Cablegate: Taiwan Population Focus 2: Foreign Brides

Published: Wed 3 Aug 2005 08:05 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
030805Z Aug 05
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Taiwan Population Focus 2: Foreign Brides
1.(U) Summary: Nearly a quarter of marriages in Taiwan last
year involved a foreign bride. Two thirds of the women are
from Mainland China, and one third from Southeast Asian and
other Asian countries. The local press has stoked anxiety
about the influx of foreign brides over the past decade and
their ability to assimilate into Taiwan society. Of
particular concern are the education level, language skills,
and "non-Chineseness" of the Southeast Asian brides, which
are perceived to affect the "quality" of Taiwan's population
and the abilities of their children. End summary.
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One Quarter of Marriages in 2004 To Foreign Brides
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2.(U) In addition to low fertility (examined in ref A), the
other major population trend in Taiwan is the significant
number of marriages involving a foreign spouse. This trend
began in the late 1980s, accelerated in the 1990s, and last
year included nearly a quarter of new marriages in Taiwan.
About two thirds of foreign spouses (waiji pei'ou, popularly
called foreign brides in English because 98% are women) are
from Mainland China, and most of the remaining third are
from Southeast Asia. According to the Ministry of the
Interior (MOI) Department of Household Registration, between
1987 and June 2005, a total of approximately 351,000 foreign
spouses entered Taiwan. 224,000 were from China, Hong Kong
and Macau, and 127,000 were mostly from Southeast Asian
countries. More than 87,000 of the Southeast Asian brides
were from Vietnam (most are not ethnic Chinese). In 2003,
31 percent of marriages in Taiwan involved a foreign spouse.
This number fell to 23 percent in 2004, due to a crackdown
on sham marriages for the purposes of trafficking women for
prostitution. In 2004, 13% of children born in Taiwan were
born to families with a foreign-born parent. While foreign
brides do not have more children than average, the effect of
an influx of young women marrying men who might not
otherwise have children may raise the fertility rate to some
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SM ISO "Fertile, Hard-Working, Taiwanese-Speaking" Wife
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3. (U) Generally speaking, men who marry foreign brides are
of fairly low socioeconomic status. They tend to be from
rural areas in which many young women have left home to work
in the cities, and they are unable to find local wives. To
cater to this group of men, matchmaking agencies arrange
tours for Taiwan men to China or Vietnam to meet large
groups of women. Once a man meets a suitable woman, they
marry quickly, either on the same trip or on a return trip
several months later. A Vietnamese bride agency advertises
on billboards in suburban Taipei that for a fee of US$8500,
a man can marry a "guaranteed fertile, hard-working, and
Taiwanese-speaking" bride. Customers are promised, "if she
runs away we will replace her with a new bride of your
choosing." Advertisements for Vietnamese brides are also
run on Taipei television.
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Foreign Brides Seen as Social Problem to Be Solved
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4. (U) The influx of foreign brides has sparked some anxiety
about their effect on Taiwan society and culture. In the
press, foreign brides are often described in terms of the
"social problems" they cause. There is a degree of
prejudice against foreign brides because they are perceived
as uneducated and poor, marrying for money or to enter
Taiwan for prostitution or illegal work. In early 2005,
MOFA reinstated a face-to-face visa interview requirement
for Vietnamese brides, citing a growing number of marriages
for purposes of trafficking women for prostitution. There
is also some anxiety about the roles that foreign brides
play in the traditional Taiwan family. In June, Taiwan
Solidarity Union (TSU) legislators held a press conference
in which elderly women accused their foreign bride daughters-
in-law of violence and death threats against them. TSU
legislators even proposed inspections of all households with
foreign brides. This extreme response indicates the level
of discomfort within the TSU, a green political party that
promotes Taiwanese identity, with the growing presence of
foreign and especially Mainland Chinese brides.
5. (U) The main social problem associated with foreign
brides in the press, and in discussions with government
officials, is their education level and language ability.
