Monday, August 20, 2018

We are the soft power (Part 1)


Awhile back, I attended one of the Urban Nomad Film Festival screenings of Metal Politics Taiwan (read my review of it here) - a documentary chronicling the first year in office of black metal frontman, super hunk and then-newly-elected legislator Freddy Lim. At the end of the screening, Lim graciously participated in a Q&A session, where I had the honor of asking the last question.

I didn't blog about this until now, because the recording wasn't available. Now it is - you can watch it here (Freddy's reply is in Chinese)., haven't watched it. Why? I absolutely hate the way I look and sound on video (though I tend not to mind photos of myself) and just don't really want to watch myself. Anyway, I know what was said, I know how Freddy replied, and I don't need to watch it again.

If you don't want to watch the video (and please feel free to skip footage of me, jeez), basically I asked a two-part question: first, I asked for his opinion on the notion that Taiwan's soft power initiatives have actually failed (considering that soft power had been discussed at length in the previous questions, in a more optimistic way). There are non-Palestinians who care about Palestine, and non-Tibetans who care about Tibet, but there are very few non-Taiwanese who care about Taiwan. We haven't been reaching the audiences we need to reach to bring the case for Taiwan to the international community.

Then, I asked about immigration (the question he answered first), noting that one of the key drivers of Taiwan's soft power are the foreigners who have made Taiwan their home, and most of them are not the "special professionals" who now qualify for dual nationality. They're the ones like me, who come as nobodies, maybe teach English for awhile, but the best of whom eventually find their groove and find ways to contribute to Taiwan as well as discuss Taiwan (and its message - that it is a vibrant democracy on the front line of the fight between freedom and authoritarianism) with loved ones in our places of origin. Yet we don't qualify to be dual nationals - we aren't special enough. That there are people who worked on Metal Politics Taiwan who are some of the key drivers of Taiwan's soft power abroad, who want to be Taiwanese citizens, who don't qualify. It's not the foreign engineers and the missionaries who are spreading Taiwan's message, it's the people like us, yet we're just...not special enough. So...what's up with that?

What I really wanted to add (in italics because I didn't say it) was that only supporting people who come to Taiwan fully formed in their careers and life paths to become dual nationals is not a good economic or soft power strategy for Taiwan. Salaries, opportunities and working conditions/culture in Taiwan are not appealing enough to attract enough of such people to have an impact on the country.

What's more, when they do come, they're more likely to have been sent here by employers (rather than actively choosing Taiwan). This means they're both more likely to leave within a few years, and live in an expat bubble rather than seek to get to know and contribute to Taiwan. They probably aren't going to spend their time spreading Taiwan's soft power message. We are - the real drivers here are those who may be searching for what they ultimately want to do, and choose to spend part of that search in Taiwan. The best among us come to love Taiwan, we learn about it, we seek to understand and contribute - and we do. We decide to go to back to school, to enter a profession, to open a business, to be activists. We grow and mature. Often, we stay - some permanently.

When we visit our countries of origin, we tell our stories. We're the ones who convince friends and family abroad that Taiwan matters. We became who we are in Taiwan, and we remember that and pay it back.

We - moreso than the "special professionals" - are the real soft power. So when the government supports them, but not us, they are ignoring the true contributors to Taiwan. The government seems to have identified which kinds of immigrants it wants - I say the government is wrong.

Freddy started out by answering my second question, saying that he was aware that there are a lot of foreigners in Taiwan who want more rights, but he had to be honest that this had been discussed in the Legislative Yuan, yet the debate had been quite conservative - that it's not that people hate the foreigners who are here, or hate Southeast Asians but think white people are OK - but that it's really hard to push Taiwan to change into this sort of society (where we might assimilate more) due to continued government conservatism. The government might still think some of us are drug traffickers, liars, criminals - whether we're white or Southeast Asian. He admitted that was a strange way of thinking, but that's what a lot of people still think. Yet, there's a chance things could change quickly. Five years ago, nobody expected LGBTQ rights would be the major social issue in Taiwan that it is now, and he has great hope for the young generation who don't think as conservatively as those in power now.

