Wednesday, July 4, 2018
It is really hard to support Taiwan (Part 1)
Greetings from England!
You probably won't be hearing as much from me as I start the 2nd semester of my Master's program, but I'll pop in from time to time. Don't expect me to be on top of the news cycle - but then, I had always intended for Lao Ren Cha to be about commentary, not original reporting, so I'm not sure it matters.
Anyway, despite having a few postcard reminders of Taiwan on the bulletin board in my less-than-stellar dorm room, I have to say, domestic news over the past few months has not been making it easy to love the country.
I could cite many stories to make my case, but I'll stick with two. The first is reminder we seem to periodically need that the Taiwanese fishing industry goes beyond deeply unethical and straight into 'human rights abuses' and 'slavery'. Yes, slavery. To the point that I don't each much seafood in Taiwan anymore. I am sure there are other ways I consume that uphold exploitative systems which I'd be horrified to know more about, but I am now so hyper-aware of how fishing companies operate in Taiwan that I've lost my taste for seafood in particular.
The other one is the more recent news that Taiwan is essentially complicit in Australian human rights abuses, by agreeing to give medical care to refugees in detention on Nauru so as to ensure they never set foot on the Australian mainland. Of course those refugees need care, and they will be well cared-for in Taiwan, but the purpose is to make it impossible for them to access the Australian court system as refugees who do have the right to apply for asylum. This is unacceptable on the part of Australia, and Taiwan is facilitating this flagrant flouting of human rights.
And, of course, Taiwan itself talks big about caring about refugees, but in fact doesn't really accept them (there is no provision for the granting of asylum or refugee status according to that Taiwan Sentinel link, corroborated here). There are people who have refugee-like status in Taiwan, but...well, it's complicated. Although Taiwan provides some assistance to refugees abroad, this still means that President Tsai's claim that Taiwanese are 'empathetic to refugees' reads like an Asian version of "thoughts and prayers".
So not only are we not taking in refugees ourselves, we're also helping other countries avoid their obligations to consider applications for asylum by ensuring those refugees never have a chance to apply. Taiwan's actual treatment of refugees is like turd sauce on a turd burger, with the aid we do offer being a pretty okay pickle that nevertheless does not improve the giant turd entree we plop down at the international table.
The thing about advocating for Taiwanese de jure, recognized independence as Taiwan (not the Republic of China) is that a huge part of my most convincing arguments rest on what an exemplary country Taiwan is. I talk of people I know who were sent to Taiwan for work, and later found the country so much to their liking that they chose to return as retirees. I speak of a vibrant history of social movements. I speak of how Taiwan insisted on democracy for itself, and won. I speak of friendly - no, not just friendly, but kind - people I know who have become local friends, in a world where many foreign residents struggle to forge truly local connections. I speak of how, although there is room to improve, Taiwan has had, and continues to have, some of the most robust LGBT and women's rights movements in Asia. How in many ways, in the way its government is modeled, it looks to the liberal democratic West and is on the forefront of the fight against totalitarianism. I speak of how, in contrast to China, Taiwan does recognize human rights and there are mechanisms in place to ensure people can access them.
All of that is true, but I have trouble maintaining with a straight face that Taiwan is such an exemplary place, a society of kind people with profound respect for human rights within the framework of a successful democracy when, to be frank, they pull shit like this.
It is really, really, really hard to fight for Taiwan when I know what the seedy underbelly of Taiwan looks like, and when it comes to fishing boat slaves and human rights abuses (and let's not forget abuse of domestic workers, sexual and otherwise).
Fighting for Taiwan isn't just about fighting for independence. What does independence even mean if the country we are trying to build is so deeply troubled? It starts to feel like empty, jingoistic nationalism. Taiwan for what exactly? Taiwan for slavers and rapists? Independence for the sake of independence, nevermind anything else? I can't accept that. We must discuss as well how to create a better Taiwan, so that an independent Taiwan will be one to continue to support.
And yet, here I am, still advocating for Taiwan in whatever way I can. I still talk to my classmates, who have no reason to care, about why Taiwan matters. And it does matter, although it can be hard to see that sometimes.
While we have to talk about building a better country at home, I am reminded that every country has flaws. I do what I can to fight for American democracy in the face of powers that would like to see it disappear (including China), despite knowing full well that the US is a deeply problematic place - from the streets not being safe for women and people of color all the way to the selfishness of our foreign policy and all the nutters and religious freaks and sexists and racists and exploitative rich business jerks in between. I'll still stand up for making the US a better place, and I won't say it's not worthwhile. I'll help friends in trouble and refrain from judgement, even if I know their own flaws helped create the situation in which they needed a hand, because we're all imperfect.
I suppose I hope they judge Taiwan fairly, as they would their own country. Americans don't generally read about, say, how communities of color are afraid of the police because their men and women are disproportionately killed and then say "oh well we should just let China and Russia turn us into a dictatorship captained by a stupid orange puppet because nothing is worth anything", so I would ask them to apply the same level of complexity to thoughts on Taiwan, because it's easy to make sweeping generalizations and form poor judgments from them when you don't really know a place.
Taiwan is imperfect too - that doesn't mean it's not worth fighting for. But we might sometimes have to incorporate this plea for complex judgments into the arguments we put forward.
But, damn, it's sure hard to make the case sometimes, when you're discussing the country you call home with people, and not knowing if you should be frank that it is indeed rife with problems just like everywhere else, or hope they never come across the relevant reading material and in light of that information, dismiss everything you've said (I've seen it happen). Or, if they do, that they weigh it against the case you made and understand that every country is flawed.