Tag Archives: Pres. Ma Ying-jeou

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.

President Ma gives video address to Stanford University

During a video conference chaired by former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on April 16, President Ma Ying-jeou said his administration plans to bolster exchanges with the US based on its closer cross-strait ties with mainland China and Taiwan’s growing role as an international peacemaker.

“We are deeply appreciative of Taiwan-US relations and ongoing arms sales from Washington,” President Ma said. “The mutual trust that has been restored between the two sides is giving Taiwan confidence and allowing us to engage with mainland China from a position of strength.” The president made the remarks at an academic event hosted by Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL).

The event’s other panelists at the Stanford University Bechtel Conference Center included Larry Diamond, director of the CDDRL; Francis Fukuyama, senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies; and Gary Roughead, a former chief of operations with the US Navy.

President Ma said his administration’s commitment to further liberalizing Taiwan-US trade is evidenced by the resolution of problems surrounding US beef imports last July. In March, the two sides also concluded talks under the Taiwan-US Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in Taipei, President Ma added that this development is in line with his building blocks approach to expanding bilateral economic exchanges. This undertaking also lays the foundation for Taiwan to join trade pacts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

“We have been left behind, very much left behind,” he said. “We need to catch up, and catch up fast. Becoming a free trade island is the only way to survive.” The TPP is a proposed trade agreement comprising negotiating partners Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the US. Other nations such as Japan and South Korea are also joining in discussions on this emerging pact.

Driven by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the RCEP comprises 16 economies, including Australia, India, Japan and mainland China. If realized, the trading bloc will permit a greater flow of goods and services and encompass a combined economic output of US$20 trillion, or almost one-third of the global economy.

Speaking on Taipei-Beijing exchanges, President Ma said both sides enjoy “special relations” as set out under the Republic of China (Taiwan) Constitution, which does not acknowledge each other’s sovereignty but recognizes the respective governing authority. “Most people in Taiwan want to maintain the cross-strait status quo based on the principle of ‘no unification, no independence and no use of force,’ as well as the Constitution and 1992 Consensus. This is the will of the people and the best way of furthering cross-strait relations.”

The 1992 Consensus is an informal understanding that there exists only one China, inclusive of Taiwan and mainland China, with both sides agreeing to differ on the precise political definition of “China.” It has served as the basis for Taipei’s dialogue with Beijing since President Ma took office in May 2008.

President Ma said Taiwan’s robust democracy is impacting mainland Chinese visitors by allowing them to see the difference between the two sides and clearing up misunderstandings stemming from the cross-strait political divide. “Our democracy and increased people-to-people exchanges will sow the seeds for a consensus on the future direction of cross-strait relations. This represents the virtuous cycle of improving Taipei-Beijing ties.”

On issues of regional security, President Ma said recent headway made between Taiwan and Japan over the Diaoyutai Islets speaks well for a peaceful resolution of territorial disputes in the East and South China seas. An uninhabited archipelago located roughly 102 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan proper, the Diaoyutais are historically attached to the ROC and include Diaoyutai Island and four other islets.

“The fisheries pact inked by Taipei and Tokyo in the last six days is a milestone development in bilateral ties. It safeguards the security of fishermen from both sides in the zone, and further enhances regional peace.” President Ma added that the agreement illustrates the viability of his East China Sea Peace Initiative and the willingness of both sides to set aside differences without undermining maritime and sovereignty claims.

Proposed by the president last August, the five-point initiative urges all parties to refrain from antagonistic actions; not abandon dialogue; observe international law; resolve disputes through peaceful means; and form a mechanism for exploring and developing resources on a cooperative basis.

The initiative also features a two-phase implementation: dialogue and talks, then cooperation on exploring and sharing natural resources. Under this framework, Taipei, Tokyo and Beijing can conduct bilateral discussions before progressing to trilateral negotiation, essential steps in realizing peace and cooperation in the region, President Ma said.

Amid massive anti-nuclear protests, Taiwanese rethink their desired lifestyle

On March 9, 200,000 people took to the streets in Taipei and three other major cities, demanding construction be halted on the fourth nuclear power plant, located in Gongliao at the northern tip of Taiwan. The protest in Taipei was the largest ever anti-nuclear demonstration in Taiwan. Protestors also demanded the early decommissioning of the other three nuclear power plants currently in operation and the removal of nuclear waste from Orchid Island, located off Taiwan’s southeast shore, and home mainly to aborigines.

The rallies, held in Taichung, Kaohsiung, Taitung, and Taipei, were staged as the government prepares to hold a referendum – possibly towards the end of the year – on whether to scrap the fourth nuclear plant project.

In a statement, President Ma Ying-jeou reiterated the government’s policy to move gradually toward a nuclear-free homeland, without causing power shortages or exceedingly high energy prices that would hurt Taiwan’s economy, according to the Central News Agency.

Plant viewed as a dinosaur  

Taiwan’s electric power industry has been managed and monopolized by the state-owned enterprise Taiwan Power Company (Taipower). The electricity generated by Taipower’s 27 coal-fired power plants accounts for 69.4 percent of the country’s total electricity production, while 11 hydroelectric plants generate 13.8 percent and three nuclear power plants generate 15.7 percent. As for the production of renewable energy, Taipower’s 15 wind farms and three photovoltaic power plants account for less than one percent.

The life span of each nuclear plant was set at 40 years. The two generators at Plant One are scheduled to be decommissioned in 2018 and 2019 respectively, with those at Plant Two are set to retire in 2021 and 2023, and Plant Three will follow in 2024 and 2025.

