Wednesday, November 14, 2018

American voters in Taiwan (or anywhere overseas): be vigilant about your absentee ballots

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How is this undeliverable to the address on the label they themselves provided? 


There are a few good things to being American (y'know...a couple. One or two.) One of them is the ability to vote from overseas, so you don't have to fly back to your designated polling place or skip the election. Although there are good reasons why Taiwan doesn't have absentee voting (mostly that it would be a huge security risk in terms of China tampering with the votes of Taiwanese residing there through any number of means, but it's hard to make an argument to allow absentee voting for everyone but those residing in China), that means voting in Taiwanese elections means flying back. That, or don't vote.

I've realized in this past election, however, that one's absentee ballot is not nearly as guaranteed as it might seem. I had trouble myself, which is how I became aware that this was an issue.

I did an informal poll of American friends here in Taiwan, most of whom had no problems with their ballots in the last election, but those that did all had similar stories to tell. They were also far higher in number than I am comfortable with: about a quarter of the people I asked had trouble. That number should be in the single digits, or approaching zero.

So, what can go wrong with your absentee ballot?

My husband and another friend encountered a suspicious issue: Brendan's ballot mysteriously disappeared (he did something about that and emailed a new ballot, which was accepted, in time for the election). Just today he received his original posted ballot back, marked as "undeliverable", even though - and I cannot stress this enough - he used a label with the address that his own board of elections had provided. It was their envelope - how could it be undeliverable to their address? And the address on it was clear.

My friend also had a ballot returned as "undeliverable" despite, again, using the envelope that was provided by the very organization he was sending it to. There is just no good reason for this to be happening. He had a family member bring it in person to the election office, but that should have never been necessary.

My own ballot took far too long to arrive: I mailed it three weeks before the election, on October 17 (my state allows you to download and print your ballot, but not to email or fax it back) and only realized on election night that I could actually check the status online. I was dismayed to find that there was no record of it having been received. Mail from Taiwan is generally reliable and takes about a week, so I was understandably nervous.

I called the elections board that should have received my email, only to have it confirmed: there was no record of my ballot being received. As another rule my state has is that absentee votes need to be postmarked the day before the election, it was too late by then to send another ballot. I had no idea where it ended up, and no way to track it as it hadn't been sent by registered mail (because I truly didn't think it would get lost). Another Facebook friend had the same thing happen to him - same congressional district, coincidentally. Same Board of Elections.

The bigger issue for me wasn't that my vote in this election might not have counted - my choices for Congress and Senate won - but that I had never before thought to check the status of previous ballots. I had just assumed they'd been counted. I had to wonder: was my entire adult voting life a lie? Have I been a non-voter this whole time when I thought I was casting ballots?

My story has a happy ending too: the day after the election the system finally marked my ballot as received. However, that was not a foregone conclusion.

Even more worrisome? I was able to check the status of my absentee ballot as an overseas voter. Another friend who is absentee but domestic (same state, different district) had no way to check that her vote was received. She'll literally never know.

Of course there are also the issues with absentee votes simply not being counted - as we're seeing with the absolute fuckshittery (Brendan's word, credit where credit is due) going on in a few states, signature matching issues and voter roll purging (at least as an absentee voter you'll find out early if Republicans are trying to suppress your vote because you won't vote for their racist, sexist rich-people bullshit. And yes, I am saying one party is entirely responsible.) These issues are in addition to everything else going on.

It's quite worrisome that it's hard to know if one's vote is going to be counted. It's not something to be dismissed. People died for the right to vote; it's worth taking seriously. Civic engagement matters. A lot of the bullshit that gets passed goes through because otherwise good people don't vote. Because the youth - who frankly, tend to end up being right on classic liberal issues like marriage equality - don't turn out to vote in the same numbers. A lot of things could change if more people voted (including better candidates so we'd feel more empowered to vote for people we actually want in office).

So, what can you do about it?

1. Vote early. That gives you weeks or possibly even months to ensure that your vote is in and counted.

2. Drop off your ballot if possible. That might mean sending it (in a third envelope that holds the two required ones) to friends or family who can take it in personally, or bringing it to your embassy if that's possible (I know that's possible in the UK but don't know if it is in Taiwan. I'll check. Does anyone know?)

3.) Keep tabs on your vote. Don't do what I do and blindly assume it will be received because the mail is reliable. Wait a week then check the status every few days. If the election is getting close and your vote still has not been received, send another through more secure means.

4.) Spend some money. By this I mean, send it registered mail (which I've been told doesn't actually do anything, but so far everything I've ever sent this way has been received) or, if you want to be really sure, send it by Fed Ex or some other guaranteed service where someone must sign for it. I hate this, because it amounts to a poll tax for ensuring that your vote is received, with no other way to be absolutely sure that something you send will get there. But, it is a way to make sure you do vote.

5.) Don't vote for dagweeds! Seriously, don't vote for authoritarian dipclowns who want to do things like cut important government funding ("we want less government" often translates into cutting funding for things like making sure elections run smoothly, updating voting machines/procedures/etc. and hiring enough poll workers.) Don't vote for buttparrots who say we shouldn't count every vote because "they're probably fake anyway". Don't vote for turdburglars who try to close polling locations, purge voter rolls in suspicious ways and don't seem to think it's important that voting machines run out of batteries, aren't set up (as in, they're found locked in a closet later, never having been used) or have confusing user interfaces that cause people to mess up their votes, or which may be insecure. Don't vote for people who try to convince you that voter fraud is a prevalent issue, when it's actually extremely rare. SERIOUSLY STOP VOTING FOR THESE PEOPLE. JESUS H.Q. CHRIST. IF YOU DO THINGS WILL ONLY GET WORSE. And I would say that even if the people doing it were on "my" side - though, to my knowledge, no one on "my" side is engaging in this crap.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The dirty tricks of the anti-marriage equality camp

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Trying to keep this nice and short, because I still have a paper to write. But, this is worth a look.

A Facebook friend recently shared a link to this foetid rolling trash landslide commercial in order to point out how completely devious it was.

Go ahead, watch. Well, get a bucket first. Then watch. I'll wait.

Done puking? Good.

So, for the non-Chinese speaking readers out there, it's a very simple premise. Sad probably-lesbian family member hugs her pretty bigot family member.

Woman: "Why don't you care about me?"
Pretty Bigot: "In fact, I love you."
Woman: "Why don't you understand me?"
Pretty bigot: "In fact, you're my family."
Woman: "Why don't you support me?" (presumably meaning her right to marry)
Pretty bigot: "I support you."

