Sunday, June 7, 2009

Evaluation of Taiwan's Ma Ying-jeou

Taiwan's president, Ma Ying-jeou, has been in office for one year. After his first hundred days, he was criticized for not immediately turning Taiwan's economy around, as he had promised during the presidential campaign.

When Ma orchestrated a warming of cross strait relationship that led to signing a number of economic cooperation including the direct flight from the mainland to bring in tourists, he was immediately criticized for failing to attract 3000 tourists per day to Taiwan. This year, Taiwan is receiving the full daily quota of tourists from the mainland, the local economy is beginning to warm and discussion is now directed toward possible direct investment from the mainland.

Rather than giving any credit for the positive outcome by his administration, extreme pan green supporters are accusing Ma of prosecutorial persecution of Chen Shui Bian. Even though he has steadfastly stayed away from interfering with the judiciary process underway to examine the full extent of Chen's economic crime against the people of Taiwan, Chen's supporters accused him for doing so anyway.

Recently, I attended a conference at Stanford on state of the cross strait relations. The presenters and discussants were uniformedly courteous and genteel. None saw fit to point out Chen's singularly pivotal role in destroying Taiwan's economy during his eight year reign.

"It's the economy, stupid" has been the mantra that governed the success or failure of the last three U.S. president, including the current Obama Administration, but somehow this measure of a leader's effectiveness never applied to Chen.

Since the beginning of 2009, the Taiwan stock market has bounced back by 50%, the strongest recovery in Asia. The Stanford conference took little note and did not even speculate on whether Taiwan's economic recovery and its dependence on cooperation with the mainland will alter the dynamics of the question of independence vs. reunification vs. status quo.

For more information, a recent review of Ma's first year as president published by a major daily in Taiwan and is available in English.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

America Remembers Tiananmen with "Humanitarian" Racism

In the West, “June 4” has become a shorthand reminder of the weeks of student-led protests that culminated in the tragic confrontation with China’s People’s Liberation Army ending on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.

While the bloody images from the streets of Beijing have seared the minds of America’s TV audience, liusi, June 4 in Mandarin, is a distant memory inside China--so much has happened in the intervening 20 years that transformed China into an economic superpower.

An ironic and curious American reminder of the drama on Tiananmen Square can be found in the little known “The Chinese Student Protection Act” enacted in 1992 and an even more obscure provision in this Act.

Authored by then second-term Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, the legislation was to provide a safe harbor by giving the Chinese students in the U.S., some of whom demonstrated in sympathy with their colleagues in China, the opportunity to apply for immediate permanent residency in America.

America has a long generous tradition toward people being persecuted by their own government by offering them asylum and the opportunity to build new lives in the U.S. Eastern Europeans in the 1950s, Cubans after Castro’s 1959 revolution, and boat people from Southeast Asia and Soviet Jews in the 1970s are among those that come to mind.

Pelosi’s student protection act took three years to get through Congress. The backroom dealings apparently necessitated charging the 55,000 green cards slots needed by the students as an “advance” against future quotas of employment-based green card applications made on behalf of Chinese professionals that American companies wanted to hire.

The purpose of employment-based green cards is to allow American companies to hold onto foreign professional talent and keep them in the U.S. This provision is motivated by national self-interest and has nothing to do with humanitarian action. Indeed, the success of Silicon Valley has been due to the foreign talent we have been able to attract and keep as they start new companies and create jobs.

There was no logical reason or justification to tie a humanitarian act to our ability to employ skilled immigrants from the same country. The case involving students from China was unique.

Every year the U.S. grants a maximum of 140,000 green cards to highly skilled foreign professional workers, not more than 9800 from any one country. In fact, the 9800 slots from any one country of origin are rarely all given away except for China and India; in these cases, there are always more highly qualified applicants waiting to get their green cards than available slots. Chinese professionals being sponsored for green cards typically earned advanced degrees from American universities in the sciences, medicine and engineering.

America’s biggest sources of highly trained talent, needed to keep our companies on the leading edge, naturally come from the two countries with the largest population. (One can, of course, argue whether it makes sense to use the same fixed quota for China and India as for other much smaller countries.)

In the case with China, the quota is made even more restrictive because the Student Protection Act took away 1000 slots from China every year until all 55,000 have been offset. It will be another 14 years before the green cards for students have been “paid back.”

Consequently, there is a log jam of Chinese with advanced degrees waiting for permanent residency in the US. Because of the offset, the average wait for a Chinese applying for a green card is over three years longer than for any other nationality.

Does it make any sense to make it harder for the professionals we want to keep, to stay in America? China’s economy is on the ascendancy while ours is heading in the opposite direction. Why are we encouraging them to consider taking their talents back to China—or even Canada?

Chinese immigrants have had to face a history of exclusionary discrimination in order to live in America. This obscure provision of the Student Protection Act, which came to light only recently, seems rooted in the same racist mindset.

A group of Chinese professionals in America waiting for their green cards has formed the Legal Immigrant Association to ask Congress to repeal this discriminatory provision of the Chinese Student Protection Act. They are also seeking support from Chinese American communities.

With two prominent Chinese Americans serving in President Obama’s cabinet, it should not be necessary to remind the people of America and members of Congress of the many contributions Chinese Americans have made in America.

This should be the right time to strike another racially discriminatory statute against the Chinese from our laws.