On March 12, Premier Jiang Yi-huah said in the Legislative Yuan that all nuclear power plants in Taiwan will be decommissioned by 2055, based on the 40-year operating lifecycle for each nuclear power plant. According to the Central News Agency, the calculation includes the fourth nuclear power plant.

Commonwealth monthly reminded its reader that when the construction of the Taipei Mass Rapid Transportation system started, costing US$14.8 billion, and Taiwan High Speed Rail, costing US$15.3 billion, these projects were strongly criticized during their construction. Since their opening, they have greatly improved the quality of life for Taipei City residents, and are now a source of pride for all Taiwanese.

However, since construction started on Plant Four in 1997, it has met with numerous protests, and twice leading to the halting of construction. With a total cost of nearly US$11 billion, the power plant is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Over 6.5 million people, or nearly a third of Taiwan’s population, live within 50 miles of the plant. Thought of by anti-nuclear activists as a dinosaur, they are hoping Plant Four will meet the same fate and become extinct.

Tug-of-war between political parties

The Taipei-based China Times reported that nuclear power was first introduced in Taiwan 40 years ago. At the time, nuclear energy was said to be the most advanced technology in the world. However with the nuclear disasters at Three Mile Island (United States) and Chernobyl (Ukraine), making the headlines, it awoke possible safety concerns of nuclear energy among Taiwanese. The seriousness was driven home with Japan’s nuclear disaster at Fukushima in 2011.

By the end of October 2000, then President Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) announced the cessation of construction on Plant Four. In January the following year, the Council of Grand Justices further explained that the suspension of construction on Plant Four was an important national policy change, so that the Executive Yuan needed to report to the Legislative Yuan in order to come up with a compromise among the parties involved.

Subsequently, an overwhelming number of votes were passed in the Kuomintang (KMT)-dominated Legislative Yuan to oppose the cancellation of Plant Four. Both the Executive Yuan and the Legislative Yuan signed an agreement to resume construction at the plant in mid-February 2001, ending a four-month delay.

To be decided by referendum

The Commercial Times noted that in the aftermath of the Japanese nuclear disaster, President Ma announced the principles of “ensuring nuclear safety, steady reduction of nuclear energy to create a green low-carbon environment so as to gradually move towards a nuclear-free homeland.” He also reassured Taiwanese by promising that the new plant would begin commercial operation only under secure conditions, the early decommissioning of Plant One, and that the lifespan of Plant Two and Three would not be prolonged.

The tide of rising voices are not only limited to the DPP now, but also to civilian organizations at the site of nuclear power plants. They have been joined by other civic groups like Mom Loves Taiwan, which consists mostly of housewives, as well as artists, celebrities and intellectuals. Premier Jiang Yi-hua, who only recently assumed office, is facing unprecedented pressure. In order to appease the growing number of opponents, on March 1, he proposed holding a national referendum to decide the fate of Plant Four.

Taiwan’s “referendum law” requires a high threshold of votes to pass it nationally. A nationwide referendum needs to have a voter turnout of more than half of the total number of people eligible to vote, and has to receive more than half of the valid votes to pass. Taiwan has had six national referendums, and none has passed.

Some consequences reconsidered

The China Times reported that the Environmental Protection Administration’s Minister Stephen Shu-hung Shen said that the immediate abolition of nuclear energy is a romantic idea, and is in conflict with the Taipei’s goal of carbon reduction.

Taiwan has made international commitments to such agreements as the Kyoto Protocol, promising to cut its carbon emissions to the 2000 level by 2025. Such a cut would reduce emissions by 90 million tons of carbon. Even with the three old nuclear plants extended passed their decommissioning dates and with Plant four online, Taiwan’s annual carbon emissions will still be 170 million tons by 2030, which far exceeds Taiwan’s international commitments of 90 million tons.

Minister Shen estimates that if Plant Four should canceled and be replaced by coal-fired plants, Taiwan’s carbon emissions would soar to 187.76 million tons, that is, 97.76 million tons over the committed carbon emissions target. He is worried that there would be 17.56 million tons more even if Plant Four started commercial operation.

Commonwealth reported that if Plant Four were scrapped and replaced by natural gas, Taiwan’s electricity generation costs would increase 40 percent. Based on the calculation of an average electricity bill of US$67 every two months, that would translate into an increase of US$27 every two months or an increase of nearly US$167 a year.

Wu Min-shuan, director of electricity development at Taipower, said the worst scenario could happen by 2024 when Plant One, Plant Two and Plant Three each have one generator decommissioned. In this situation, there will be electricity rationing island-wide if any one generator goes offline.

The goal of zero electricity growth doubted

As for the question of whether Plant One or Two will see an extension to their period of use, Tsai Chuen-horng, Minister of the Atomic Energy Council of the Executive Yuan, did not give a specific answer, but added that there have been many cases of extensions of nuclear power plants in other countries.

Irene Chen, one of the founders of Mom Loves Taiwan, an association for mothers against nuclear power, told Commonwealth that she disagrees with the idea to extend the life of Plant One and Two. She said the continuing service of nuclear power plants only increases the risks and feelings of insecurity. Besides, extensions would still continue the production of nuclear waste.

Green Citizens’ Action Alliance (GCAA) board member Chao Chia-wei said the government still predicts Taiwan’s electricity needs by using calculations based on current industrial structures. If it does not change its calculation method, there will always be a deficit, no matter how many plants are built. Therefore, the question of Taiwan’s electricity shortage depends on whether the government can develops new thinking to compensate for electricity demand.