*Cue inspirational rock muzak*

Pretty bigot: So I hope there's a special law to protect you. In fact, we love one another. I only hope my standpoint can be clear to you.

Woman smiles and cries because her Pretty Bigot relative is so understanding and awesome. 

Then it says to vote for referendums 10, 11, and 12.

10, 11 and 12 are the referendums against marriage equality.

Anyone not paying much attention, from this commercial, would think they are voting for equal rights for their LGBT+ loved ones, not against them. And yet, that's exactly what this commercial is telling them to do. Or, anyone who doesn't want to seem like they're anti-equality but in fact doesn't support equal rights has just been handed a beautifully-pressed fig leaf with which to cover their bigotry.

This isn't even the first trick (or even the same one of that type).

Recently, I observed that the particular wording of one of the referendums aims to make it sound as though one is supporting ensuring "the rights and interests" (權益) of same-sex couples by voting for it (The Diplomat also reported on this). If you read carefully, however, it specifically says 婚姻以外 - "in a manner other than marriage". This particular phrasing seems aimed at two groups. The first, I think, are conservative oldsters who don't want to admit that they are a bit homophobic (in particular, perhaps, that demographic who are fiercely pro-Taiwan and will proudly tell you that Taiwan stands for human rights, freedom and democracy, but who still get the willies when two dudes kiss while not wanting to consider themselves as someone who would deny other Taiwanese 'equal rights'). The second are the "compromisers" - the same group that thinks "the status quo" is just fine because it's "safe", who think that any "middle ground" solution is automatically good because it's in the middle.

Neither group wants to seem bigoted, so this "protect the rights and interests of homosexuals" wording offers them a fig leaf to vote against equality while telling themselves they are good people.

This got me worried about the other ways in which anti-gay groups were trying to advertise their anti-gay agenda as pro-LGBT support.

We all know now that anti-marriage equality groups signed up to represent the pro-equality side in scheduled televised debates. Not having a television, I'm not actually sure if these debates have aired as yet, and I haven't seen any news about them since.

Update! The CEC didn't seem intent on taking any particular action, so pro-equality groups loudly congratulated anti-equality ones on "changing sides", which was embarrassing enough to the anti-equality groups that they dropped out. GOOD JOB!

The campaigning of the anti-equality groups is similarly illegal. They're not supposed to be handing out political literature on trains or putting up fliers or banners in public areas for free (the same rules apply to election campaigns), but that is what they are doing. They either have to pay for advertising, or get permission from private property to put up their banners (or put them on their own buildings). They can pass out fliers on streetcorners, but not on public transportation.

If you see this happening, you can and should call train attendants to tell them to stop.

If you see banners illegally placed in public areas, you can take them down. They broke the law, not you. If you don't feel comfortable with that, call the number below:


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That's 0800-066-666



And it goes without saying that there is a lot of misinformation being spread about how marriage equality will "contribute to the declining birthrate" or "turn Taiwan into an AIDS island". This is the sort of thing they are spreading on Line groups, as they infiltrate community, family and school Line communities where political posts don't belong.

That's so ridiculous, it doesn't even count as 'trickery'. It's not a twist of the truth or confusing wording. It's just lies.

That said, I honestly think these deliberately slippery ads that equate voting for anti-marriage equality initiatives are a way to support your LGBT friends and relatives alongside confusingly-worded initiatives are even more worrisome. Some people may genuinely be tricked. Some may simply trick themselves.

And frankly, the line between being tricked into supporting bigotry and choosing not to notice that you are being led to it is fine and blurry at best, if it exists at all. Some might be misled by these tactics, but many others are looking for reasons to convince themselves that they can vote against equality without being terrible people.

And that's terrifying, because it very often works. We all have deep-seated prejudices we'd rather convince ourselves aren't there. I'm sure I do (I try to find them and root them out but almost by definition I don't know what they are until I wake up to them.) How many grandmas who don't hate their gay grandsons, how many friends who don't hate their LGBT+ friends, how many sisters and brothers, how many uncles who love their LGBT+ loved one, but deep down secretly still get the willies when two dudes kiss, and so want a fig leaf to say they "support them" with a "special law" as a way of voting against actual equality?

My guess is a lot. And that scares the crap out of me.

I want to say "dirty tricksters never win", but you know what, sometimes they do. Sometimes they win bigly. In the end they generally get discovered and eradicated - like those latent prejudices I keep discovering and rooting out, or particularly bulbous whiteheads - but they can do a lot of damage in the meantime.



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I didn't bother to check the Chinese so I just have to assume my prose is comprehensible. 


So what can we do to counter these slimy and illegal tactics?

Other than alerting employees on public transit and calling to complain about public signs, there are other actions you can take.

If you see fliers put up where they shouldn't be allowed - I saw one in my building this morning! - take them down. You are within your rights as long as you don't destroy any property.

If someone tries to give you a flier, loudly and vocally tell them that you disagree with discriminating against LGBT+ people. Use English if you have to - you aren't going to change their mind but your point will be clear to people around you.

If you see stacks of fliers left in public buildings (e.g. libraries, municipal facilities, schools), this too is typically not allowed. Just take them all! After all, they're free to anyone. Why not let them all be free to you?

If a business you frequent has these fliers available, tell them openly that this bothers you and that you will no longer patronize their business unless they stop allowing these kinds of political materials. Post on their Facebook page, include it in reviews etc. Take a photo to prove your case, because people are litigation-happy here about bad reviews. Do the same if there's a 青少年純潔協會 donation box (they are loaded, and anti-equality). Ask for it to be removed; some establishments might comply!

If someone gums up your Line group with their garbage, don't let it stand. Respond! Tell them you don't agree with discriminating against LGBT+ people, or that this sort of political talk is not welcome in your otherwise unrelated Line group.

If you want to donate, there are many choices. Here's just one, directly related to the fight for marriage equality. 


If you want to add your physical presence to the crowd of supporters, start tying rainbow gear to your bag, and attend the pro-marriage-equality rally on November 18 at Ketagalan Boulevard. It starts at 1, and Chthonic will perform in the evening!


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My building this morning: before I came through, and after.
They have no right to put up political fliers in private apartment buildings, so I
don't feel sorry at all about a little sabotage. 
 

Monday, November 5, 2018

We need to out-organize the bigots, now: my latest for Ketagalan Media

Note: I'm super busy this month working on my final pre-dissertation paper for school, and it's a big one. So, Lao Ren Cha is going to be a bit quiet in November. Thanks for understanding!

I know that a huge part of the problem for pro-marriage equality advocates in Taiwan is funding: despite having fairly broad public support, they don't have a lot of money. Anti-equality hardliners, on the other hand, are pretty flush thanks to church donation networks (and international help from anti-equality religious groups, mostly from the US).

