Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cross-strait harmony boosts student exchanges

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

A win-win situation

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

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

Three waves of mainland students

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

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

“Virtuous competition”

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

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

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

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

Exchange not about money, but peace making

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

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

Three restrictions and six nos

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

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

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

Mainland luring Taiwan’s students

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

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

Dual recognition of qualifications

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

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

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

Thanks for condolences and assistance to Taiwan’s typhoon victims

This past weekend, Taiwan was hit with Typhoon Morakot, which dropped as much as 80 inches of rain. The flooding that followed was the worst the island has seen in the past half-century. The landslides and flooding have made getting help to some remote mountainous areas in southern Kaohsiung County almost impossible, with roads washed away and helicopter landing difficult in the slippery landscape. According to the Central Emergency Operation Center, the disaster has left 41 dead, 35 injured and 600 still missing.

Taiwan’s government has rallied quickly to help those in need of funds and temporary shelter. The central government will provide pre-fabricated shelter and low-interest reconstruction loans. The Executive Yuan estimates about NT$20 billion (US$609 million) is currently available from various budgetary sources for relief and reconstruction efforts. Premier Liu Chao-shiuan has instructed all relevant ministries and agencies to submit their respective budgets so the Executive Yuan may decide how to best provide assistance and if additional funding is needed.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) thanked the international community on August 10th for its condolences to the stricken families in the disaster areas.

The local governments will be providing relocation funding to families whose homes were destroyed or washed away. Those wishing to relocate can receive grant of NT$20,000 (US$608) per person, up to NT$100,000 (US$3,039) per household. The Relieve Disaster Foundation is also offering relocation money up to NT$20,000 (US$608). Families who have lost a loved one will receive NT$1 million (US$30,488) in condolence money.

For those wishing to help after seeing the horrific damaged caused by Typhoon Marakot, the government has set up an account for accepting donations.

Ministry of the Interior Donation Account
Mega International Commercial Bank
Account No. 007-09-087816
Swift Code: ICBCTWTP007
Local TECO Office: (415) 362-7680

Taiwanese baseball team takes 2nd place at World Series

Earlier this month, some of the world’s best little and big league teams descended on San Jose and Monterey, California, to see which teams and nations would take home championship trophies. Taiwan’s little league baseball team arrived to participate in the Bronco League World Series in Monterey from August 4th to 11th. On August 10th, they reached the semi-finals, but unfortunately lost to a team from Brooklyn, New York. A few hours away in San Jose, its big league team competed at the Palomino World Series starting August 7th. Last night, Taiwan’s team made it to the final playoff and came in second against a team from Houston, Texas.

Taiwan’s little league has been among the leading teams in recent years. In the Bronco League World Series, Taiwan were runners up in 2006 and 2008, and third in 2007. In the Palomino World Series, Taiwan won the championship in 2006 and came second in 2007 and 2008.

The Palomino has long been considered the training ground for players 17-19 wishing to go on to Major League Baseball. Although Taiwan’s professional teams are not a dominating force in the world of baseball, the island still produces stellar players such as Chien-ming Wang, the starting pitcher for the New York Yankees.

In Taiwan, baseball became a national passion after the Hongye (Red Leaves) baseball team from Taitung County defeated its seemingly invincible Japanese counterpart in 1968. Over the next 27 years, Taiwan would go on to win an incredible 17 Little League World Series Championships in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. At its peak in 1974, Taiwan’s little league, senior league and big league all took home championship honors. This year, the Kuei-shan Elementary School from Taoyuan County will represent Taiwan in the 2009 Little League Baseball World Series from August 21st to 30th.

Closer to home, Taitung County’s Taiyuan Elementary School kicked-off their tournament campaign on August 4th in Monterey. Located in the eastern part of the island, Taitung County is home to the legendary Red Leaves baseball team and has produced many professional baseball players. The big league players are from Pin-cheng Senior High School in Taoyuan County. Baseball is king there and it is where the best teams - such as Kuei-shan - can usually be found.

Ma elected KMT chairman

President Ma Ying-jeou has become the chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT, the Nationalist Party) for the next four years. After the uncontested July 26th election, Ma reiterated his determination to reform the ruling party and to work more closely with the Legislative Yuan to increase government efficiency.

