Taiwan’s millennials hostile to Chinese mainland? Facts say it’s a myth

By Yang Sheng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/23 18:58:39

Number of Taiwan students in mainland catching up with those in US

A growing number of Taiwan youth come to the Chinese mainland to study or start up businesses as the mainland offers more favorable policies and better environment

Many Taiwan students say they are against Tsai Ing-wen's New Southbound Policy and prefer the mainland policy

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, said during his work report to the 19th CPC National Congress that more fair and attractive policies will be issued to people from Taiwan

An evening view of Xiamen in Fujian Province Photo: VCG

With the sustainable economic growth of the Chinese mainland and disappointing governance within Taiwan, the number of Taiwanese youth who have decided to come to the Chinese mainland for their education or career continues to surge.

"Among the youth of Taiwan, people who acknowledged the Chinese mainland's development are the silent majority. They will not go to the street and shout radical political slogans, but just quietly express their opinions through actions," said Zheng Boyu, 31, from Taiwan.

Zheng, now based in Beijing, is the manager of Vstartup Station of Taiwan, a subsidiary to Shougang Group, which focuses on helping Taiwanese youth apply to the Chinese mainland universities, obtain internship opportunities here or start up their own business.

According to Taiwan media reports along with the results of Taiwan's 2016 elections, on the surface it may seem like many Taiwanese youth are hostile toward the Chinese mainland and support the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). But, as Zheng told the Global Times, "the facts tell a very different story."

"One year ago, there was maybe only one call from Taiwan every two or three months asking about applying to mainland universities. But now, I receive several calls every week," said Zheng, who claims to have assisted "thousands" of Taiwanese youth enroll in schools here or start their own businesses.

Due to Taiwan's disappointing economic situation, which the DPP has failed to correct, Zheng told the Global Times that many Taiwanese youth no longer feel that the island can offer them a suitable educational, working or living environment. So they are turning to the Chinese mainland in droves, where education, employment and business opportunities implemented under the policies of the mainland government are far more effective and attractive.

A woman stands at a beach along the Taiwan Straits. Photo: VCG

Generous scholarships

Taiwan's GDP growth (1.8-2 percent) is far slower than most provinces in the mainland (higher than 6-7 percent in average). There are also nine municipalities and provinces in the mainland with higher GDP per capita than all of Taiwan, including Beijing, Shanghai,Guangdong, Shandong and Jiangsu provinces, according to statistics reported by news portal guancha.cn.

"The mainland is now taking a different approach to handle the new DPP administration," said Yu Qiang, an associate professor on Taiwan studies at the University of International Relations. "In short, Beijing is now much tougher about opposing separatist administrations while being much more generous to ordinary Taiwanese people."

"DPP always tells Taiwanese people that the Chinese mainland is hostile to Taiwan because of 'military deterrence' and diplomatic isolation in the international arena. But it failed to do so when the mainland offers more benefits and conveniences to individuals directly," Yu said.

A series of attractive new policies issued by the Chinese mainland in 2017 have already started to take effect, including issuing scholarships specifically for Taiwanese students.

Luo Dingjun, a PhD student at the School of Policy and Public Management of Tsinghua University, is applying for one of these new "special scholarships" issued by China's education ministry and finance ministry in 2017.

"In the past, we needed to compete with students from Hong Kong and Macao who were also applying for mainland-based universities. But now scholarships for Taiwan students are separate, so the competition is only between us, which makes the possibility of winning the scholarship much higher," Luo told the Global Times.

"It is very obvious that policies towards Taiwan are getting much more generous," Luo said.

According to official data from China's finance ministry, the highest scholarship now being offered to Taiwanese students is for PhD students at 30,000 yuan ($4,535) per year; other scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students range from 4,000 to 15,000 yuan.

These amounts are much higher than last year. According to 2016 data, the highest scholarship for Taiwanese students issued by the Chinese mainland was only 8000 to 9,000 yuan, and students from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan all had to compete against each other.


More popular than the US

Top-tier universities in the Chinese mainland including Peking University and Tsinghua University have also become much more attractive to Taiwanese youth than their own local universities.

