate, the government will help the public better understand the planned ECFA,” Presidential Office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang stated. For her part, Tsai said, “The ruling and opposition parties each have their own responsibilities” regarding controversial ECFA issues. The DPP has voiced strong opposition to the inking of such a pact.

During a videoconference hosted by the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University on April 6, President Ma delivered a speech in which he reiterated the necessity of signing an ECFA with China, emphasizing that the agreement would spearhead Taiwan’s return to economic integration in the Asian-Pacific region and enhance the island’s competitive edge in the global market.

Cross-strait educational exchanges increase in a globalized world

According to the Global View monthly, the international community estimates that by 2020 China will have more than a dozen universities ranked among the world’s top one hundred. And, since China is the largest emerging market in the world, many Taiwanese college students are heading to Chinese colleges to get a good education in preparation for their future career.

According to the Chinese government, there are 6,755 Taiwanese students studying at 187 universities in China. This accounts for 2.2 percent of the total students who registered to take Taiwan’s annual university examination, representing 22 out of every 1,000 high school graduates in Taiwan.

Main reasons to study in China

In the magazine’s questionnaire, those who studied in Chinese schools are not attracted by academic performance, but rather, by the desire to further understand China and to build a network for their future development in China. As an example, 51.8 percent wanted to have the experience of living and learning in China. The students expressed a desire to build personal connections that would help them enter and understand China’s markets.

In planning a future career, Taiwanese students are more flexible. After graduation, more than 25 percent preferred to work in China, 17.3 percent wanted to work in Taiwan; another 17.3 percent would continue to study in China, while 10.8 percent planned to pursue studies in other countries. From this part of the survey, Global View found about a quarter of the Taiwanese students considered studying in China as pre-training for their future career.

For Chinese students studying in Taiwan, 88.7 percent come hoping to experience life on the island. While, 37.2 percent believe that Taiwan offers high quality curriculums and teachers. The percentage of Chinese students looking to build personal connections and pursue further study and work in Taiwan are much fewer. In Commonwealth magazine’s report of across-strait student exchanges, they interviewed Angel He, the first Taiwanese student to enter a mainland university based on her Taiwanese scholastic exam scores. Since 2009, the Chinese educational system has recognized these test scores. Instead of going to National Taiwan University (NTU), she decided to enter the eight-year doctoral program in the clinical medicine department of Shanghai’s Fudan University, joining the 6 million new students from within China.

He is not sure that her decision was the right one, so she still maintains her registration at NTU. She knows it is adventurous to go to Fudan University, but just in case, she keeps the option of withdrawing open.

Competition is the biggest pressure

In Global View’s interviews with about 20 Taiwanese students studying in China, they also found it more competitive. One student said, “The days of being able to just grab an easy diploma in China are gone. The Chinese are all smart elites under the one-child policy. They all work hard. If you are absentminded for just a second, you’ll find yourself falling far behind them. Taiwanese have to develop stronger perseverance, broader views, earn double degrees, and even win more connections on campus.”

In the survey, what bothers Taiwanese students most in China was not just the difference in culture and ideology, but also the high requirements for admission to universities and the Chinese students’ competitiveness. These are the biggest pressures for the young Taiwanese.

According to the Taipei-based China Times, Wang Dan, one of the former Chinese pro-democracy student leaders at the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and a former visiting scholar at National Chengchi University in Taiwan, had this observation. “In the mainland, the only way to get out of poverty or get a good job for people in rural or remote areas is to study at college. But in the relatively well-off Taiwan, the incentive for higher education is far less strong than in the mainland. Thus, Taiwanese students do not study as hard as those from the mainland.”

Wang Dan said that the democratization of China lags far behind that of Taiwan. For Chinese students, political issues are still a taboo. They have much less knowledge in this regard than that of the Taiwanese. Chinese students who come to study in Taiwan will inevitably face an ideological shock.