I had a little more trouble understanding his answer to the first query, and I'm not sure he fully remembered what I'd asked - he answered it as though I had talked about how other democratic countries would care about Taiwan because they support us as a fellow democracy, and that things didn't quite work that way. I didn't reference international students, doing business etc., so the answer also felt a bit canned. As I don't feel he really addressed the question about soft power that I did ask, I may try to parse his answer in a subsequent post, but I'll leave this here for now.

This ties into something I've been thinking for awhile - that while it is important to raise salaries and improve job opportunities for both locals and foreigners in Taiwan (though I'd say the local situation is quite a bit more severe and needs far more immediate action), that most of us foreigners who do stick around and try to contribute - those who come here young and dumb and perhaps study Mandarin or teach English in some third-rate buxiban for a time before finding our way to something better - aren't just here for money. If that's all we cared about, we'd be in some other country (more or less any other developed country).

But that's for the next post...

Friday, August 10, 2018

It is really hard to support Taiwan (Part 3): being pro-Taiwan doesn't mean being pro-US!

Westerners pushing into Asia is not always a great idea - just ask this guy.
(But when it comes to East Asia, I'd rather have the US around than China.)

I'm aiming for this to be the final set of ideas that I express in this series of posts (though you never know). In the previous two posts I took aim at Taiwan's domestic issues and the state of Taiwan advocacy - this time, I want to shift my focus to other Westerners.

I've had a few friends and Facebook people say things which have caused me to worry about the relationship between Western liberals: that no matter how bad the threat from China is, Taiwan must find a solution that doesn't involve the United States because we're evil; surprise that China even wants to be the next global superpower; that seeking the best possible realistic solution for Taiwan amounts to being pro-right wing or pro-Trump; that saying continued US influence in Asia is the only realistic way to counter China is "dangerous propaganda"; that Taiwan being annexed by China is actually preferable to its having close ties to the US because "the culture and history is the same".

All of these (wrong-headed) statements carry an implication that advocating for any realistic solution that contains Chinese influence in Asia (especially vis-a-vis Taiwan) amounts to being pro-USA. 

This is one pushback that doesn't seem to have been mentioned in critical essays on China's United Front efforts. Michael Turton wrote an excellent piece on weaponized narratives for American Citizens for Taiwan, of which I have no criticism. In it, he describes the ways in which China supporters tries to twist narratives to make those who criticize the Chinese government's actions seem ignorant, uncivil, hysterical or racist. Some of these notions were echoed more recently in The Monthly:

Relentlessly, and through a thousand different channels, the Party was working to collapse the categories of “Chinese Communist Party”, “China” and “the Chinese people” into a single organic whole – until the point where the Party could be dropped from polite conversation altogether. From there, the Party’s critics could be readily caricatured as “anti-China”, “racist” or even “Sinophobic”.

But, I have to say, I'm not afraid of being seen in these ways. No real person (leaving aside the fifty-cent trolls) would look at what I have to say and declare that I am "ignorant" of China or the region. I'm not an academic in this field, so I'm not worried about incivility. Hysterical - well, yes, okay, my criticisms of Chinese government actions are numerous. However, when I point out that I live in a sovereign democracy that China has openly said they intend to annex by force, most reasonable people do understand that the threat to my home is very real, and it is not hysterical to point this out. I've had "racist!" leveled at me a few times - but any reasonable person will note that I live in and advocate for an Asian nation, not a majority-white one.

No - what I'm afraid of instead is being labeled "pro-America" or "pro-Western imperialist".

That is a difficult one to fight, because a strong case for Taiwan does tend to include a case for liberal values, and an argument against attempts to eradicate and replace them with what China might call "Asian values" but I call "authoritarian, pro-oppression, anti-human rights" fascism. However, it's hard to make that case without sounding too much like a booster for the West as a whole and the US in particular.

Liberal values are universal, not Western

I consider "liberal values" to be universal - freedom, human rights, equality. Democracy too, though there are a variety of ways to structure it (some being more democratic than others), but a lot of people have been convinced to see them as distinctly "Western". This is misguided: it assumes there is no bedrock of historical fact and a philosophical history (in many cultures, not just Western ones) of ethics that have brought about the idea that human rights are for all, not just some.

