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Taiwanese fear loss of lifestyle if island too close to China
From protecting income, health and safeguarding educational standards, protesters see many reasons to demonstrate
By Benjamin Yeh
Agence France-Presse
Page 9
2008-11-05 01:23 AM
As once-fierce enemies Taiwan and China prepared yesterday to sign deals aimed at boosting economic ties, Hsiao Tien-mu tried to put a finger on just what he fears as hostilities become a thing of the past.

What it came down to, he said as he stood in the rain outside Taipei's parliament building, among thousands taking part in an anti-China rally, was quality of life.

"A Chinese worker needs only NT$10,000 (US$305) per month to feed his family," the 51-year-old tailor said.

"Can you imagine what kind of life we will have if lots of them are allowed in and take away our jobs?"

Nearby at Taipei's Grand Hotel, representatives of Taiwan and China were discussing a range of issues likely to bring immense change to the island of 23 million.

On Monday Chen Yunlin, head of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, became the most senior PRC official to visit Taiwan, arriving at the head of a delegation of 60 officials and business people.

Yesterday, he and his local counterpart Chiang Pin-kung, who heads Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation, signed deals that could be worth billions of dollars on transport, trade and tourism.

Hsiao, like many here, fears the deals will lead to a flood of Chinese immigrants seeking the better lifestyle and greater freedoms in Taiwan, where the culture and language barely differ from their own.

Many Taiwanese factories have closed, killing off local jobs as companies have moved to China to take advantage of cheaper labor and costs. Taiwanese investment in China since the early 1990s is estimated at US$150 billion.

Hsiao said his fears have been mounting since the election this year of KMT President Ma Ying-jeou.

Concerns about the impact of warmer ties are not confined to older workers fearing unemployment. Students, too, said they worried about the value of their education being downgraded by an influx of Chinese.

Education worries

Wang Yi-hua, a student of National Taiwan University, says she opposed government plans to recognize Chinese academic qualifications, believing that education standards in China are not as high, or as free, as in Taiwan.

The safety of Chinese food imports has caused concern in Taiwan, where all Chinese dairy and non-dairy products have been banned after some were found to contain the industrial chemical melamine.

The chemical has been blamed for illness in thousands of Chinese children, and the deaths of four, in recent months, while a wide range of Chinese foods have been banned worldwide.

Melamine-tainted Chinese products sickened three children and one woman in Taiwan.

"I no longer drink milk tea," said Wang.

"No one knows how many such evil-minded businessmen there are in China," she said, referring to Chinese firms found responsible for adding the chemical to give milk the appearance of higher protein content.

"I don't want to live such a life," she said.

Taiwan's health minister Yeh Ching-chuan was quoted in newspapers here as threatening to ban all Chinese food products in the face of what appeared to be Chinese intransigence in addressing Taipei's concerns about the food safety.

The opposition has said Chinese apologies are too little, too late.

"Now I simply don't trust anything from China, including toys which might contain lead that is bad for my son," said Lin Yu-yi, 42.

Lin, an administrator with a Taipei company, said the tainted milk episode reinforced her belief that "Taiwan is Taiwan, China is China."

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