Out of all the challenges Taiwan faces in its economy, one major hurdle that doesn’t get talked about enough is Taiwanese attitudes towards foreigners and the way they can meld into Taiwan’s workforce.
First off, Taiwan is an island that in many ways is cut off from the rest of world not only from the standpoint of it not being recognized as a country from the UN, but also because it is an island that is largely homogenous, with Han Chinese representing 98% of the population. This means that interactions with the so-called outside world are minimal and viewpoints towards other cultures are limited. More so, the country has harsh regulations against foreign workers in Taiwan in regards to how much they need to invest in the island in order to stay and obtain a visa in addition to laws that set the standard for payment to foreigners at a well-below accepted average in Asia.
Taiwan can’t really change the fact that it is not recognized by the UN as a country, at least not in the short term, but it can make efforts to promote itself as an international hub like Hong Kong or Singapore where innovation thrives largely due to a combined diverse workforce that drives on talents from al over the world.
But Taiwanese won’t and here is why.
Attitudes towards foreigners
Taiwanese in general have sour attitudes towards outsiders. Now, I am not saying that Taiwanese are not nice and warm-hearted people; believe me they are in many ways, but they have misconstrued views towards foreigners and are largely unaccepting towards outsiders throughout the nation. In the case of migrant workers in Taiwan, for example, Taiwanese inevitably look down upon them for no apparent reason other than the notion that these workers comes from more lagging （落後）economies and that their skin is to “dark” （黑黑的）. This is despite the fact that they do jobs Taiwanese once did, such as working in factories, in addition to taking care of the nation’s elderly population, allowing for Taiwan’s middle-aged white-collar working class to obtain careers and make a life of their own. You would think they would be thankful people are willing to go to Taiwan to take such jobs but Taiwanese think such workers should instead be thankful that they get to eave their lives back home and chase something better. This causes many disputes between locals and the workers, in that most of the workers are often taken advantage of, causing them to flee and be regarded as runaway workers throughout the island. This at large is a socially constructed phenomenon in Taiwan that could be fixed if there was more education towards the workers, both from the government in terms of laws and regulations, in addition to further education in school systems.
Secondly, Caucasians in Taiwan, which are generically referred to as “foreigners” or “外國人”, don’t exactly have a good reputation in Taiwan either. Part of the reason for this is due to some foreigners’ attitudes and the trouble they have caused, which in my opinion is very little, but the media tears them apart and exposes them all to look like party-animals who just want to sleep with Taiwanese girls. This perception has grown to be a standard for many Taiwanese and has also led to racism throughout the island, which has hurt many peoples’ chances at getting jobs. I won’t even go into how much “black people” in Taiwan are treated for now, as that would require another article.
But with that aside, there is more to this “attitude” that I would like to describe, which deals with wages. Government wages for white-collar foreign workers in Taiwan are just under NT$50,000 (US$1,640) a month while wages for blue-collar workers remains at just over NT$15,000. Most foreigners here cannot stand these wages simply put, and have a hard time seeing Taiwan as something long term as there is also very little upward mobility career wise. Granted, these wages for white-collar workers are often higher than many Taiwanese, but they are lower in just as many cases as well, as many people I know and friends know throughout the island make well over that amount.
The government sets the wages above which employers use as a standard. The employers do not want to give any more than they have to and do not see the benefit in paying a worker more in order to attract them to stay longer and further invest in Taiwan’s workforce. More so, because the government is not changing its wage policy, Taiwanese employers are not expected to change their ideologies any time soon and will literally see no reason in giving a foreigner a Western wage in order to keep them here and provide value. Other nations such as China now do this in addition to Hong Kong and Singapore, making such investments worthwhile.
It is unfortunate that is the case. Many Taiwanese companies need local personnel and in more cases foreign personnel to help with their international affairs. But they are not willing to budge even if they have the budget. This is a serious social conditioning and mindset that Taiwanese need to develop going into the 21st century when everything is becoming more globalized and Taiwan’s economy faces competition from China. What’s funny is that China is taking such actions by giving attractive wages to foreigners to stay in Taiwan and is even using the same tactics to attract engineers to some of China’s biggest technology companies. Irony? Perhaps, but sad really.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop here. Chinese in Taiwan need to be discussed. Now, this is a sensitive subject first of all later due to the political tension that exists between both sides; however, what is often brought up in conversation is not the political side of things, but rather, how Chinese dress and talk. “Mainlanders dress like hicks and I can’t stand their thick accent when they talk” is what most Taiwanese say about their Mainlander counterparts. Really Taiwanese? You can’t stand the way they talk? I can think of many other reasons not to get along with someone but that would be low on the list. We all know that Chinese also have a reputation for talking loud and often times spitting when they shouldn’t be, but they are that way across the globe, so can we be a little more accepting?
Apparently not in Taiwan.
Chinese could also play a role in Taiwan’s workforce and could conduct strategic investments if done with the right kind of political supervision that wouldn’t “sell out” Taiwan to China economically, as many Taiwanese believe. But that won’t happen anytime soon, and Chinese are just another group of people that Taiwanese complain about.
Taiwanese attitudes need to change. This is affecting their society and economy in more ways they can see. A diverse workforce and society is not always easy, and if the West has taught us anything it’s that conflicts often arise between races. However, if they can see through that there is likely be more benefits that in the long term would help Taiwanese grow and establish their homeland as one that is prosperous and place worth developing in.