Overseas Chinese a useful pool of talent
By Paul Lin 林保華
Taipei Times  2017.11.18

The issue of an aging population and talent shortage and its implication on national security has again become a hotly debated topic. The problem is exacerbated by Chinese attempts to lure young Taiwanese talent.

“It takes 10 years to grow a tree, but 100 years to nurture a generation,” a Chinese saying goes.

Boosting the population and cultivating talent cannot be achieved overnight, but there might still be a “shortcut” for Taiwan to solve this problem: The government can seek to attract young overseas Chinese, offer them certain privileges to study here and residency rights upon graduation.

While visiting Japan about 10 years ago, I interviewed a think tank of the then-opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which said it was planning to tackle the nation’s low birthrate by attracting new immigrants, who would constitute as much as one-tenth of the population.

Although I agreed with the party’s approach, I recommended that it limit the number of Chinese immigrants, who are unlikely to adopt Japanese values. I had lived in the US for years and had seen many Chinese immigrants betray their new country for the old one, taking advantage of the US while supporting the Chinese authoritarian regime.

As a former overseas Chinese student in Indonesia, Hong Kong and the US, I have some understanding of the issue. Overseas Chinese students who have come into contact with the concept of universal values differ from those who have been educated under Chinese authoritarian rule.

Those who have studied in the US or European countries where the conditions are good might not choose to migrate to Taiwan, where salaries are lower on average, but it is a different story for those in Southeast Asian nations. Taiwan also offers a cultural connection that might make it easier to draw them in.

Among the Southeast Asian states, Indonesia has the largest population. Malaysia has an ethnic Chinese population of about 7.4 million, while Thailand and Indonesia have even higher numbers. All of these nations enjoy greater “demographic dividends” than Taiwan.

Chinese Malaysians are different from Chinese Indonesians, who tend to be more left-leaning following serious infiltration by the Chinese Communist Party in the past and present. Nor have Chinese Malaysians experienced the exclusion experienced by Chinese in Indonesia, so they do not harbor unrealistic or rose-tinted concepts about the “motherland.”

Even in Singapore, then-prime minister Goh Chok Tong (吳作棟) drew public criticism for welcoming Chinese immigrants during his term (1990-2004). The open-arms policy was suspended by his successor, Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍), due to national security concerns. This may have affected Lee’s relationship with China, because he has obstructed Beijing’s strategic attempt to include Singapore on its map.

Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy must not exclude Malaysia and Indonesia. Those two nations share similar languages and customs, and Taiwan’s cultivation of Malaysian talent can serve as a bridge to Indonesia. This is the strategic vision that the government should possess.

An overseas Chinese student studying at National Taiwan University sent me an article entitled Chinese Malaysians Have a Taiwan Dream by Chinese Malaysian Goh Jia Haur (吳嘉豪).

Goh cites statistics showing that more than half of the 28,000 foreigners studying in Taiwan, or 15,000, are Malaysians.
The number of Hong Kongers and Macanese studying in Taiwan has also surged as a result of Beijing’s bullying of the two territories. Students from Southeast Asia have witnessed this and thus prefer Taiwan.

Paul Lin is a political commentator.

Translated by Eddy Chang

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