Monday, July 13, 2009

The World Journal - a bridge for the Chinese community

Whereas mainstream print media is struggling to stay afloat, ethnic media has shown itself to be more resilient amid the current economic recession. In the Bay Area alone, the Hearst Corporation has threatened to sell the San Francisco Chronicle after the loss of US$50 million last year, and the San Jose Mercury News has curtailed delivery outside the South Bay to reduce costs. Meanwhile, the World Journal, the Bay Area’s largest Chinese-language newspaper, remains robust.

Ethnic media fares better in tough economic times

Although this is not to say that all ethnic media has done well in this economic downturn, most have fared better based on a recent study by New America Media (NAM), the country’s first and largest national collaboration of 2000 ethnic news organizations. In a recent report, The State of Ethnic Media, one of the reasons given to explain why the ethnic media sector has not been as heavily impacted by the downturn as its mainstream counterpart is that it does not rely on big corporate advertisers, but rather on a wide range of small business advertisers. Therefore, the financial impact is diluted due to the absence of “big holes in ad revenue” when big corporations tighten their belts, according to Juana Ponce de Leon, the editor of Voices to be Heard and director of the New York Community Media Alliance.

Furthermore, whereas the rise of web-based news has adversely impacted mainstream media, it has not taken as heavy a toll on ethnic media. According to Hsia Shiun-yi, the president of of the World Journal in San Francisco, the paper’s readership has remained steady. Also, readers of ethnic news are less likely to be Internet savvy.

Vivian Po, a reporter and Chinese-language media monitor for NAM, explains, “Chinese papers serve the Chinese community and more of the Chinese-speaking/non-English speaking community, who are usually new immigrants, the elderly, and low-income families.” Po said this population has limited understanding of the American system so the paper plays the role of translator. It conveys important news and topics of interest to the Chinese community. For instance, “the Chinese papers reported widely on the changes of questions in the immigration and naturalization tests, the Economic Stimulus Package in the 2008 tax season, changes in SSI (supplemental security income), the bilingual/language immersion program, all issues that are less reported by the mainstream papers.”

The World Journal enjoys popularity and sentimental attachement

On June 23rd, Taiwan Insights spoke to senior World Journal managers to get a better sense of the paper’s place in the community. Present at the meeting was Hsia, along with the paper’s editor-in-chief Yu-ru Chen, and former vice president Arthur Ku They agreed that the World Journal serves to supplement a reader’s connection to their homeland, providing a bridge and a voice in their local community.

Since the paper is not a standard local paper, detailed reports on all local news stories and events are not a focus, rather the paper aims to combine news reports relevant to the United States, Taiwan and China. According to Chen, the paper’s intention is to give readers a sense of home. Many readers begin their day by reading the paper and they have a permanent connection to it. For example, on the 30th anniversary of the paper’s publication a few years back, some readers brought out the very first print edition in 1976 to show off, and many told stories of how they learned Chinese by reading the paper or how it was used for completing a school assignment. Indeed, there appears to be a great deal of genuine sentimentality attached to the paper.

Connecting immigrants to their homeland and new community

The paper not only serves to connect people to their homeland, but also allows them to be more invested in the issues concerning the United States, such as relations with Taiwan. According to Po, “Chinese papers serve as a voice for the Chinese community and a channel for government or public officials to reach out to the Chinese community. “If you remember the Chinatown City College protest and the CNN protest last year, almost nothing was seen in the mainstream news, and I do believe the Chinese papers played a very important part in mobilizing the community to get out and speak out.” Moreover, with direct partnerships with news outlets in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other locations, Chinese papers were the first to report the Sichuan earthquake, as well as important business-related news of interest to Chinese/Taiwanese-Americans.

The World Journal is a paper with worldwide coverage. Besides having the option to use news wire articles, the paper also has offices and reporters in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Vancouver (British Columbia), as well as China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. As a sister paper of the United Daily News, one of the largest newspapers in Taiwan, it has a wider selection of articles to choose from with so many locations reporting on the news.

