Tuesday, June 29, 2021

BREAKING NEWS: Racism Still Racist

Except it's not just Miaoli, is it?

Now with updates! Don't worry, the updates are still about how racism is racist.

Yesterday, news broke that Miaoli County was ending the forced containment of blue-collar migrant workers (quoted at length because Focus Taiwan makes their archives inaccessible after a few months):

A controversial stay-at-home order imposed by the Miaoli County government on migrant workers earlier this month will end Tuesday, as the number of new COVID-19 cases recorded among the group has fallen.

In a statement, the county government said that while some migrant workers continue to test positive for the disease in Miaoli, they have all been in quarantine because they were contacts of previously confirmed patients....

The Miaoli County government banned migrant workers from going outside, with the exception of traveling to and from work, on June 7....On June 10, the order was partially relaxed to allow migrant social welfare workers, such as caregivers and domestic helpers who usually live with their employers, to go out when necessary, such as buying basic necessities.

I refuse to call it a "stay at home order" as Focus Taiwan does. Honestly, these were closer to internment camp conditions as the dormitories where many factory workers live are overcrowded, poorly ventilated and frankly, perfect sites for fast viral spread. 

it's unclear that the order was indeed fully rescinded. Some reports indicate that it was merely relaxed:

Focus Taiwan: if this is indeed the case, your reporting leaves something to be desired.

Before you say "but I only go out for 45 minutes a day!" or whatever, remember that nobody is forcing you to do that. Besides, you almost certainly live in better conditions than most foreign blue-collar workers. You probably don't live in a cramped hellhole where 6 people share a room meant for perhaps 2.

Despite human rights groups rightly calling the order discriminatory (or in my words, racist), Miaoli County Magistrate and Racist Clown said...well, here's the quote:

In response to the criticism, Miaoli Magistrate Hsu Yao-chang (徐耀昌) said the county government was forced to issue the order to curb the spread of COVID-19 in migrant worker clusters and to prevent a transmission of the virus in communities.

"If new cases, more deaths are reported, how can human rights protection be possible?" Hsu argued at the time.

In other words, he refused to admit that the racist thing he did was racist. And it was racist, as the people forced to stay in their accommodations were decided based on national origin (that is, they are not Taiwanese), and Taiwanese coworkers of the affected groups were not subject to the same order. Foriegn white-collar workers in Miaoli were not subject to the order, or we'd be hearing about cram school teachers in Nanzhuang forced to stay in their apartments.

The forced internment of these workers was not due to contact history with infected individuals, and the Miaoli county government was not "forced" do to anything. It chose to be racist. 

But of course, Hsu will never admit that. And sadly, he doesn't have to: foreign workers can't vote, and Taiwanese voters most likely don't see this as a critical issue. Certainly there has not been strong agitation for change despite being aware of how badly most Southeast Asian immigrants are treated, and some even (wrongly) defend such practices. Nobody in Miaoli is going to lose their elected office over this, even though arguably most of them should. 

Obviously, trying to avoid accountability for such actions is a global phenomenon: I could imagine a political suit from just about any country refusing to own up to their own racism (some, including several former US presidents, build entire brands on it). 

What I'm curious about is this: 

When questioned by reporters, Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) officials said on June 9 that it had "reminded" Miaoli authorities that it could only enforce orders that were in line with the national Level 3 COVID-19 alert.

The CECC did not revoke the order, however, as it had done previously with other local government policies it had not authorized.

I freely admit that I haven't paid much attention to which local government policies the CECC has revoked. (Update: here's one example of where they did just that).

This implies they always had the power to just shut the Miaoli government's racism down, yet chose not to. The Tsai government, sadly, has a track record just as abhorrent as previous administrations on human rights for blue-collar immigrants: a weak spot in an administration that is competent in most other ways. There's a chance they simply don't care enough, or did political calculations on what this would cost them and made a choice. There are a lot of questions there that I simply can't answer (but feel free to leave observations in the comments). 

There are some bright spots, however. The international media, which until recently tended to ignore Taiwanese domestic issues or presented them only in the light of "China tensions" somehow mysteriously being enrisen-ified, took up this issue across several media outlets (including Channel News Asia, which is usually more of a concern troll regarding Taiwan than actual reliable news). 

Locally, there's been some movement too. Not just on the part of human rights groups either. To vent my own rage, every few days I go into Hsu's Facebook page and call him a racist, because he is one (this has zero effect but makes me feel better). Generally, even though sometimes I get lazy and post in English -- I think enough Taiwanese know the word "racist" that it probably doesn't matter -- there are often locals doing the same thing. This issue does seem to have brought more attention to the overall issue of foreign worker treatment in Taiwan.

It's hard to say what happened. I find it hard to believe that the Miaoli government decided to be slightly less racist (without apologizing at all) because it was making Taiwan look bad internationally. International media attention does tend to have an effect nationally, so it's possible that the CECC's public "reminder" came with stronger behind-the-scenes recriminations. But would the KMT-led county government really care what the DPP-led national government had to say? Did getting slammed by human rights groups make a difference? Probably not: this is the KMT, it's not like they care about human rights! 

More likely -- and I am wildly speculating here -- the national KMT apparatus realized it was getting dunked on an international scale, called up their Miaoli people and told them to quit it. 

That possibility carries a lot of implications. Generally, I've concluded that international media exposure is a one way to get the national government to stop dicking around. Overall, while it's good for critical domestic issues to receive international attention for this reason, I find it wise to try to promote a positive image for Taiwan internationally. I have less confidence that it has an effect at more local levels. However, if the international media can (potentially) help create change by getting one of the major parties to rein in their own? Well, that matters.

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