The GCAA plans zero electricity growth by 1) reducing the ratio of electricity thirsty industries, 2) increasing the generation of renewable energy and 3) increasing the improvement of energy efficiency. With all three ways working, the energy saved would be equal to the production capability of Nuclear Power Plant Four.

Yang Jyh-shing, senior superintendent of the Industrial Technology Research Institute of Taiwan, has said that except for the United Kingdom, all other countries have failed to achieve zero electricity growth. He pointed out, “The UK has drastically reduced the proportion of industry in its economy, which is not feasible in Taiwan.”

A choice of value and lifestyle

The United Daily News commented that during the decade-long fight between the KMT and the DPP over Plant Four, the two sides never put forward a complete alternative, including the planning of alternative energy sources, the proportion of renewable energy, transition of energy-intensive industries, nor even the decommissioning schedule of nuclear power plants. If suspension of Plant Four becomes a reality, the immediate impact will be rising electricity prices. But a much bigger problem is power rationing, which will have a greater impact on daily activities. Both the ruling and opposition parties seem ill-prepared for this; while the anti-nuclear activist groups probably don’t have any answers either.

When questioned by Commonwealth on what to do if Plant Four is never operational, anti-nuclear activist Wu Wen-tong said, as a resident of Gongliao, he only cares about enjoying the beautiful ocean beach where a lot of tourists will come in the summer. When the construction of Plant Four is scrapped, people there can start their tourist and fish farming industries, reviving the local community.

Ho Ron-shin, chief editorial writer of Commonwealth, noted that the referendum on Nuclear Power Plant No. 4 serves not only as a physical examination of nuclear energy safety in Taiwan, but also a vote of confidence by the Taiwanese people on its government. It is also a value choice based on their desired lifestyle.

Third wave of Taiwanese business people heading to China

In recent years, another wave of Taiwanese business people has headed to China. Considered the third wave, this group of business migrants headed for China when Ma Ying-jeou assumed the presidency and established direct flights.

China has seen three big influxes of Taiwanese business people in the last 30 years. The first wave saw a massive transplantation of manufacturing to China in the 1980s and1990s. The second wave followed with small to mid-sized service businesses relocating to the mainland around 2000. And now, with newly relaxed business and travel regulations, a new wave consisting of Taiwanese students, business people, tourists, managers, and sole proprietor businesses are descending on China.

In 2002, there were about one million Taiwanese business people in the Chinese mainland with around 400,000 living in Shanghai. A decade later, the number has doubled, with two million Taiwanese in China, and 800,000 of them in Shanghai. In essence, this means that one tenth of Taiwan’s population lives in China, according to Global Views monthly.

More Taiwanese willing to work in China

Taiwan’s economy has stagnated in recent years, while China is still maintaining impressive growth. Given this fact, China has a greater need for skilled workers, it makes sense that Taiwanese business people would relocate to China to further their careers.

Earlier this year, Rising Sun International Real Estate Investment Consulting (RSIC), the largest Taiwanese business in Sichuan province (western China), returned to Taiwan to fill positions in architectural design, engineering construction, financial marketing, including 35 mid-to high-level managers, in order to further expand in Chongqing (Sichuan province) and western China. They were surprised when 3,000 resumes were submitted in the first week, reported Global Views.

“We are short of talent, but not money,” said Lin Chih-liang, chairman of RSIC. The company decided to recruit in Taiwan because Taiwanese workers have a reputation for good work ethics, are professional, and provide good value. Whereas mainland Chinese workers are prone to easily jump companies for merely US$100, Taiwanese are more stable.

This past January, a survey of a worker’s willingness to move to western China conducted by 1111 Recruiters showed that up to 94.92 percent of the respondents said they were willing to work in China. It is significantly higher than when the question was asked four years ago (64 percent) or just 18 month ago (77 percent).

The mainland opens further for Taiwanese businesses

In 2006, Xiamen City, Fujian province took the initiative of allowing Taiwanese to run a sole proprietor business with less than 10 employees. Now more regions have followed suit. Starting the first of this year, Taiwanese can run sole proprietor owned restaurants and retail stores in nine cities and provinces, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hubei and Sichuan.

Among some of these owners are Taiwanese who are highly educated, with stable social and economic positions. Some have even made the career shift from technology or financial industries. In one instance, many of those who joined the famous Taiwanese franchise drink stores, CoCo, in China, were high ranking staff members of Hon Hai Precision, ASUS and Citi Corp, reported Global Views.

At 39, Chris left his job in finance last year and joined two friends to co-invest US$300,000 in running a CoCo in Chongqing. With a sigh, he said that Taiwan’s banking growth has slowed in the last ten years. He changed jobs several times, but without much optimism, and then decided to try his luck in China.

Adjusting to a new life not for employees alone

There are always two sides to every coin. Not every Taiwanese can adapt to the situation in China. For example, if you move to China with a family, retaining quality education for your children might be a problem. Huang Chi-chang, president of a Taiwanese business association in Xiamen, said in the whole of China there are currently only three schools run by Taiwanese (two in Shanghai, and one in Guangdong province). If your kids do not live in these three areas, it is very difficult to transfer to a primary school or elementary school in China during the middle of a school term. And, you need to have special connections in order to be admitted to the exceptional local schools.

For this reason, most Taiwanese business people working in Chongqing and Chengdu (Sichuan province) arrange for their families to live in Shanghai or Guangdong so that their kids can attend a Taiwanese-run school, said Global Views.