But, if you see my stance as fundamentally "Western" (which, again, it isn't) that makes it sound like one is totally fine with a continuation of a system in which white folks continue to be on top - it can be twisted around and interpreted to mean that one doesn't want to give up a position of power and privilege to Asia because you as a Westerner may stand to lose from that. 

We're not unaware

It also sounds as though one is unaware of how systemic exploitation is either accepted or encouraged with those at the top (that is, white people) allowing the rest of the world to continue to toil for their benefit by, say, making clothes in Bangladesh or iPhones in China in dangerous, slave-like working conditions. It sounds like one is in favor of the continued supremacy of a country whose foreign policy has completely screwed a large chunk (though not all) of Asia. 

Of course, I'm not in favor of a system in which the West is on top forever and necessarily keeps the rest of the world down to maintain its primacy. I'm not particularly pro-US - if anything, my views veer in the opposite direction.

What China wants vs. what's best for Asia

It's difficult to argue that, however, when it sounds so close to advocating for the status quo, especially when one then directs criticism at China's goal of global hegemony.

A lot of people don't believe this is the case: I've met many who believe that China has no desire to take America's place as the global hegemon. This is clearly untrue: China barely tries to conceal what it wants - total global supremacy - but people believe it nonetheless.

It wants a world in which other states are economically dependent on it. It wants to control the world's main transport networks. It wants to impose at least a tributary acceptance of Chinese censorship on the world. It wants, if not wholesale adoption, then at least acceptance of authoritarianism as a viable and "right" system of government and that human rights are not universal.

It wants to start by replacing the US as the biggest influencer in Asia. This sounds great on its face - Asia for Asians, yeah? - but remember that China is a dictatorship that wishes to impose its own will on the nations that surround it, including many successful, developed democracies (like Taiwan!) whose political values are actually closer to those of the West. An authoritarian system such as China's - and being subordinate to it - is actually a massive problem for successful Asian democracies. 

The US may not be an Asian nation, but working with them rather than China is actually in the interest of countries like Taiwan (and Korea, and Japan...) if they want to maintain their current level of freedom and democracy. Try saying that, though, and not sounding like an Evil Imperialist Capitalist Exploiter to a certain kind of liberal. 

It also requires that one ignore that so much of Asia is now at the top of the economic food chain: the only way the "you're an American imperialist!" narrative works is in a paradigm where there is only oppressor and oppressed, rather than an entire set of successful developed economies that counter this notion. I wonder what Koreans, Japanese, Singaporeans, Hong Kong residents, Taiwanese and residents of some Chinese cities would say to being told that they are victims because the West is their oppressor.

It smells like a right-wing narrative, but it's not

Two more issues compound this problem: the first is that this whole "freedom and democracy!" bass drum has been banged so much by the American right (well, until recently anyway), alongside the "anti-China" snare drum and "capitalism!" cymbals. Trying to separate all of that out and advocate for Taiwan (which involves being anti-CCP, but not anti-China) and for the spread of democracy and human rights is difficult: people expect to hear the rest of that conservative rhetoric along with it, and it seems more difficult to process when it's not there. 

They expect you to be a right-winger, because you sound a little bit like one. And they expect the same level of insincerity about "freedom of democracy" that the American (and increasingly European) right shows. Because of course, they are totally insincere. You can't be a strong ally of Saudi Arabia, or decline to comment on how your nation does not share so-called "Chinese values", and still call yourself the leaders of the free world. 

Anti-democracy liberals

The second is that believing that the US is evil and anyone who advocates for continued US dominance in Asia (regardless of the subtlety of their actual argument) is advocating for Western imperialism, and that China is the victim in this story, is a terribly anti-democratic view to take.

It is essentially using liberal precepts and twisting them around to support fascism. It is taking the idea of "equality" (which really means equality of people under the law) and turning it over to say that some people can live under dictatorship because all narratives - including CCP propaganda - are equally valid (which they are not), and disagreements can be brushed away with "eh, different cultures".

It totally ignores how many Asian cultures are in fact already democratic, and successfully so. That complicates things too much apparently. 

I got nothin' ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 
I don't know how to solve this - I'm not pro-US. I'm not pro-status quo. I want to live in a world where nobody is the superpower, where there is no hegemon. Nobody to act like the 'world police', because the world police never actually act for the benefit of all. They always prioritize themselves. This means a world in which the US plays a more egalitarian role, and also one in which China either cannot or does not take the US's place.