But, I have to say, I haven't seen much aggressive fundraising let alone the issue I tackle in my latest for Ketagalan Media: the fact that the bad guys are out-organizing us. They have more people on the streets, more fliers, more Line group invasive posting, more ads, more banners.

Banners and fliers cost money, and so do vests for volunteers if you want them. Ads are expensive. I get it - but I haven't seen much crowdfunding either.

You know what's free, though? Talking to people. Volunteers. Engaging in conversations in Line groups (if only to get the haters to keep quiet). Putting up designs drawn by volunteers for people to download and print out to make their own posters, placards and stickers.

In any case, in this piece I talk about the out-organization and how it makes it look as though pro-equality advocates are not standing up and getting votes for the upcoming referendum. I also cover the constitutionality of the anti-equality referendums and what the strategy might be behind them.

There's more to be said: the outright lies from the anti-equality camp, the attempt to rig the televised debates. I'm sure there will be more to talk about as the month goes on.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Come for the nudity, stay for the underpants: a book review of Lost Colony

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Come for the nudity. Stay for the underpants.


Drunken German traitors. Bum-waving Swiss farmers releasing streams of foul expletives. A missionary in dirty underpants. Naked swimmers, a Chinese general who (probably) had syphilis, slaps, mad rages, racist colonial caricatures getting all up in each others' grills, a two-timing translator/con-man, fire ships and booby traps (no actual boobies it seems, though). A war whose outcome may have been decided on the relative discipline and adaptability of each side's leaders, or on what technology and food supplies they had...or maybe it was just the weather.

These are the colorful details that illustrate Tonio Andrade's meticulous historical account of the defeat of the Dutch colony in Formosa by another kind of colonizer - Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga). Well, sort of - calling it "a meticulous historical account" is actually doing Lost Colony a disservice, although it could easily pass muster as an assigned text in an academic setting. It's also a rollicking good read.

Don't let that lull you into a belief that it's a light read, though. The book explores some heavy themes, ultimately challenging the old and, to be frank, kind of racist assertion that Western colonial powers won wars because they were more disciplined or had a technological or perhaps tactical edge. (Andrade doesn't call it racist; I'm calling it racist.) The central question is worth asking: if Western powers really had all of these advantages, and that's why they conquered so much of the world, how is it that they lost Taiwan?

Through the story, Andrade discusses and compares the relative merits of Dutch and Chinese warships, military technology (including artillery, weaponry and fortifications) and military strategy. He discusses the evolution of those ships, too, based on weather conditions sailing in the Atlantic and around Africa as opposed to Asia, with its monsoons. Don't think this means that Lost Colony is a boring military history though. It's got military elements - it kind of has to - but they don't slow down the story. Hell, I loved this book, and I'm just not that into military history.

This isn't because I'm a girl who doesn't like Big Manly Weapons because they're So Big and Manly, by the way. I grew up around guns and books on military history and have a healthy respect for firepower used intelligently.

Naw, it's because I'd rather we didn't need militaries at all. Too bad we don't live in that world. Anyway.



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I like...big...guns and I cannot lie
(me & a howitzer from our trip to the Matsu islands)



It's no wonder that writer Joyce Bergvelt chose to novelize it in Lord of Formosa (although Lost Colony was not available to her as a source when she did). I called that fictionalized account "cinematic in scope", and frankly, for a work of non-fiction, so is Lost Colony. Count me among those who say that this story should be made into a film as a way of exporting Taiwanese soft power abroad.

That's all well and good, you're saying, and I love a good story about conniving translator-businessmen and foul-mouthed bum-slappers, but how is historical account about something that happened in the 1600s relevant to my life? 

Well, it's a well-worn adage among those who know Taiwan that the coming-to-Taiwan stories of Koxinga and Chiang Kai-shek share many parallels, which invites consideration of the present day seeing as the Republic of China has still unfortunately not given way to the Republic of Taiwan. I'm not going to talk about that, though, because everyone does. I'm more interested in how Andrade's telling of what happened when the military apparatus of a Western country met an Eastern one, and what that has to tell us about Taiwan's biggest foe. 


The Art of War figures heavily in the narrative as well - and in fact, when hearing about the various axioms Koxinga was known to employ in practice, I could not help but think of the current tactics of the Chinese Communist Party in trying to convince the West that it is not an ideological foe - when it absolutely is - and bring Taiwan to heel. 

By the time I got to the end, Andrade seemed to agree with me:



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"Today, a Chinese regime rules Taiwan"...I think I officially have an intellectual crush on Tonio Andrade.
Freddy's still my guy in the end, though. 


After all, as Andrade notes, just because we think the West as a military advantage over China in terms of both technology and numbers - the US spends several times more on its military than China does - that doesn't necessarily mean we will win a potential future war. Frederick Coyet (the last colonial governor of Dutch Formosa who lost the war with Koxinga) had plenty of advantages - Renaissance fort architecture, big ships carrying heavy artillery that could sail at a closer tack against the wind than Chinese war junks, a potential alliance with Koxinga's enemy, the nascent Qing dynasty, and advice from Chinese defectors. For several potential reasons explored in the book, including a false belief in the superior discipline of his troops and his failure to listen and adapt, he lost anyway. We might too, and it's more than just Taiwan at stake.

Lost Colony tells its story with a remarkably clear-eyed look on the past. In much of Taiwan and parts of China, when Koxinga's conquest of Taiwan is discussed, there's an undertow of a sort of ethnic pride that one of their own (I suppose) kicked out the red-haired foreign colonizers. 


The Dutch are no longer hated in Taiwan, per se - their colonial rule was so short-lived, involved such a small slice of Taiwan, and happened so long ago that it would be odd if they were - but Koxinga is seen by many as a hero. To be frank, it's a way of thinking I also find common to the Western left: of course someone like Koxinga would be the "good guy", relatively speaking. He was Chinese, Taiwan is Chinese (it's in Asia, anyway - same diff to a lot of Westerners), and Western imperialists were, and are, evil.

Western imperialism was and is evil, of course. Imperialism sucks. But this doesn't make Koxinga a comparatively "good guy" or a "hero". He was a warlord too - a colorful, brilliant warlord, to be sure - but still a conquering colonizer. The Chinese in Taiwan at the time were immigrants, not native inhabitants, and Taiwan subsequently became a settler state. Of course, your average Westerner probably has no idea who Koxinga was, but the big-picture implications of this kind of thinking are troublesome. Andrade understands this, I wish more Westerners (and Asians) did, too. He tells the story without picking sides. He made a case that we shouldn't dismiss the history of Asian military technology, training and strategy, while pointing out objectively who seemed to have advantages in what areas. 