Keeping it non-partisan in cultivating audience

Despite its wide circulation, the World Journal is cautious not to be too political when reporting issues concerning the Bay Area Chinese/Taiwanese communities. Editor-in-chief Chen believes the paper has a responsibility to encourage local Asians to participate in government by introducing elected officials. However, Hsia made it clear that the World Journal is careful not to take political sides. Although individuals have personal preferences, they try to remain non-partisan when reporting the news. A newsman’s job is to bring out the truth in an even-handed manner, stressed Chen.

With a thriving Aisan population in the Bay Area, the World Journal has dominated over the other Chinese newspapers. Whereas its readers are composed of immigrants from Taiwan and China, its main local competitor, the Sing Tao Daily, serves a Cantonese readership from Hong Kong and Quangdong Province, China, according to Ku. Also, much of its coverage is devoted to soft news with more space dedicated to entertainment news.

Sales of The World Journal are evenly divided between newsstands and subscriptions. Ku believes that the Internet will eventually become dominant, but feels that it is possible to cultivate this segment of new readers too. The paper currently has a children’s edition and also cooperates with UC Berkeley Chinese Classes. In addition, the paper has a bi-lingual Chinese-English section that can help readers improve their English as well.

Providing a “voice” remains a priority

Maybe one true advantage for the ethnic media goes back to its differing focus. Many mainstream newspapers are a part of big chains which have undertaken cost cutting measures. In just 2008 alone, 5,900 mainstream newsroom jobs were lost. Ethnic news outlets have always operated closer to the edge, with lower salaries and different priorities. The NAM State of Ethnic Media report quoted a recent poll conducted by the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism on what ethnic media journalists considered to be the most important aspect of their work. Over 68 percent stated that “providing a voice to their community” was their priority, while success as a business ranked third.

From time to time, a new Chinese-language paper might enter the market, but many do not survive. Even with so many Chinese papers, Ku treats none of these papers as direct competition, but rather sees competition coming from the paper’s own exacting standards. “Our competitors are ourselves,” he said. Chen echoed this sentiment, saying that the paper’s aim is to provide the best service to readers and that this is the ultimate challenge. Both feel that the newspaper business in the United States is far less cutthroat than in Taiwan, where competition remains fierce and warlike. In the Bay Area the Chinese papers serve as a bridge for expatriates, where the atmosphere is polite and friendly and where their hard work is truly appreciated.

New Chinese Culture Center planned

If everything goes according to plan, San Francisco will once again have a Chinese Culture Center by November. The long-awaited decision on a new site for the Center has now been finalized, according to Wu Ying-yih, the minister of Taiwan’s Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission (OCAC). The World Journal reported that the new site, recently approved by the US State Department, is to be at 739-741 Commercial Street, on the edge of San Francisco’s Chinatown and Financial District.

According to the Sing Tao Daily, Wu inspected three possible locations in January and chose the Commercial Street location because it best fulfilled the center’s needs. In 2006, the former Chinese Culture Center on Stockton Street (San Francisco) closed its doors, but President Ma Ying-jeou promised to back the establishment of a new center. With the opening of the new facilities, there will be two centers in Northern California once again, with a total of sixteen across North America.

Wu said the OCAC has already allocated a budget for remodeling the new center, a two-story 2,300 square-foot building. The facilities will house a library, conference and function room and employ a staff of five. The landlord will be the Charity Cultural Services Center.

In a follow–up article, the World Journal said the OCAC wanted to review more detailed interior design ideas and negotiate the terms of the lease. Once these details have been finalized, bidding will begin to remodel the facilities.

With the opening of the new Chinese Culture Center, San Francisco will once again have two centers with the same name. The other such center is located just two blocks away on Kearny Street. It is also a non-profit cultural center with a mission to preserve, promote, and influence the course of Chinese and Chinese American culture.