That sounds like fairy dreams, but it is my ideal. It may not be possible, but I'd love for other Westerners to at least understand the real case Taiwan advocates like myself are making, rather than knee-jerk assume that because we are pro-Taiwan and anti-CCP, and that happens to hew closely to a strong Taiwan-US relationship, that we are pro-Western imperialist or pro-US.

Because that is simply not the case. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Paint the town red!

I don't have access to the actual photo so I made my own with this Wikimedia Commons photo.
Feels nice, let me tell you. You should make one too! 

Another day, another lob of red paint thrown at a Chiang Kai-shek statue - this time the Big Kahuna, the huge bronze atrocity that graces Dead Dictator Memorial Hall in downtown Taipei (link in Chinese).

A bunch of people are going to post this with some (maybe self-righteous - it's hard to avoid sounding that way) screed about how they "support the goals" of the people who did this "but not the actions" because they "turn off" the other side, are "uncivilized", or make it "impossible to engage in dialogue" with those who disagree, or who might think such actions inappropriate.

And yeah, that's not entirely wrong, but you know what? I don't care. So let me pre-emptively say:

If you are "turned off" from dialogue with those who have a political belief you are not naturally inclined to follow because of some red paint, but not put off by actual blood Chiang Kai-shek spilled, I just don't think you can be reasoned with, nor should people waste their time trying. If his being a brutal, murderous dictator doesn't bother you more than an act of civil protest pointing out that history - civil protest in which no one was injured - I don't see how dialogue is possible.

Let alone "respectful" dialogue, as though one should feel the need to be "respectful" when talking about support for a mass-murdering dictator. 

This is in stark contrast to a woman in China who disappeared after throwing ink on an image of dictator Xi Jin-ping. These paint-throwers will probably face charges, but they won't disappear. They won't be executed. They won't be tortured. And other acts of civil disobedience might well go unpunished, as it is now something of a core tenet of Taiwanese democracy. The reason why Taiwan is more tolerant of this sort of protest? Well, because of the past pro-democracy protest actions of the sort of people who would throw red paint at a statue of a dictator to begin with. You have their ideological predecessors to thank for the fact that you have the right to speak out at all in Taiwan. Remember that next time someone is afraid a little red paint will "offend" people.

There are those who will also say "if we can act like this, the other side can deface statues too" - sure, they can. They did, to Yoichi Hatta's statue in southern Taiwan. But honestly, these actions don't happen in a vacuum: they are justified (or not) by historical facts. Those who would deface Chiang have recorded history on their side. Those who would deface Hatta do not, and their actions make them look like idiots. There is no moral equivalency between the two actions.

In fact, this isn't a matter of "opinion" - we have the facts. We know what he did. It's been public for some time, and new facts come to light all the time. There's no shading this - it's not "you see a 6 and I see a 9" - the records are there and there's no glossing over what he did. Those people are still dead, or their livelihoods (or mental health, in some cases) destroyed. We know he was a dictator because that word has a meaning, and he embodied it through actions that provably happened. That money is still in KMT coffers, we already know how most of it got there, and we can now finally count it.

This is all true whether or not you like, or would engage in, or "approve" of, this kind of civil disobedience. It's true whether or not you think civil disobedience is an important component of healthy democracy (it is, and if you don't think so, I think you're wrong, but at least one can have an opinion on that. It's an idea, not a fact.) Your "feelings" about some red paint don't really matter.

That's not an "opinion". That's not a "side". That's not "well we just see this issue differently". That's not "let's have a dialogue". It happened, we know it happened, and if you still think "dialogue" is necessary because you don't want to face facts, and you might be too "offended" by some paint (again - but not murder?) to engage in that "dialogue", or you want "respect" for the "perspective" that maybe Chiang was not a dictator or mass murderer because you don't think words mean things or past actions can be proven, then all I have for you is a big fat


...and a big ol' ball of red paint.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Like a Zen koan: a review of The Stolen Bicycle

Qing-era map of Taiwan, coastal view. From Jerome Keating's The Mapping of Taiwan
(I literally just took a photo of the page)

I'm not sure what to make of The Stolen Bicycle, and I suspect that's exactly how Wu Ming-yi intended it.