Andrade ends on an ominous note: the seventeenth century, when all of this took place, was one of the most tumultuous in human history, in part because of a spate of climate change that started wars, decimated populations and caused governments to be overthrown.

The climate change facing us in the twenty-first century, he notes, is likely to be several orders of magnitude worse than that. How will we face it? 


Don't let all that doom-and-gloom scare you off, though.

There's also the aforementioned cursing Swiss bum-shakers, drunkenness, nudity, a fair number of references to testicles (one person got a cannon-ball shot straight through his) and a missionary in dirty underpants. There was a surprisingly detailed account of exactly how and when the Dutch, holed up in Fort Zeelandia, could go to the bathroom, and how often body parts got blown off by enemy fire in the process.

Read it because it's serious, but also read it because it's fun. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Come to Pride this weekend

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So, I was supposed to go to southern Taiwan this weekend in order to attend the opening of the Donggang boat burning festival (not the boat burning itself - I prefer the opening day). I was going to leave early to go hang out in southern Taiwan, which I actually prefer to Taipei.

But, plans have changed, because Pride is this Saturday.

I'll still go to Donggang on Sunday, but it's really important that as many people as possible attend Pride this year. You should come too. And bring your friends!

In May 2017, Taiwan's highest court ruled that marriage is a right afforded all citizens with no reference to gender, and therefore marriage equality must be allowed. The court gave the government two years to work out a legislative solution: either to simply pass a law allowing marriage equality, or to change the civil code to abide by the ruling.

There have been some political ups and downs, some debate over which route is better (changing the law can likely be done quickly; changing the civil code is harder, and the ruling DPP doesn't think they have the support from the large socially-conservative-but-pro-independence segment of their base to make it happen.) There is a growing sense that the DPP hinted at support for marriage equality when campaigning, and promptly abandoned it to appease their more conservative base, and of course the KMT doesn't give a damn about anyone but the KMT. With elections coming up and the initial 2-year deadline now less than a year away, a lot of activists are upset.

This is especially important with two competing referenda coming up in about a month: one affirming Taiwan's commitment to equality, the other full of outdated, religiously-motivated and hateful garbage (yes, I'm biased). Remind people to go out and vote for love in November.


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Meet at 1:30 at MRT National Taiwan University Hospital station, start out at 2:30 - these are the routes. I always go the red route. 


Cue Pride. With no specific marriage equality rallies planned, and the anti-equality gay-haters being very well-organized and resourced (moreso than the pro-equality side, although I would argue the national consensus is broadly with us if you count those who are not opposed to equality), there is a sense that this year's Pride is going to be more politically charged and all about showing the government that we (LGBT people and allies/supporters) haven't forgotten.


While it's not my place to opine on what Pride should be, I can say what I think it's likely to be - and that you should be there. A friend of mine (gay with a Taiwanese partner if it matters) was also saying he was hoping this year would be super politically charged and motivated. There's a sense in the air that this is what's happening, but we need numbers.

All are welcome at Pride, which means you can be a part of it. You can add to those numbers. You can make it clear that equal rights matter, and it's time for the government to stop pandering to prejudice and outdated, discriminatory thinking.

Pride Taipei usually makes international news - at least it has in the years surrounding the 2017 ruling, as the world watches to see whether Taiwan will be the first country in Asia to give equal marriage rights to all. The numbers do matter, and you do make a difference.


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Show the LGBT community your support, and show the world that Taiwan, while imperfect, is the freest and most progressive country in Asia. Show them that we can do this, and that there is no reason why equality can't exist within Taiwanese culture.

Pride is not a rally or a protest - it's a celebration, and all are welcome. It's a great way for foreign residents, even if you are a bit reticent to attend actual protests, to show their support for this issue. 


Grab your rainbow gear and come with us.

Swedish citizen Gui Minhai has been held by China for three years and Sweden has been super weird about it

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Gui Minhai, Martin Schibbye, Johan Persson, Peter Dahlin


Taipei-based Swedish journalist Jojje Olsson held a talk last week on the case of Gui Minhai. Gui is a Swedish citizen abducted from Thailand by the Chinese government who, beyond some limited contact with family and Swedish diplomats, has been held basically incommunicado. In fact, the talk itself coincided with the date when Gui had been officially held for exactly three years. 

The most informative part of Olsson's talk was his description of what Sweden is doing (or not doing) to get him back. While they are highly involved in closed-door, quiet talks with Chinese officials, it seems odd that these talks are indeed so "quiet": not only has the government not been in regular contact with Gui's daughter, but the case seems to be far more low-profile than it ought to.

This weird silence can be understood in comparison to the government's reaction to two other Swedish journalists who were similarly kidnapped and held for over a year in a foreign country on trumped-up charges. Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye spent over 400 days in an Ethiopian jail for essentially doing their jobs. Similarly, Gui had broken no laws in Hong Kong, where his books (which were semi-biographical tabloid fodder about Chinese leaders) were published, and was in Bangkok when he was taken. Like Persson and Schibbye, he is a Swedish citizen.

This is even more eyebrow-raising, as other European countries (most notably Germany, according to Olsson, but including much of the continent) have not only more publicly called for Gui's release, but have tried to work together to collectively take public action. And yet, Sweden stays on the path of "quiet diplomacy", even though it doesn't appear to be working. Bad publicity scares China. A few polite Swedish diplomats? Yeah I don't think so. 

But in Persson and Schibbye's case, there was an uproar in Sweden and the government much more transparently and openly feuded with Ethiopia over their detainment. What's more, Swedish officials were regularly in contact with Persson and Schibbye's family members.

Why are they raising much less of a fuss in dealing with China over Gui Minhai? Why are they not in regular contact with Angela Gui (his daughter)? When Gui was snatched a second time from a Chinese train under the noses of Swedish diplomats who were taking him to Beijing for medical care, why did the reaction seem so muted?

In the international media as well, while the case has been reported by major outlets such as the BBC and the Guardian, the average person (including the average Swedish person, I'd gather) doesn't even know that this is happening. To even your typical well-traveled educated European, the idea that China would abduct foreign nationals in foreign countries might even seem farfetched. But that's exactly what they've done.

The suggested answer is that China is a powerful country, both politically and economically. Ethiopia means little to Sweden; there are fewer risks with starting an openly critical campaign to get abducted citizens back.

I suggest an even more obvious answer. Here is a photo of Swedish citizens with Swedish names, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye:



Wikimedia Commons

And here is a photo of Swedish citizen with a Chinese name, Gui Minhai:
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A screen grab of a screen grab - not many photos are available


Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Do you think it could be...?

