Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Marsha Blackburn tweet sucked. Use it to educate and criticize, but not attack

I hate this too, but hear me out. 
(From Marsha Blackburn's tweet, embedded below)

Senator Marsha Blackburn is in town, and just tweeted a picture of herself at Freedom Square/Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, where she rather offensively claimed to have learned about the "work" of Chiang Kai-shek at the memorial hall dedicated to "remembering" said "work." 

Anyone who's read a thing about Taiwanese history understands that Chiang's "work" consisted mostly of slaughtering or imprisoning hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese and refugees from China, usually without due process. Rampant corruption and nepotism, attempts at cultural and linguistic eradication, mismanagement of resources and revenue, media and personal censorship and the endless pounding-down of "Free China" propaganda and vilification of Taiwanese identity are his legacy.



As such, the tweet itself went beyond tone-deaf and straight to offensiveness. It's an erasure of all the harm Chiang inflicted on Taiwan, and all the Taiwanese he massacred. It absolutely merits principled criticism.

On top of this, my views on Blackburn are strongly antipathic, for reasons unrelated to Taiwan. As an American politician, her positions are the polar opposite of mine. Frankly, she horrifies me. The internalized misogyny alone must burn her already-charred soul like a mofo. If I were her constituent I would not vote for her. Marsha Blackburn is not a good person.

The tweet was crap, Chiang Kai-shek was crap, and Marsha Blackburn is crap. 

To be fair, most of the responses I've seen have been either civil criticism or attempts at clarifying why the tweet is clueless and offensive. But I've also seen just enough outright attacks that I want to say something.

So, I'd like to advocate for a generous response to her Very Bad Tweet. This may be my most generous take yet, considering my seething and active revulsion towards both the senator and the former dictator. It takes a lot to overcome that. I posit that one should try.

First, chances are this stop was planned for Blackburn. I doubt she woke up and said "hey, I'd really like to visit Dead Dictator Memorial Hall today!" Someone took her there.

Did she have to write a tweet that implied he was a decent guy whose legacy is worth learning about in a positive (or even neutral) light? No, but there's a pretty fair chance that she -- or the social media manager who writes her tweets -- is honestly ignorant of this history. 

I was ignorant too, at one point. Not to the same degree, however: the first thing I learned about Chiang was that this so-called "leader of Free China" was "corrupt and awful to the core", only better than Mao in that his body count is perhaps lower. (I had a particularly good Social Studies teacher when I was young). But I didn't know the extent of his atrocities until I came to Taiwan and not only started reading about its history, but met people affected by the KMT dictatorship.

This indicates a solid opportunity to educate, or offer more accurate perspectives and historical facts. If she hears about the Twitter storm at all, tweets attacking her ("you probably love the idea of mass executions!") aren't going to lead to a change in perspective. Among other possible responses, advocating for her to visit the various museums and memorials, dedicated to human rights in Taiwan might

I know that's hard to swallow, given that this is a woman who thinks taking away the rights of other women is not only acceptable but desirable. But understanding the true horror of Chiang's reign is not quite the same as having an ongoing conflict with basic facts in one's own political milieu. 

Of course, one can argue they come from the same mindset -- and honestly, they probably do. "Imprison all my perceived enemies and execute them without trial!" and "Lock Her Up! Her Emails! Punish Sluts By Banning Abortion!" attitudes are more or less the same neurons firing in different contexts.

And yet, because Taiwan is not her typical political milieu, she might be more open to suggestions that maybe she's gotten it wrong in putting a positive spin on Chiang Kai-shek's bloody legacy. Perhaps. 

That's not the most important point, though. She's one senator. There are more important reasons than simply "educating Marsha Blackburn" to respond to tweets like this in a specific, goal-oriented way.

I don't mean refraining from criticism: she's earned it. I mean offering that criticism in a way that might actually be digested. 

The first is that it would be very easy for foreign officials considering a visit to Taiwan to see these harsh responses and think "well maybe Taiwanese don't actually want us there", and stop visiting. The same is true for calls to criticize all visits by people one doesn't support generally, or all visits by any officials, simply because they aren't ideologically pure enough, or are too "establishment" and therefore must be tarnished or unacceptable allies in some way. To be fair, most are deeply imperfect if not outright problematic -- my point is that it doesn't matter as much as one might think. 

Taiwan does need establishment support. Progress usually happens when social movements have some relationship with power. The ones that don't get ignored. The American left (I don't mean liberals, I mean the left) isn't very powerful not because they're entirely wrong, but because they not only don't have establishment support, but actively antagonize and thus neutralize potential alliances.

If Taiwan did the same thing, and rejected support based on stringent ideological purity, it would have no international support at all. Not just from the US -- there are ongoing attempts to alienate Japan, too.

Worse still, not all Taiwanese or advocates for Taiwan agree on ideology, ensuring absolute isolation. Maybe This Guy is a boomer Republican and craps all over "radical left" Nancy Pelosi's visit, and That Guy thinks Pelosi isn't leftist enough. Then That Other Guy craps on Blackburn's visit, or Pompeo's. Tammy Duckworth comes as part of a delegation and Boomer Republican craps on that too...