I mean, I'm not even sure if the story follows linear time or not. The basic plot - the unnamed youngest son of a family whose father disappeared thinks he might be able to find his father if he can find the bicycle that went missing with him - does have something of a timeline. Nothing else does, nor is it meant to: because memories both individual and collective simply don't do that. That's what they are - scattered memories of scattered people, sometimes sharing with each other. To call them flashbacks would be reductive.

The thing is, not only does he find the bicycle fairly early on in the narrative - meaning that the story put forward in the synopsis is not the story at all, but the bicycle hadn't been stolen. His father had taken it when he left. And he had known that when he set out. Of course, that's the point. There are other stories: break-ups that lovers never quite get over, the story of elephants at the old Japanese zoo near Yuanshan and their march from Burma, a war photographer's ride down the Malayan peninsula on an old Japanese military bike. Past stories of stolen bicycles, at least one of which returned. Some stories conclude, some don't. People die or are damaged, some beyond repair. Others can be refurbished. The characters trudge on.

So what is the point? I don't think Wu intends to tell us: we are meant to meditate on this almost scrap-book like collection of memories, like journal entries, interspersed with notes on the history of bicycling and zoo animals and World War II in Taiwan, along with the occasional diagram. Like Shizuko's three-dimensional side-perspective map of the Taipei Zoo, you're not meant to see it as a treasure map to X or as a plot from a bird's eye view, but as though you are flying past it on a helicopter (or maybe approaching it from the Maokong gondola, which is explicitly referenced as not having been built yet when the map in question was drawn).

Or like those old maps of the Taiwan coast, that show the shore from the perspective they'd have approached it, from the beach back to the mountains which create the spiky horizon past which nothing can be seen.

I don't mean to imply that the book has no themes - although I've just spent several paragraphs waffling about without saying what they are. There is discussion of how lives, just like bicycles (or elephants) wear out with use: and those bicycles are like our beasts of burden. Some parts get rusty, others jammed, others fall apart, some parts need replacing. Some bicycles - like lives - completely crap out and are scrapped. Others, with tender care, can be refurbished. In Taiwan, the local bicycle industry started out by importing from Japan, then imitating it, then creating its own models.

There are butterflies - a fictionalized memory within a memory - linked to Taiwan's handicraft history (though I have never seen a "butterfly wing collage" myself). The more butterfly lives that are sacrificed, the more beautiful the result.

And there is World War II: a lot of lives were sacrificed in that. Was the result, when it comes to Taiwan, beautiful?


I don't know how else to describe The Stolen Bicycle except in these scraps of thought, and I'm leaving a lot out (I still don't understand the scene that was either in a flooded basement or the bottom of a river, nor the relationship between fine craftsmanship and wild jungle animals - though I am sure there is one). I can't imagine it was meant to be any other way.

So if this review is a bit weird, forgive me. The book is a bit weird too.

I liked it, though. It rattles around in your head after reading, like a very long Zen koan. It's not meant to make perfect logical sense, I guess. It's Taiwan from a littoral view. It seems intent on pushing you to think in paradoxes, to reach a point where you can intuitively grasp an answer that is logically impossible.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Improve English education in Taiwan with this ONE WEIRD TRICK!

My work in Taiwan is dominated by adult students who ask for help with accent training. They need to do business with Koreans, Japanese, various speakers of Southeast Asian languages, Australians, Latinx people, Indians or various Europeans.

You see, all their teachers have been from an "Inner Circle" country (UK, Ireland, US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand). They are therefore most used to those accents, North American ones in particular. They might meet people with those accents, but for business, there is a real need to better understand other Englishes.

My life in Taiwan is unfortunately punctuated by people bloviating about how racism in the English learning industry is somehow acceptable because of "choice" or "the market" or something (their arguments don't make much sense, because they are constructed mostly to avoid confronting uncomfortable issues rather than as stand-alone opinions).

They might try to say that this is acceptable because of some sort of subjective "clarity" of certain accents, although of course how clear an accent is depends in great part on how exposed you are to it compared to other accents (these people are not exactly experts in second language acquisition).

