Tuesday, March 7, 2017

We need more detailed and timely Taiwan news in English

I just have a few thoughts to share about some news from Taiwan this week that I wanted to share, despite my generally avoiding link lists or news summaries. Let's start with the key point - there are a few other unrelated links below because I don't know where else to shoehorn them in.

A quick note before we begin: on Wednesday March 8th (International Women's Day), Indivisible Taiwan will hold a march from Freedom Square (CKS Memorial Hall) to Da'an Park Station at 4:30pm. I have to work, but I wanted to spread the word.

Anyway. Let's start with this essay by Sunflower leader Lin Fei-fan on the reasons for his support of the indigenous Taiwanese who are fighting for full land rights (an explanation of the issue can be found in the essay). I can't make the argument any better - I recommend you all go read his essay instead. In fact I wouldn't even try to make it, when I have said in the past that we need to open up the international narrative and discussion on Taiwan to more strong Taiwanese voices, he is exactly one of the voices I mean. So listen to his words, not mine.

There has been discussion on my public Facebook page about how, as a non-indigenous person, Lin is not the best voice to speak for them, and we ought to be elevating indigenous voices specifically (and that this has been a discussion in those communities for some time). In fact, I agree completely. However, I do feel that while we absolutely ought to seek out these voices, there is room for well-written and thoughtful pieces such as Lin's, which exhort fellow Taiwanese to care about these causes. Both can be true, just as there is room in international discourse for non-Taiwanese scholars and academics to weigh in (or even bloggers like me), even as Taiwanese voices are sought out and included.

What I want to say, however, is that those of us who can read Chinese have known about this issue for well over a week. I don't mean to show off (okay, I kind of do a little, but please forgive me). My point is, plenty of strong supporters of both Taiwan and indigenous rights globally simply don't read Chinese, or not at the level they would need to to keep up in this way. Even I read sections I can't follow via Google Translate or just go very slowly, but I'm at the point now where that's only for sections - I don't have to put an entire essay like this into Translate.

I don't even mean that I want more original reporting on Taiwan in English, although that would be nice, and useful (original reporting in Chinese and Hoklo-language media is not always up to snuff). There is quite a lot of interesting discourse out there in Chinese that it would be beneficial in terms of engaging the international community in Taiwan affairs and promoting a greater understanding of Taiwan.

Discussions of English language imperialism aside, I just want to point something out. Lin makes an excellent case for Taiwan understanding itself before it can ever hope to be understood by the international community:

What kind of county will Taiwan become? This is a question every person who hopes Taiwan will become a country worthy of respect, where Taiwanese can hold their heads high among the community of nations, should always consider.
 
But if we are unable to understand the situation and oppression each group has experienced, then how can we expect the international community to understand Taiwan?

I want to make a corollary case: if Taiwan wants the international community to understand it as a country, public discourse on issues affecting it, even domestic issues, needs to be more available in other languages. Yes, English: like it or not, it's the international language we currently use and the current language of international-level public discourse. We currently have several great sources: Ketagalan Media, New Bloom, Taiwan Sentinel, Taipei Times (not perfect but let me put it this way: they get a mention whereas China Post doesn't), several blogs, The News Lens International and Focus Taiwan.

It's not enough, however. There is no good reason why I should have been aware of the issues behind, or very existence of, the indigenous people's protest on Ketagalan Boulevard, a full week before that information became available in English, and in less detail at that. Otherwise, it is very difficult indeed for those who care about Taiwan to follow discussions on Taiwanese issues, or join them, if the information is only available in Mandarin. Certainly one might expect any specialist to be fully fluent, but plenty of supporters and other interested people are not specialists. I am not a specialist but I don't think anyone would say I'm not a supporter or friend to Taiwan, and I only know Mandarin because I decided I was going to learn it and did, because I happen to be particularly good at that sort of thing.

If Taiwan wants more attention, support and understanding internationally, we are simply going to have to have more bilingual (or trilingual, or multilingual) sources available for the discussion of contemporary and historical Taiwanese issues.

Of course, that doesn't mean the readers will come. There is not a lot of interest in Taiwan internationally, although I wonder if part of that is because this sort of discourse about it is not available in English, or not in a timely manner. If the information were there, perhaps more people would take an interest? Or perhaps not - but we can't know until we make it a reality. We can't even begin to engage the international community until we take this step.

