Even the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) mayor of Taipei was moved to say that Taiwan’s low wages are a national shame. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been running around asking companies to raise salaries and dispensing nominal sweeteners such as entitling expectant mothers to five days’ half-paid prenatal examination leave and their husbands two days’ unpaid leave to accompany them. These are just desperate ploys to keep the public quiet.
The administration is using these tactics to distract people from the real issue — that the proposed service trade pact and the free economic pilot zones are part of the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party’s conspiracy to secure eventual unification.
The new minister of science and technology has said that there “can be no salary increases without innovation,” while neglecting to mention the reasons for the lack of innovation: The overseas relocation of industry, the lack of domestic investment and the dearth of local R&D. The minute these issues are broached there will be a conflict with Ma’s pro-China policy.
The pro-blue media have blamed unfair allocation of resources, saying workers’ salaries have fallen as a percentage of GDP. They avoid exploring why because for the last decade they have encouraged companies to relocate to China, and analyzing the roots of the problem would implicate themselves and their China ideology.
Is the educational system at fault? Education reform is a mess, but from the showings of local students in various international science Olympiads and the International Exhibition of Inventions, rumors of its demise appear to have been exaggerated.
Saying that the economy is too isolated is nonsense. Taiwan surpasses Japan, South Korea and China in terms of deregulation, being 17th in global rankings compared with 25th, 31st and 137th respectively for the others. In fact, over-reliance on China’s resources fueled the disregard for the importance of innovation and renewal.
Claiming that South Korea has been more aggressive in signing free-trade agreements that allowed its economy to overtake Taiwan’s is nonsense, too, for South Korea had surpassed this nation long before it signed all those pacts with Western countries.
Even more ridiculous is the pro-blue media’s contention that blames the opposition’s obstructive ways. It takes a thief to catch a thief. The Ma administration has signed 19 agreements with Beijing over the past five years. Whatever happened to the opposition party applying checks and balances to the government?
What exactly is the real reason for the low salary levels?
The answer is Taiwan’s economic marginalization. The “great China market” is different from the trade we have with Japan, the US or Europe, because of the shared language, culture and ethnicity, and the sheer size disparity, all of which has a magnetic effect.
Massive deregulation toward China and the 19 pacts have given China more direct channels for draining national capital, talent and technologies, speeding up the turning of Taiwan into an outlier economy on the fringes of the “greater China” economic entity. This status on the periphery, is the reason for the low salaries.
If the opposition does not pull its finger out and stop passage of the service trade pact, then the process started by the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement — or the “Eventual Colonization Framework Agreement” — will be signed, sealed and delivered and the low “marginalized wages” in Taiwan will be perpetuated.
When this happens, it will not so much be about a “national shame”: The end of time will be upon us.
Huang Tien-lin is a former national policy adviser.
Translated by Paul Cooper