Some pontificate on how it is preferable to be taught by a "native speaker", usually with a very poor understanding of second language acquisition or what being a "native" or "non-native" speaker might actually mean. There is even less recognition that many people in India, Singapore, Nigeria, the Philippines (and more) are, in fact, native speakers, let alone questioning why they aren't recognized as such.

(The answer is racism, by the way. But that's hard for Johnny McBackpacker to admit when it casts doubt on his strongly-held opinion that "the market" is the Fairest Arbiter Of Them All.)

My life in England is characterized by mostly non-native speaking classmates, all of whom are fluent in English, and all of whom know more about the pedagogy of how to teach English than the average Johnny McBackpacker.

Sure, they have accents. But many of them have the accents that my adult students say they need to better understand for their work. Every last one of them is qualified to teach in Taiwan, but many if not most would struggle to get hired here.

We talk about all sorts of things, not least of which is the idea of English as a lingua franca (ELF) or English as an international language (EIL). Most English learners speak regularly with other non-native speakers, some perhaps almost entirely so, especially if they are using English in business or academia.

Back in Taiwan, the consequences are not surprising - all that learning of English from Canadians, Brits and Americans (the so-called 'preferable' native speakers) has actually put those students who tell me they need help with accents at a disadvantage. They get to work and realize, oh, all that time I spent with Teacher Becky listening to dialogues between Tim and Karen, but I actually have to communicate with people who don't speak like Becky, Tim or Karen. I have to do business with Sandeep and Cheng and Fumiko and Nnedi and Abdurrahman and Lupa. 

Of course, most people making hiring decisions are not educators. Even if they realize that they are actually disadvantaging their learners by not providing the English education many instrumentally-motivated Taiwanese learners are likely to need, they don't care. "It's the market." And the market wants white - even Inner Circle "native speaker" teachers who aren't white struggle to get hired.

And I just can't help but think, if y'all hired fluent English-speaking teachers from around the world, ensuring that most learners through their time studying English were exposed to a variety of Englishes, maybe not so many adult learners would come to me asking for help, which I have trouble giving with my Standard American accent. Maybe if we hired more English teachers whose usage represented the speakers and Englishes our learners would actually be communicating with, we wouldn't have this problem.

I mean, I don't want to say "duh", but...duh?

Saturday, July 14, 2018

My latest for Ketagalan Media: an interview with Lord of Formosa author Joyce Bergvelt

When I do interviews, I don't just decide which items to include and edit responses for length. I don't even just shift topics around, although doing so is important to bring out something 'more' than just questions and answers. I also sit back and think about the responses and, in whole or at least in great part, what story they come together to tell.

This was relatively easy to do in my recent interview with Lord of Formosa author Joyce Bergvelt for Ketagalan Media.

In this case, they tell an entwined tale of the dangers of not knowing the history of one's own country and those who would seek to use that history to further their own political ends: in the case of the Dutch, a history of colonization (important now more than ever as right-wing nationalism creeps further into European politics, if it ever really left). In Taiwan, a history that includes invading forces from China.

So, while it might seem out-of-place to start with a narrative about the KMT's 12-point sun at the gate of Tainan's Koxinga shrine in an interview that has nothing to do with the KMT, if you read to the end, you'll see why it makes sense.

Friday, July 6, 2018

It is really hard to support Taiwan (Part 2)

So, I've tried to write before about certain issues I see in who Taiwan's 'friends' are in the US government, and why that's a problem. I didn't do a very good job, and I won't bother to link it. I do still think it's an issue though, so consider this my attempt at refining and re-articulating what I want to express.

Overall, it does seem clear that Taiwan has more bipartisan support in the US than you'd think at first glance. I've written about this before; more recently, you can see evidence of this in the fact that the Taiwan Travel Act was passed unanimously by the Foreign Affairs Committee and both houses. The situation is not as dire as it seems.

But, despite this, we do still seem to get the most vocal support predominantly (though not entirely) from conservatives, some of whom are otherwise just...dire people. The Taiwan Travel Act was Marco Rubio's bill. Ted Cruz likes, uh, okay. Dana Rohrabacher has submitted a resolution for formal US-Taiwan ties, which of course I heartily support.