Meanwhile, the Culture Center in Sunnyvale, California, is also in search of a bigger space to better serve the overseas Taiwanese and Chinese community in the South Bay. The center, purchased in 1988, has outgrown its current premises and needs more than the current 35 parking spaces.

A preparatory committee is being formed to look for a new centrally located site, a premise of around 30,000 square feet, 150 parking spaces and easy access to major transportation infrastructure. The site is expected to be open in 2012.

President Ma visits Bay Area

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou stayed overnight in San Francisco on his way to Central America on June 29th. He was welcomed at the San Francisco International Airport by William Brown (the Honorary Chair of the American Institute in Taiwan), Jason Yuan (the Representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington, D.C.), and Thomas J. C. Chen (the Director General of TECO in San Francisco).

Accompanied by first lady Chow Mei-ching and a 169-member delegation, Ma stopped in the Bay Area on his way to Panama and Nicaragua. Due to the recent coup that forced the president of Honduras, Manuel Zeyala, into exile, the country was excluded from Ma’s itinerary.

Awaiting the president’s arrival at the Marriott Hotel were a contingent of supporters and also protesters who oppose his policies towards China.

While at the hotel, Ma had a telephone conversation with the former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who praised Ma’s leadership and his mainland policy that has calmed cross-strait relations. He also talked by phone with six US congressmen.

That evening, Ma attended a banquet organized by local overseas Chinese communities, which included notable residents such as US Congressman Mike Honda, San Francisco Board of Supervisors president David Chiu, the president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in San Francisco Bong L. Wong and some 250 leaders in the political, business and technology arena.

The following morning, Ma flew to Panama to attend the inauguration ceremony of President Ricardo Martinelli before continuing onward to Nicaragua to meet with President Daniel Ortega. Ma and his delegation made a 23-hour stopover in Hawaii arriving late on July 4th on his return trip home.

Harmony between overseas Chinese groups urged

On June 8th, the first steps toward improving relations within overseas Chinese communities were taken in Taipei. The Taipei-based Federation of Overseas Chinese Association in Taiwan (FOCAT) and the Beijing-based All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese (ACFROC) signed an agreement to strengthen cooperation and communication. The agreement outlined how the two sides would co-sponsor regular forums, mutual visits and other activities to advance rapprochement and unity among overseas Chinese communities.

Both Taiwan and China maintain cabinet-level ministries to deal with overseas Chinese affairs, and both have overseas legislative representation. Among the overseas Chinese communities, there is an existing standoff between pro-Taiwan groups and pro-China groups. This can be seen by some of the disputes in the Chinese communities in San Francisco in recent years and the changing of national flags flown in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

According to the United Daily News, Wu Po-hsiung, chairman of Taiwan’s Nationalist Party (KMT) visited Beijing to meet Hu Jintao, the secretary general of China’s Communist Party in May. They talked about how to end the confrontation between the two parties concerning overseas Chinese affairs.

Later Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou said that the “diplomatic truce” between Taipei and Beijing could be applied to overseas Chinese affairs. There is no need for overseas Chinese loyal to different sides of the Taiwan Strait to fight in their resident countries, said Ma. His remarks on an “overseas Chinese truce” were instrumental to the signing of the cooperation and communication agreement between FOCAT and ACFROC.

The World Journal reported the response from the overseas Chinese community in San Francisco toward the signing of the agreement:

Harrison Lim, former presiding president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in San Francisco, commented that the agreement does not carry much weight since both signatories are private organizations. He continued, had the agreement been signed by minister Wu Ying-yih of Taiwan’s Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission (OCAC) and by his Chinese counterpart Li Haifeng, it would have been more meaningful. Also, according to his understanding, ACFROC serves Chinese returning to China from overseas, not overseas Chinese in their resident country.

