Publishing firms and book retailers yesterday lambasted the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration for its inking of the cross-strait service trade agreement, saying that allowing Chinese investment in the Taiwanese publishing industry would severely impact the sector’s vitality.
Presidential Office national policy adviser and publisher Rex How (郝明義) held four separate public hearings yesterday with representatives from publishing and printing firms and book retailers on the theme “how the cross-strait services trade agreement would impact on Taiwan’s publishing and reading environment.”
In a fully democratic society, the government is responsible for holding such conferences before the commencement of negotiations on deals such as the service trade agreement, How said.
However, since the Ma administration had neglected to do so, it is up to the public to take on the task and pass the results to the government, How said.
During the conference, Terry Chang (張天立), general manager and founder of books.com.tw, said it was worrying that Taiwanese officials had failed to secure any strategic advantages when conducting the talks with China.
Chang said that his Internet bookstore has been barred from operating in China for at least a decade.
“It is difficult for Taiwanese books to be sold in China, because they [the Chinese] prohibit book transactions outside their national borders,” Chang said, adding that not one Taiwan-registered bookstore has been able to operate in China so far.
“The only source of help we can expect is from the government, but a decade has passed and it still has not acted,” Chang said.
Chang said that as all Chinese publishing firms are national assets, “it is difficult to exclude ulterior motives.”
Chang also said Chinese publishing firms may attempt to influence the political opinions of Taiwanese readers.
Xue Xue Institute president Hsu Li-ling (許莉玲) also provided an example of how retail and department stores in Taiwan had been influenced by foreign models and become agents of Japanese, European and US brands.
It was a lost opportunity to develop local brands, Hsu said.
“Similarly, if Chinese investment comes to Taiwan, foreign firms would be in a position to shape publication trends,” Hsu added. “In the future, writers would be forced to write more about China in order for their works to be put on the shelves.”
Hsu added that the Ma administration “is establishing a trend, and in the future Taiwanese corporations would need to cooperate with Chinese firms in order to survive.”
This would mean Taiwanese values would change, and “such an idea is scary,” Hsu said.
Hsu also said that with the average age of the nation’s population on the rise and more young men and women returning to rural areas to take over family businesses and take care of their parents, it is a perfect opportunity for publishing firms to focus on local culture.
Such a focus would also let local cultural businesses flourish, Hsu said, adding that the government’s decision to let Chinese investors into the market at this critical juncture is a severe blow to the industry.
Meanwhile, the Taiwan Association for Independent Bookshop Culture general manager Chen Lung-hao (陳隆昊) said that China and Taiwan have taken separate paths concerning book publications and their interactions are neither fair nor equal.
“For many years Taiwan has allowed books written in simplified Chinese characters to be sold in Taiwan, but China has yet to allow the sale of books written in traditional characters,” Chen said.
The Republic of China Books Publication Association’s executive director Wu Cheng-hung (吳政鴻) said that despite a clause in the service pact allowing for speedy passage [of book reviews] Taiwanese books to be published in China will always have to be reviewed.
“The government should ask the Chinese to establish a database of books so that those that have been reviewed before do not have to go through the process again,” Wu said.
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