Ma won with 285,354 votes out of 308,462 votes cast. The KMT has a registered membership of 534,739, which indicated a 58 percent turnout. This is Ma’s second term as KMT chairman, his first time was in 2005 when the KMT was the opposition party. In 2007, after being indicted for misappropriating expenses as Taipei's mayor, Ma stepped down and was succeeded by Wu Poh-hsiung. Ma was later acquitted of the charges.

Ma’s bid drew criticism from the opposition parties since one of his presidential campaign promises was that he would not seek to double as the KMT chairman. However, he justified his bid for the chairmanship by citing the need for further government streamlining in the face of the global financial slowdown.

With Ma now serving as the president and KMT chairman, the Central News Agency reasoned he now has the clout to take full responsibility for Taiwan’s future - to bring peace to the Taiwan Strait and to transform Taiwan into a fully developed country ready to meet global challenges.

The KMT was founded in 1912 by Dr. Sun Yat-sen shortly after the revolution to overthrow China’s Ching Dynasty. The party can trace its roots to the Revive China Society, which was founded in 1895 in Hawaii. The KMT ruled China from 1912 until Chiang Kai-shek retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after the Chinese Civil War.

Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen sent her congratulations to Ma on his appointment, but expressed concern over Taiwan’s democracy and the relations across the Taiwan Strait. Hu Jintao, the Chinese Communist Party general secretary, also sent his congratulations to Ma. Trying to allay fears, the Taipei Times reported that Ma said he is in no hurry to meet Hu, saying that the chairman need not attend every meeting between the parties. Even so, the United Daily News commented that as KMT chairman, Ma faces a difficult task in leading his party into December’s elections for magistrates and mayors.

Powerful pundits hold sway

During the recent trial of Taiwan’s former president, Chen Shui-bian, and his wife Wu Shu-chen, political commentators were able to predict the course of action that persecutors would take, creating the impression that it was the pundits who controlled the investigation, rather then the courts. Every country has its Bill O’Reillys and Jon Stewarts, but in Taiwan, the pundits are especially powerful.

With the growth of the cable networks, there is definitely no shortage of pundits. In a recent The Journalist weekly report, television pundits in Taiwan were the focus. When Taiwan opened the government-controlled wireless television stations to private business in the 1990s, political commentary programs quickly became a forum for the audience to get involved in public affairs.

During Lee Teng-hui’s presidency and his chairmanship of the ruling Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT), the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members often criticized Lee’s policies on television commentaries, with the more eloquent of these personalities emerging as news stars. The KMT also mobilized some members to defend its policies, with some of them becoming TV pundits and criticizing government policies after the DPP took power in 2000.

With daily programs, the popularity of TV pundits has surged, along with their paychecks. By commenting on news, using knowledge from scholars and politicians, any commentary can sound credible. Thus has emerged a group of professional TV pundits who wield substantial power. When President Chen was still in office and accused of embezzling funds, TV pundits revealed confidential documents about Chen’s financial dealings. Rumors quickly spread, especially when President Chen stepped down and was accused of embezzlement. Suddenly, journalists who had no prior experience of covering the justice department emerged to comment on the legal and persecution process.

Since taking office, President Ma Ying-jeou has been careful to keep his distance from pundits. The public affairs department of the Office of the President avoids direct contacts with pundits to remove the risk of second-hand communications.

The Journalist report concluded, Taiwan’s media has enjoyed sufficient freedom, but the TV pundits have to make political commentary in a very responsible way. In Commonwealth monthly, sources for stories are often bought. Referring to the well-known case of one KMT legislator and also a TV pundit, who spent US$3000 to buy a photo of a ranking DPP government official gambling in South Korea. The revelation caused a scandal involving the Kaohsiung Mass Transit System. The lawmaker also made great efforts to collect information showing former President Chen’s overseas bank accounts.

Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng told the Taipei-based China Times that she supports appropriate regulation of TV pundits. According to a senior television producer, TV pundits rush from program to program, without really taking the time to study the topics in depth. They address the same topic in a continuous loop in their pursuit of airtime. However, Liu Yi-hon, a veteran reporter, strongly opposes any regulation, which he said would impede freedom of speech.

