Taiwan has long seen its international allies switching allegiance to an ascendant Beijing, but now there are also fears of a brain drain of the island’s youth as they pursue careers in rival China.
Cross-strait tensions have soared since China-sceptic Tsai Ing-wen took power last year, with Beijing cutting all official communication.
China still sees the self-ruling island as part of its territory to be reunified, but young people in particular have increasingly developed a sense of pride in their Taiwanese identity.
They have been at the forefront of anti-Beijing sentiment in recent years, famously occupying Taiwan’s parliament in protest at trade deals with China in the Sunflower Movement of 2014.
However, with monthly starting salaries for college graduates unchanged at below Tw$30,000 ($1,000) since the 1990s and property and consumer prices spiralling upwards, some are now taking a more pragmatic approach.
China is also wooing young Taiwanese talent in what analysts say is a “soft power” push to sway political sentiment.
Katherine Wang, 33, quit kindergarten teaching in Taipei and co-launched a business in May offering a variety of courses for young Chinese women in southeastern Xiamen city, saying she feels “hopeless” about Taiwan’s economy.
“I see a ray of hope in Xiamen and working there makes me happy. I want to make a name for myself and my partners and hopefully expand our business to all over China,” she explained.
Wang receives free housing and office space as an incentive from the Xiamen city government, an example of the perks offered by provincial authorities, which also include generous grants.
According to China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), over 6,000 Taiwanese young people are working or interning at more than 50 youth start-up bases launched since 2015.
Top Chinese political and business leaders, including Premier Li Keqiang and Alibaba founder Jack Ma, have also encouraged Taiwanese youth to chase careers in China.
While Wang says she has no strong political views, others who do are putting them to one side for jobs.
One twenty-something has opted to work in China even though he supports Taiwanese independence — a concept intolerable to Beijing. “I just focus on how to do my job well,” the young worker said, saying he hoped it would be a stepping stone to an international career.
“My Chinese colleagues sometimes say things like ‘Taiwan is a part of China’ but that’s their freedom of speech,” he said.
Despite being a fully fledged democracy, Taiwan has never announced a formal split from China.— AFP