Yeah, I do.

The rest of Europe, as noted above, seems to understand the gravity of the situation. I have to wonder why the Swedish government doesn't.

Certainly, China wants the world to think that Gui is Chinese and this is a Chinese matter. Gui is not Chinese; he may have been born in Ningbo, but China doesn't recognize dual nationality. The day Gui became Swedish is the day he stopped being Chinese. Regardless, Chinese state thugs forced Gui to say publicly that he wanted to renounce Swedish citizenship and he "slammed the country" on television. (It is certain that this was a forced statement; there is no possibility that this is truly how Gui feels about the matter).

It is well-known that China thinks of basically every person of Chinese ancestral heritage as Chinese; their actual nationality doesn't seem to matter to the CCP. They do this by threatening Chinese students abroad, taking over Chinese-language media aimed at the diaspora and threatening loved ones who may still be in China, among other tactics.

It's also not a stretch to see that they think they can get away with holding Gui in part because he, well, looks Asian. They are betting on the rest of the world seeing this as a "Chinese" issue, not an international one, and that the world cares less about these things. Basically, China is deeply racist about such matters (thinking everyone with Chinese ancestry is Chinese and therefore subject to CCP control  no matter how many generations ago their family left is racist), but they're also betting that we are racist too: that we will care less because Gui is Asian.

Why do I say this? Well, compare China's treatment of Gui to their treatment of another Swede involved in China: Peter Dahlin. Gui published books - legally - that threatened the CCP's reputation. Dahlin is an activist who threatens the CCP by working with human rights lawyers in China.

Dahlin was released after a few weeks. Gui has been held for three years. Dahlin was taken in China, over actions he undertook in China; Gui was taken in Thailand over actions he undertook in Hong Kong.

I'll repeat myself: Peter Dahlin is white and has a European name. Gui Minhai looks Chinese and has a Chinese name.

China didn't want a disappeared European on their hands, so they let Dahlin go. They are betting on you not thinking Gui is European.

Don't believe me? They abducted another foreign citizen too: Lee Ming-che. Lee is Taiwanese, not Chinese. But his name is Lee Ming-che and he looks Asian. Lee was abducted in China, over actions that he took in Taiwan where he broke no laws.

Like Gui, the Chinese government wants you to think Lee is Chinese and that this is therefore a Chinese matter and none of your business. It is no such thing. They want you to fall back on old mental blocks - for you not to care as much about people with Asian faces.

Still don't believe me? Despite Swedish officials being fairly quiet about pressing for Gui's release, China has started a massive diplomatic row over a family of play-acting Chinese tourists and China's ambassador to Sweden is something of a grandstanding jerk: all of this (even according to Olsson) seems to be related to China's attempts to pressure Sweden to just forget Gui Minhai exists, and to shift the spotlight of the Sweden-China disagreement from a Swede abducted by China to a family of shrieking stooges.

Again: China wants you to forget about Gui Minhai, and Lee Ming-che too. They want you to see these foreign prisoners of the Chinese state as "Chinese", so you won't worry your pretty little head about them. The Swedish government, for some reason, seems to be playing along just enough to keep Gui out of the news. The result is that most people seem to be forgetting about him, if they knew he existed at all.

You, however, should do no such thing. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

This Week in CHINA TENSIONS!!!!

Apparently the old way of avoiding saying that China creates tensions through its own aggressive expansionism and weaponized use of 'hurt feelings' (and century-out-of-date victimhood - more on that later) isn't harvesting as many clicks as it used to. Perhaps passive voice (those tensions - they were just...raised!) isn't thirsty enough, perhaps simply attributing these tensions to everyone but China wasn't interesting anymore.

Now, we need BIGGER and STRONGER verbs to THROTTLE readers' attention because REPORTING THE SITUATION ACCURATELY is apparently not enough.

The accurate situation: China is engaging in territorial expansionism using fabricated historical narratives to justify it. The "tensions" over Taiwan are created by China, and are a policy choice on the part of China. They are not - as someone on my twitter feed put it - a "natural reaction" to what others do. China does not suffer because the US sent warships through the Taiwan Strait. The strait is considered international waters (and this has been pointed out before). Nothing changes in China when a country sends a warship through international waters.

If anything, China is the one creating the situation where a response is necessary. If China hadn't been slowly pushing the envelope towards a world where it controlled Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait as well, the US wouldn't have felt it necessary to demonstrate that it had the right to sail ships in all international waters.

That means that China is not only choosing to respond to this with "OMG that means tensions!" but in fact that they created the tensions to begin with.  

If the media reported that accurately, here is what these completely ridiculous headlines and tweets would actually look like:



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Ooh, a new one - "antagonize"! I guess simply "causing tensions" wasn't eye-catching enough. 


But it should be:

 "US May Sail Through Taiwan Strait In Response To Chinese Antagonism In Region" 
(This was later changed to "provoking", which isn't much better.





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Wow, fury! Really? Actual fury? What has China got to be "furious" about when another country sails ships in international waters, unless it is choosing to be furious?

Nope, let me fix that for you:

"Chinese aggression against Taiwan risks U.S. fury, Pentagon sends two warships into nearby international waters"


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EXACERBATE! Hah.

I'm especially saddened by this tweet, because the Beijing bureau chief of the Washington Post should understand the region better than this. Anyway, her tweet would more accurately read:

"Two US Navy vessels sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Monday, in a move that warns China against further exacerbating tensions with Taiwan"

Let me add - "already high tensions" - where did these tensions come from? Who created them? In whose interest is it for those tensions to remain high? Who keeps getting angry?

You know the answer is "China", so why does your tweet imply that the U.S. is to blame?


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Oh man. LA Times finally got someone other than Ralph "I hate Taiwan" Jennings to write about Taiwan, and they still come out with this garbage. What's even more annoying is that the most salient quote is in the article itself:

“The ships’ transit though the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Lt. Rachel McMarr, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. “The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

So, if you have to report on this at all (which you don't), maybe try:


"Pentagon sends two warships through Taiwan Strait as warning to Beijing to cease raising tensions"


or even:

"Why is China angry about the Pentagon sending two warships through international waters?"


And your laugh of the day:


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China provoked a US response, not the other way around. But this is Global Times, who cares. But let's play anyway:

"China's actions in Taiwan Straits [sic] provoke US response of sending warship through international waters"

* * *


This worries me, because I fear the way these things are being reported won't change. Newly-minted journalists will feel they have to stick to the old lines to get published and won't insist on accurate wording, editors will continue to edit pieces on topics they know nothing about, and actual bureau chiefs (jesus) will EXACERBATE the problem by sharing news that makes it seem as though this situation is everyone's fault but China's.

