EDITORIAL : Caution, there is danger ahead

Sat, Feb 19, 2011 - Page 8

There were three developments this week that should serve as a cautionary tale for those pushing for closer cross-strait relations.

The first came in Apple’s annual supplier responsibility report, which said that audits of 127 suppliers’ factories in Taiwan, China, Malaysia and elsewhere had found labor, safety and other abuses, though it praised local firm Foxconn Technology Group for its handling of a wave of suicides at its factories in China.

Attracting less attention, at least locally, was mention of 137 workers who were poisoned by n-hexane at a factory in Suzhou (belonging to Taiwanese touchscreen maker Wintek Corp), the 91 children found working at 10 facilities in China and the fact that less than a third of the audited facilities were found to be in compliance with Apple’s code on working hours.

Apple is notoriously secretive about who its suppliers are, although the suicides and poisonings brought Foxconn and Wintek’s names to the forefront. However, it is safe to assume that other Taiwanese-owned manufacturers drawn by China’s lower labor costs and laxer safety and environmental regulations are among them, and that the kinds of problems Apple found exist in other factories in China as well.

On Thursday, the Taiwan External Trade Development Council announced that a Chinese purchasing mission had placed US$1.45 billion in orders with Taiwanese firms — mostly in the high-tech sector. Acer and Asustek Computer, both of which have major manufacturing sites in China, won big orders. Left unsaid was that essentially these major Chinese purchases are for products that will be manufactured in China by Chinese workers.

That same day, the No CCP Villain International Alliance said it had compiled a list of more than 11,000 Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials it feels should not be allowed to visit Taiwan — as per a resolution passed by the legislature in December to bar known CCP human rights abusers from entering the country. On the list are Beijing Deputy Mayor Ji Lin (吉林), who visited in December; Liaoning Province Governor Chen Zhenggao (陳政高), who was here this week, and Anhui Province Governor Wang Sanyun (王三運), who wants to come in April.

What ties these three stories together? They should serve as huge DANGER AHEAD signs for those in Taiwan (and elsewhere) who see cozying up to China as a panacea for all of the nation’s ills.

First, by encouraging Taiwanese firms to move even more of their manufacturing to China, the government and its supporters are tacitly backing the continued abuse of Chinese workers, the disenfranchisement of the Taiwanese working class and the degradation of China’s waterways and environment.

Second, big trade delegations do not mean a thing if the items being purchased aren’t actually grown or produced in this country and most of the money heads right back to China.

Third, look at who you are dealing with: Chinese officials and businesspeople who have had a hands-on role, or at the very least colluded with, the physical intimidation, oppression, imprisonment or brutal exploitation of their own people — people such as Zhao Lianhai (趙連海), jailed because he campaigned for victims of the massive tainted milk scandal that sickened thousands of children; Lan Chengzhang (蘭成長), a reporter for China Trade News, who was beaten to death in January 2007 while trying to cover coal mining abuses and Tan Zuoren (譚作人), jailed in February last year because he investigated the deaths of hundreds of children crushed when their poorly built schools collapsed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, to name but a few.

Massive human-rights abuses, economic pillaging and environmental rape are being hidden behind the facade of the Potemkin village that is the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement. Is this a business model Taiwan can be proud of or a government system we want to embrace? We ignore the warning signs at our own peril.