Ms. Florence Fang, a leader in the San Francisco overseas Chinese community, said she was pleased that the signing of the agreement would bring positive influence to the various overseas Chinese communities.

Wang Long-wen, representative of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Silicon Valley, said that immigrants coming from elsewhere in the world should fully participate in and work for the benefits of their adopted country on this issue.

In his speech of June 13th in San Francisco, Wu Ying-yih, head of the OCAC, called on the pro-Taiwan overseas Chinese associations to extend an olive branch to pro-China groups that they could work with in order to promote “harmony and development of Chinese communities abroad.”

Athletics unites local communities

The 25th Taiwanese and Chinese-American Athletic Tournament took place during a heat wave this year. Held at the San Jose City College, over 50 teams from local communities in the San Francisco Bay Area participated. The event opened with a parade of martial artists, dragon dancers, lion dancers and a marching band.

Attending the tournament was Jason Yuan, the Representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (Taiwan’s de facto embassy) in Washington, D.C., who also addressed the crowd. He commended the local communities for their enthusiasm and looked forward to conveying this to President Ma Ying-jeou during his transit stop in San Francisco on June 29th. Also attending was Thomas J.C. Chen, the director general of TECO in San Francisco.

Song Chen, chairman of the annual tournament, expressed appreciation to the financial sponsors and more than 400 volunteers who helped to make the event a success. In honor of this event three Olympic-style torch-lighting ceremonies were held at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Associations in Sacramento and San Francisco, and at the Chinese Culture Center in Sunnyvale, ahead of the final one at the San Jose City College Stadium. The torches symbolize the unity of the people participating.

Honorable guests included: San Jose City Councilman Kansen Chu, Milpitas Vice Mayor Pete McHugh, Cupertino Vice Mayor Kris Wang, California State Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, California State Assemblyman Paul Fong, Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa and other local representatives.

Taiwan’s premier calls for calm in Xinjiang

Taiwan Premier Liu Chao-shiuan has called on the Chinese government to handle the unrest in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Province, with self restraint. Showing concern for the ethnic tensions in Urumqi, Liu asked that basic rights and universal values by respected.

“We regret the communal violence in the Urumqi area in the past few days and are concerned about heavy casualties resulting from the incident,” Liu was quoted as having said at a weekly Cabinet meeting.

The premier further asked that the Chinese government protect the properties and personal safety of Taiwanese citizens living, doing business or traveling in the Xinjiang area.

Liu urged China to observe all of its ethnic groups’ basic human rights, such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) also issued a statement asking all relevant parties to remain calm and communicate with each other in a peaceful and rational manner. In a statement, the MAC expressed the hope that China adheres to the two UN-sponsored human rights covenants. “Only through reform and progress on all fronts, not just economic growth, can a harmonious society be achieved,” read the statement.

New AIT office in Taipei breaks ground

On June 22nd, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) dedicated the ground for a new representative office in Taipei. The new office will be the home to the United States’ de facto embassy established after Washington switched formal recognition to Beijing three decades ago. The investment in a new office compound serves as an indication of renewed warmth in relations between Taipei and Washington, said AIT Taipei-based Director Stephen Young.

"The new AIT building that will one day stand on this site will weave together these various strands of our complex, productive, and friendly relationship," Young said during a dedication ceremony at the site in the district of Neihu.

The ceremony was also attended by Taiwan Legislative Yuan speaker, Wang Jin-pyng, Vice Premier Chiu Cheng-hsiung, National Security Council secretary general, Su Chi, Taipei mayor, Hau Lung-bin, and former Taiwan Representatives in Washington, Frederick Chien and Joseph Wu, according to the Central News Agency.

Speaking at the ceremony, Wang said that in the absence of formal diplomatic relations, the US is the first country to build a de facto embassy compound in Taiwan, which is symbolic, signaling a new page in bilateral ties.

