China has devised a new plan under which certain areas on Pingtan Island off the coast of Fujian Province will be consigned to local Taiwanese governments or private groups to develop, or be put up for joint development by the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
According to China's plan, those specific areas will be managed by Taiwanese experts, and up to 1,000 Taiwanese professional managers and researchers will be recruited to work in the areas.
Pingtan has been chosen for this trailblazing initiative mainly because it is the China-held area closest to Taiwan. Although the small islet is still in a very early stage of development, China has decided to invest heavily in the region.
It will pour 60 billion Chinese yuan (US$9.66 billion) into its infrastructure in 2012 alone, and an additional 250 billion yuan will be pumped into the area under China's 12th five-year development plan.
China is apparently determined to craft a special development and management system in the Pingtan zone to serve as a prototype in its overture to unify Taiwan under a "one country, two systems" formula. Four Taiwanese engineering consulting firms reportedly have helped design the project.
To attract top-notch Taiwan talent to work in Pingtan, China may even offer tax incentives and allow simultaneous circulation of Taiwanese and Chinese currencies there. Only in an authoritarian country like China can such a plan be tried. The project also clearly reflects China's strong attempt to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Taiwanese citizens and business people.
As a democratic country that upholds rule of law, Taiwan cannot compete with China in the same way. But our government cannot afford to sit idly by in the face of China's aggressive actions to lure away our high-end talent.
Taiwan's current regulations prohibit local governments or social groups from cooperating with Chinese authorities without prior approval of the central government, and private citizens are also banned from taking positions in government agencies there. But laws can hardly form an effective firewall against such an offensive.
Following President Ma Ying-jeou's re-election, cross-strait engagements are expected to enter a new stage. We need to use new thinking to cope with new developments.
Perhaps we can take a cue from Singapore's negotiations with China in the 1990s to jointly develop an industrial zone in Suzhou. We suggest our government take the initiative to put the Pingtan experiment program on the agenda of future cross-strait talks.
Through negotiations we can better manage various cross-strait joint venture projects and minimize risks for the sake of protecting our overall national interests. (Feb. 27, 2012)
(By Sofia Wu)