China, despite its pressure against Taiwan’s military and foreign relations, is stocking up ways to charm the self-ruled island that it hopes someday to bring under its flag, experts believe.
The Communist government will fulfill a list of incentives announced last year to interest Taiwanese people in investment, work and study in China and may come up with more, scholars in Taipei say. Because incomes are too low to afford housing in some cities, some of Taiwan’s youth may go for China’s slightly higher pay and exposure to its more internationalized economy, they add.
On Sunday, five cities in Fujian province, the part of China geographically closest to Taiwan, announced they would increase the opportunities for Taiwanese youth to come over and start businesses, a channel they described as a “talent exchange,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
“Because of the very large size of mainland China’s economy, and because its economy is actually still growing, plus its internationalization is better than Taiwan’s, these major aspects will attract more Taiwanese to go over to try it out,” said Huang Kwei-bo, vice dean of the international affairs college at National Chengchi University in Taipei.
Extension of 2018 offers
After the Fujian province case, other government agencies in China may offer incentives to the Taiwanese, said Chao Chien-min, dean of social sciences at Chinese Cultural University in Taipei.
China’s central government announced early last year 31 incentives aimed at drawing people over to work, study and invest. Proposals included tax breaks and special land-use rights. Taiwanese citizens on long stays on the mainland can move in without work visas. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in March this year more incentives were on the way.
Younger Taiwanese will go for it, Chao expects, if economic problems persist at home.
“The impact of course we need to review in the context of Taiwan’s environment because in the recent past the econ situation isn’t quite so good,” Chao said. “Finding work, especially for Ph.D. students, it’s gotten extremely difficult.”
China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s and threatened to take it by force if needed. More than 8 in 10 Taiwanese oppose unification, the Taiwan government’s Mainland Affairs Council found in a survey in January. The council sees China’s incentives as a soft approach to bring the two sides together without the use of force.
Wages in China average 1.2 to 1.3 times higher than in Taiwan for skilled, non-entry level jobs, a ManpowerGroup Experis official estimated last year. China’s gross domestic product (GDP), the total value of goods and services provided in the country during a given year, grew 6.6% last year compared to the Taiwan’s economy’s 2.8%.
Investments by some of the world’s top multinationals have helped fuel that growth in the much larger China, and Taiwanese employees can get more “exposure” to them in China than at home, Huang said.
Risks for outsiders in China include impacts of Sino-U.S. trade friction on manufacturing along with gaps in China’s legal system, especially protection of copyrights and trademarks.
Unintended soft power
China’s formal incentives will ultimately run out, and there’s no sign Beijing will offer a new batch then, said Joanna Lei, chief executive officer of the Chunghua 21st Century Think Tank in Taiwan.
To pressure Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s government, which opposes unification with China, since 2016 officials in Beijing have passed military jets and ships near the island and scaled back Taiwan-bound tourism, tactics that analysts call “hard power” compared to the economic incentives.
China still has more “soft power” in reserve, Chao said, though it may never use it intentionally.
A growing number of blockbuster films come from China, he said, and Taiwanese cinemagoers will inevitably watch them. Operation Red Sea, a Chinese military film about an evacuation in Yemen, for example found an audience outside China last year.
Universities in China, including some in the international rankings, keep adding students, Chao said. In that way, he said, China has “already raised its soft power by a lot.”
“Taiwan needs to speed up a bit,” said Liang Kuo-yuan, president of the Taipei research organization Polaris Research Institute. Chinese universities have lapped top schools in Taiwan, he said.
“National Taiwan University used to be well ahead of Peking University and National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu (Taiwan) was also well ahead of the Tsinghua University in Beijing,” Liang said, naming flagship campuses on both sides.
Peking University ranks No. 68 and Tsinghua University, in Beijing, at No. 50 on the U.S. News & World Report rankings.
China boasts better R&D “capacity” and a boom in medical research, both with possible appeal to Taiwanese, Liang added.