They know better: like with Chinese "tensions", it's a choice to publish headlines this obtuse and backwards.

It also worries me because China will absolutely continue to use this to their advantage, and nobody will say anything. Then the US will respond to China's actions. Or Taiwan will. And everyone will jump on that, pointing fingers at the U.S. and Taiwan and saying "these guys are exacerbating tensions!"

It makes it impossible to respond to China, when China's own actions are not held up to the same standard. When they are not objectively considered.

Again, this is a choice. They know better. They are helping an authoritarian regime look like a victim, and therefore helping them expand not only their territorial claims but their attempts to export authoritarianism. They are aware of this. Yet they continue to do it.

And, finally, it worries me because China is taking its cues from nobler causes in the West. It's looking at how we legitimately talk about historical victimization and how that affects modern society (think: arguments about inheriting tangible and intangible generational wealth vs. inheriting trauma while still being discriminated against).

It's taking that - a real, legitimate argument - and twisting it around to weaponize its own "century of humiliation". It is the most powerful actor in Asia, has taken by force most of the territory it says it wants (which is mostly full of people with distinct cultural backgrounds who don't want to be ruled by China), and is an economic powerhouse.

In whatever ways China was victimized in the past - and it certainly was - its claim on Taiwan is not an extension of that. Not historically, not culturally, not legally. The government that rules China now has never ruled Taiwan, and if we're going to talk "antiquity", has only in recent history even considered that Taiwan could possibly be Chinese.

Let me say that again for the people in the back: even if a historical argument supported China's claims on Taiwan, which it doesn't, it wouldn't matter. Taiwan has a culture, sense of history and identity that differs from China now, and they do not want to be a part of China ever. China doesn't get to have an opinion on the future of a territory it does not hold, and which its current government (with its current borders) has never held.

China can whine and cry and play victim, but the fact that it does not have Taiwan is not a facet of its historical victimhood. And even if it were, there is no just world in which the lives of 23.4 million people are an acceptable form of reparations.

And yet all of these headlines about 'antagonizing', 'exacerbating' and 'provoking' China make it sound as though it is. As though China is still being bullied like it's the Opium Wars or something. As though it isn't the one upping the ante, with Taiwan and the U.S. responding.

This is the best possible headline, by the way:



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It's from Focus Taiwan so will obviously show Taiwan's point of view, but that happens to also be the accurate point of view in this case, even incorporating a quote from a U.S. military spokesperson.

You know this, journos, yet you report all that other garbage anyway.

Seriously. Quit it. 

Yes, Ko Wen-je said a sexist thing again

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The ladies of Taipei according to Ko Wen-je


So, it's time we all just admitted frankly that Ko Wen-je is a sexist jackass.

This time, it's over comments that "Japanese women make themselves up more beautifully" than Taiwanese women, with Taiwanese women not wearing makeup "go directly outside and terrify people", and that being aesthetically pleasing not only shows dedication but is a responsibility (presumably, of women).

I mean, I totally understand. What with Ko Wen-je being such a well-manicured hottie, he sure takes great care of his 'aesthetics' and women can't help swooning over him, I mean, just look at that carefully-maintained visage that makes ladies' hearts go a-flutte - -


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Oh yeah THAT guy really has standing to talk about how women need to make themselves prettier. 



Oh, wait, that's not him. Sorry. The other guy is Ko. Hmm. Gotcha.

Do you like gardening, Mayor Ko? Because that is one massive glass house ya got there.

Obviously, it bothers me that the mayor of the city I live in, who is likely to be re-elected, is a sexist jerk.

It bothers me that he remains popular despite being a sexist jerk (if he'd committed actual sexual harassment he'd probably be a goner politically, but apparently stupid, sexist comments aren't enough), and that the media seem to cover for him.

I mean, there's no excuse for his recent comments, but please enjoy some smokescreens for sexist comments in the past:

Ko "clarifies" that both unmarried women and men over 30 are a "national security risk" (note verb choice)

"Gaffe-prone" Ko says he's "still learning to be a politician", which sounds like apologia for comments that are shitty even when non-politicians make them - note the way the prominence of Ko's "explanation" and the use of "gaffe" downplay the nature of what he actually said. And not just one thing - this is over two separate comments, both of which were horrible!

It also implies, from Ko's perspective, that everyday men say these things and that's OK (men I know have assured me they and other men typically don't, even in all-male company), but politicians shouldn't. No, dude. You shouldn't make comments that a woman is "so pretty" that she's not fit to be mayor but that she should instead "be a receptionist or model for tourism promotion materials", or "I didn't become a OB-GYN because I'd have to make a living between women's legs" even if you are not a politician. So there's nothing to "learn" to not say about women in order to be mayor. You're just an asshole.

You really think after these sorts of comments that the women of Taipei think you can do a good job as their elected representative? What woman would want to be governed by you?


So, this time around, let's not do that, okay? Let's call it what it is. Ko Wen-je definitely has his distinct personality and so he makes off-color remarks. Fine. I do that too! I live for off-color things (as long as they're not mean to the wrong people). But can we just admit that off-color sexist remarks belie sexist beliefs no matter your personality? Thanks.

But what bothers me more is that he's the best choice we've got in the upcoming election.

I don't care about one stupid comment, not really. I care that he keeps making them and yet there's no other solid choice to vote for.


I'm not writing this stuff because I want to trash Mayor Ko for no reason, and I'm not writing it because I want him to lose the upcoming election (what I say here won't matter in that regard anyway). I'm aware that the other two choices are worse: Ting Shou-jung is a China-loving, anti-independence sack of empty slogans and Pasuya Yao...I mean, lol.

If anything, that's the problem: Ko is a jackass - a smart, hardworking jackass, but a jackass nonetheless - yet we don't have a better choice. We finally get the first non-KMT mayor since Chen Shui-bian and he's...a jackass. It burns.

Monday, October 22, 2018

You don't adopt Taiwan, Taiwan adopts you: a book review of Formosa Moon

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I used to believe that I’d adopted Taiwan, but the truth is, Taiwan adopted me, taking me in when I was in my early twenties and giving me a series of increasingly interesting reasons to stick around....Six months ago, I brought the love of my life to Taiwan. The idea was ostensibly to convince her to love Taiwan much in the way that I did. In this I believe I’ve met with some success.