He added, “Taiwan is a very modern society, and young Taiwanese students living in this affluent environment are simpler. They are more humane, sympathetic, and lack the psychological guard against others, while Chinese students, relatively speaking, are more serious and tend to be more concerned about their daily survival and reality issues. Due to intense competition, the Chinese students do not easily develop interpersonal relationships, but rather a sense of self-protection, which is not apparently found in the Taiwanese students.”

A sharp rise in numbers

Between 1985 and 2000, only 3,759 Taiwanese studied in China. In the seven years that followed, that number rose to more than 11,000, with half studying Chinese medicine. Aside from those in China studying for formal degrees, another 10,000 university students have gone there for short-term exchange programs in the past five years.

There are currently 233 Taiwanese students studying at Peking University alone, six times the number five years ago. This phenomenon, part of the overall trend toward the convergence of the Greater China education market, has gradually come to influence Taiwan’s nearly 3 million high school, university and graduate students.

Studying in China motivated by global view

Taiwanese parents have a global view that are more supportive of their children studying aboard. When asked, 36 percent of Taiwanese parents have plans for their children to study abroad, and 1.5 percent have children already studying overseas. Comparatively, 12.8 percent of Chinese parents have made such plans, with only 0.7 percent already with children studying abroad.

Lai Yu-rou, a 22-year-old Taiwanese graduate student of finance, spent two months as a summer intern in the Shanghai branch of the China-based Bank of Communications. Lai is unlike many of the first wave of Taiwanese students in China, whose parents own or work for Taiwanese enterprises there. Lai’s parents are simply teachers who encouraged her to get experience in China. Although she appreciates Taiwan’s free and diverse environment, she has seemingly come to accept the nomadic fate of her generation. She told Commonwealth, “If there are no good opportunities in Taiwan, I could go to Beijing and Shanghai in the future.”

At the same time, most parents still do not want their children to study at a Chinese university, with 70 percent concerned about public security, 59 percent worried about their children adapting to life there, and 38 percent due to the financial burden.

Further opening of Taiwan’s schools in June

But does gaining experience in China really help one’s career development? The Commonwealth says the answer may be yes. The number of foreign enterprises in China, for instance, has grown from 420,000 in 2002 to 700,000 today, and they all need talented people who understand China.

Jack J. T. Huang, partner-in-charge of Jones Day law firm in Taipei, said the experience in China is important, but not an absolute necessity. Take mergers and acquisitions as examples, there are 500 cases of over US$100 million in China, while there are only 10 cases in Taiwan There are several hundred law firms and venture capitalists and bankers struggling to compete for these 500 in China, but in Taiwan, if you are one of the best lawyers, you may easily take three out of the ten. So it is your decision to weigh in the success whether to fight with killer whales in the Pacific or just catch fish in the Taiwan Strait.

Bill Lin is the general manager of the online shopping website PayEasy, a subsidiary of Taishin Financial Holding Co. that expanded abroad in 2009 and is planning to set up branches in Shanghai and Beijing this year. Lin himself has two school-age daughters, in ninth and sixth grade, and because of his belief that exposure to China could be beneficial to their future, he has purposefully taken them traveling in China over their summer and winter breaks for the past two years.

“I will encourage my daughters to stay in Taiwan until they graduate from high school, attend college in China, get a graduate degree in the United States, and then return to Asia, and especially China, to develop.” Lin says. “Taiwan’s small island-market has the benefit of being sophisticated, but China is a seductive high-risk, high-reward market.”

With a more globalized economy, universities around the world have entered a make-or-break battle – a brand war for funding, resources and interdisciplinary and international alliances. No longer just competing for students locally, they are also competing for international students.

Although there have been thousands of Chinese exchange students on Taiwan’s campuses, they have normally stayed for less than four months. Starting in June 2010, this will change as Taiwan begins to recognize Chinese qualifications.

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.

