On Oct. 11, the Cabinet approved a draft amendment designed to extend National Health Insurance (NHI) coverage to Chinese students studying in Taiwan. In principle this is a good thing, but the timing of this decision is questionable and the motives behind it are highly dubious.
Including Chinese students in the NHI program has nothing to do with human rights. As to whether it is right that Chinese students should be treated in the same way as other foreign students needs to be considered in light of key historical factors.
There were objective reasons why foreign students were included in the NHI program a few years ago. One important reason was that Taiwan was then very isolated within the international community, so it offered foreign students preferential treatment as a way of raising Taiwan’s profile and generating a good impression worldwide. The move was a way of countering China’s “United Front” strategy and promoting person-to-person diplomacy.
There were two objective background factors behind establishing such a policy at the time. The first was that Taiwan had plenty of money, so the small cost involved was nothing to really worry about. The second was that in those days Taiwan had not yet thrown its doors wide open to China, so nobody thought how the policy would affect Chinese students. Today, however, both these two conditions have changed.
From the perspective of the “United Front” strategy, Chinese students are welcomed by Taiwan, so that they can see for themselves how precious democracy and freedom are. Letting them enjoy the benefits of Taiwan’s NHI may also boost their opinion of the country.
However, Taiwan’s economy is currently in a state of depression and many people are finding it hard to get by. The government is making things worse by squeezing money out of the public, killing the hen to get its eggs. Providing NHI coverage to Chinese students at such a time is likely to make Taiwanese people more hostile to China, so it may well be better to put the policy on hold for the time being.
If Chinese students suffer serious illnesses or accidents while studying in Taiwan, they should be allowed to apply for financial assistance to help address their medical needs. That would be a humanitarian approach which would not involve abuse of NHI funds.
What is questionable about President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration — considering how the government is always complaing about how short of money it is and how it keeps squeezing money out of the tax-paying public — is why it is suddenly being so generous to Chinese students.
The reality is that it intends to use this opportunity to amend the terms of the Act Governing Relations Between the Peoples of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (臺灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例). If it could, it would be happy to throw Taiwan’s doors wide open, allowing China to set up representative offices in Taiwan and letting Chinese businesses set up in the country. The consequence would be hordes of Chinese party and government officials flooding into Taiwan along with their families.
Having set a precedent of including Chinese students in the NHI program, the same would surely be applied to all these other people. There are 1.3 billion people in China, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is notorious for its utilization of the “human wave” tactic. How could Taiwan afford the cost of NHI coverage for so many people?
I mentioned previously the potential “abuse” of NHI funds. China’s legal system is weak and ineffective and many Chinese people’s social ethics are also very poor. Whatever regulations the Chinese government comes up with, people can always find a way to get around them. The whole situation is a mess. False identity documents and fake certificates are in circulation all over the country. Even the Chinese communist leadership cannot keep this situation in check and so, what really could Taiwanese officials be expected to do about it?
Taiwan’s current prospects are pretty dismal, but Ma is not worried about that. He might never be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but his two daughters have already settled in the US, and he has sent his close friend King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) to serve as Taiwan’s representative to the US, no doubt in order to pave the way for Ma himself. With tens of millions of New Taiwan dollars sitting untouched in the bank, he is well set up to spend the rest of his years in comfort. Ma spent several years studying and working in the US — so he should be quite happy to go back there.
As to the coming influx of Chinese capital into Taiwan: China’s economic power will enable it to buy up not just businesses, but people too. How can Taiwan hope to stem the tide? Why has Ma appointed Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦), who knows little about China affairs, as minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, and why has he been purging other top officials? Why else but to remove obstacles? The way things are going, even if the Democratic Progressive Party manages to get voted back into government, it will not be able to reverse what has already been done. It looks as though Ma is going to lay Taiwan in its grave. Whatever can be done?
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Julian Clegg