In an article on the occasion of Walter Cronkite’s death, columnist Nan Fang-shou wrote, Walter Cronkite was known as “the most trusted man in America.” Cronkite saw the media as the fourth branch of government, believing in the news media’s responsibility to inform the populace as an essential element of a healthy functioning democracy. In earlier days, Taiwan’s TV pundits were able to expose the dark sides of the government, serving to “check and balance” Taiwan’s young democracy. As the pundits themselves gained celebrity status, siding with particular politicians, they have abused their influences by swaying popular sentiments with biased views. In this media culture, Nan thinks it is almost impossible to have a Walter Cronkite.

Taiwan’s military to be all-volunteer by 2014

With improved relations across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan has set the goal of turning its military into an all-volunteer service by the end of 2014. All males born in 1995 and after will no longer be required to complete a 14-monthlong compulsory military service.

The Ministry of National Defense has announced a new military recruitment policy that will rely on an all-volunteer military service system during peacetime, but that maintains the current reservist system, (approximately 1.65 million people), to be activated in the event of a military conflict, reported the United Daily News. Taiwan currently has 275,000 people in its armed forces, which it hopes to reduce to 215,000 by 2014.

In order to defend against a possible mainland Chinese invasion, Taiwan has maintained a conscription policy for all qualified males of military age since 1949. At the height of military tensions with China during the 1950s and 1960s, Taiwan had a total of 430,000 draftees.

Meanwhile, the paper also reported a standing military’s regulation that barred those born in the Chinese mainland from attending Taiwan’s military academies. It is estimated there are a million Taiwanese doing business in China with many of their children being born there as well. This means their children are prohibited from applying to Taiwan’s military academies.

The military balance in the Taiwan Strait is shifting in favor of China, according to Japan’s Defense White Paper 2009. However, with an all-volunteer military, Taiwan hopes to build a small, but strong, elite force that will offer a “solid defense and effective deterrence.” Redefining its new direction, Taiwan cannot compete with China in the arms race. Winning is no longer a matter of “an all-out elimination of enemies” but rather in “defending every inch of the territory by expelling the enemies from landing,” according to the Ministry of National Defense.

Taiwan protests film’s festival withdrawal

Even with closer trade and economic relations across the Taiwan Strait, there remain substantial differences between Taiwan and China. Recently, this divide was again illustrated when a Taiwan government sponsored film Miao Miao was withdrawn from the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) in supposed protest of Uighur activist Rebiyan Kadeer’s attendance on August 8th. Its withdrawal has the potential to tarnish the image of Taiwan, which had called on the Chinese government to exercise tolerance and self-restraint in dealing with the unrest in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, and to give fair judicial process to those prosecuted.

At the heart of the controversy is the question of who has the right to submit and withdraw a film for consideration. Minister Su Jun-pin of Taiwan’s Government Information Office (GIO) expressed his extreme displeasure at the film’s withdrawal, according to the Liberty Times. Miao Miao, described as a coming-of-age romance, was financed with money from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. However, the funding from Taiwan came with the condition that the film would represent Taiwan in any international film festival. Directed by Taiwanese director Cheng Hsiao-tse, the film received NT$4 million (US$122,324) in 2005 from the GIO. The Taiwan subsidiary of the Hong Kong-based Jet Tone Films co-produced the film. Miao Miao was submitted to the MIFF under the country name of “Hong Kong - Taiwan.”

The Netherlands-based film distributor Fortissimo apparently withdrew Miao Miao from the festival on instruction from the film’s producers Wong Kar-wai and Stanley Kwan, without informing Taiwan Jet Tone. The action was seemingly taken in the wake of the recent ethnic bloodletting in Xinjiang.

Not informed by Fortissimo of the film’s withdrawal, the GIO has lodged a formal protest and will investigate if Taiwan's Jet Tone Films violated its contractual obligations. If a breach of contract is uncovered the GIO plans to ask for its money back. Even if no contractual breach comes to light, the company now has little chance of securing future film subsidies. In either case, the GIO will examine the subsidy granting process and clarify how films are classified so this issue does not arise again. Ironically, however, the controversy surrounding the film is only likely to fuel public curiosity to see the film elsewhere.

Kadeer, who is branded by Beijing as a terrorist, attended the Melbourne screening of 10 Conditions of Love, a documentary based on her life. The screening went ahead despite attempts by the Chinese consulate in Melbourne to have the film axed from the festival.