Note above that I said "conservatives", not "Republicans" (though they are that too) - that's intentional. I'm sure what I'll say below will be dismissed as "tribalist" or "partisan", so I want to make it very clear that this isn't about parties or tribes: it's about values. If a dodgy Democrat (and they do exist - I'm not a huge fan of Andrew Cuomo for example) or an upstanding Republican (I don't have many problems with, say, Susan Collins although we don't agree on everything) were to show support for Taiwan, I'd judge them on their values and history of elected service, not their party.

I also understand the importance of taking help where we can get it: I may not like it, but in Taiwan's position I can't get behind abandoning the few people who have actually spoken up for us, while those I'd like to see in our court have, frankly, failed to live up to the universal values they claim to support.

With that in mind, I don't think I have to list the many ways in which people like Rubio, Cruz and Rohrabacher are, in almost every other respect, horrible. (I say "almost" very intentionally. Cruz occasionally stands up for what he thinks is right, Rubio is a big supporter of Hong Kong's political freedom, and Rohrabacher is pro-weed, which has all sorts of race implications that people don't always think about: people of color are far more likely to be incarcerated over a marijuana-related drug violation than white people, with the discrepancy not explained by rates of use).

From being anti-choice (and comfortable, therefore, with condemning more women to death as anti-choice policies only lead to fewer safe abortions) to climate change skeptics, to not supporting marriage equality, our allies on Taiwan are not good people. Period. The sort of world they want to build is one in which a huge swath of Taiwan ends up underwater, and on other issues such as marriage equality, a woman's right to bodily autonomy and health care access (and more - this is just a shortlist), I worry that the sort of Taiwan they would like to see would not be the one that other independence advocates like myself (and many others, including most young Taiwanese) hope to build.

That shouldn't matter - after all, they don't have any say over Taiwan's internal governance, but it still makes it difficult to support Taiwan for a few reasons. I find it unfair, then, to dismiss these concerns as mere partisanism or tribalism.

The biggest one is that liberal pro-Taiwan American citizens don't have many choices in terms of voting for pro-Taiwan candidates (this is why I haven't mentioned people like John Bolton, and am sticking to people one might actually see on a ballot). It's not a huge problem for me as a New Yorker (Chuck Schumer signed the letter summarized in the first link in this post; Kirsten Gillibrand studied in China and Taiwan so while I worry that she might be too forgiving of China, at least she doesn't lack basic knowledge of the issue, and nobody who runs for Congress in my district seems to have anything to do with Taiwan regardless of party), but it is a problem for many others. What do you do if you're a pro-Taiwan liberal, for example, and your choices are pro-Taiwan Ted Cruz or a not-so-pro-Taiwan challenger who is better than Cruz in every other way? Or your choice is between pro-Taiwan Dana Rohrabacher and his not-as-pro-Taiwan challenger, who again is better than Rohrabacher on every other platform?

Another problem is that it is starting to feel as though any critique of this issue among pro-Taiwan advocates initiates an immediate, reflexive and frankly unfair pushback of "that's PARTISAN!", which - while I know this isn't the case for many (most!) people on our side, kind of lends the whole endeavor of fighting for Taiwan a veneer of being far too closely tied with the conservative agenda in the US.

I know, for example, that FAPA is not "overly" focused on Republican lawmakers; they'll talk to whoever is in power. I have no issue with them. However, they are widely seen* as being in bed with the American Right, and have done little to dispel that notion. I would imagine that Taiwan independence advocates do - and are willing, even happy - to talk to the left, but the public perception seems to be that they don't make an effort (rather than that the left has failed Taiwan), and that is a problem. Of optics, but a problem nonetheless. That concerns me.

And, of course, the issue I so inarticulately brought up in the past: that it's easier to compartmentalize when talking to odious people in government as a man. The people you are discussing Taiwan with aren't trying to take away your ability to access important health care (forget even the abortion issue: they want to shut down Planned Parenthood which does a lot more than perform abortions. For some women it's the only way they have access to regular pap smears, STD tests and birth control.) They aren't trying to oppress you. You have the privilege of compartmentalization. I don't. I can't talk to them, and therefore I cannot be more deeply involved in the Taiwan independence movement in that way.