If you are single and go to China alone, there is little chance your status will change since employees leave for work in the morning and go home after dark, rarely having time for leisure activities.

China is changing and trying to become better, so this is a good opportunity for Taiwanese businesses to be there, said Huang. Taiwan’s service businesses are ahead of China’s, with a focus on quality improvement and customer service.

Taiwanese must discard their feelings of superiority over the Chinese, said Huang. Even though Taiwanese have creativity, and good work ethics, most business owners believe it is better to maintain local connections, even when dealing in a huge market. If you do not understand Chinese people, your future is limited, so he told Global Views.

President Ma: Taiwan is concerned about China’s human rights issues

At a recent press conference to unveil the government’s “National Human Rights Report”, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou repeated his call for the mainland Chinese authorities to release pro-democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Liu has been imprisoned as a political prisoner in China since December 2009. While President Ma has appealed to the Chinese government on the issue before, this is the first time such a demand has been made since Xi Jinping emerged as China’s new leader.

President Ma noted that in the last two years he has repeatedly called for the release of pro-democracy activists, Liu Xiaobo and Ai Weiwei. However, while Ai been released, Liu remains imprisoned.

President Ma said that there are no boundaries in human rights, thus Taiwan is concerned about human rights issues in China. When the Tiananmen Square incident occurred in 1989, the Taiwanese government supported the pro-democracy activists, and offered assistance to them in every possible way.

Ma noted that ever since the Tiananmen Square incident, he has delivered a speech or taken part in the activities commemorating the incident on June 4th every year. He stressed that cross-strait relations are special, particularly when there are more than five million Taiwanese visitors to China each year, and over a million who do business, study or work in China. As such, the Taiwanese government is naturally invested in the human rights situation in China.

Another reason that Taiwan’s government remains committed to improving human rights in based on the island’s own experience of human rights violations during the 228 Incident in 1947. At that time, the authoritarian government suppressed political dissidents during a period of White Terror.

President Ma said that protection of human rights is one of most important responsibilities of the government. And, while mistakes are inevitable, and can be forgiven, lessons learnt must not be forgotten to ensure mistakes of the past are not repeated.

And so far, Taiwan has learned from its past. The US-based human rights watchdog Freedom House released its annual report “Freedom in the World 2013” on January 16, which sets out annual scores representing the level of political rights and civil liberties in each country on a scale from 1 (most free) to 7 (least free). China scored 7 in terms of political rights and 6 for civil liberties, meaning that overall there is virtually no political or civil freedom in the country. In marked contrast, Taiwan is ranked 1 for political rights, and 2 for civil liberties, that means Taiwan is free politically and socially.

Taiwan examines Obama’s re-election and China’s new leadership

On November 6, US President Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term. On November 8, the convening of the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) signaled the engineering of the decennial power transition, starting the era of China’s new leader Xi Jinping. It is the first time that the selection of the new leaders of US and China – the world’s two largest powers – have been decided and announced in the same week. Inevitably many will wonder what changes will take place in the international arena after this “super week”? And, how should Taiwan deal with it?

Positive Taipei-Washington relations set to continue

Government and public opinion leaders in Taiwan generally believe that Taipei-Washington relations will continue to develop smoothly after Obama’s re-election.

Through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, President Ma Ying-jeou sent a congratulatory message to President Obama saying that Taiwan-US relations have been close and friendly under Obama’s leadership over the last four years, reaching their best state in the past 30 years. President Ma also said that Taiwan is looking forward to continued cooperation and a further strengthening of the partnership between the two sides.

Taiwan’s Premier Sean Chen said that Obama is expected to continue to promote financially sound policies in his second term, which will aid long-term economic stability. The US is an important trading partner for Taiwan’s exports, and will continue to help drive Taiwan’s economic growth.

Premier Chen said that the US is the largest resource for Taiwan’s foreign investment and technology, and he hopes that both sides will base relations on the established good foundations and positive atmosphere, to grasp the opportunity of Obama’s re-election to further strengthen the development of bilateral economic and trade relations. Chen also expects to see the continued promotion of Taiwan-US industrial and trade cooperation, and the early resumption of talks relating to the semi-FTA Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).

The Central News Agency reported that a series of actions including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s holding talks with Taiwan’s former Vice President Lien Chan while attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, the US publicly announcing the news of Taiwan’s Deputy Defense Minister Andrew Yang’s visit to the Pentagon, Washington’s agreement to grant visa-free status to Taiwan travelers, the resumption of negotiations towards the TIFA, all show that Taiwan and the US have entered a period of closer and stronger relations.

Su Tseng-chang, Democratic Progressive Party chairman, and former DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen also sent congratulations to Obama on his reelection. The DPP Central Committee said it will actively plan to restore the establishment of a DPP representative to Washington to deepen its relations with the United States. The DPP continues the exchange of visits and dialogue with the US to ensure that the US understands the policy direction and thinking of the DPP.

President Ma calls for greater cross-strait trust, cooperation

When Xi was elected as the CCP’s new General Secretary, President Ma, in his capacity as chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT), took the initiative to send Xi a congratulatory message, the first time such a gesture has been made. President Ma expressed his hope that the two sides would further strengthen mutual trust and cooperation to cope with new challenges and to strengthen peace initiatives between the two sides.

Most of Taiwan’s media outlets reported that China has made remarkable advances since it took the path of reform and pursued a policy of opening up over 30 years ago. However, the gap between the rich and the poor, environmental pollution, and corruption, have all surfaced at the same time in China. The thinking and behavior of the Chinese leadership have reached a point of being unable to continue its course without making a change, and this is the major mission of the 18th National Congress of the CCP as it is empowered by history.

