As Taiwan's ruling and opposition parties vigorously discuss economic and trade exchanges across the Strait and whether direct links should be established, social and civic exchanges outside the direct links have been going on for at least 16 years.
The so-called social exchanges between the two sides center on exchanges of people, as opposed to economic and trade exchanges, which center on capital, money, technology and machines.
Economic and trade exchanges are familiar to the general public. Disagreements on the future of such exchanges have also been clear-cut. But interactions between people in Taiwan and China through social exchanges -- such as business transactions, mixed marriages, visiting relatives, moving to live with relatives on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, academic and cultural exchanges, fishing and illegal immigration -- are often neglected by the ruling and opposition parties.
But several recent incidents have raised the profile of these exchanges. For example, Chinese brides married to Taiwanese nationals took to the streets to demand their residency rights, the number of Chinese prostitutes is reportedly increasing and Taiwanese businessmen are keeping "second wives" in China, leading to family disputes.
These have gradually become social problems in Taiwan and the ensuing disputes are reflected in recent partisan squabbles during the legislature's review of draft amendments to the Statute Governing the Relations between the People of Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (
The rights of 150,000 Chinese brides, the problems their children face in adapting to Taiwan and the exploitation of Chinese prostitutes demonstrate the need to pay more attention to cross-strait social exchanges.
First, there are 100,000 or so Chinese people of "unclear identity" in Taiwan whose whereabouts are unknown, undermining Taiwan's national security.
Second, as more people travel across the Strait, the more infectious diseases they take with them, as shown during the SARS epidemic last spring. There are 14 diseases that have been eradicated in Taiwan that are still prevalent in China, including bubonic plague, rabies, malaria and cholera.
Third, as more Taiwanese students attend universities in China, we should not only think about whether to recognize the degrees they obtain but also examine the pro-China thinking and attitudes they develop there.
Fourth, cross-strait exchanges in academia, education and technology have grown substantially over the past 10 years. Many Chinese have been invited, at the expense of Taiwanese taxpayers, to give lectures and do research in Taiwan. Have such exchanges fulfilled the original purpose of enabling them to know more about Taiwan and promoting reforms in China? Or have they helped formulate strategies against Taiwan after their return to China?
These new problems arising from cross-strait exchanges were finally raised and discussed last weekend among scholars, government officials and lawmakers at a symposium focusing on cross-strait exchanges and Taiwan's national security. I think the potential impact of problems resulting from civic exchanges across the Strait could be even more serious than the impact of direct links in the long run. We cannot afford to deal with these issues casually. Especially when 65 percent of Taiwan's population believe that China is hostile toward Taiwan, how can we one-sidedly open the door to Chinese on the basis of "goodwill" without effective regulation?