In the recently finalized version of the Executive Yuan’s proposal to downsize, the Overseas Compatriots Affairs Commission (OCAC) managed to escape being merged with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), as originally planned.
Analysts said the decision was the “result of a compromise,” a comment echoed by government officials, reached because of the enormous pressure wielded by overseas Chinese groups.
Kwan Yuk-noan (關沃暖), a former legislator-at-large representing Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) overseas compatriots, said President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) last-minute change of plan prevented the adverse consequences it would have brought to the country.
“I am glad that [Ma] came around to appreciate the contributions to the establishment of the Republic of China [ROC] made by overseas Chinese in the past and the help they give to the country nowadays,” said Kwan, one of the many people who pushed for the reversal of the merger decision.
The way Kwan sees overseas Chinese is well represented in the saying, “Overseas Chinese are the Mother of Revolution,” which is cited by many others to justify the importance in maintaining the OCAC as an independent organ subordinated to the Cabinet.
Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙), founder of the KMT and the ROC, coined the saying in recognition of the monetary support and other resources that poured in from overseas Chinese communities for the 1911 Chinese revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty.
Against that backdrop, the OCAC was established in 1932 to serve the country’s overseas compatriots, a population estimated by the OCAC at between 38 million and 40 million.
“It’s ridiculous to claim that [Taiwan] has 38 million overseas compatriots,” said Chang Fu-mei (張富美), who served as chairwoman of the OCAC for eight years under the former Democratic Progressive Party administration.
Chang said she agreed with the government that it was premature to merge the OCAC with MOFA, but said “that should be a goal to continue to strive after.”
“We can’t count all people of Chinese ancestry as our compatriots. The [KMT] has said that there are about 10 million overseas compatriots in Thailand and Indonesia, but most of them do not see Taiwan as their country,” Chang said.
She said that a rational estimation of the country’s overseas compatriots was around 1 million, including possible growth since 1982 when the US started granting immigration to a maximum of 20,000 people from Taiwan each year.
“It’s unwise to have a standalone department for 1 million nationals,” Chang said.
Chang, however, said that the government wouldn’t be able to push through the merger until it could improve disharmonious relationships between overseas compatriot communities and MOFA.
“There has been a very general understanding among overseas compatriots that MOFA always has reservations about interaction with them. For many of them, MOFA only has eyes on officials with other governments and fails to recognize the diplomatic efforts made by overseas compatriots,” Chang said.
Among the 37 Cabinet-level institutions, the OCAC is generally considered of secondary importance in terms of budget. It receives NT$1.3 billion (US$36.9 million) annually, while MOFA receives NT$28 billion.
One reason for that could be the fact that less than 40,000 overseas compatriots return to vote in national polls, or about 0.002 percent of the country’s eligible voters, while an absentee voting system hasn’t yet been established.