Taiwan cautiously shifts toward granting mainlanders more rights

For Global Times http://www.globaltimes.cn/

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Illustration: Liu Rui

There has been heated discussion lately amid Taiwan’s politicians and the media over the local authorities’ moves to make lives considerably easier and safer for mainlanders residing on the island.

Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou, who in his first term relaxed restrictions on mainland spouses’ right to work and cut the waiting period for them applying for a Taiwanese ID card from eight to six years, now pledges to make it four years.

As yet another “humanitarian” measure, the government approved an amendment designed to extend Taiwan’s health insurance coverage to mainland students studying in Taiwan.

An influx of mainland spouses and students has long been portrayed by “pro-independence” members of Taiwan’s political lineup as a serious threat, and such voices were particularly vociferous in the run-up to the elections.

All sorts of ulterior motives have been imputed to the 260,000 mainlanders married to islanders, and also to the roughly 1,000 youngsters from the mainland enrolled in Taiwan’s universities.

But once the Taiwanese move beyond old threats, they see that some restrictions on the mainlanders cause grave social ills that simply cannot be good for the island’s society.

For example, before Ma implemented the reforms in 2009, mainland spouses had to wait as many as eight years after marriage before they could work, making the Taiwanese families they married into almost certain to see him or her as a tremendous financial burden.

That the divorce rate for such marriages was significantly higher than for those between Taiwanese was almost certainly due to the unreasonably long time span and not to the immigrants’ supposed bad character.

But also after the immediate right to work was finally granted, the long waiting period for citizenship remained a recipe to social problems.

If marriages break up, for whatever reason, before mainlanders obtain an ID, they have no right to continue residing in Taiwan, even if they have children.

Mainland spouses can thus all too easily be abused by their partners’ clans and be threatened with permanent separation from their kids, despite children of mixed marriages now making up a sixth of the birthrate.

It is clear that the Taiwanese authorities are sincerely working toward leveling the playing field. It is also obvious that it is not an easy task given the situation in Taiwan’s politics.

But fortunately, there are also promising signals from the political opposition, heralding a major rethinking as to how residents from the mainland should be treated.

Most notably, individual lawmakers belonging to Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), have openly supported the Ma administration’s recent decision to extend health insurance coverage to mainland students studying in Taiwan.

Experts predict that actual medical costs incurred by the mainland students, who happen to be in their 20s and early 30s, won’t be higher than the premiums they pay. And ethnic Chinese from Southeast Asian countries, as well as Hong Kong and Macao residents, have been covered all along without becoming a burden to the local premium payers.

Nevertheless, the DPP lawmakers in question are still drawing considerable flak from their own party’s anti-mainland wing.

The sorting out of appropriate background checks on would-be mainland spouses and students and also quotas for the latter is one thing; but once such measures have been decided on by the relevant authorities, those who come to the island have to be treated decently.

After all, what good does it do for society if a loving parent can be deported because of a spousal split? And what good does it do for the climate on campus if students from the mainland are excluded from a health insurance scheme that protects virtually all others?

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