The 60th anniversary of division across the Strait – Taiwan’s perspective

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) celebrated the 60th anniversary of its creation by mobilizing some 100,000 soldiers to stage a massive military parade in Beijing on October 1st. Watching the Chinese fanfare and parades on television, few Taiwanese were impressed. Instead of celebrating the 98th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan on Oct. 10th, the government cancelled all celebrations out of respect for those lives, homes, and livelihoods lost in the wake of Typhoon Morakot in August.

The United Evening News said in an editorial, that watching the tens of thousand of troops marching in unison was like watching a computer animation. “While the government and the people of China still admire the mighty force of collectivism, most Taiwanese feel more confident that they have got rid of the authoritarian rule and cherish more the diversity, autonomy and individualist way of life they enjoy now.”

The United Daily News also commented in an editorial that “With regard to a nation’s military force and weaponry, Taiwan is certainly not as strong as China. But in terms of freedom, Taiwan is way ahead of China. Only when freedom and democracy have prevailed, will all the Chinese people be really liberated from the images of holding huge portraits of leaders, placards of slogans and oceans of red flags.”

Taiwan’s democracy provides catalyst

When asked by the press about his impression of the large-scale military parade in China, Premier Wu Den-yih of Taiwan said “We are not in a position to comment on whatever style the PRC wanted to celebrate its founding anniversary, which we should respect. But both sides have reached consensus that only peaceful development is most beneficial to the welfare of peoples across the Taiwan Strait.”

Chang Jung-kung, director of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party’s Mainland Affairs Division, said “It is not deniable that China is strong in its national power, but Taiwan’s soft power is superior because of peaceful competition, and its democratic system.”

Tsai Ing-wen, chairperson of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said “It would be more meaningful if China had stressed the need to review the development process of democracy on its 60th founding anniversary.”

More than one million Nationalist troops fell in the Civil War between the Communists and the Nationalists before Chiang Kai-shek flew to Taiwan from Chengdu, Sichuan (China) on Dec. 10th, 1949. He came with about two million civilians and soldiers, building Taiwan into a “Bastion of Recovery” together with its four million local residents.

With a population of 23 million now, Taiwan is a democracy which enjoys astonishing economic power. In an editorial “The miracle created by failures,” the Singapore-based United Morning News praised Taiwan for its hard work and its political and economic achievements in the last 60 years. “The largest impact China will face in the future comes from the catalysis of Taiwan’s democracy.”

However, former DPP legislator Lin Cho-shui holds a more conservative view, saying “Taiwan’s democracy will not be a deciding factor in China’s future democratization, which will have to come from the internal power of the Chinese mainland.”

Transcending 60 years

On the 60th anniversary of cross strait division, the Commonwealth magazine published a special issue entitled “Transcending the 60 years” which included an interview with President Ma Ying-jeou. Talking about his feelings on the 60th anniversary, Ma said, “Many KMT party members consider the Communists as enemies of blood rancor. My family does too. But I can’t put my personal resentment above our national interests.”

He continued, “The mutual exchanges across the Strait aim not just at making money by attracting more mainland Chinese tourists, or just seeking more business opportunities for Taiwanese businessmen, but also at transforming freedom, democracy, legal systems and human rights into a common language among the peoples across the Taiwan Strait….In dealing with the Chinese mainland, my government vows not to betray the national dignity and sovereignty, nor can we do nothing merely for fear of being hurt.”

In an interview with the DPP chairperson on the same issue, Tsai said. “There has been enough heated argument and fighting on the issue of unification with China or Taiwan independence in our society. We should review what values we should insist on. Once we are certain about the core values, we shouldn’t tilt too much towards China because the values in China are those we are not supposed to come near.”

Long way towards being a big family

The Taipei-based China Times published an article written by freelancer Chen Yi-ting noting that “in the last 60 years, the source of threats and fear for Taiwan did not come from the imperialism of Europe or America, but from Beijing. Now we see the Chinese standing up after hundred years of being humiliated by the West. And it was Nationalist Chiang Kai-shek who was defeated by Communist Mao Tse-tung. The humiliation of being defeated should not be carried onward by the living people of Taiwan.”

