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[轉載] 200,000 mainland-born residents ineligible to vote in T

200,000 mainland-born residents ineligible to vote in Taiwan

TAIPEI: As Taiwan gears up for two elections, more than 200,000 residents are barred from voting, in part because of questions about their political loyalties.

These are the mainland Chinese-born spouses, mostly women, of Taiwan citizens. Their numbers have grown steeply over the past decade, in pace with Taiwanese investment and other business activities on the mainland. About 14,000 mainland Chinese who have married a Taiwan resident move to the island each year.

But unlike spouses from other countries, like Thailand or Japan, they fall into a legal gray area. Because Taiwan, controlled by Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, has never declared its independence from China, these mainland-born spouses are not categorized as foreigners, eligible for naturalization. But at the same time they face daunting hurdles to full citizenship rights in their adopted homes.

So tens of thousands of long-term residents who look like other Chinese in Taiwan, speak the same language and share a cultural tradition, are forbidden to work, open a checking account, take out a loan or register a business. Nor can they cast a ballot - in the legislative elections Saturday and the presidential election in March, which will focus largely on the relationship Taiwan wants with its giant neighbor.

"I would like the chance to vote, but it's something that is remote for us," said Liang Wei Xiao, 37, who came to Taiwan nearly six years ago as a bride but is not permitted to work or vote. "We don't feel we are a part of the country. We haven't been recognized as such."

Although foreign spouses, these days predominantly from Southeast Asia, can gain citizenship and vote within four years of entering Taiwan, mainlanders must wait at least eight years to gain permanent residence status and a Taiwan identity card, akin to a Social Security card in the United States, that will allow them to vote.

Foreigners can work within four months, but mainlanders cannot work within the first six years unless their family meets low-income requirements.

Further limiting mainlanders' rights is the Taiwan government's ceiling on permanent residency permits. Only 6,000 are issued each year to mainland spouses. No such quotas apply to spouses from other countries.

As a result, only 44,493, or about 18 percent, of the approximately 250,000 mainlanders who have been allowed to immigrate here had voting rights as of late November. By contrast, around 44 percent of foreign-born spouses have voting rights.

"These people are discriminated against," said Ko Yu-Chin, president of the Chinese Association for Relief and Ensuring Services, a nongovernment organization in Taiwan devoted to helping immigrants from the mainland. "The main reason is politics."

For people like Liang, who met her husband on the mainland when she was a tour guide and he was on a tour, these politics have kept her homebound even though she wants a job to supplement the modest salary her husband earns working at a pool hall.

"In many countries, such as the United States, within three years of immigrating there, you can assimilate, find a job, etc., but not for us in Taiwan," Liang said. "Many families are unhappy because of this policy."

But the Taiwan authorities argue there are many reasons to treat mainlanders differently, from the decades of hostility between the two sides and the issue of where their real loyalties lie, to their sheer numbers. The increase in mainland spouses over the past decade is the largest wave of immigration the island of 22 million has seen since 1949.

"Our relations with China have all along been different from our relations with other countries," said Liu Te-Shun, vice chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, the Taiwan government office in charge of policies toward China.

"Taiwan is already densely populated," Liu said. "The mainland spouses' numbers are very high, we need time to digest this trend, so we can't treat them the same as foreign spouses."

Liu and other officials argue that many mainlanders marry not for love, but for the economic opportunities they think they can find in Taiwan. They also cite the high rate of divorce. However, critics note that the divorce rate for marriages involving mainlanders is nearly identical to the general divorce rate in Taiwan.

"The real reason is that the authorities don't want more Chinese brides to come to Taiwan," said an editorial in The China Post, a Taipei newspaper.

Although some academics, news media and immigration officials are beginning to question whether Taiwan should continue discriminatory policies against mainlanders, many people in Taiwan favor restricting the influx, and maintaining limits on political rights, as a way of defending the island against China, which has targeted hundreds of missiles at Taiwan and has not ruled out the use of military force to prevent formal independence.

"China and Taiwan have long had political mistrust and hostility, so some Taiwanese worry that Chinese brides coming here may have a problem with loyalty," said Chao Chien-Min, a political scientist and specialist in cross-strait relations at the National Chengchi University in Taipei.

"They worry that mainland spouses have a strong Chinese identity and may want Taiwan to unify with China," Chao said.

One concern has been mainland spouses' potential political effect if more of them gain the right to vote.

In 2002 and 2003, the legislature considered lengthening the minimum number of years for mainland-born spouses to secure a Taiwan identity card to 11 years from 8. About 150 spouses staged a rare street protest. The proposal did not pass.

In 2006, the government cracked down on matchmaking agencies, which broker many mainland-Taiwan marriages, banning any from running for profit, which reduced their numbers from 900 to 300.

There have been no formal studies of mainland spouses' political views or how they might vote, but many officials and academics believe most favor closer ties with China and would therefore probably vote for the opposition Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, which is open to eventual reunification, rather than for the governing Democratic Progressive Party, which is pro-independence.

"I think they believe Taiwan is a part of China - it's the common view of people from China," said Chu Heng-Huey, head of the law and politics section of the Mainland Affairs Council. "And often at meetings I have with them, they say things that demonstrate this, like, 'We're all Chinese people, why put so many restrictions on us?' "

But other experts said that while mainland spouses may initially favor unification, over time many change their views. Many spouses soon come to appreciate the positive aspects of Taiwan: its democratic politics, social welfare system and more equitable society.

Except for those whose husbands have businesses in China, most wives appear to prefer living in Taiwan, in part because they think the education system is better for their children.

Still, most spouses want to see stronger relations with mainland China - always a sensitive issue in Taiwan - and continue to have deep feelings for China, Ko and others said.

Their children might also have a stronger affinity for China, Ko said, compared with other children from Taiwan who are taken to Europe or Japan on holidays rather than the Chinese mainland. Many of the spouses return to China each year and take their Taiwanese families with them, especially during the Chinese Lunar New Year.

"They could potentially pull the two sides together," she said. "They feel they are both Chinese and Taiwanese. They don't want China to invade, but they also don't want Taiwan to be formally independent.

"And that's why some people don't like them."

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