The Want Daily commented that since the 17th CCP national congress, “Hu Jintao (party head) and Wen Jiabao (government head) system” have basically followed their predecessors “Jiang Zemin and Li Peng’s reform pace”, made some more adjustments and innovations in economic structure, pushing China’s economic development toward a big leap. The upgrading of economic power has also lifted China’s military and international status, changing the position of China in the world.

However, in the process of its modernization, China’s rapid economic growth has also brought many problems, increasing economic and social contradictions. Due to these contradictions, coupled with the effects brought about by the development of science and technology, microblogging has become the alternative channel for spreading gossip and rumors, expressing political feelings, and increasing demands for political democratization.

The Taipei-based China Times stressed that there are nearly 300 million middle class people in China. The basic demands of the middle classes are for decent economic comfort, the right to participate in politics, and the realization of social fairness and justice. The major topic of the new leadership of Xi and Li Keqiang (premier) is how to meet the needs of the middle class. The shoots of democracy appear to be emerging in China, but the Beijing government only really tries to control the proliferation of social problems, and has yet to review the system and make significant innovations.

The Want Daily reported that just like the preceding 17th CCP congress completing China’s economic reform, the 18th is expected to be able to complete the major tasks of reforming China’s political and social system, moving China to a modern country.

“Comprehensive development” in relations with China?

The Central News Agency reported that Liu Te-shun, deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, Executive Yuan, believes that the Beijing government should continue its policy toward Taiwan, and take necessary steps. There should not be a dramatic change in its Taiwan policy because of a change in leadership.

However, according to the analysis of Taiwan’s former National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi, Xi is a standard “Taiwan hand” and is bound to play a strong “Taiwan card” in the fight for political achievements and performance. After taking power, Xi will launch a series of “systematic ideas and action” on Taiwan. The biggest achievement of Hu’s policy toward Taiwan was to reverse the downturn in cross-strait relations to safe waters. If Xi wants to do something beyond his predecessor, he will not be limited by maintaining “cross-strait stability” in his policy thinking and initiate a breakthrough policy in the next ten years.

The Commercial Times pointed out in an editorial that, after the leadership changes of the 18th national congress, that the new CCP leadership will launch a model to promote the “comprehensive development” in its relations with Taiwan, no longer placing economics and trade as the top priority. In other words, after the development of economic and trade relations, the two sides should also develop cross-strait cultural, political, and military exchanges and cooperation in parallel, rather than focusing on just one or two areas.

According to the paper, opinions in Taiwan agreed that it is best to build up an “economic and trade spindle” first to serve as a robust foundation between the two sides, so that a natural way can be paved for the comprehensive development of cross-strait relations to bear fruit in future.

And, in case cross-strait political issues were put on the agenda before the solidification of economic and trade cooperation, there would definitely be some argument and discord between Taiwan and China and thus the process of economic and trade negotiation would be impacted. However, Taiwan should also be prepared to deal with the arrival of “comprehensive development” between the two sides, facing the negotiation of non-economic and trade issues, the paper noted.

The Liberty Times stressed that it is apparent that Xi’s government will focus on the economy, people’s livelihoods and rectification of the Communist party style, rather than on the implementation of political reforms, since “reform” has not been mentioned in his speeches. However, today China must face political reform, according to the paper. If Beijing continues ignoring political reforms, it will be difficult for China not only to maintain the Chinese Communist dictatorship system, but also to sustain the pride of continual economic growth.

Dealing with future US-China relations

Despite the re-election of President Obama, the makeup of the US Congress remains little changed, continuing the frustrations of a seriously divided government. With Congressional members from opposing parties holding such divergent views, it remains extremely difficult for the president to promote his domestic policies; however this situation may leave the US president with more room to maneuver in terms of foreign policy, according to China Times.

The paper pointed out that, after the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the trend of a rising China has become increasingly apparent, yet there remain many contentious issues in relation to international affairs between the US and China. All signs suggest a pessimistic future for US-China relations. The Want Daily reported that the US and China not only have conflicts over trade and the economy, they also hold different positions on North and South Korea, on issues relating to the East China Sea and the South China Sea. With such entrenched misunderstandings, surely it will take a very long time to reach a compromise.

“Some people take a pessimistic view about the future of US-China relations, but I think just the opposite,” said Lin Chong-pin, a Taiwanese military strategist. According to his analysis, Xi has a much better understanding of the United States than any previous Chinese leaders. Besides, it is difficult for the US to return to Asia with its economic strength and national power. So the overall situation will be that the US and China will cooperate more to reduce confrontation in the coming four years, the Central News Agency reported.

The China Times pointed out that the Asia-Pacific region has become a contested field of strategic competition between the US and China and there is a trend toward more conflict between the two sides. In an atmosphere of growing US-China strategic suspicions, Taiwan-China relations also face a new set of challenges that are likely to become increasingly complex. It is apparent that when the US actively reinforces its military alliances with Japan and Australia that the common adversary will be China. And if Taiwan takes any position in support of US strategy in East Asia, it will possibly hamper Taiwan’s positive interactions with China.

Balance between the two powers

Sandwiched between China and the United States, what can Taiwan do? Edward I-hsin Chen, a professor at Tamkang University, stressed that Taiwan should maintain an “equidistant” relationship and not take sides, the Want Daily reported.