"As a destination for graduate school,  the Chinese mainland is now more popular than the US, due to cheaper tuition, better education quality, no language barriers and a shared culture background," Luo told the Global Times.

A growing number of Taiwan students with master's degrees from American "ivy league" universities have also been applying for PhD studies at Chinese mainland universities. They do so not only for the degree itself, but to build up important social connections within their field, which can better prepare them for a future career in the mainland, according to Zheng.

According to the most up-to-date data from Taiwan's own "ministry of education," there are 21,127 students from Taiwan pursuing an education in the US as of April 2017, and 9,642 Taiwanese students studying in Japan.

"In 2016, there were 10,823 students from Taiwan studying in the mainland," which is higher than Japan and getting closer to the number in the US, Zhao Lingshan, vice director of the Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan affairs office under China's ministry of education, told Xinhua News Agency in April.

"Taiwanese scholars hired by Chinese mainland universities are also receiving equal treatment. In the past, they were not able to apply to China's National Social Science Fund for their projects, but now this has been changed," Luo said.

Westbound, not Southbound

Apart from the Chinese mainland's increasingly generous policies, another reason cited by many Taiwanese youth for abandoning Taiwan is their growing collective realization that the DPP's anti-mainland policies have been utterly futile.

According to a new survey released by a Taiwan-based newspaper, United Daily News, approximately 56 percent are dissatisfied with Taiwan's leader Tsai Ing-wen and her cross-Straits policy. The same survey said that 40 percent hold a positive image of the Chinese mainland, an impressive 5-percent increase from last year and an eight-year peak.

More importantly, 40 percent said they were willing to work in the Chinese mainland, a 9-percent increase from last year. Those under 30 years old expressed an even higher willingness to leave Taiwan for the mainland, at 53 percent. Taiwanese parents willing to send their children to the mainland for an education reached an astonishing 38 percent, a 5 percent increase from 2016.

"Hilariously, DPP's poor governance has 'educated' Taiwan's people for us," Yu from the University of International Relations laughed.

"After taking office, the DPP ruined the KMT's cross-Straits policy by pushing separatist policies, which in turn received a tougher response from the Chinese mainland. Taiwanese people quickly learned that the DPP's pro-independence stance did nothing to boost their economy, and it even worsened their situation," Yu told the Global Times.

Tsai's new administration pushed its own economic strategy, called "the New Southbound Policy," which was designed to strengthen the island's trade and economic ties with member countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), New Zealand and Australia.

The policy is considered a follow-up to former Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian's proposal to reduce Taiwan's reliance on the mainland. "We totally have no confidence in this policy, because throughout history, Taiwan's southbound strategies have always failed," Luo from Tsinghua said.

When DPP officials were asked about the details of the New Southbound Policy, they offered no specific plans or policies. "It was just based on an ideology, and it did not respect any economic principals," Zheng said, adding that abandoning the Chinese mainland's huge market was "not a wise decision at all."

"Therefore, more Taiwanese youth have been resisting DPP's Southbound Policy and following their own 'Westbound (going to the mainland) Policy,'" Luo said.

Equal treatment

Although the Chinese mainland offers an optimal environment for Taiwanese students, both Luo and Zheng told the Global Times that they hope for more equal treatment in the mainland.

For instance, the Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan residents (MTP) that they are issued cannot be used as a residents' identity card in the Chinese mainland, which restricts their ability to book hotels, use local banking service, participate in e-commerce or even use ticket machines at local train stations.

This has caused some inconvenience to new Taiwanese arrivals, who said that they feel like the mainland still treats them as "foreign guests rather than family."

Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said at a June press conference that their office was fully aware of the problem with the MTP. "We are actively researching a solution," he said.

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, said during his work report to the 19th CPC National Congress that, "We will ensure that, over time, people from Taiwan will enjoy the same treatment as local people when they pursue their studies, start businesses, seek jobs or live on the mainland, thus improving the well-being of Taiwan compatriots."

"We will encourage people from both sides to work together to promote Chinese culture and forge closer bonds between them," Xi said.

For both Luo and Zheng, this was the most impressive part of Xi's report, who hope it can be turned into specific policies as soon as possible. "It further encourages us to stay in the mainland and help attract more people from Taiwan as well," they said.

Newspaper headline: Vote with feet

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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