Tue, Jun 10, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Singapore reflects the pitfalls of China ties

By Liou You-shine 劉侑學

SINCE President Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) inauguration, various government agencies have been working to promote the common market between Taiwan and China that Ma proposed during his election campaign. They are looking forward to an influx of students, low-skilled workers, technical personnel and other Chinese showing up on Taiwan’s campuses and in its job markets soon.

Taking Singapore — which is often cited as a model by Taiwan’s new government — as an example, we find that Singapore’s foreign workers can be divided into three groups. The first group consists of laborers from nearby, less developed countries like Indonesia or Thailand. They mostly earn between NT$5,000 and NT$7,000 per month doing physical labor.

The second group consists of mid-level technical personnel, with a monthly salary of about NT$20,000. A majority of them come from China. Research has shown that Singapore Airlines recruits a large number of its personnel from China to lower its operating costs, with about 80 percent of its flight attendants coming from China and the remaining 20 percent from Singapore.

The third group is composed of highly skilled scientific personnel. In the past, these workers were mostly from Hong Kong or India, but as the number of Chinese graduates from foreign universities increased, Singapore also opened more opportunities for them to stay and work. These data are from 2006; if extrapolated to this year the numbers would probably be even higher.

If the number of low or high-level workers or foreign students were to rise further, the Singaporean job market would be the first to be affected. Their expanding number could influence the lot of the working poor, who run a high risk of losing their jobs because they are easier to replace.

These consequences are reflected in the gap between rich and poor. Data provided by the World Bank shows that Singapore’s wealth gap has increased: In 1982, the income of the richest 20 percent of households in Singapore was 9.6 times as high as that of the poorest 20 percent; this figure rose to 20.9 times in 2000 and 31.9 times in 2005. The number for Taiwan in 2005 was 6.01. This does not just make Singapore the worst of the Asian Tigers in this respect — such a large wealth gap also makes it seem like a third world country.

Despite Singapore’s high household income, more than 20 percent of Singaporeans have a monthly income of less than NT$20,000. A research report published by Statistics Singapore also shows that about 280,000 households, or about 27.4 percent of all households, have a monthly income of no more than NT$40,000. Clearly, the Singaporean economy has benefited from importing labor but a lot of people have been left out in the cold, stuck in a situation where income is going down while prices go up.

From Singapore’s economy we can see the consequences of a future of closer relationships with China. Only a small number of capitalists will profit, while a large number of workers will suffer. The Mainland Affairs Council and the Ministry of Education are working together on a plan to recognize diplomas from Chinese universities and arrange for Chinese students to study in Taiwanese universities. I earnestly call on the new government to take into account the negative consequences this policy could bring, such as unemployment, poverty and social polarization, and to avoid implementing bad policies that would harm the Taiwanese public.

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