However, according to analysis in the China Times, the issue of Taiwan has diminished due to positive interactions across the Taiwan Strait. If no solution emerges to the Taiwan issue, this will only add new uncertainty to China’s security. In the event that China and the United States cannot live in peace in the future, and tensions rise, there will be ignition points of local confrontations in the Asia-Pacific region. By that time, President Ma’s balancing strategy between the US and China will face a daunting challenge.

Andy Chang, director of Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of China Studies, pointed out in an article in the United Daily News that the result of Taiwan’s presidential election in 2016 will be seen as the first important test of the acceptance of Xi’s Taiwan policy. This will be followed by the 19th CCP national congress in 2017. Therefore, whatever the outcome of Taiwan’s presidential election in 2016, Xi and his leadership will make every effort to ensure no change in the peaceful development of relations across the Taiwan Strait. So the major task of Xi’s Taiwan policy during his first term will naturally be to make all necessary preparations to deal with cross-strait relations after Taiwan’s presidential election.

Although Xi expects a cross-strait peace agreement can be signed during his ten year tenure, which would be an historic step in China’s history, President Ma is more likely to work first toward the mutual establishment of representative offices as a mechanism to continuing peaceful development within his remaining term of office. It remains to be seen whether political dialogue can be initiated between Taiwan and China in the coming decade, Chang noted.

President Ma vows to protect sovereignty of disputed islands

On September 7, President Ma Ying-jeou toured the Pengjia Islet, 33 nautical miles from the northern tip of Taiwan to reaffirm Taiwan’s sovereignty over the Tiaoyutai Islands. He again urged China and Japan to relax their confrontational stance so that the three countries can work cooperatively to develop the resources in the East China Sea.

Pengjia Islet is not far from the Tiaoyutai Islands (also known as, Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China). A dispute between Taiwan, Japan and mainland China over the Tiaoyutai island chain is escalating, with increasingly nationalistic feelings being voiced within these countries. Anti-Japanese demonstrations have taken place in 60 Chinese cities. On September 15, a few thousand people crammed into Portsmouth Square in San Francisco’s Chinatown, to decry Japan’s claim to the Tiaoyutai islands.

The issue came to the surface again in April, when Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara said he had begun negotiations to buy the Tiaoyutai islands from a Japanese family that has owned them for decades. This year happens to be the 40th anniversary marking the US transfer of “administrative power” of these islands to Japan after WWII.

President Ma said the areas around Pengjia Islet and the Tiaoyutai islands are rich in fish such as mackerel and bonito, and have been the fishing ground for Taiwanese fisherman for over a century. Because of the relationship between the monsoon and ocean currents, it is more convenient for Taiwanese fishermen to fish there compared with Japanese vessels that have to sail against the wind and the currents.

When Japan decided to assume control of the Tiaoyutai islands after the Sino-Japanese war in 1895, it was considered an act of aggression and in violation of international law. Before that, the island chain had been administered by the Qing government, under the jurisdiction of Taiwan Province, and not considered an “uninhabited land without owners” as classified by the Japanese government. The outside world was not aware of Japan’s actions, making them invalid under international law.

Speaking of his visit to Pengjia, President Ma said, “the purpose of my presence here today is not just to declare my country’s sovereignty over Tiaoyutai, but more importantly, to seek a pragmatic way to resolve this dispute with the ‘East China Sea Peace Initiative’ as I proposed on August 5, to shelve the sovereignty dispute and to co-develop the resources in a peaceful and mutually beneficial way.”

President Ma’s “East China Sea peace initiative” aims to promote cooperation between Taiwan, China and Japan in fisheries, mining, marine scientific research, marine environmental protection, maritime security and non-traditional security issues. President Ma pointed out that it is a pity that the rich resources of the East China Sea have been untapped for 40 years due to the inability of all three countries to cooperate. It is really wasteful given the high price of oil and food shortages experienced today, he said. President Ma cited the relationship between the neighboring counties in the North Sea which have put aside their sovereignty disputes to jointly develop oil and gas exploration, making Brent Crude oil an internationally recognized brand.

With a growing number of sovereignty disputes in the Western Pacific region, Taiwan’s strategic position is quietly becoming more important, said Lee In-ming, vice president of the Taipei-based China University of Science and Technology, writing in the Want Daily. At the first glance, Taiwan has little room to maneuver between two strong powers, but the island can indeed play a significant role given the relatively few players capable of tipping the balance, he said.

If Taiwan tilts to offer support in one direction rather than the other, this can make the reality of sovereignty and politics unbalanced. President Ma’s proposal of an East China Sea peace initiative means Taiwan is willing to play a role of maintaining a balance in the sovereignty politics to ensure regional stability, and this is why Japan and the US are responding positively to President Ma’s “East China Sea Peace Initiative,” according to Lee.

Former presidential aide’s insights into Taiwan’s democracy

Even after five presidential elections and two changes of the ruling party, the Taiwanese people and the mass media are still highly critical of the administrative capabilities of the government. In a recent article in the United Daily News, Su Chi, President Ma Ying-jeou’s former secretary-general, wrote that the core administrative problem of the government does not lie with individuals (such as the president), agencies or political parties, but rather is the result of an incomplete transition to true democracy. Whereas “liberalization” has taken place since the lifting of martial law in 1987, “institutionalization,” is not complete, he said. Though Taiwan and its people have fully embraced liberalization, they remain stuck in a governing system that is half way toward democracy and martial law.

