In this presidential election, some businesspeople are supporting President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Investors call the shares of these companies “Yo-Yo Ma concept shares” (馬友友概念股), because the cellist’s name means “friends of Ma.” Taiwan is a democracy and Taiwanese businesspeople certainly have the right to decide who they will support in an election.
However, during this election campaign, another absurd phenomenon has appeared: Most Taiwanese business owners with investments in China are standing silent on the sidelines, while a few are falling over each other in their rush to promote China’s political views — promoting Beijing’s policy of forcing political change through economic means. This remains a dark cloud over Taiwan’s democratic development.
Business owners are more likely to decide which candidate to support based on considerations of personal interests, rather than national or public interests. As a result, their viewpoint often differs from that of the general public and even their own employees. For example, a Taiwanese businessperson who supported someone to expand his or her business in China would inevitably eliminate job opportunities for Taiwanese workers. His own employees might lose their jobs because of the company’s expansion in China, causing them to hold the opposite political opinion.
Not long ago, a well-known tycoon told his employees that they should cast their votes based on what was good for them, implying that they should support the candidate who is most favorably disposed to the company’s Chinese investments. However, if they follow this reasoning to its logical conclusion, not only should they not support their employer’s favorite candidate, they should support a candidate who will actually restrain their employers’ business expansion in China.
The logic is simple: As Taiwanese companies invest in China, they create job opportunities there, not here in Taiwan. As shown by the factor-price equalization theory, the wages of Taiwanese workers would gradually decline to the level of those of Chinese workers. In order to pursue greater personal gain, many Taiwanese business owners reduce their investments at home when increasing their Chinese investments, driving more Taiwanese workers into unemployment. In short, workers should cast their votes for their own good, not for the good of their employers.
Some businesspeople might think that business is business and politics is politics, and as long as they only care about making money and ignore politics, they’ll do fine. Wrong. This thinking may be OK for business owners in regular democracies, but in authoritarian China, which wants to annex Taiwan, it is not a very practical viewpoint: You may choose to ignore politics in China, but Chinese politics certainly will not ignore you.
Because China’s missile threats against Taiwan resulted in a backlash in the past, Beijing is now using economic means to force political changes. That is why it extends a warm welcome to Taiwanese businesspeople investing there; the more the better. However, China is only biding its time and when the time is ripe, these businesspeople will become part of China’s attempts to use economic means to bring about political change.
For example, Evergreen Group founder Chang Yung-fa (張榮發) recently helped China promote the so-called “1992 consensus” and attacked presidential candidates that he did not find palatable. It is easy to see that if China wants to use someone in its strategy to bring about political change in its relationship with Taiwan, Taiwanese businesspeople won’t even have the freedom to remain silent.