It’s hard to tell which is more embarrassing — that hundreds of Taiwanese would prostrate themselves before a wealthy Chinese tycoon so they could receive a “red envelope” from his hand, or the fact that after two-and-a-half years in office, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has failed to look after the economic well-being of its own people.
A visit to Taiwan this week by Chinese recycling magnate Chen Guangbiao (陳光標), ostensibly on a “thanksgiving” tour to hand out an estimated NT$500 million (US$17.2 million) to Taiwan’s poor, initially sparked controversy when it was revealed that said envelopes were embossed with the inscription “the Chinese race is one family (中華民族一家親).”
Whether this was intentional or not, this gratuitous inscription raised the twin specters of “Han” chauvinism and the Chinese Communist Party’s united-front tactics, this time not by throwing money at Taiwanese corporations, but rather at its underprivileged.
To be fair, once we look past his proclivity for ostentation, Chen has already donated millions of dollars to China’s destitute, which is a testament to his generosity. That said, despite a relative shift in wealth across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan’s GDP per capita is still five times higher than that of China and the latter has hundreds of millions of people who have yet to be lifted out of poverty.
A survey by Allianz Group in October showed that at the end of 2009, the average Taiwanese household had about NT$2.2 million in financial assets, the third-highest in Asia after Japan and Singapore, and 18th globally, with close to 40 percent of the population (or more than 9 million people) belonging to the wealthy middle class.
As such, it is hard to discount altogether the possibility that, to some extent, Chen’s goodwill has a political — namely “one China” — element to it. Otherwise, if he felt the need to help people outside China, why not give that money to the countless destitute in Cambodia or North Korea?
Chinese nationalism masking as philanthropy aside, Chen’s visit sheds light on a far more immediate problem, one that is purely domestic in nature. As a modern, developed and wealthy nation, there is no reason why hundreds of Taiwanese should have to rely on foreign largesse to make ends meet. Try as it might to blame the global financial crisis to justify budget cuts, the Ma administration’s justifications sound hollow when we take into account its profligate spending on such projects as the Taipei 101 New Year’s Eve fireworks, which cost NT$60 million, and this year’s Republic of China centennial celebrations, of which the total cost is estimated at NT$3.2 billion, or more than six times what Chen is expected to dole out during his visit.
This is not to say that fireworks and celebrations should be canceled altogether, but simply to point out that a nation that can afford to spend such amounts of money on visual extravaganzas does not — should not — have to depend on external generosity to address the basic needs of its citizens. If assistance from the wealthy class were needed to help the poor, surely finding willing donors in Taiwan shouldn’t be that difficult, as Taiwan has more than its share of those.
In its Global Wealth 2010 Report, the Boston Consulting Group put Taiwan at No. 10 in the number of millionaire households as a percentage of total households, with about 230,000, or 3 percent, in 2009. (To put things in perspective, the World Wealth Report 2010 by Merrill Lynch Global Wealth and Capgemini SA estimated that in 2009, China, with 1.3 billion people, had 477,000 millionaires).
Large purchases of Taiwanese electronics by Chinese delegations in the past two years, added to rising export figures to China and the region, have failed to be accompanied by wage improvements in the middle and lower classes. The benefits of rapid economic growth in the wake of the global crisis have not trickled down and have largely remained in the hands of the wealthy few, a phenomenon not unlike that observed in Hong Kong and which could become even more pronounced as a result of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed between Taiwan and China in June. The Boston Consulting Group report also showed that the number of millionaire households in Taiwan in 2009 rose 22.1 percent from the previous year, at the height of the global financial crisis, a trend that is expected to accelerate following the entry into force of the ECFA.
No outsider should be responsible for mitigating the effects of an increasingly inequitable society, as wealth distribution, especially in a rich country like Taiwan, is solely the remit of the government.
In the end, Taiwanese have every right to interpret Chen’s largesse with skepticism, if not rancor, especially if it is part of a political scheme. However, even more aggravating is that in allowing this individual to embark on his “thanksgiving” tour, the Ma administration doesn’t seem to realize that such benevolence should not be necessary in the first place. Why hundreds of destitute families in Taiwan have to rely on a Chinese tycoon is a question Ma and his entourage should seriously ponder.
J. Michael Cole is deputy news editor at the Taipei Times.
While the nation grapples with its falling birthrate, it is also imperative to address how parents are raising their children. The phenomenon of “dinosaur parents” — who lash out at teachers, store staff or people on the street when confronted about their children misbehaving — has been an issue for a while, but there seems to be an uncomfortably high number of incidents making the news lately. On Saturday, a preschool teacher on an online forum wrote about a mother who often visited the school and screamed at the staff for various reasons — including her child being late to school
Americans tend to think of Vietnam as a war that split the US rather than as a country in today’s world. Vietnamese are of course way past that. The country does not have any US Electoral College votes, but if it did, they would be cast enthusiastically for US President Donald Trump. When I told a group of university students at a park in Ho Chi Minh City that I was from the US, they asked: “Do you know why we love Trump?” “Uhhh, is it because he hates China?” I asked back. “Yeah,” the group responded in unison. With a 1,000-year history of
Beijing’s media mouthpieces in Hong Kong last week reported that China is planning to create a list naming “die-hard Taiwan independence activists,” and that those on the list would be “severely punished” and “held accountable for as long as they live.” On Wednesday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) said that “they and their financiers” and other supporters would be “cracked down on in accordance with the law,” although “the legal rights and interests of the wider population of Taiwanese compatriots” would be fully protected. With threats and division, in addition to military pressure, Beijing has now added this trick to its
According to newspaper reports, the Ministry of Education has responded to a teacher-student romance — between a 34-year-old female professor, surnamed Lin (林), and a male graduate student — that occurred several years ago while Lin was still an associate professor serving as the student’s master’s thesis adviser at National Taipei University of Technology. The ministry said the university’s lecturer evaluation committee has passed a resolution to issue a written warning to Lin for breaching her contract, and suspend subsidies for the department at which she teaches for one year. The ministry also said that the case fell under the