Not long ago, Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in a public speech that Singapore risked becoming a “Taiwan story” and would lose its global competitive edge if it closed its doors to talented individuals from overseas. He said this would lead to a fall in average salaries and a brain drain, because local professionals would move to China, the US and other countries.
Singapore, itself predominantly an ethnic Chinese state, has always regarded Taiwan as a province of China. Ideologically, its views are very similar to the views of Taiwan’s pro-unification academic and media circles, and as such it despises and is hostile to any measures that highlight Taiwan’s political and economic sovereignty, describing all such measures as “isolationist.”
It is true that the nation has been experiencing a brain drain in recent years. However, the reason is not that it restricts talented foreign individuals from coming to Taiwan. If that was true, Acer would not have been able to hire former chief executive Gianfranco Lanci. The reason for the brain drain is that China is a great magnet for talent.
China has attracted Taiwanese investments by offering attractive policies. Since investments are productive in nature, technical talent has followed in their wake.
However, if Taiwanese business did not go west, strong domestic investment would surely attract talent from all over the world. In the 1990s, when the nation was creating its economic miracle, Taiwanese companies mainly invested domestically and they attracted large numbers of talented individuals from overseas. For example, Morris Chang (張忠謀), chairman and chief executive of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, moved to Taiwan in 1985 and founded his company here one year later. Who says Taiwan prevents overseas talent from coming here to work?
Last year alone, formal applications from Taiwanese companies for investment in China exceeded US$10 billion. Add on other investments for which applications were never filed and the total amount of Taiwanese investments in China last year exceeded US$20 billion. This is equivalent to 57 percent of the major private investments in Taiwan — US$35 billion — and 27 percent of the nation’s total private investment — US$73 billion. With such massive capital outflows to China, it would be another miracle if the talented Taiwanese individuals were not attracted to China. It is clear that it is the over-heated “China fever” that causes the outflow of talent.
Taiwan’s pro-China media have attached great importance to Shanmugaratnam’s “Taiwan story” and are using it to attack the government’s policy for attracting foreign talent. But what is it that they really want? They want the government to relax its regulations restricting the import of talented Chinese individuals in order to realize their dream of a “one China” market as soon as possible.
The true story of Taiwan, then, is the story of how, over the past dozen years, China has attracted more than US$20 billion away from Taiwan every year, reaching a total of more than US$400 billion. It is the story of how national industry has been hollowed out, how the average salary has declined to the same level it was 13 years ago, how youth unemployment has continued to increase, how the brain drain has never stopped and how the wealth gap has rapidly widened. While all this has been going on, the public suffers and the suicide rate keeps climbing.
Indeed, the lost 13 years are a unique period in modern eastern economic history. This is the true Taiwan Story.
Huang Tien-lin is a former presidential adviser.
Translated by EDDY Chang
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