“A starting point for rapprochement between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is to respect the existence of Taiwan’s entity. The Chinese government and people have always used the ‘one China’ policy to limit Taiwan’s maneuvering on the international stage, disallowing the use of Taiwan’s name. Every time we are denied in the international arena, we bear resentment and mistrust toward China, who still stubbornly believes that the solution across the Strait lies with military power.”

“This is how one treats an enemy. If you think of Taiwanese as compatriots, you need to be more tolerant. Taiwanese are not stone-hearted. If you want us to join the greater Chinese family, please do something to touch our hearts, not threaten us with scare tactics as a way to force us into submission without an alternative.”

Today, Taiwan is confident enough to allow the live television broadcast of China’s military parade on its national day. When can we humbly expect the Chinese government to do the same by not blocking access to Taiwanese news media from it people?

Cross-strait harmony boosts student exchanges

The rapprochement across the Taiwan Strait has enabled more mainland students to study in Taiwan. Whereas before President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May 2008, exchanges were mainly one-sided (Taiwan to China); the recent improved relationship between the two countries has resulted in an influx of mainland students. As with increases of tourist numbers visiting from China, Taiwan hopes to reap similar rewards by allowing Chinese students further access to the island’s universities.

A win-win situation

The increase in the numbers of mainland exchange students is a direct result of the relaxation of travel regulations by the Taiwan’s Ministry of Education (MOE) and the lengthening of study times from four months to one year from October 2008. With island-wide college enrollment waning to match Taiwan’s declining birth rate the increase in student enrollment from the mainland is a boon for Taiwan’s universities.

The Taipei-based China Times reported that the opening of Taiwan’s colleges to mainland students could be worth NT$20 billion (US$615 million). There are at least 30 million Chinese seeking higher education degrees, including 3.8 million students this year who failed to pass China’s college entrance examination, 25 million vocational school graduates, and those who are working but without college degrees. Lengthening the allowable study time will allow Taiwan’s schools to tap this underserved population.

Three waves of mainland students

Yuan Chih University president Peng Chong-ping has witnessed previous waves of students arriving from mainland China. He divides the previous waves into three periods. The first was in the 1980s when a small number of mainlanders came to Taiwan for a short period of academic exchange. The second wave was around 1998 when Peng was dean of Studies at National Tsing Hua University. He helped to realize the first academic exchange between his school and “Chun-tsung Endowment” which provided funding for mainland students to visit Taiwan for six to eight weeks. The third period began in 2008 when mainland students were allowed to study for up to one year, enough time to achieve something meaningful.

According to statistics from the MOE, there were 857 mainland exchange students enrolled for at least four months in Spring 2009. Together with those who stayed for shorter periods of between two to four months, making a total of 3000 in the first half of 2009, an increase of 50 percent over the same period in 2008.

“Virtuous competition”

In studying this new trend, the Global View Monthly uses the term “Virtuous competition” to describe the increased student population from the mainland. At National Taiwan University in Taipei, there were 62 mainland Chinese students enrolled for the Spring 2009 semester. Among them was Wang Zhercheng, a biology student from Fudan University, Shanghai, China, who studied in Taiwan for two months. While in Taipei, he traveled extensively and enjoyed the inexpensive dining available in the Gongguan area. Indistinguishable from any other video-obsessed local boy, Wang enjoyed his stay in Taiwan very much. He likes Taiwanese web fiction, listens to songs by pop star Jolin Tsai, and plays e-games developed in Taiwan. With a workload of only eight units, he spent the remainder of his free time learning about and experiencing Taiwanese culture.