Southeast Asian brides in particular are viewed as
uneducated because they often cannot speak Mandarin
fluently. Language skills are often mentioned as a concern
due to their effect on foreign brides' children. Staff at
the Ministry of the Interior emphasized that when mothers do
not speak Mandarin well, they cannot adequately prepare
their children for school, or help with their schoolwork.
Additionally, Southeast Asian mothers are characterized as
reluctant to talk with teachers, or to assimilate to Taiwan
society. There is even anxiety that the children of foreign
brides are developmentally slower than children with Taiwan-
born mothers. A 2004 survey by Chiayi Christian Hospital,
which was widely reported in the local press, estimated that
90% of children of foreign brides "suffer slowness in
cognition and language development" "due to adults'
ignorance or a language barrier." A recent Taipei Times
article on Taiwan's over-15 illiteracy rate, which at 3.9%
is higher than some other developed countries, argued that
uneducated foreign brides are to blame, and that their
illiteracy will affect their children and make Taiwan's
workforce less competitive in the future.
Threat to Taiwan Identity?
6. (U) Taiwan identity is a complex issue (examined in depth
in ref B). While there is some regional and linguistic
diversity within Taiwan, with migrants from different areas
of China and their descendents, the vast majority of the
population is considered Hua ren, or culturally Chinese. In
this regard, brides from Mainland China are able to
assimilate to some degree, but they are still considered
distinct from people who immigrated from China in 1949 or
earlier. The introduction of a population of Southeast
Asian brides presents a clearer challenge to Taiwan's
culture: they are often neither ethnically nor culturally
Chinese, and many do not speak Mandarin or Taiwanese
fluently. Because of these differences, there is a degree
of popular anxiety about their effect on their children.
The main concerns expressed are that foreign brides'
children speak Mandarin or Taiwanese at a relatively low
level, and that when they enter school they will be teased
by classmates and have difficulty adjusting. Because of
their mixed heritage, there is also concern that they will
not see themselves as Taiwan ren, or Taiwan people. For
Taiwan's government, the answer is to help foreign brides
assimilate to Taiwan as quickly as possible, to become what
they call "new Taiwanese." Government agencies have
established a range of programs to encourage brides to
assimilate, including a Mandarin language and Taiwan history
and culture curriculum launched by the Ministry of Education
last year, a series of guidebooks published by MOI, and an
MOI fund and multilingual emergency hotline.
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Change to Nationality Law Targets Foreign Brides
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7. (U) On June 17, the Legislative Yuan passed an amendment
to the Nationality Law, which takes effect in October, that
changes citizenship requirements for foreign brides. In
addition to the previous requirement of five years'
residence in Taiwan and proof of financial support, they
will now be required to pass an exam in Mandarin language
and Taiwan culture. Hsieh Ai-ling of MOI described the exam
as "very basic and simple," and said that candidates had an
alternative option of completing a hundred-hour course in
language and culture. However, news coverage of the
amendment did not mention the course option, and
characterized some exam questions as difficult even for
Taiwan-born residents to answer. (Note: the exam is similar
to the US citizenship exam, covering topics such as the
Taiwan constitution and history. End note.) Advocates for
foreign spouses have protested that the new requirements are
too difficult, and discriminate against foreign brides who
do not have enough free time to study Chinese. MOI's Hsieh
argues that the purpose of the new requirement is not to
keep foreign brides from getting Taiwan citizenship, but to
help them and their children better assimilate to Taiwan.
8. (U) The influx of foreign brides to Taiwan over the past
twenty years is the latest chapter in a long history of
immigration from China and Asia-Pacific countries. The
concerns raised in the press and in government about the
education level of foreign brides and their ability to speak
Mandarin or Taiwanese reflect the anxieties of a relatively
homogeneous society confronting an increasingly diverse
population. There is also a somewhat distinct concern
expressed by pro-Taiwan independence "Deep Green"
politicians and voters about brides from Mainland China.
They express a fear that Mainland brides will retain a
loyalty to their home in China and inculcate that feeling in
their children. For both foreign and Mainland brides, the
main concern seems to be not the brides themselves but their
children, and what version of Taiwan identity they will
embrace. End comment. (Cable prepared by AIT Econ intern
Anne Bilby.)
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