The AIT said the US$170 million compound will include an office building of approximately 14,000 square meters (150,696 square feet), a parking area and ancillary structures. All of AIT's Taipei divisions, including the American Cultural Center, the Commercial Section, the Chinese Language and Area Studies School, and the Agricultural Trade Office, will be all under one roof for the first time.

The 6.5-hectare (16-acre) site, leased to the AIT for 99 years, is within walking distance of the Taipei Metro’s newly opened Neihu station on the extended Muzha Line that officially opened on July 4.

The first phase of the AIT project, involving site clearance and grading, has been awarded to Weston Solutions, Inc. of Pennsylvania for a contract worth US$54.4 million. The contract to build the new office facilities has not yet been awarded.

However quickly construction gets underway, the project will certainly not be complete in time for the arrival of the new AIT director William Stanton, who assumes his duties in August.

President Ma runs for KMT chairmanship

As it stands, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou is the only candidate vying for the Nationalist Party (KMT) chairmanship. If elected on July 26th, he will replace the incumbent Wu Po-hsiung on September 12th.

Ma has said his goal in pursuing the chairmanship is to better fulfill his leadership responsibilities. Since announcing his intentions, Taiwan’s media has widely reported that the chairmanship was Ma’s strategy to meet the Chinese Communist Party Chief Hu Jintao through the five-year-old exchange platform between the KMT and Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The United Daily News said it is a natural progression that upon taking the KMT chairmanship, Ma will have an appropriate title and occasion to meet Hu in Beijing. The paper quoted some sources as saying the most appropriate time for such a meeting would be in the summer of 2012 when Ma would begin his second presidential term, if elected, and the fall of that year before Hu is scheduled to retire from his position as General Secretary of the CCP. Whereas others believe it would be more appropriate for them to meet as heads of state, between the fall of 2012 and the spring of 2013 when Hu is no longer CCP chief, but still holds the title of the President of the nation.

The Commercial Times said in an earlier news analysis that Hu is eager to earn his place in China’s history by pushing Taiwan into unification talks. It cautioned Ma’s government to walk a fine line.

Ma has worked hard to dispel misunderstanding in recent weeks. After promoting “reading traditional Chinese characters, but writing in simplified forms,” his proposal met with a firestorm of criticism from the opposition Democractic Progressive Party (DPP) whose leaders accused him of promoting simplified Chinese to pave the way for unification with China.

Ma clarified that his intention was to reintroduce traditional Chinese in China’s printed materials. Since China originally introduced simplified Chinese to eradicate its high illiteracy rate, but with China’s literacy rate now over 90 percent, the mission of using simplified Chinese is now complete and a reintroduction of traditional Chinese would be fitting.

The United Evening News reported that high-level KMT officials said Ma would not touch on sensitive political negotiations with China during his first presidential term, and sees no plans for a Ma-Hu meeting thus far. Chairman Wu said, “It is premature to talk about the feasibility of a Ma-Hu meeting.”

According to the United Daily News, Ma’s most difficult task is not on improving relations with the CCP, but rather the challenges of dealing with the opposition DPP. The paper commented that the majority KMT party should strive for the people’s support and in nor way jeopardize the confidence of the Taiwanese people nor erode the national consensus in dealing with China.

Taiwan’s Starbucks buck global downturn

While Starbucks stores in the United States are closing in the face of shrinking domestic consumption, Taiwan’s Starbucks outlets are seeing a rise in business by co-marketing with subsidiaries. Taiwan’s Starbucks, operated by the Taipei-based President Chain Store Corporation (PCSC), has increased sales by promoting “buy one, get one free” for customers of the PCSC four-dozen subsidiaries.

PCSC, a part of Uni-President Enterprises Corporation in Taiwan, has subsidiary retail stores, sales channels, manufacturing and investments. Among them are Carrefour, 7-Eleven, COSMED, Starbucks, Semeur De Pain Bakery, Dream Mall, Cold Stone Creamery and Unimall. Whereas USA Starbucks has adjusted its business operations strategy by closing some stores, selling instant coffee, and introducing other measures to trim expenditure during the financial slowdown, Taiwan’s chain is doing the opposite.