Along those lines, please check out Queerious, a new site focusing on LGBT+ issues (including marriage equality) with English content. There's not a lot there now, as it is quite new, but it is absolutely worth keeping an eye on. My rant about making discussions and news about Taiwanese issues more available in English isn't just reserved for the current indigenous people's protests and struggle, but for every issue affecting Taiwan.

Finally, just a quick note on this article. I can't say I'm a fan (sorry Taiwan Sentinel). It's okay, but it seems to follow the formula of asking a question in the headline only for the answer in the article to be "no", and I am typically not big on such rhetorical sleight-of-hand. Furthermore, while I appreciate that the article is clear in calling the "1992 Consensus" "so-called" and "highly symbolic", it is not clear enough in calling out the simple truth that the so-called "1992 Consensus" does not exist. 

And why on earth should President Tsai wait at all - for any reason - to acknowledge the truth of something that does not exist?

If you were curious about my reasons for insisting that the whole thing is a laughable fiction, here they are:

1.) Su Chi - a former KMT politician - admits he made up the term...in 2000 (not even 1993 - 2000!)
2.) The two sides don't even agree on what the consensus was (Taiwan says "One China, different interpretations". China has never agreed to that). Words mean things, and a "consensus" means you have, well, a consensus. If you don't agree, you don't have a consensus, therefore there can't have been a consensus because WORDS. MEAN. THINGS.
3.) Even if the two sides agreed to something in 1992 (nobody disputes that meetings did take place), nobody sent by either side to those meetings was a democratically-elected or otherwise publicly-agreed-upon representative of the people of either country. China doesn't care about such things, but Taiwan does. Let's say in 1992 some unelected officials from Taiwan did agree to some sort of "consensus" with their Chinese counterparts. So what? The people of Taiwan never entrusted them with the power to speak for Taiwan - Taiwan's first full elections didn't take place until 1996 (there had been some more local election activity prior to that). Whatever they might have agreed to in that alternate universe is irrelevant to Taiwan as the democracy it is today.

So no, Tsai should not "wait" before changing her stance to be more "flexible" on the 1992 Consensus (or anything else), because it is stupid to acknowledge a fiction as true - a lesson the US is currently learning the hard way.

For the record, here is a list of things that do not exist:

1.) Leprechuans
2.) Fairies
3.) THE 1992 "CONSENSUS"
4.) Unicorns
5.) Any version of "One China" that includes Taiwan
6.) God
7.) Bitter melon that tastes good
8.) Santa Claus
9.) Genies in bottles

I bid you good day!

5 comments:

Fearchar said...

A questionable assertion: bitter melon might taste good in the right combination with other fruit. 😉

Jenna Cody said...

NO. IT IS BAD AND THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS

said...

Not your usual user, just stumble onto this page on web.

Trying to keep short. I traveled a bit around the world and currently settled in London. Met some friend from international relationship background who also works in UN organisation (not at high level though, just in expat social network). But even to them their knowledge about Taiwan comes from either China or Taiwanese with KMT background. I'm guessing same group of people are still dominating major English media and IR circle. I think this is the problem.

You won't find proper Japanese news written in English from Japanese media. Even NHK sucks at reporting Japanese news in English. The real problem is major English media looks at Taiwan issue from wrong perspective.

What really pisses me off though is the English speaking left wing media and lefties in general. They often see Taiwan issue from American conspiracy viewpoint and taking ignorant attitude towards what's really happening to us. "China becoming the next Iraq" seems to concern them more than the well-being of Taiwanese. What can I do about it? Tirelessly educate people?

Jenna Cody said...

I tend to agree and have written myself about the hypocrisy of the American left (and the left in general outside of Taiwan) on Taiwan: claiming to care about freedom, democracy and human rights but then leaving free, democratic Taiwan to its fate.

Keep in mind, though, that rhetoric that paints all liberal values as "ignorant and conspiracy-theorist" is not going to go down well on this site: I'm a liberal (to the left of the Democrats on most issues), the maybe 6 people who read this blog tend liberal, the essay I expound upon in terms of calling for more English-language content like it is, basically, a liberal.

I'm really pissed at international liberals when it comes to Taiwan but I ask you to please not dismiss everything we stand for with such a broad brush.

said...

OK thanks Jenna, I take your advise on not generalising the whole group. But I guess the general public feel Taiwan a place too far to reach.

I find LGBT society and particularly "Irish Irishman" are very supportive when they know my background. I like how they proudly introduce their history on gaining independence from British Empire. Just that it's hard to even talk about it to general audience until DT did it... a bit sad though