Free trade agreement with China on track

Taiwan is on track to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China by the end of 2009. With the signing of the FTA-like agreement, Taiwan hopes to remain competitive with other Asian countries, and increase the island’s annual GDP by between 1.65 to 1.72 percent. Foreign direct investment in Taiwan is also expected to increase by US$8.9 billion over the next seven years.

Taiwan out in the cold

The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) made the projections based on a recent study by the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research (CIER). Taiwan has long been concerned that free trade agreements between its Asian neighbors might leave Taiwan at a disadvantage. In particular, the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China (the so-called ASEAN plus 1) are set to introduce exemptions on customs tariffs on imports starting in 2010. As Taiwan is excluded from the agreement, its products are likely to be subject to tariffs, resulting in a loss of competitiveness for products exported to China and other ASEAN nations.

The situation for Taiwan is set to worsen further when Japan and South Korea join (ASEAN plus 3) in 2013. Taiwan has been unable to join ASEAN because of opposition from Beijing. According to Liu Bih-jane, vice president of CIER, Taiwan’s exclusion from regional economic integration in ASEAN plus 1 could see the island’s GDP drop by 0.176 percent, and shrink further by 0.836 once ASEAN plus 3 becomes a reality.

Two possible scenarios

The CIER report outlined two possible scenarios following the signing of an ECFA with China, according to the Taipei Times. The first scenario forecasts a GDP increase of 1.65 percent and the creation of 257,000 jobs, while Taiwan would eliminate tariffs on the importation of Chinese agricultural and industrial products. In the second scenario, GDP would increase by 1.72 percent and see 263,000 jobs created, with Taiwan lifting import restrictions on Chinese industrial products and eliminating import tariffs, while maintaining current arrangements for the importation of Chinese agricultural products.

The MOEA asked the CIER to look at two scenarios as the ministry did its own forecasting, the results of which fell somewhere in between those made by CIER. The MOEA forecasts see Taiwan’s GDP increasing by 1.83 percent with the addition of 273,000 jobs – 10,000 more than set out in CIER’s second scenario. Taiwan’s GDP in 2008 totaled around US$390 billion.

At the same time, Economics Minister Yiin Chii-min said China is now Taiwan’s top trading partner, the largest investment outlet, the biggest export market, and the largest source of trade surplus, making the mainland indispensible to Taiwanese enterprises. Quite a few countries have expressed their willingness to sign free trade agreements with Taiwan if a cross-strait ECFA is signed. Hence, the signing of an ECFA with China is the first step for Taiwan towards regional integration, and in preventing the island’s economy from being marginalized.

In addition, Yiin predicts that the island will attract an additional US$8.9 billion in foreign direct investment as more international companies set up subsidiaries in Taiwan in the seven years following the signing of an ECFA.

Not everyone a winner

President Ma Ying-jeou has said his administration will go ahead with the ECFA and emphasizes that the agreement puts politics aside while focusing purely on economics, reported the United Evening News. The agreement would not touch on politically sensitive terms such as “one China”, “peaceful unification” or “one country, two systems,” according to the government. Minister Yiin noted the ECFA mainly covers the liberalization of commodities trading, but Taiwan would seek to include financial services, telecommunications, the retail sector, construction, and tourism in the initial negotiations, with trade investment dealt with at a later date.

Although the agreement would bring benefits to certain sectors by increasing trade in petrochemicals, plastics, machinery, textiles and steel production by between 7 to 14 percent, it is likely to hurt the electronics, transportation tools, and timber products industries.

In another study commissioned by the Cross-Strait Interflow Prospect Foundation, the CIER looked at the potential effects of an ECFA on different sectors. The study predicted that Taiwan’s IT and electronics industries would lose up to NT$350 billion (US$10.7 billion). Yiin refuted this claim by saying that the impacts would be minimal because both Taiwan and China are members of the World Trade Organization whose Information Technology Agreement is binding, and in-effect eliminates tariffs for most Taiwanese firms. As for the negative impacts shown in the study, Yiin disagreed with the results and has asked the Bureau of Industry in MOEA to look again at the findings.

