The exodus of young people and entrepreneurs heading for mainland China has Taiwan worried, so much so that the island’s Mainland Affairs Council has issued a straightforward warning about all the tricks lying beneath Beijing’s poaching.

Higher wages and better career prospects in a bigger market are the “pull factors” wooing Taiwanese entrepreneurs and job starters to hop across the Strait to the mainland, while back home stalled salary growth and a tepid economy mean one can hardly move up the career ladder.

Taiwan’s fresh university graduates are paid a meager NT$22,000 (US$720) per month on average, while top-tier cities on the mainland such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen where Taiwanese typically congregate offer much higher pay thanks to their roaring economies.

China has also lowered its threshold for top institutions such as Peking University, Tsinghua University and Fudan University to admit more Taiwanese students even if they only score mediocre results in admission exams, with handsome stipends and tuition waivers on offer.

The number of Taiwanese freshmen enrolling in Chinese institutions has risen for three consecutive years from 2,183 in 2015 to 2,567 last year, Mainland Affairs Council data showed.

“The government thinks it is necessary to remind Taiwanese students of the downsides of studying across the Strait,” the council said in a statement. It stressed the stark political and social differences between Taiwan and China despite cultural similarities, and that Taiwanese students risked becoming “pawns” when Beijing seeks to browbeat the Tsai Ing-wen administration into submission.

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A student shows his Taiwanese passport with the sticker ‘Republic of Taiwan’ in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Photo: Facebook

Citing the experience of a former exchange student, the council also warned that those flocking to mainland universities could also face resistance from their mainland classmates, who may be fuming over unfair admission schemes skewed toward Taiwanese applicants.

Statistics from the island’s Education Ministry show that enrollment at universities in Taiwan has been declining since 2014 because of the low birthrate and the lure of mainland universities.

China is also courting Taiwanese high-school students, warned a China expert with Taipei-based Tamkang University. Some Chinese high schools that are considered prestigious have adopted generous quotas for Taiwanese applicants.

Beijing in February rolled out 31 initiatives to attract Taiwanese to work or study in China, regarding issues ranging from housing and labor protection to social welfare, with several municipalities with sizable Taiwanese diasporas announcing implementation measures.