Soon, you have no visits at all, just a big load of crap. Maybe these critics have earned leftist (or rightist) cred for themselves, but they haven't done a single thing to actually advance support for Taiwan among people with the power to make a real difference.

Even worse, they've ignored the fact that most locals seem to want these visits: not because they think the officials in question are all great people, but because they understand the necessity of it. 

I'm never going to support Marsha Blackburn. But I will support her support of Taiwan. Not personally -- I don't think I could bear to speak to her -- but because it's good for Taiwan to have bipartisan support so that no matter who is in power, Taiwan has international friends. Love it or hate it, this is what that means. It also means if you don't like Nancy Pelosi or Mike Pompeo, you still grit your teeth. Maybe you say nothing, or offer personal views only.

I too struggle with what it really means to want strong support of Taiwan internationally, and have for some time. It means swallowing a hell of a lot of squick. It means not shrieking in anger every time someone I would rather spit on than shake hands with visits Taiwan. It's absolutely brutal. I know.

But if you advocate for bipartisanism sincerely, this is what it entails. I'm sorry.

There's another reason not to go into full-on attack mode: it makes pro-Taiwan advocates sound like, well, Chinese troll "ambassadors" and other embarrassing mouthpieces. Again, I know this is hard to swallow, but what looks from our side like targeted criticism probably reads as straight-up trollish dunking to anyone who doesn't have a strong grasp of Taiwanese affairs. That's probably most people reading Blackburn's tweets.  That's a fantastic way to convince hundreds of thousands of Americans that people who advocate for Taiwan are assholes and Taiwan therefore isn't worth supporting. At that point we're basically doing the work of the CCP trolls for them. 

Keep in mind that not everyone reading Blackburn's Twitter is some conservative jackass; plenty of liberals hate-read her on social media! Right now they mostly seem to be asking that she just stay in Taiwan or cracking jokes about her wearing a mask in Taiwan, where it's legally mandated. Some are asking why she went at all, seemingly not realizing it's normal for officials from democratic nations to visit each other.

They aren't really engaging with why Taiwan matters. They're mostly not engaging with why Chiang was a bad dude, or Taiwan's impressive progress since his death.

Perhaps we have a chance to make a tiny dent in that bipartisan wall of ignorance. I say we take it.

Of course, by all means criticize the tweet. But criticism with an appeal to learn more is not the same as an all-out attack. 

(Feel free to attack Blackburn on any of her other horrific views, though. Being in favor of forced birth and against human rights for women is a good place to start.) 

Finally, I'd like to offer an idea that even I don't particularly care for, but is worth pointing out. For years, the USA kind of quietly supported the KMT -- probably seeing them as the best bet in terms of maintaining "peace" across the Taiwan Strait. That peace was always a false one, but I suppose it looked good at the time to those who didn't realize that China was using rapprochement with the KMT to secure a path to annexation, a path that inevitably leads to war.

Only very recently have US administrations seemed to warm up a bit to the DPP, in part because the KMT simply isn't that popular in Taiwan and democratic choice should be respected, but also likely in part because in the 2020s, the US has finally figured out that appeasing China does not lead to peace; deterrence is a far more likely (though not guaranteed) prospect.

And yet, I find it so weird that this very small, very recent pivot has got so much of the Taiwan Internet Commentariat obsessed with the (false) idea that the US is using Taiwan to anger China, that the US is going back on its promise not to support "Taiwan independence" (very wrong, for many reasons), or that the DPP are the real 'authoritarians' and 'imperialists' because they have 'imperialist US' backing. Or that the US 'created' the Taiwanese independence movement (so very, very wrong). 

Tone-deaf tweets in which senators visit outdated monuments to dictators who vehemently opposed Taiwanese independence show, I guess, that these visits are not really about a sea change in US policy on Taiwan, or any sort of agenda the US has toward that end. It certainly shows that there's no partisan leaning toward the DPP in Taiwan, either. Official visitors can't possibly be in the pocket of some 'Green Terror' stricken DPP (lol) if they're visiting Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and cluelessly tweeting about it. 

With all that in mind, feel free to criticize the Marsha Blackburn tweet. It's so clueless that it's absolutely earned that. But be smart about it: do it in a way that might actually get through to her team or the readers of these tweets. 

I suggest you do this even if you don't like Marsha Blackburn -- and I most certainly do not. 

Saturday, August 13, 2022

The InterPride thing is straight-up weird -- and InterPride might be lying

I want to be very clear about something: I will always support Taiwan in taking a principled stand on any issue. Whatever cost people in Taiwan deem worth bearing to maintain their national dignity, I'm with them. No questions asked, no exceptions.

There are costs for sticking with one's principles -- all of which are fabricated by the CCP to harm Taiwan; they don't arise naturally. For this reason, I tend to think it's better to take a principled stand than cave in and accept things like "Chinese Taipei", "Made in Taiwan, China" or any naming convention that calls Taiwan a "province". 

