Taiwan's President Says Bye to "China," Nihau to "Mainland"

Taiwan's President Says Bye to "China," Nihau to "Mainland"

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Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou celebrated the Year of the Rabbit by instructing all government officials to henceforth stop referring to the other side of the straits as “China," reasoning that to call the other side China is to imply that Taiwan is not part of that country, a violation of the 1992 One-China Consensus subscribed by both sides.

Instead, Ma has suggested duian (对岸), meaning “the shore across the way” or dalu (大陆), meaning “the mainland,” when referring to Taiwan's big neighbor across the straits—comparable to the way some Hawaiians refer to the continental United States as the mainland.

In doing so, Ma is betting his political future on the presumption that closer economic cooperation with the mainland will continue to pay off—and there are plenty of indications that his bet is a safe one.

Ma was elected president in 2008 on a pledge of closer economic cooperation with mainland China and a reversal of his predecessor’s tension-inducing stance of “one China and one Taiwan.”

But in 2009, Taiwan fell victim to the global financial meltdown, and when Ma’s economic policy did not bring about the immediate and miraculous economic recovery that the impatient people of Taiwan had expected, his popularity tumbled.

Upon taking office, however, Ma began cross-strait talks in earnest, culminating in the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement. Even as details of the ECFA were being hammered out, direct flights between Taiwan and the mainland resumed and economic cooperation began to flourish.

The payoff became evident in 2010, when Taiwan’s economy grew by nearly 11 percent, its strongest gain since 1986. Exports increased by nearly 35 percent, over two-fifths of which headed to the mainland. Today, private-sector investments in Taiwan have increased by nearly one-third, an unprecedented show of confidence in Taiwan not seen for more than 40 years.

Tourism from the mainland to Taiwan, not possible under Ma’s predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, has grown to more than 100,000 visitors per month and contributed $3 billion to Taiwan’s economy in less than two years. Mainland China has already become the largest source of tourists to Taiwan. In addition to allowing tour groups, Ma’s administration is now exploring ways to open the door to individual tourists, as a way of generating moore revenue.

Chances are, he’ll be successful.

Despite the steady  increase of Chinese tourists to the island, Taiwan still sends four to five times as many people to the mainland, for business and for pleasure. The number of Chinese tourists to other countries reached 57.4 million last year and the mainland is expected to overtake the U.S. as the largest source of tourists by 2015. Taiwan is only attracting 2 out of every 100 tourists from the mainland and thus has plenty of upside potential yet to be realized.

Taiwan companies have invested well over $100 billion on the mainland, while mainland companies have only recently been allowed by the Taipei government to invest in Taiwan. The timing is fortuitous, because only in the last three to four years have Chinese companies been encouraged by Beijing to make investments in other countries. The amount invested in Taiwan to date, around $137 million, is not even 1 percent of China’s total outbound investments. The potential of direct investment from the mainland into Taiwan is huge and can only further stimulate Taiwan’s economy.

Ironically, when China first opened its doors to the west after 1972, foreign visitors were told not to use the terms “dalu” or “mainland,” to avoid suggesting a separation between Taiwan and the mainland. Now, the use of those terms seems to suggest a closer cooperation between the two.

These days, no one seems to care how long the Taiwan and China will remain separate, or even if they will ever reunite. Meanwhile, Ma is betting his reelection on the idea that continued economic improvements in Taiwan will win him the peoples’ confidence.

George Koo is a retired international business consultant and a contributor to New America Media.