- Joshua Samuel Brown, Formosa Moon 
(by Joshua Samuel Brown and Stephanie Huffman, ThingsAsian Press, 2018 - buy it here - and if you're in Taipei, there's a launch party this weekend)


I've heard people say that the best travel writing to read is about places you've never been: places foreign and "exotic" (how I hate that word) that you know next to nothing about, but come to understand in some small way through a guided journey by the author. If I'd ever quite bought into that, Formosa Moon cured me of it, reminding me that there is an earthier satisfaction in reading other peoples' experiences in places you know well.

Although none of the places mentioned in Formosa Moon were new to me (well, some of the hotels and restaurants mentioned were, such as the Dive Cube hotel), there's a certain beauty in reading about a place you're so familiar with that you can smell the air, see the details of the parks and unkempt sidewalks, picture the mountains, know intimately what kind of trees are growing all around and what it's like to live your life in a series of tiled buildings.

A section of the book takes place at Sun Moon Lake. Been there, didn't love it. Another one describes National Chengchi University. My sister studied there for a year. The Dome of Light? I was there two weeks ago. Tainan? I go every time I get the chance. Jiaoxi? Several visits, soaked in the public hot spring too. Huwei? I'm one of the few foreigners who went to Yunlin for fun over a Dragon Boat weekend just to see what it was like.

But there's something deeper about Formosa Moon that I just get. I think pretty much everyone who's made a life here - that is to say, many if not most of my closest friends at this point - understand as well. Taiwan is like a cat: you don't adopt a cat. A cat adopts you.

You might come here thinking you're going to just "go abroad for a few years" and do that privileged First World thing by teaching English to fund your time in Asia (you're probably not an actual English teacher). You might stay for 1, 2, 3 years: most of the cram school crowd seems to turn over in roughly those increments. Some of you won't get it: the traffic - there are traffic laws, I swear - the pollution, the ugly buildings (you will almost certainly live in one of these), the humidity, the long or weird working hours and greatly reduced career options, the crowds will all collude to gently push you out. Or maybe none of them will, and you'll enjoy your time here just fine, but when the clock is up it's up, and you were always going to return to the place you know is home anyway. Taiwan didn't adopt you. That's OK.

Some of you will fall in love here, or find your groove, or take an interest in Taiwan's unique history, or build a community. Or it'll be the damp hills, the palm trees, the local aunties, the 7-11s, the traditional markets. Or you'll watch a major social movement unfold up close and realize Taiwan is a place and a cause worth fighting for. Something about life here will speak to something inside you, and you'll stay. You probably didn't consciously choose to. You were adopted.

In this way, I found it appropriate that Formosa Moon heavily featured cats, though they popped up in the narrative for no particular reason, and certainly not in any planned thematic way. It just did. From the cats of Houtong (another place I know well, and have started hikes from) to the painted cats (among other fantastic creatures) of Rainbow Grandpa to Joshua's friend's cats which provided a cozy sense of home to Stephanie - the other writer of the book - I found the unexpected feline leitmotif to fit. Taiwan not only adopts you like a cat (or it doesn't), but it can be as cool, beguiling or mercurial as a cat, or as winsome and homey as one too. You know your cat loves you, but you're never quite sure how much.

Or, to put it another way:


Taiwan is kind, to its native born, adopted children, and short-term guests alike. But Taiwan doesn’t change its tempo for you. Instead, you must change your tempo to adapt to Taiwan. And this will make all the difference.



Of course, you get to wax lyrical about all of this because you chose to come for reasons other than making a basic living. Supporting yourself may have had something to do with it, but you could have done that where you'd come from. You're aware that exponentially larger numbers of foreign residents in Taiwan had no such privilege. (You are aware of that, yes?)

All this is not to say that only those who know Taiwan should read Formosa Moon. I'll certainly recommend - if not outright purchase as gifts - copies of the book for loved ones back home who perhaps don't get it, most of whom because they've never visited. It describes the country well, and even the pictures (which are very "homey", not glossy professional shots, which I see as a plus) show in accurate detail what life in Taiwan is like.

As the book itself points out, cities like Kyoto (or Shanghai or Singapore or these days, Seoul) beckon to the Western traveler who is planning their first trip to Asia. Most travelers don't think of "Asia" and immediately think "Taipei". So they don't come, and therefore, they don't know. Formosa Moon, I hope, might tempt some of them into finally visiting to see for themselves why I've chosen to stay for most of my adult life.

And not only that, I'll recommend it for its unique perspective. Every other piece of Taiwan-focused travel writing on my bookshelf is by a white guy. I haven't cracked them all yet, but will. I'm sure they'll be fantastic; people whose opinions I trust have told me so. But, so much travel writing is done by white guys hitting the trail alone, and other narrative voices enrich the genre. I don't think I've seen a travelogue written by two partners in a relationship before, each with views that play off or add depth to the other.

As someone who also moved to Taiwan and then six months later convinced the love of my life to move here too, that appeals to me - as a woman and a person in a committed relationship. Ours took a slightly different route: he didn't know he was the love of my life when he moved here (I kind of did, but didn't tell him so right off), and our relationship evolved here, not in the US. I didn't "love Taiwan" when he moved here: my first six months here weren't that great, to be honest. I am sure I have had success, however, in convincing him to love this country as much as I do. We show it in different ways, but I know.

More poignantly, Formosa Moon captures what it's like to be both in a relationship with a person, and with a country. We never had to face the challenge of Brendan liking Taiwan; he did immediately, on his first visit here. I wasn't sure then how much I liked Taiwan: I didn't decide to make the commitment until three years later. That was when I'd been planning to decide if I'd stay or go; it also happened to be the year we got married. I suppose our somewhat weirdly polyamorous love grew together.

Of course there's a bittersweetness to every love story. You know how they say that in a relationship, someone always loves more, and the other less? And the one who loves less has all the power?

Although I know I can never truly be "a local" (forget not looking the part: it's just not my native culture), I want to stay and advocate for Taiwan, and gain legal rights - not just privileges accorded me out of courtesy as a permanent resident, which can be revoked. I don't expect a perfect life here. It would be nice, however, if in my relationship with Taiwan I didn't always feel like I was the one who loved more. I like to think that by opening myself up to Taiwan, that Taiwan has opened to me a little. I'll never know how much, though.

I'll end, then, on a particular salient quote from co-Stephanie Huffman:


Taiwan and I were certainly friends but had we really progressed to a love state? I didn’t know even know how Taiwan felt about me and I certainly wanted some indication of her feelings before I made any commitments.




Yup. Except I did that thing that relationship advice columnists say never to do: I made the commitment without knowing quite how she felt about me.

Still here though. You see, I was adopted. 


