A protester shouts slogans demanding tax reform outside the Ministry of Finance in Taipei, Taiwan, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. A large group of activists has launched anti-government protests to demand tax reform - after being inspired by the violent demonstrations in Paris that began last month. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Thousands of Taiwanese, taking a page from France's yellow vest movement, protested Thursday for the third time in a week to demand lower taxes and the fair handling of tax disputes.
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Wearing yellow vests, they shouted slogans and blared air horns outside the Ministry of Finance in Taipei, the capital city, and waved banners calling Taiwan's tax collection policies illegal. Some wore clear plastic raincoats over their vests in a light rain.
"This is about our futures," said Joanna Tai, a 23-year-old English-language graduate student who plans to teach after graduation next year.
"We look at wages in Hong Kong and mainland China. We want to know why there's so much of a gap with Taiwan," she said. "Then a lot of my classmates want to start companies and be their own bosses but, because of taxes, a lot of small businesses have folded."
The Tax & Legal Reform League, an activist group, called the protest after marshaling about 20,000 people outside the presidential office in an initial demonstration a week ago, and another 10,000 on Saturday, according to organizers and Taiwanese media.
The organizers said they were inspired by the success of the recent French protests, which turned violent and were blamed for 10 deaths. The Taiwanese protests have been peaceful.
French President Emmanuel Macron eventually agreed to scrap a tax hike for gasoline and diesel and increase the minimum salary for full-time workers, as well as other steps.
"We saw Macron and he wanted to soften up, so that gave us some encouragement to protest, so we hope the president here can hear our voices," Reform League media liaison Wang Chih-lan said. "The Ministry of Finance is the major culprit. It's a big organization that's causing poverty in Taiwan."
A ministry spokeswoman said earlier this week that anti-tax activists have been pushing for lower taxes for about 20 years. Tsai Meng-chu said that the ministry has responded to some of their complaints on its website, including a rebuttal to allegations that the tax system contributes to poverty.
"Their complaints are just that they're not satisfied with the tax system," she said, noting that Taiwan offers payment deferrals to low-income individuals.
Protesters said they had received tax bills sent in error or asking for too much tax. An appeal costs too much, they said, and tax collectors sometimes keep hounding them for taxes even after losing in court. Income taxes add hardship to young people in low-paid, entry-level jobs, some said.
The average monthly wage in Taiwan is $1,364, and the minimum wage is set to rise to $750 in January. During her campaign, President Tsai Ing-wen said she would work on wages and welfare for youth.
Taiwanese who earn less than $2.42 million New Taiwan dollars (about $78,500) a year pay no more than 20 percent in taxes, according to data compiled by professional services firm KPMG.
KPMG ranked Taiwan 33rd for the world's highest taxes on a list of 135 countries and regions. France ranked 12th.