Taiwan Starbucks general manager Hsu Kuang-yu said all PCSC subsidiaries follow the Japanese business model, which invests more during a recession. Along with promoting “buy one, get one free” weekends, his company is also focused on investing more time and money in retraining personnel and redesigning the standard operating procedures for brewing coffee. As a result, Taiwan Starbucks has seen a jump of 30-40 percent in new customers during the promotion.

Recently, to celebrate the opening of the first 7-Eleven store in Shanghai, China, by the PCSC subsidiary group, all 4,800 7-Eleven stores in Taiwan started a points-accumulation promotion. Customers who spend NT$40 (US$1.20) receive one point, with 20 accumulated points qualifying for a “buy one, get one free” product or service at any of the PCSC subsidiary stores like Starbucks, Mister Donut, COSMED, Cold Stone Creamery, Dream Mall, Unimall, and Semeur De Pain Bakery.

According to the Central News Agency, business sales increased over 10 percent during the promotional run. Unfortunately, this is one strategy not available to USA Starbucks in riding out the recession. With Taiwan’s PCSC subsidiary groups sharing customer resources, Taiwan Starbucks has not only consolidated its existing customers base, but has expanded its new customer pool to take full advantage of Uni-President’s combined conglomerate sales and marketing channels.

Taiwan opens for Chinese investments

Taiwan’s government announced on June 30th that 192 local business categories are now open to mainland Chinese capital – starting a new era of mutual investment across the Taiwan Strait.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs will begin accepting applications for inbound investment from mainland Chinese and complete application reviews within one month of receiving them, according to the United Daily News. Among the 192 sectors are 64 in manufacturing, excluding silicon wafer and TFT-LCD production, 117 in the service industry excluding legal services, accounting and construction engineering, and 11 in the infrastructure sector. Considered a trial period, the new policy will be reviewed in six months.

From the start, there are restrictions placed on inbound investment. Foreign ownership cannot be more than 50% and must be less than the biggest Taiwanese shareholder, and investments over US$50 million would need to be examined on a case-by-case basis.

After the announcement, the Mainland Affairs Council, the Interior Ministry and the Financial Supervision Commission (FSC) also unveiled several related procedures to make it possible for mainland investors to apply to establish companies, invest in infrastructure projects and purchase real estate in Taiwan.

The FSC on July 9th eased restrictions on the amount of capital that insurers can invest in a single real estate transaction. Previous regulations restricted this amount to 35 percent of equity owned by insurers. With the new regulations, the limit placed on a single property investment will be based on the insurer’s investment funds. The FSC announced that restrictions on remittances from Taiwan to the mainland are now relaxed to US$5 million per person per year, but the transaction must be made in US dollars, not in Chinese RMB.

Business leaders welcome these new steps, but the Liberty Times reported that the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) warned that once Chinese capital begins to take over some business sectors, there will be political fallout to follow. The party cited Hong Kong as an example and urged the government to reconsider the new policy.

President Ma Ying-jeou responded by saying, that there are a limited number of categories of business available in the first phase of opening Taiwan’s market to Chinese investment. The government will watch closely and review carefully as the situation progresses. As a rebuttal, Ma said his administration has not yet opened anything in the agricultural sector while the previous DPP government opened 800 – 900 items at one time. And, his government has not yet considered opening the market to Chinese labor, he stressed.

Lin Chien-fu, professor of economics at National Taiwan University, commented in the United Daily News that Taiwanese investment in China started in the 1990s but has gone in a one-way direction ever since. As of May 2009, Taiwanese investment in China totaled US$77.1 billion. Lin noted that the new policy will rectify the imbalanced outflow of the island’s capital and consolidate its capital market.