The potential fallout

According to a report in The United Daily News, the CIER mainly highlights the positive aspects of an agreement while barely mentioning the drawbacks for Taiwan, apart from noting that transportation tools and timber products are likely to face annual losses of US$400-500 million. This outlook appears overly optimistic, according to the paper. It is widely accepted that when the tariffs are eliminated, weaker sectors are likely to struggle necessitating government intervention.

The Apple Daily commented that the plans to set up a NT$30 billion (US$914.7 million) relief fund to help weaker sectors as inadequate. On joining the WTO in 2002, when the annual agricultural product value was NT$180 billion (US$5.4 billion), an “Agricultural Development Fund” worth NT$100 billion (US$3.1 billion) was set aside to help affected farmers. Based on today’s value, the relief fund should now be at least NT$60 billion (US$1.8 billion), according to the Apple Daily.

Remaining competitive is first priority

While an FTA requires several rounds of negotiations spread out over three to five years, a framework agreement is merely a framework that sets out key points, scope, and the projected direction for future negotiations. Yet, what Taiwan needs now, according to the government, is just such a framework, with the details put aside to be hashed out at a later date. Since ASEAN plus 1 will soon become a reality, the government is keen to see certain key industries protected from higher tariff barriers, such as the petrochemical, machinery and textile industries.

While most commentators agree that Taiwan needs to sign the ECFA as soon as possible, they stress that the island also needs to negotiate with other countries such as Singapore, USA, Japan, and Korea. According to Yiin, discussions with China should begin in October.

Thus far, Taiwan has produced a host of statistics on the impacts of signing an ECFA with China, but the two countries still have a long way to go toward finding the middle ground that can satisfy both sides. Although the opposition party Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) sees an ECFA as a threat to Taiwan’s sovereignty, it also acknowledges an agreement is needed if Taiwan wants to remain competitive.

Taiwan looking toward a toxin-free future

In order to transform Taiwan into a “toxin-free” island, the Executive Yuan has allocated NT$24 billion (US$739 million) towards health excellence and high-end agriculture. At the same time, Taiwan’s green energy industries are also to receive a substantial boost with the news that the government plans to invest NT$45 billion (US$1.4 billion) to promote this sector. These major pledges of support within the past month for six major emerging industries demonstrate the government’s confidence that these sectors will be the engine of the island’s economic revitalization in the coming years.

Agricultural best practice

Taiwan is no different from other developed countries working toward a more sustainable and eco-friendly future. A big part of promoting this practice centers on education, certification, and labeling of Taiwan’s agricultural products. The Council of Agriculture (COA) is working to promote healthy agriculture through deepening brand accreditation, promoting “Good Agriculture Practice” (GAP), product traceability and organic farming.

Currently, Taiwan has about 25,000 hectares (61,750 acres) covered by its “Certified Agricultural Standards” (CAS) program, which deals with traceability and organic farming. Last year, CAS cultivation accounted for 3 percent of the island’s cultivable land. By 2012, the government hopes the program will cover 50,000 hectares (123,500 acres), boosting production to NT$76 billion (US$2.3 billion).

In 1994, Taiwan initiated the GAP program as a safety oriented program to let buyers know that the products had an acceptable level of agrochemical residue. GAP is still used to label food today, but the emphasis has shifted. The new GAP offers more transparency on food production processes, spawning additional identification acronyms and logos to label local produce.

Along with the new logos of CAS and GAP, COA has also established three new Taiwan/Traceability Agricultural Product (TAP) logos, which help consumers trace products from the production source to its consumption. The other two TAP logos are the Ubiquitous Taiwan/Traceability Agricultural Product (UTAP) and Organic Taiwan/Traceability Agricultural Product (OTAP). The former deals with high-quality processed foods, and the latter with foods that met the strict organic guidelines.

Green energy industries

Taiwan’s green energy sector also received a substantial boost last month when the government announced it would invest NT$45 billion (US$1.4 billion) to nurture this growing industry. The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) hopes to grow the industry from NT$160.3 billion (US$4.9 billion) last year to NT$1.5 trillion (US$45.6 billion) by 2015. The Legislative Yuan has also been busy over the last few months, approving the TakeOff Program in April and passing the Statute for Renewable Energy in June.