In fact, it is a privilege to be able to do so. It is a privilege to have the ability to treat every cog in the American power machine as a neutral actor who might help your cause, because your bodily autonomy is not on the line. For me, it's like knowing there are some men in power who would very much like to be Commanders and turn women like me into Handmaids, and being told to be nice to them, to approach them (or their office - same difference), to engage with them, maybe to even hope they are re-elected, because they might help you on another issue. To be told that if you support Taiwan, you can vote for people like them who will fight for recognition of Taiwan in the US government (something I have been told) - oh, but they want to turn you into a Handmaid.

And the answer there is a strong non-negotiable no to all of that. In fact, it is a privilege to be able to say yes, or even maybe.

This worries me, because it is not a great leap from "but that's PARTISAN!" to "if you can't be involved, that's your fault", when, frankly, it isn't. There is not a moral equivalency between their wish to oppress me and my insistence that I will not hold my tongue against people who both wield power and wish to oppress women. It's the fault of the men who hold these views.

Nobody has said this as of yet, and I know most wouldn't, but to be honest, some days I feel like it's inevitable that someone will. I suspect that if it comes down to just a few votes between turning American women into Handmaids (or not), and the deciding votes are held by conservative pro-Taiwan candidates, that some (many?) who lobby for Taiwan will stay silent for the sake of Taiwan, because Taiwan allies winning seats is more important to them than women's rights.

And as a woman, I just can't support that. I love Taiwan, but I also have a vagina, and I cannot work with the same people who want to oppress me. I can't stay silent, and I do hope many friends of Taiwan lose their seats.

In other words, it's not "tribalist" or "partisan" when my actual bodily autonomy is at stake. It's about my bodily fucking autonomy, not a tribe or party.

This leads me to a final issue: with this tug-of-war between liberal values (which often leave women in the cold regardless) and fighting for Taiwan, and calls of "partisan!" and "tribal!" on one side and calls of "you're all sellout imperialists!" (or whatever) on the other, it is very hard to support Taiwan when everybody else who supports Taiwan seems to hate each other, the whole thing is a fishbowl, and when you bring up concerns about our 'friends' who are manifestly anti-woman as a woman, it's your turn to be the center of that fishbowl and everyone hating each other and whatever.

(For the record, I don't hate anybody, and those in Taiwan whom I dislike are not Taiwan advocates although some are pro-independence.)

I'm not suggesting we change anything per se - I don't see how we could reasonably and realistically keep up this fight if we ditch our allies, odious as they are (I've heard a few proposals and am sympathetic to some, but none that are actually workable). But, I am concerned that the privilege of treating everyone as a neutral potential ally is not fully understood, and that attempts to point this out are met with reflexive and unfair critiques of "partisanship" rather than a true attempt to understand that one only has the privilege of advocating in this way if one does not stand to lose as much from some of these people staying in power (and if you are a woman who stands to lose, that it can be extremely stressful to join the fight anyway, or to decide not to do so because you simply can't abide your would-be oppressors.)

That Taiwan advocates don't seem to make much of an attempt to reach out to the general electorate at all is another problem - publishing only in outlets that people who are already knowledgeable about Taiwan read (like the Taipei Times), or niche publications that the average Western liberal wouldn't read regularly. I know it's difficult to get published more widely - I'll admit that I've tried and failed - but we have to. We're not reaching the voters. One can find non-Palestinians who care about Palestine, and non-Tibetans who care about Tibet among the electorate of any Western democracy, but it is rare indeed to meet a pro-Taiwan person who has no personal connection to Taiwan.

We need to change that, and we aren't trying.

Finally, I worry. What happens if a "friend of Taiwan" then slips into his speeches some sort of appeal to ensure marriage equality never becomes a reality, or supports people like Katy Faust returning and meddling in our business? What happens if links between some pro-Taiwan conservatives and the  American Christian right groups that are trying to influence the future of marriage equality in Taiwan are found to exist? (Sounds crazy, but they are on the same side in the anti-equality fight.)

This whole constellation of issues which are interrelated (although their relationships might not seem initially clear) are why, yet again, it is really, really, very hard to support Taiwan.

*I'm using past tense here because it's important to me to protect the identities of the people I know who have said exactly this. I won't name them and as this is a blog, not a journalistic endeavor, I don't have to.