Eighth World Games comes to Kaohsiung

The Eighth World Games will officially open in the port city of Kaohsiung on July 16th. Over 11 days of competition, some of the world’s top athletes from 105 countries will compete for glory in 31 different sports. Yet, the 3,236 participating athletes will not merely vie for medals, but will be brought together in an atmosphere of friendly competition.

Since 2002, Kaohsiung has been preparing itself to host the World Games. Ron Froehlich, the president of the International World Games Association, visited Kaohsiung in July 2002 to see what the city could bring to the games. He was clearly impressed and in 2004, Kaohsiung was officially named as the venue for the 2009 games. Soon afterwards, the Kaohsiung Organizing Committee (KOC) was formed to plan and stage the event.

Now is Kaohsiung’s opportunity to shine on the world stage. An opening ceremony in the newly built stadium will kick off the proceedings in true style. Constructed specially for the World Games, the stadium is equipped with the latest environmentally friendly designs. All raw materials used in the construction of the stadium are 100 percent re-usable and made in Taiwan. The open design provides sufficient protection from the elements, but also allows sunlight to illuminate the ground. With a seating capacity of 40,000, the electricity needed to host such an event is generated from 8,844 solar panels, with an output of 1.14 million kWh of electricity, and will annually prevent the release of 660 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. When the stadium is not in use, the surplus energy can be sold.

Outside the stadium, visitors and athletes will be able to relax in the World Games Plaza alongside Kaohsiung's famous Love River. The plaza will buzz with seemingly endless choices of entertainment and culinary delights. Visitors from around the world will not only experience local culture and hospitality, but will come together in a celebration of the true spirit of the World Games.

Foreign spouses - Taiwan’s growing minority group

With the influx of 410,000 new foreign spouses, Taiwan has a new minority population. Traditionally, the island had four main ethnic groups - the aborigines (2%) and three groups of Han immigrants - Hoklo (70%), Hakka (14.3%) and post-1949 mainlanders (12%). Now the newest group is comprised of newly arrived immigrants (1.7%) mainly from other parts of Asia. Along with this new population come complex issues centering on divorce, children’s education, employment and alienation.

According to the Ministry of Interior, as of September 2008, there were about 140,000 foreign spouses from Southeast Asia, along with about 260,000 from mainland China and 10,000 from Hong Kong and Macau. Over 90 percent of these marriages resulted from Taiwanese men marrying women from overseas.

Foreign spouses have been entering Taiwan since the 1970s, but it was not until the 1990s - when Taiwanese businesses expanded into Southeast Asia and the Chinese mainland - that the numbers jumped significantly.

Generally speaking, the men who marry foreign spouses are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder in Taiwan. Such men often experience difficulties in finding a wife in Taiwan, but can have access to a larger pool of candidates by going to Southeast Asia with the help of marriage brokers. These arranged trips allow Taiwanese men to locate a partner in just a couple of days, usually women coming from low-income families seeking a better life.

Although some of these marriages do work out, the Taipei-based China Times reported that a total of 11,421 divorce cases were recorded for foreign spouses in 2008, a divorce rate of 2.8 percent among newly arrived spouses. This is 2.53 times higher than the rate of divorce for Taiwanese couples.

The higher divorce rate not only represents a high number of troubled marriages, but also an unstable environment for child rearing. According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, there were about 113,000 children born to foreign spouses in elementary schools last year. This accounted for 6.75 percent of all Taiwanese students in elementary schools.

The China Times cited an example of Dalin Day Care Center, which cares for children 3 to 6 years old. Among the school’s 297 children, 93 have a foreign spouse mother. This represents a ratio of 31 percent, with the largest segment from Vietnam (53%), followed by China (27%), and Indonesia (18%). Dalin is an agricultural town in Chiayi County, where most farmers grow oranges and pineapples. They have a high ratio of foreign spouses and a high divorce rate too.

