As the May 19 protest rally against President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was getting started, Ma called an impromptu press conference in which he admitted that during his four years in office there have been four areas where he has not performed well enough: Not enough jobs have been created; the increase in average salaries has been too slow; the wealth gap has not been sufficiently reduced; and the government has not been good enough at communicating its policies. However, apart from expressing unease and guilt, Ma remained silent on the reasons that lay behind these problems, nor did he mention the government’s policy goals.
The reason too few jobs have been created is that Ma’s economic policies over the past four years have treated China as the focus for Taiwan’s economy, leading too many Taiwanese businesspeople to invest in China. This has resulted in a lack of investment in Taiwan, which has resulted in the loss of jobs.
The reason the increase in average salaries has been slow is that after Taiwanese businesses invest in China they threaten Taiwanese employees with factory closures as a way of keeping salaries low, with the consequence that wages have failed to grow fast enough.
The reason the wealth gap has not been sufficiently reduced is that Taiwanese doing business in China are amassing vast wealth while exploited workers in Taiwan are consistently getting poorer.
Regarding the lack of communication on government policy, Ma’s words are simply a load of garbage. He does not believe in consultation at all — he even vetoed a referendum on the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) four times.
The outcome of all these failures has caused many in Taiwan to suffer.
Under former presidents Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), the view was that China was simply a bunch of “communist bandits” that one should not have dealings with. Under former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) the “no haste, be patient” policy for dealing with China was outlined. In other words, during these years, the nation’s economic policies all focused on Taiwan and on implementing autonomous economic development strategies for its growth. It was these policies that allowed Taiwan to lead the Four Asian Tigers for so many years.
Since coming into office in 2008, the Ma administration blatantly started to shift the economic development emphasis away from Taiwan, focusing instead on China and completely deregulating Taiwanese investment there. This contributed to Taiwan rapidly turning into another Hong Kong. As Taiwanese businesspeople have invested increasing amounts in China, foreigners have also invested less and less in Taiwan. For example, foreign investment in Taiwan in 2007 was US$15.3 billion, while last year it was just US$4.9 billion. The annual growth rate for domestic private investment has been almost zero as Taiwan, a smaller economy, keeps on being integrated into China’s bigger economy. Businesses in Taiwan have also lost their impetus to upgrade, transform and innovate.
In other words, the reason why Ma’s administration has failed to create enough jobs, that average wages are not rising quickly enough, that real incomes are shrinking and that the wealth gap is constantly widening is that the government is promoting economic policies that focus on China, not Taiwan. For this reason Taiwan is unavoidably becoming a subsidiary of China’s economy.
I hope that, apart from expressing their anger, Taiwanese who took part in the May 19 rally will also be able to see through the Ma administration’s facade and secret agenda.
Huang Tien-lin is a former presidential adviser.
Translated by Drew Cameron