Su pointed out that the current system embodied by the Legislative Yuan is not fit for purpose (legislation), but is only good for its secondary function, party political struggle, and it is short on legislative resources (personnel and funding). Meanwhile, its Central Standing Committee mainly functions to collect public opinion, and the enacting of laws is functionally substituted with “cross-party consultation.” Besides which, political in-fighting which is a common feature of politics in Taiwan, seriously hampers the legislative process.

Therefore, compared with an average of 590 laws and acts passed annually in the South Korean Congress, there were on average 190 laws passed each year during the eight-year term of former President Chen Shui-bian. The number has improved slightly during President Ma’s tenure so far, rising to 210. The slow pace of legislating means that the government and the people are still tied up by many outdated and overly conservative laws.

Su pointed out that there are many able people working for Taiwan’s public bodies, but they still pay more attention to management, and too little to innovation. Furthermore, the civil service working environment continues to deteriorate due to the overly officious behavior of the Legislative Yuan, the Control Yuan, prosecutors, the police service, and investigators, as well as the watchful eye of the media and opposition parties.

The concern created causes the civil service to increasingly adopt stricter bureaucratic requirements which “they do only with regulatory approval.” Faced with such restrictions, many qualified people in the private sector are not willing to be recruited into government.

Su noted that one of the reasons for the government’s lack of administrative capability is due to an overly aggressive media, yet it is questionable whether the media can satisfy the public’s right to know.

What is more damaging is the rancor created by bipartisan divisions and confrontation, which runs very deep in Taiwanese society. Political infighting have dragged down Taiwan’s economic development, making the country unable to cope with changing conditions in mainland China and across the Asia Pacific.

Su lamented that the president in Taiwan has power to promote “institutionalization,” but unfortunately, former President Chen Shui-bian, who was expected to engage in Taiwan’s internal democratization, was weak on cross-strait affairs and diplomacy. And, while President Ma is strong on external relations, he has been bogged down by managing the micro-level domestic affairs.

Taiwan needs to kick-start a wholesale transformation of its political system similar to what happened in South Korea in the late 1990s. At that time, the government in Seoul took the painful decision in reorganize its banking system, and also passed many major bills, and at the same time overhauled its system of government. These reforms were not even interrupted by a change of the political parties. Within a decade, South Korea has been transformed into a country with a much higher level of international visibility than before.

Taiwan has been putting off reforms for too long, according to Su. Reforms are urgently needed and a necessity if Taiwan is to cope with international competitiveness in the years to come. Now is the time for the government and the people to act to realize a better future for Taiwan, Su stressed.

Chinese students’ romance with Taiwan

The number of Chinese students admitted to US universities last year surpassed 170,000; a double-digit growth that has been the trend in recent years. After returning home, these students are likley to have a profound impact on China in the years to come.

Taiwan opened its doors to Chinese university students two years ago, and so far, about 1,000 Chinese students have seized the opportunity to study on the island. This number is not large compared to those studying in the States, but the process of adjustment is not as jarring since these students are staying in a country that shares a common language and cultural heritage. Yet, their stay might also be somewhat strange since politically, Taiwan still considers China as neither a friend nor an enemy. Given these similarities and contradictions, what then are these Chinese students’ impressions of Taiwan and how might they affect future cross-strait relations?

Allowing Chinese students into Taiwan is a highly political issue

President Ma Ying-jeou has promoted increased exchanges with mainland China since taking office in 2008. In the last four years, there were over six million cross-strait visits by the people of Taiwan and mainland China, with more than three million Chinese tourists visiting the island, plus 10,000 students on short-term and long-term exchanges. The first batch of 928 Chinese students came in September 2010, and another 724 came last September. Some of them left after one semester, while others will stay for four years, and even continue on to graduate studies in Taiwan.

In August 2010, Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan passed three bills relating to the entry of students from 41 selected Chinese universities to study at college campuses in Taiwan. The bills also set restrictions, with quotas that no more than two percent of the total freshmen population in Taiwanese colleges can be from China in any given school year, they are not permitted to work during their studies or to seek employment in Taiwan afterwards, and they are barred from applying for government positions in Taiwan.

There is a current over-supply of colleges in Taiwan given the island’s low birth rate and many schools have welcomed this opportunity to expand. However, due to the imposed restrictions, Chinese students have not even come close to the 2,000 yearly quota. This month, President Ma ordered a review of these restrictions to see if they may be amended in order to spur more cross-strait exchange of young students.

In May, the Central News Agency reported Chao Chien-min, the former vice chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council and a professor at National Chengchi University, held a discussion with Chinese students studying in Taiwan. In response to requests by these students that Taiwan’s government should relax the restrictions, Chao said that this is not a scholastic issue, but one which is highly political. Whenever there is a bill in relation to the exchange of people from the mainland, the Legislative Yuan becomes a battlefield between the ruling and opposition parties.

Bittersweet romance across the Taiwan Strait

A Chinese official in charge of Taiwan affairs also talked with the Chinese students studying in Taiwan during his visit last month, urging them to make use of this opportunity to make friends and even to date Taiwanese students. However, any romance is likely to be challenging given that Chinese students would need to leave immediately upon completing their allotted term or when they receive their degree.

The United Daily News reported on the story of Roger, a Taiwanese student who fell in love with a female exchange student from China. To maintain their relationship after his girlfriend’s return, he applied to a Chinese university for a one-semester exchange. Now back in Taiwan, Roger is in contact with his girlfriend through video phone. He hopes to continue the relationship by working in China for a Taiwan-funded enterprise after completing his 10-month military service in Taiwan.