The growing trend from the Ministry of Interior shows that last year, one in seven newly born babies were to foreign spouses in southern Taiwan, while that ratio was one in ten in Taipei City. As children from these marriages attend school, they experience the disadvantages of having a parent unable to read or write in Chinese, coupled with minimal knowledge of math and science.

Already, organizations have set up safety nets to help children of foreign spouses who inevitably fall behind their peers at school. One such organization is the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, which has been devoted to helping foreign spouses for many years. A social worker with the foundation said it is really hard for children of foreign spouses to stay up-to-date with their studies without parental help at home. So the teacher has to work with parents to come up with a plan and a schedule to help.

The World Peace Association has also been known for helping children of foreign spouses with after school lessons, but due to the economic recession, it has reduced its budget by NT$2 million (US$61,000) this year and cut its operation sites from seven to three. Cathay Cultural and Charity Foundation is another organization offering support to foreign spouses, but it has seen its budget halved this year.

The employment Service Centers at local government level also offer vocational training and job matching programs to help foreign spouses find employment. If their qualifications are inadequate, they are entitled to free job training offered by the central government. To encourage foreign spouses to attend these classes, the Ministry of Interior also provides baby-sitting services for immigrant mothers.

In the past four years, the Chiayi county commissioner has helped 1,351 foreign spouses to obtain motorcycle licenses, three to acquire professional nursing licenses and eight to get licenses to work as chefs in Chinese restaurants.

As of last month, mainland spouses can now apply for permanent residence after six years - four years of legal residence and another two years of dependence residence – a reduction from eight years. However, there is a difference in the duration requirement for citizenship between mainland spouses and Southeast Asian spouses. For Southeast Asian spouses, they need to stay in Taiwan for three consecutive years with at least 183 days on the island each year.

As foreign spouses struggle to assimilate in their new homes, Taiwan’s citizens are also learning to co-exist with this fast growing segment. With a population now accounting for 3 to 5 percent of Taiwan society, they are also becoming a significant voting block, earning more clout from the government as they participate in Taiwan’s mainstream society and democratic process.

Taiwan’s growing income gap

According to the latest statistics released by the Finance Ministry, the gap between the rich and the poor in Taiwan has widened rapidly. Out of the 4.35 million households who filed income tax reports in 2007, the average annual income of the top 5 percent is NT$4.28 million (US$131,000), while the bottom 5 percent is NT$69,000 (US$2,120) – a gap of 62 times.

This is double the gap in the previous ten year period preceding 1998, when the top 5 percent and the bottom 5 percent had a gap of 32 times, the widening trend in income distribution is getting worse according to the Taipei-based China Times.

Taiwan suffered a severe economic recession in 2001 when the growth of its gross domestic product (GDP) was negative 2.1 percent and the gap between the top 5 percent and the bottom 5 percent was 42 times. Since 2001, Taiwan has had a positive GDP, but the gap between rich and poor has continued to widen.

In another study by the Ministry of the Interior, the Department of Budget, Accounting and Statistics found that from 1998 to 2007, the average Taiwan disposal income grew at 5.49 percent. While the highest income household grew at an impressive 8.18 percent, the lowest income household only gained 0.41 percent.

According to the China Times, the yawning gap has expanded further due to the governmental tax policy that has benefited the rich. The government has also instituted many tax reduction measures in response to the economic recession,additionally benefiting the rich and widening income redistribution gap between the two extremes.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior has announced that the number of household below the poverty line in the first quarter has shot up to 93,000 – 10,000 more than last year. The number of low-income families has also increased to 224,000, which is an all-time high according to the Commercial Times.

In the paper’s editorial, it speculated the widening of the wealth gap could result in social instability. The paper called on the government to take immediate action, saying that fair taxation is the foundation of social justice and values. By adopting a tax system favoring the wealthy, it worsens the gap between the rich and the poor, deteriorating class relations.
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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.