Zeng Hua is another student from the mainland. Hua, a graduate student of interdisciplinary studies in the Sculpture Arts Department at Chongqing University, Sichuan, China came to study at Yuan Chih University. There he switched his major and began studying under a fluid dynamics professor in the mechanical engineering department. Under this professor he began to create new fluid sculpture with flow patterns.

I Shou University president Fu Shen-li points out the admission of mainland students to Taiwan’s campuses has created “virtuous competition” between Taiwanese students and their Chinese counterparts. For example, mainland students are usually punctual to arrive in class. They take the front seats and raise their hands quickly to ask questions. Taiwanese students are very different. They arrive late, take the middle seats and are shy to ask questions. However, Fu has observed a subtle rivalry between the Taiwanese students who have no wish to fall behind their Chinese counterparts.

According to China’s MOE, there were 180,000 students studying abroad with their own funds last year. This number is expected to increase to 200,000 in 2010. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), there are about 20,000 Chinese students in South Korea, and roughly that many in Japan as well.

Exchange not about money, but peace making

The former chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Shih Ming-te told the United Daily News that he does not see this as a NT$20 billion (US$609.8 million) business opportunity. Rather, the young students from the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should learn the political and economic systems of one another’s countries to help pave the way for a more peaceful co-existence.

In an editorial, The Economic Daily stressed that education is an expression of a nation’s soft power, because it combines the social system, lifestyle and values. In short, education reflects the core of a culture. After exchanges of business, trade and tourism, the logical progression is cultural interchange, with higher education exchanges forming an indispensable part.

Three restrictions and six nos

Despite lowering some barriers, Taiwan still imposes many restrictions on mainland students coming to Taiwan. According to Taiwan’s MOE, it maintains a “Three Restrictions, Six Nos” policy toward mainland Chinese students. The “Three Restrictions” sets a quota so only top tier students are allowed to study in limited subjects. The “Six Nos” means they are not eligible for scholarships, extra points on applications and work off campus. Their admission should not affect current school enrollment. Furthermore, mainland students cannot take license exams or seek employment in Taiwan after graduation. At the same time, Taiwan currently allows Chinese students to study at any public or private graduate schools, but undergraduates can only go to private universities or colleges.

Also, for students who study for more than six months in Taiwan, they must enroll at a college/university with “sister relations” with a school in China. According to Chou Yi-shun of Taiwan’s MOE, currently 115 out of 147 Taiwanese schools have signed “sister school relations contracts” with 302 Chinese counterparts, resulting in 1039 sister school contracts. Based on the enrollments, the top five schools are I-Shou University, National Taiwan University, National Cheng Kung University, National Tsing Hua University and Feng Chia University.

According to the China Times, other countries in Asia offer far greater latitude for mainland students studying aboard. Countries like South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong offer Chinese students scholarships, work opportunities, permanent residence, and even citizenship. Talented Chinese students, according to the paper, are not interested in coming to Taiwan for advanced studies.

Mainland luring Taiwan’s students

Meanwhile, the United Daily News reported that the China’s MOE has created a groundbreaking rule by allowing Taiwanese high school graduates who have passed Taiwan’s college entrance examination to apply directly to mainland colleges. Taiwanese colleges not only face internal competition, but also competition from the Chinese mainland now.

The paper said some of the Chinese schools that have excellent reputations in science and engineering are listed as top tier universities and get high budget allocations from the government. Besides having excellent professors, their software and hardware facilities are competitive. They also have exchange programs with well-known universities in Europe and America. If offered a scholarship, it might prove too tempting for Taiwanese students to resist. However, some students interviewed by the paper said they would stay with National Taiwan University if admitted instead of going to Beijing University.

Dual recognition of qualifications

Both the United Daily News and the Economic Daily urge the government to take more initiative in leading mutual academic exchanges, including recognizing the diplomas issued by some of the distinguished mainland schools and increasing the quota of Chinese students allowed to study in Taiwan.

