Is "Love for Taiwan" synonymous with "Made in Taiwan?"
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 14, 2009
The controversy over the "Made in China" National Palace Museum Jadeite Cabbage souvenir is merely a tempest in a teacup. But some legislators refuse to let the storm subside. The National Palace Museum is asking manufacturers to change the labels to read, "Designed in Taiwan." But some students are continuing the protests. They are asking rhetorically whether the National Palace Museum in Taipei is a "branch of the Imperial Palace in Beijing." They chopped up a Jadeite Cabbage souvenir to show their disdain for "Chinese goods." They demanded that mainland tour groups issue leaflets saying "Boycott Chinese goods!" The above actions were purportedly evidence of their "I Love MIT" sentiment.
Students wanting to "buy domestic products" is not necessarily a bad thing. Especially now, when we need to stimulate domestic demand, who does't "Love MIT?" But in addition to book knowledge, college students also need common sense. Love for Taiwan is hardly synonymous with "Love for MIT." When it comes to MIT, several issues need clarification. Fortunately, a number of teaching examples will help us understand.
The first is from Nobel Award winning economist Milton Friedman. His famous "I, Pencil" has become a classic taught in universities. [Translator's Note: "I, Pencil" was written by Leonard Read in 1958, and incorporated into "Free to Choose," a television show produced by Milton Friedman in 1980] Freeman said that even a simple commodity such as a pencil cannot be manufactured by a single person in a single country. Take the wooden shaft of the pencil. Begin with the lumbermill. The stainless steel in the electric saws requires iron ore mined somewhere else. Take the lead core. It might have come from a graphite mine in South America. Take the eraser. It might have come from a rubber tree in Malaysia. Take the glue used to bind the halves of the pencil together, or the paint on the outside surface. The entire process involves the contributions of tens of thousands of people the world over, cooperating via the "Invisible Hand." This is what Friedman refers to as the beauty of the free market. "I, Pencil" has undergone countless permutations. Three years ago, "The Global Economic Voyage of a T-Shirt," which was translated into Chinese and published on Taiwan, dealt with the same theme.
The second is from Stan Shih, or Francis Chen Li-heng, or any other entrepreneur on Taiwan who has succeeded in establishing his own brand. Take a high-tech company such as Acer. Can anyone say that its computers are entirely MIT? By the time all the components, from the CPU to the outer shell have been assembled and the finished product delivered to the customer, it is a "United Nations" product. In recent years, Franz Porcelain has been all the rage. The design studio and company headquarters are in Taipei. The manufacturing plants are in Xiamen and Jingdezhen, on the mainland. The "Jingdezhen Franz Park" produced over one million items last year, sold all over the world. This "Glory of Taiwan" was also "Made in China." But so what?
The third is a from a laughable item recently in the news. Indignant worshippers of designer labels recently took two Armani T-shirts to the store, and demanded an explanation. One T-shirt was labeled "Made in China." The other, labeled "Made in Italy," was cheaper. It turned out the one labeled "Made in Italy" was counterfeit. Armani no longer produces T-shirts in Italy. There are innumerable similar examples. Famed British rainwear maker Burberry has moved its plants to mainland China. The move provoked controversy among the British public. The British may be saddened, but they are not about to vent their spleen at mainland China.
Wanting to use domestic products is all well and fine. But globalization has progressed to the point that hardly any product is 100% made locally. MIT products were once marketed around the world, earning the ROC a great deal of foreign exchange. But the public on Taiwan knows perfectly well that most MIT products are OEM products. They are hardly anything the public on Taiwan can be truly proud of. When foreign companies sneezed, OEM manufacturers on Taiwan caught colds. This is why for so many years industries on Taiwan have wanted to move "upstream" from manufacturing OEM products to manufacturing their own brands. They have finally made a start. That is why trinkets such as these souvenirs are no longer "MIT," but instead "Made in [mainland] China." This is hardly something to wring our hands over. If we really want to move upstream, then turning over low-end manufacturing to mainland factories is precisely what Taiwan's industrial upgrading requires. What justification is there for "national outrage?"
It is true that "Made in China" products have yet to established a reputation for quality. If the goods are defective, then yes, protests are warranted. But to single out the National Palace Museum for criticism over the Jadeite Cabbage souvenirs clearly involves ulterior motives. That some people on Taiwan are afflicted with Sinophobia is no surprise. But the division of labor in today's globalized economy is not merely necessary, it is mutually beneficial. As Milton Friedman noted, free market forces promote world peace. Another Friedman, Thomas Friedman, author of "The World is Flat," has been vigorously promoting his "Golden Arches Theory," which states that any two countries that have McDonald's franchises, i.e., that are integrated into the global market, will never go to war against each other. That being the case, for customers on Taiwan to place orders for products "Made in China," is not a bad thing for cross-Strait relations. College students who want to "Love Taiwan" also need to understand the facts.
2009.04.14 05:57 am
愛用國貨，本意是不錯的。但全球化到如此地步，其實很難有什麼產品是百分百的「本國製」。ＭＩＴ曾行遍全球，為台灣賺進不少外匯，但台灣人心知肚明，絕大多數的ＭＩＴ乃接單製作的代工產品，難謂真正的台灣驕傲。國外一打噴嚏，台灣就感冒，原因正在於此。多少年來，台灣喊產業升級，希望往代工製造的「上游」走，現在總算建立了一點成績。也因此，諸如禮品、紀念品那些小玩意，從ＭＩＴ變成了Made in China，未必值得我們捶胸頓足。果真做到以台灣為上游，把低階的代工交給大陸廠，不正是台灣產業升級的實踐嗎？有什麼好表現「民族義憤」呢？
中國製產品，的確還未能全面確立信譽，如果是黑心商品，也應該抗議。只不過，這次翠玉白菜禮品的例子裡，單挑故宮找碴，恐怕抗議者另有醉翁之意。台灣有人有反中情結，不是不能理解，但今天全球化之下的經濟分工，不但必要，且能兩蒙其利。按照佛里曼的想法，自由市場的力量足以促成世界和平呢。另一位佛里曼，寫「地球是平的」的湯瑪士．佛里曼，也曾大力推銷「黃金拱門理論」，說有麥當勞的國家（表示融入全球市場）不會相互打仗。這樣說起來，由台灣下單走到 Made in China，對兩岸都不是壞事。大學生愛台灣，要有正確的知識基礎才是。