Friday, September 04, 2009

Tibetan Buddhism and Taiwan's Economy

The Taiwanese economy and Tibetan Buddhism have developed a symbiotic relationship, dating back to the once-heady days of the ubiquitous Taiwanese "new millionaires."

In those days, Taiwanese ex-pats thought nothing of throwing USD $25 million at California's Tsi Lai Temple, just to show the flag. That was for Chinese Buddhism. For Tibetan Buddhism they went a step further, and made multi-millionaires out of every notable lama who ever set foot on the island.

Therefore, it is with great interest that we note the Taiwanese government's fresh decision to tax the foreign income of Taiwanese nationals -- to include dual nationals.


Much of the money that sustains Tibetan Buddhist institutions is held in offshore mutual funds -- prime target of the Ministry of Finance's campaign to collect, which by the way, even extends to offshore gambling winnings, so watch the whales swim away from Las Vegas to Macau. The only foreign income that isn't subject to taxation is that earned on the Mainland.

That the decision will impact Tibetan Buddhist institutions and programs the world over is not the question. It will. The question is how this impact will be felt, and over what period of time.

The equation can be simple: you are a Taiwanese sponsor who no longer has any incentive to invest in the West, and every incentive to invest on the Mainland. Do you sponsor temples in America, or do you sponsor temples in Tibet? If you are heavily invested on the Mainland, then you are to a substantial degree dependent on good governmental relations. Do you risk those relations sponsoring "separatist" temples in India, or improve those relations by sponsoring indigenous projects in the T.A.R.?

Conversely -- and this depends a great deal on how MOF's new regulations are implemented -- do you dump money out of offshore operations into charitable donations, in order to minimize your overall liability? Somehow, this doesn't seem so attractive to Taiwanese investors -- who give and give generously when it is their idea, but will fight tooth and nail if somebody tries to take it away.

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