KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) -- China has once more ratcheted up its efforts to try and lure more Taiwanese workers across the Straits, in their latest economic assault on Taiwan.
But a fascinating report by the BBC’s Traditional Mandarin language news service has illustrated how exposure to life in China can, ironically, boost Taiwanese workers love of their homeland.
Earlier this year, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) launched their so-called 31 initiatives, a program of measures designed to attract talented Taiwanese workers to China and so attack the Taiwanese economy by increasing the issue of brain-drain, which is already a real concern here.
Then, earlier this month, the CCP’s Taiwan Affairs Office announced that Taiwanese workers would no longer need to apply for a special employment permit in order to work in China. In keeping with the Communist myth that Taiwan and China are part of the same country, they have decided to remove the bureaucratic employment barriers that previously existed between the two countries.
Quite why the CCP has decided to introduce this measure now is unclear. It could be a tacit admission that their 31 initiatives have not had the impact they had hoped. The Taiwanese Government will, of course, respond to this latest CCP policy, with suggestions that they will, once again, strengthen incentives offered to keep talented workers at home.
But the reality is that China’s greater economic clout means that there will always be a proportion of young Taiwanese workers who are lured by the prospect of higher wages. The desire to earn more money is a perfectly natural and understandable one, and no reactive measure from Taiwan is going to stop it.
The values of Taiwanese workers in China
Obviously, in an ideal world, Taiwan would be able to offer comparable wages and job opportunities to all its talented young workers. But that is a change that will require both time and a wholesale culture shift in Taiwanese industry.
But faced with the reality of workers wanting to earn more money in China, Taiwan has an opportunity to use the situation to its advantage. And the BBC article this week inadvertently highlighted how to do this.
They spoke with a Taiwanese worker in Beijing, who wisely only identified herself as Chu (曲). She was at pains to stress that working in China does not mean she has stopped believing in the Taiwanese values of freedom and democracy and that her time in China “will not change her self-identity.”
This is an important point. It is easy to assume that because Taiwanese people move to China, they are embracing the Chinese Communist Party, its values, and its flawed sovereignty claims over Taiwan. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Some may take the view of course, but for most working in China is simply an opportunity to earn more money for themselves and their family. It is an economic decision, not a political one.
And the truth is, far from embracing Communist doctrine and values, the more time they spend in China, the worse their impression of it gets. As Chen I-hsin (陳以信), a senior researcher at the Institute for Taiwan-America Studies told the BBC, "the more they [Taiwanese workers in China] understand China, the more they hate China.”
Of course they do. Living in China is like living in a dystopian nightmare. The constant surveillance, the internet censorship, the social controls, the fear and suspicion that everyone you meet could be the person to falsely report you to the CCP.
Modern day China makes George Orwell’s 1984 look like the Garden of Eden. No one who grows up in Taiwan, with the freedoms and privileges offered here, could move to Communist China and love the country.
This is the big flaw in the CCP's policy to lure Taiwanese workers. They assume that Taiwanese people will move to China and love it. But that is absolutely not the case. And herein lies an opportunity for Taiwan.
How to capitalize on Taiwanese workers experiences in China
The Taiwanese workforce in China has a real insight into what life in China is really like. They know what life under a Communist dictatorship is like and what would happen to Taiwan if the CCP did ever successfully invade.
And that knowledge and experience is a resource the Taiwanese Government can exploit. They offer an opportunity to educate Taiwanese people about what living in Communist China really entails. Many Taiwanese people are blinded by China’s perceived economic prosperity and unable to see the horrors of daily life there. This is a real opportunity to change those misconceptions and use the CCPs own regime to counter its efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese people.
How can they do this? Well, social media is an obvious place to start. The Taiwanese Government could seek to set up pages and groups on Facebook and LINE where Taiwanese people in China can update their counterparts back home on the realities of life there, with a view to getting real-life stories trending and being read by people from all walks of life in Taiwan.
To facilitate this, the Taiwanese Government could look to ensure that all Taiwanese people moving to China are equipped with a working VPN, so they can continue to communicate with people in Taiwan without having to use Chinese tools like WeChat which are routinely monitored by the CCP.
They could also seek to highlight the stories of workers who come back to Taiwan from China through media interviews, TV series, and written articles. Why have they decided to move home? What was life actually like working in China? Would they recommend fellow Taiwanese workers going there? It is pretty safe to assume that most would have at least a couple of pretty shocking tales to tell.
Such an approach will not address the issue of brain-drain that workers leaving for China causes in Taiwan. That requires more long-term economic and cultural changes back home.
But it does offer the way to make the best of the current situation and counter the endless negativity that so many Taiwanese people seem to have about their own country in comparison to China.
Taiwan may not have the economic power of its Communist neighbor. But it does offer a quality of life and freedom which far exceeds anything that is possible in Communist China. And it is those people who have experienced life on both sides of the divide who are best placed to illustrate this.