Fri, Jul 18, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Banding together for strength

On Tuesday, a group of Taiwanese businessmen who have been defrauded, conned and swindled in China established an association to advocate their rights and rights of others who have shared similar fates. More than 50 businessmen attended the opening ceremony, but according to the new association, they were just a small fraction of the tens of thousands who have fallen prey to what is supposed to be the new land of fortune.

The plight of Taiwanese businesspeople in China is nothing new. The question is, what exactly is being done about it, or more precisely what is the government doing about it? It is the duty of any government to protect the properties, interests and rights of their overseas citizens. One prime example is the way the US government has been vigorously looking after the business and financial interests of US citizens and companies, from demanding the protection of American intellectual property rights (IPR), to expressions of concern about the possible termination of GE's contract should the government decide to cease construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.

Sadly, since this country is not formally recognized by most countries, many of which are more than willing to cave into China, the government is often subjected to discriminatory or downright demeaning treatment. Being weak is sad enough. But to be weak and rich is an open invitation to get ripped off.

Despite the linguistic and cultural similarities, China is perhaps the worst place for Taiwanese businesspeople, especially those with small and mid-size firms, to invest. The situation is somewhat better with respect to giant firms, which have more financial prowess as well as the connections to protect themselves.

First, in developed countries governed by the rule of law, Taiwanese businesses can seek redress and remedies via legal channels and mechanisms. Moreover, with transparent and consistent rules and regulations, there is much more predictability in doing businesses in such places. China, by contrast, is a country governed by lawless men. The field is completely cleared each time a new person comes to power, putting their cronies in key positions. Nothing that was agreed on previously counts for anything when there is a new leader.

Aggravating the problem is the cross-strait situation. China is not just any country. It is the country that continues to claim Taiwan as a province and one that might have to be forced or disciplined into accepting its place at some point in the future. Under the circumstances, China has ample incentive to trample Taiwanese business interests.

The most bizarre response to the launch of the new association was probably made by Chang Rong-Kung (張榮恭), head of the KMT's Mainland Affairs Department. According to him, the way for the government to help these businessmen is to resume official cross-strait dialogue. Perhaps Chang has forgotten that the reason the dialogue lapsed is that China insists on Taipei accepting its "one China" principle before more talks can be held. But if Taipei were to agree, it would loose -- in Beijing's eyes -- any right as a mere provincial government to bargain with the central government. Just look at how well the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government has fared.

At the very least, the new association can raise the awareness of the potential risks and dangers of investing in China. This is much more useful than what is being proposed by Chang and the KMT.

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