In another romance, Deng Dong, a graduate student in Taiwan, was a part of a school group visiting China last year. While attending Beijing Union University, he met his girlfriend. It was love at first sight. Since becoming a couple, he has traveled to the mainland, while she has visited Taiwan as a tourist. However, there are barriers to their relationship. In the short term, his girlfriend complains about the expensive and difficult procedure in applying for an individual tourist visa to Taiwan. He plans to work in China, but worries that his future wife might not be able to find a job which matches her education as a foreign spouse in Taiwan.

The Central News Agency reported that Chen Po-yu, a mainland Chinese student studying at the University of Hong Kong, becomes anxious around 10 pm daily, which is the time she usually talks to her boyfriend in Taiwan via Skype. Chen met her boyfriend when she was a short-term exchange student in Taiwan two years ago. After dating for two months, she returned to Hong Kong. Since then, she met up with her boyfriend in China, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Her boyfriend even took a two-day flight to meet her parents in China.

Chen said she thought of pursuing graduate studies in Taiwan to be close to her boyfriend, but being from Gansu Province (western China), which is not included in the designated schools or areas from which individual Chinese can plan personal tours to Taiwan, Chen cannot visit Taiwan to study or visit relatives.

At the same time, Chen feels insecure due to the political uncertainty between the two sides. The couple has even discussed the possibility of a war breaking out between Taiwan and China in the future. Chen said, “The future is unpredictable, but I do not want the sad story of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu love story to happen to us.”

The love story is well-known in China. Niu Lang was a poor orphan cowherd, and Zhi Nu was the daughter of the God of Heaven. The fairy came down secretly to earth, fell in love with Niu Lang and married him. The God of Heaven soon found out and had Zhi Nu brought back to heaven.

Niu Lang followed Zhi Nu to heaven. He was about to reach his wife when the Queen appeared. She pulled off her hairpin and drew a line between the two. The line became the Silver River in heaven, otherwise known as the Milky Way.

Zhi Nu went back to heaven, spending her time weaving clouds. But she was so sad, and missed her husband across the Silver River so much that the clouds she weaved seemed sad. Finally, the Queen showed a little mercy, allowing the couple to meet once a year on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month on the Silver River. Their meeting date has been called Chi Xi, the Chinese Valentine’s Day.

From misinformation to mutual understanding

The Want Daily reported that due to the disparity of land and population across the strait, it is easy for the people from Taiwan to visit the mainland but Chinese citizens face a lot of restrictions in return. Even though cross-strait relations have improved in recent years, only Chinese spouses of Taiwan citizens can receive permanent residency in Taiwan. Though Chinese students can stay longer, they must return to the mainland after they complete their studies.

The Central News Agency reported that Chinese students place Taiwanese into two categories – those who have been to China and those who have not. The latter are mostly ignorant about the situation in China. During his stay in Taiwan, a Chinese student was repeatedly asked, “Are you not free on the mainland? Is it dangerous there? Is it easily being under arrest and sent to prison?”

This student believed that many Taiwanese are not fully aware of the situation in China because they get incomplete information from the news media. Some students expressed the hope that Taiwanese people will have a comprehensive understanding of China.

On the other hand, this Chinese student confessed that he thought Taiwan was a part of China before his visit to Taiwan. But after his stay in Taiwan, he has mixed feelings seeing the Republic of China’s flags flying everywhere, dispelling his earlier teachings.

Xia Xiao-you, a Chinese student from Xiamen, Fuzhou province, wrote an article entitled “Taiwan syndrome” in her blog after returning to China. In it she described how she missed “Japanese cuisine, desserts, and the hot milk she could easily buy at convenience stores in Taiwan. They also offer services such as calling for a taxi, booking train tickets, paying cell phone bills, and the restrooms are generally clean there.” She added, “I miss the free WiFi in Taipei. When I visit scenic locations and search for WiFi, up pops ‘I love Taiwan’ on the front page. It happened at Sun Moon Lake, Taichung Railway Station and Green Island Harbor. Every time I saw this WiFi logo, the feeling would be echoed in my heart – I love Taiwan.”

The United Daily News reported that a Chinese student from Beijing with the surname Lu said, one day he lost NT$3,000 (US$100.00) at the Taipei Main Station, and thought that the money was gone forever. To his surprise, he found the money at the station’s customer service desk. On another occasion, he was touched when a child walked him 0.6 miles to set him on the right direction in central Taiwan. However, the most incredible thing for him was to hear Taiwanese people criticize their president so blatantly.

Let them know the meaning of diversity and tolerance

Li Kai-wei, professor at Chung Hua University, wrote in a letter to the editor of the United Daily News that the Chinese government has been actively encouraging Taiwanese students to enroll at Chinese universities while the Taiwan government is still hesitant. It is estimated that there are 7,000 Taiwanese students in China while there are only 1,000 Chinese students in Taiwan. He said it is predictable that Taiwan will suffer a brain drain in the future because Taiwanese students rarely return after graduating in China, yet Chinese students are forbidden to seek employment in Taiwan after graduation.

The Want Daily stressed, “Taiwan is a diversified society, and we should treat the Chinese students as part of this diverse society. We should use this opportunity to show them what is diversity and what is tolerance. The Chinese students are the ‘pioneers’ who have a deep understanding of Taiwanese society. They are young and as innocent as a white sheet of paper, and can develop in many ways. They will bring to China what they have learned in Taiwan and might even become Taiwan’s supporters.”

The United Daily News has collected and edited pictures of Chinese students in Taiwan. Please visit the link http://vimeo.com/39931650 for details. (Unfortunately, the captions are only in Chinese).