In order to avoid being swallowed by China, Taiwan has to find the solutions to these complex issues and not allow talented Taiwanese students to be lured away, according to the paper. How the government responds to the issue of student exchange is likely to impact further exchanges in the airline industry, banking and other sectors.

Taiwan currently enjoys little advantage in trade and business over China, but it does have greater freedoms and democracy on its side, these are perhaps Taiwan’s best assets. Allowing greater educational exchanges is a winning strategy that can only lead to greater understanding on both sides. Taiwan has no reason to be afraid of coping with the challenges from China. College campuses on both sides are new platforms where reason and idealism can prevail, creating a new civilized model for a peaceful, democratic and prosperous society.

Online slang prevailing across Taiwan Strait

The ever-expanding use of the Internet and other popular media in Taiwan has brought with them a whole host of new Taiwanese terms. Pop culture jargon can be highly expressive and apparently infectious in this new age of the Internet, spreading new colloquialisms and slang faster than ever before.

In the recent issue of Taiwan Panorama, an article highlighted some of today’s popular Chinese online slang. Since many of the terms are translated from Chinese, although the idea might be conveyed, the humor is less so. In Taiwan, one of the top new terms often used in sha hen da – “kill very big” – which is derived from a TV commercial for an online game “Sha Online.”

Today, we use many expressions that do not make sense when taken at face value. Often they can be grammatically awkward. However, if the story behind these new words is known, or the development of these new terms is understood, usually they make more sense. One of China’s more popular expressions is da jiangyou which means “buy soy sauce.” Just hearing the phrase, we understand the literal meaning, but why is it popular?

According to Taiwan Panorama the story comes from a Guangzhou, China, television program. When people on the street were interviewed regarding a nude celebrity scandal, one man responded, “Ain’t any of my business, I’m just trying to buy some soy sauce.” Since then, the term has spread across the Internet and has become a common response to stupid questions or questions that are of no concern.

In a vote of China’s top ten online slang in 2008, the top ones were also widely used in Taiwan. Number one was shanzhai to refer to a knock-off product or something pirated. Although it initially had a negative meaning, it now has a positive spin and is used to signify “anti-establishment.” Lei meaning “thunder” in English, came in second, it has since morphed into a verb and an adjective to indicate shock and alarm.

Earlier this year, on the television show “Britain’s Got Talent”, a frumpy woman called Susan Boyle captivated the audience and judges with her singing. Afterwards, she repeatedly said she was gobsmacked by the whole experience. 100 million YouTube downloads later, people now understand the term gobsmacked. Derived from “gob” meaning mouth in British-English slang, it means being so flabbergasted that you smack your hand over your mouth.

Jargons stays with us, long after the knowledge of its origins has faded, but the most popular ones are easily understood. In Taiwanese, troun twa kwee literary means “take big breath”. Although in a yoga class, this might be a good thing, in Taiwanese, it actually means the opposite. It refers to someone who sighs often, feeling put upon by life.

As colloquial terms become more widely circulated they inevitably end up being added to our dictionaries. Ten years ago, if someone were to “Google” a name, the majority of readers would be perplexed by the meaning. Today, Google has also become a common verb and a noun. If you were to look up the word in the eleventh edition of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, it will define Google as a “search engine” and also “to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web.” It is unknown how long Google might remain in business as a company, but even if the company disappears, the usage of the word “Google” will likely remain.

According to Yu Kuang-chong, a well-known poet in Taiwan, slang is like pepper – when used appropriately, it adds a little flavor, but used in excess it can make a dish inedible. Language evolves with culture. It not only allows us to communicate, but is indicative of someone’s age, and socio-economic level. A person referring to his or her upbringing as a Brady Bunch childhood, a wholesome and popular television show would have been raised in the 1970s in the US. Whereas if you heard the expression talk to the hands, this person would likely belong in the generation that followed, since the term was commonly used by teens in the 1990s to mean “I’m not listening.” New expressions are very indicative of a specific time and region. Some are incorporated into everyday speech while others, are historical time stamps.