The TakeOff program will be divided in two stages; the first will concentrate on capturing a larger slice of the solar energy and LED market, with the goal of becoming the world’s largest supplier of LED lights and modules, and among the World’s top three producers of solar cells. Plans are already underway to change Taiwan’s 700,000 traffic lights to LEDs and to build the world largest solar power plant by 2011.

The second stage of the TakeOff Program will focus on promoting biofuels, wind power, hydrogen energy, and fuel cells. The government hopes to turn the island into a center for electric vehicle manufacturing and fuel-cell assembly.

Taiwan is not merely focused on sustainable agricultural practices and renewal energy, but in all areas aimed at making the island truly green and toxin-free. The government is also promoting several low carbon community projects that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to Premier Liu Chao-shiuan, a pilot program will begin on Taiwan’s offshore islands. By sourcing electricity from renewable sources it is hoped that a low-carbon lifestyle can develop that can be the standard for the whole country. According to a report in the United Daily News, the government’s green energy polices have already resulted in a drop in electricity consumption equivalent to a year’s consumption for Tainan City and County in southern Taiwan.

Aging population challenges Taiwan

This year, as the economic downturn has begun to clamp down, the American and European governments have spent hundreds of billions of dollars to stimulate their economies. Soon, however, a far greater financial strain might take hold as these countries face the challenge of aging populations. In Taiwan, however, this challenge might reach crisis proportions. By 2050 it is estimated that the working population will only outnumber the non-working by a mere 1.5 to 1. The island has no choice but to plan and manage resources to meet these challenges.

According to the Taipei-based China Times, Taiwan’s government will face its biggest financial demands in dealing with “the gray collar generation.” Taiwan’s aging population will be depleting its labor pension fund and health insurance, while a continuing low birth rate will make it impossible to replenish these funds. The extended longevity of Taiwan’s population, coupled with proportionally fewer young people, will gradually cause a severe imbalance in the island’s age demographics.

The paper cites two requirements for an enjoyable retirement - good health and sufficient funds. The latter is usually dependent on the labor insurance pension for retirement income and the former on Taiwan’s universal health insurance. However, both pools of funds are in trouble, with the pension funds in the red and perhaps bankrupt within 18 years, and universal healthcare also awash in red ink to the tune of NT$50 billion (US$1.5 billion), a level not sustainable at the current rates. So unless the government starts to tackle these problems with appropriate measures, the consequences for the quality of life for Taiwan’s growing population of seniors could be dire.

Taiwan is not the only country facing a disparately large aged population. Japan is in the same boat. With an average life expectancy of 83 years, Japanese rank near the top in longevity. Currently, in excess of 22 percent of Japanese are 65 or older. Their medical care and pension expenses have become the greatest burden for the Japanese government. At present, over 10 percent of Taiwan’s population is 65 or older. But, according to the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD), that ratio will almost triple by 2050. At that point, Taiwan will have the dubious honor of having the second oldest population after Japan.

Currently, Japan has three workers (aged 15-64) for every one over 65. It is forecasted to be 1.5 to 1 by 2050. While that ratio in Taiwan is currently 7 to 1, that is 7 workers to 1 retired senior; by 2050 it will come closer to matching Japan’s ratio of 1.5 to 1. This disparately large senior population will affect how Taiwanese live, do business and will inevitably shift the government’s focus.

According to the London-based Economist magazine, as the baby boom generation starts to retire and collect their pensions in the next 20 years, labor shortages will be the consequence, coupled with the slowing of economic growth. Faced with an insufficient labor pool, companies must begin to take advantage and develop the talents of seniors. Many employers remain prejudiced against older workers because older people are often perceived as slower on the uptake and less comfortable with new technology.

To cope with the aging societies, American and European countries have started to extend retirement ages to 67 or 68. The Economist suggests a retirement age of 70 may be needed. The current legal retirement age is 65 in Taiwan. It is estimated that at least NT$10 million (US$310,000) is needed for someone who retires at 60 and lives up to 80 without labor insurance pension support in Taiwan. However, studies by the Ministry of Interior have shown that seniors with savings and pensions accounting for less than 30 percent of their retirement income depend on their children for financial support. The China Times urges the government to take necessary steps to deal with the forthcoming financial crisis brought on by an ageing society, including extending the retirement age.

Online slang prevailing across Taiwan Strait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.