Saturday, October 20, 2018

Why is everyone so upset that Ko said Taiwan is a "product on a shelf"?

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The screenshot that launched a million words


Because I'm gonna say it: he's right. 



Taiwan must focus on making itself more valuable to President Donald Trump and accept its status as a pawn in the great power game between the U.S. and China, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je said.


Nobody likes to hear that they "must accept their status as a pawn" - but that doesn't make it untrue. We absolutely should not overestimate the US's willingness to defend Taiwan.

And he's not only right about Donald Trump, who is absolutely not a reliable ally to anyone and sees everything as an opportunity that can bolster his own self-image or worth or a threat to be eradicated (or at least shouted at incoherently), he's also right about the US in general. Not only that, it's been true for awhile.

This doesn't mean Taiwan shouldn't deal with the US, or should refuse its help, but that's not what Ko said: he said we needed a strategy to deal with this reality. That's just a correct statement.

But it seemed as though nobody wanted to hear it. What struck me was the swiftness and absolute horror of the reaction from Taiwanese activists, commentators, friends and other people involved in the struggle for a better Taiwan. The general feeling seemed to be, essentially "how could he say such a thing?"

I was a bit curious about that so I asked around, paid attention to various comment threads (like this one) on the topic, and generally just tried to get a sense of what was so terrible about essentially making an accurate, if damning, statement about the US's commitment to Taiwan.

The main point of anger doesn't seem to be the idea that Taiwan is a "pawn", but that the Ko has not equally addressed the fact that if Taiwan is a poker chip to the US, then it's also one to China. Essentially, he's speaking out about how the US sees Taiwan, but is seen by the public as worryingly - and oddly - growing closer to China.

There's a sense among many Taiwanese that Ko has questionable motives, from using China's language on two sides of the strait being "one family" to gaining Chinese state television endorsements to rumors that China is encouraging Taishang (Taiwanese businesspeople in China) to return to vote for Ko and is supporting him for a 2020 presidential run on the assumption that the KMT can't win, with Ko himself not doing much to dispel these notions. I've even heard rumors about some deeply weird cross-party alliances that...well, I won't even go there.



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From 幹幹貓: probably one of the most common things I read to improve my colloquial Chinese. It's all in Mandarin but you should check it out!

There's also the general sentiment - captured in the Fuck Fuck Cat cartoon above - that so many Taiwanese voters and politicians are willing to bend over for China at a few sweet words promising economic incentives, ignoring China's stated and obvious intentions. These (often same) people will blast the US-Taiwan relationship as something they can't trust, despite all sorts of actually good things the US has done, from the Taiwan Travel Act to arms sales, without anything close to the ill intent of China.

So it makes sense from their perspective to worry that he'd be so dismissive of Taiwan as a commodity of the US, but silent on how China views Taiwan.

I get that too - here he basically says there is no such thing as "cross-strait relations": one could charitably parse that as "China is a foreign country like any other", but I can see how someone might hear it as "cross-strait relations don't exist because we're all the same" given some of his language choices in the past.

He goes on, however, to basically speak truth to power: saying that Trump has repeated "America First!" ad nauseam, and it's foolish to not believe him. When one reporter said "but some are insisting that you really shouldn't say 'Taiwan is just a product'", he replied, basically, "I dunno, what else am I supposed to say?"

Which...yeah.

I'm sure there are people under Trump who care about Taiwan as more than a 'product', and they've had enough say in the US's recent Taiwan policy that we've seen some real benefits. But an entire book could be written on how past administrations have seen Taiwan as a poker chip - from Bush speaking out against Taiwan independence in 2003 to Obama "selling so few arms to Taiwan that he came close to violating the Taiwan Relations Act", as a friend once put it.

The Bloomberg piece that created this poopfest goes on to say:



The outspoken former surgeon and potential presidential contender told Bloomberg News that Taiwan shouldn’t overestimate the U.S.’s willingness to defend the island from an attack by its much bigger neighbor. Ko, 59, said Taiwan needed to boost its worth to America by strengthening shared values, such as democracy and economic transparency (emphasis mine).


Again, yeah. What reasonable person would argue with that?

I could argue that playing up values like 'shared democracy' wouldn't matter - the US has a history of ignoring human rights abuses, or responding flaccidly to them, when economic benefits might be at stake (including the US's response to Tiananmen Square after 1989). That doesn't mean we shouldn't make this a selling point for Taiwan, however.


But, this is apparently not good enough: there are all sorts of rumors about his having a role in organ harvesting (getting discounts on organs from China? Something like that. I'm not too clear), on the nature of his previous visits to China and other things I won't bother with.

I'm not saying I believe all of this - I'm just pointing out that this is what is being said.

Some of the above are clearly election season character-smearing trash or at best should be taken with a Tainan Salt Museum mountain of salt, yet a lot of the comments I've been seeing slamming Ko for calling Taiwan a "product on the shelf" for the US reference the above rumors as though they are fact, and therefore prove that Ko wants to move away from a stronger relationship with the US and towards a friendlier one with China. Of course, they prove no such thing.

I don't know. I see their point vis-a-vis China - I too have been disappointed with Ko's rhetoric in this area (though much more worried about his only serious opponent's even stronger pro-China talking points). I find it odd that he'd be so quick to abandon the base that voted him in, of not-quite-DPP pro-Taiwan voters and Sunflower-energized youth to start talking like a weird old unificationist, and yet, I remain agnostic on the notion that he actually is a unificationist. I also remain agnostic on the idea that he has some deep-level "four-dimensional chess" strategy going on to deal with China: the evidence doesn't support that, either.

And I've been deeply disappointed with some in the Taiwanese electorate who are willing to believe any and all claptrap from China, who really is our enemy, and then are so quick to turn around and criticize the US.

Anyway, I get it. We big-noses are talking about how Ko is "telling it like it is" because we're just thinking about his comments vis-a-vis the US, without looking at how they stack up to his comments about China. Removed from that context, we're right. Put back in context, however, I see why this angers a certain subset of Taiwanese.

Finally, there's a sentiment among some as well that Ko supporters are becoming overly rabid themselves - acting like extremists or fundamentalists, balking at the slightest criticism (I've seen this in action, by the way - it is, in some cases, a thing). Among Ko supporters, there's a sentiment that everyone knows the guy speaks bluntly and undiplomatically, and we all say we want politicians who say what they mean, so are you really going to crucify him every time he does exactly that?

And yet, I can't repeat it enough: when you strip all that away and look at US-Taiwan relations specifically, and ignore the rumors dogging Ko in other areas, you have to admit: he's absolutely right. Trump keeps repeating "America First" - and when people tell you who they are, believe them.