Whatever consequence the CCP has cooked up in their "How To Be Jackholes To Taiwan" lab, generally, I think it's better not to bow and scrape to their bratty demands.

With this in mind, I have to say: I find the whole InterPride thing just a little weird.

For those who don't know the story, here is the core of WorldPride Taiwan 2025 committee's statement.

I've omitted some introductory and concluding paragraphs for brevity and 
highlighted points that will come up later; you can skip ahead if you've read it already.

When discussing and negotiating the event contract’s terms and conditions, the WorldPride 2025 Taiwan Preparation Committee (consisting of Taiwan Pride and Kaohsiung Pride) was unable to reach a consensus with InterPride, the event licensor. There were major discrepancies between our stances on the event’s naming, understandings of Taiwan’s culture, and expectations of what a WorldPride event should look like. 

In the back-and-forth discussions, InterPride repetitively raised their concerns and doubts about whether Taiwan has the capacity, economic and otherwise, to host an international event like WorldPride. This is despite our team consisting of highly competent Pride organizers who have successfully organized some of the largest Pride events in Asia. Although we have presented past data and relevant statistics to prove our track record, we were still unable to convince InterPride. However hard we have tried to cooperate, our efforts did not result in an equal and trusting working partnership with the event licensor. 

The final straw that led the negotiation to a deadlock was the abrupt notice from InterPride, requiring the name of the event to change from “WorldPride Taiwan 2025” to “WorldPride Kaohsiung 2025”. This is despite the fact that the name “WorldPride Taiwan 2025'' was used throughout the entire bidding process: From the bid application and the bid proposal evaluation to the voting process and the winner announcement back in 2021.

We had made it clear to InterPride that there are some significant reasons why we insist on using the name "WorldPride Taiwan 2025". First, the name "Taiwan Pride" is of symbolic significance to the Taiwanese LGBTIQ+ community as it has been used for Taiwan’s first and still ongoing Pride parade since the first edition in 2003. It was not named after the city but the nation as a whole. Second, WorldPride Taiwan 2025 was planned to connect several Pride events and activities across Taiwan, with many cities, in addition to Kaohsiung, participating.

After the winner announcement, upon reading InterPride’s congratulatory letter which mistakenly named Taiwan as a region instead of a country, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) helped organize a tripartite meeting with InterPride and KH Pride on November 16 2021. In the meeting, the three parties (MOFA, InterPride, KH Pride) agreed on using “WorldPride Taiwan 2025” as the name for all the sequential events and activities. However, during the recent contract negotiation, InterPride suddenly made it a requirement that WorldPride 2025 can only be named after the host city rather than the country (“WorldPride Kaohsiung 2025” instead of “WorldPride Taiwan 2025”). This unexpected requirement essentially reneges on the previously made agreement.

In the face of many uncertainties such as InterPride’s inconsistent attitude toward the event naming and doubts about our team and the Taiwan market, we have to make the painful decision to terminate the project of hosting WorldPride 2025 in order to strive for the best interest of the LGBTIQ+ community in Taiwan.

Certainly, I support Taiwan in standing up for itself. So when InterPride announced unexpectedly that WorldPride 2025 would have to be called WorldPride Kaohsiung 2025 instead of WorldPride Taiwan 2025, I supported the committee in terminating the event. After all, if you can't call a country a country or an event by the name of the country it's in, Taiwan doesn't need you and deserves better. 

It seems (or seemed) rather obvious that at some point in the middle of event planning, InterPride got a call from Beijing insisting that "Taiwan" not be used. 

That said, I can't help but notice that the other WorldPride events do indeed lead with the city name, not the country name. Their Twitter typically tags city pride organizations. WorldPride Kaohsiung 2025 would have been more in line with that convention than WorldPride Taiwan, even if events were planned across the country.

But then, if that was always the way these events were named, why agree to "WorldPride Taiwan 2025" and then suddenly insist it can't be used? Why not clarify that city names are their policy and make no statement about nationhood at the outset? They literally had a whole meeting about this in 2021!

Basically, WorldPride Kaohsiung 2025 or WorldPride Kaohsiung Taiwan might make more sense within their naming conventions, but why say that now

It's especially weird as the naming issue was specifically discussed earlier in the process. There was no misunderstanding or incorrect assumption: the Taiwanese coordinators asked explicitly for the event to reference Taiwan, with strong reasons given for the choice of name, and InterPride explicitly agreed. InterPride's own statement elides this:

Here's the weirdest thing about this statement. According to the Taiwan organizers, "WorldPride Kaohsiung Taiwan 2025" was never offered as an option. From CNA:

後續InterPride也在今年7月26日的信件中指出,經過理監事投票決議通過,活動名稱只能使用WorldPride Kaohsiung或Kaohsiung WorldPride,並沒有Taiwan在裡面,因此InterPride的留言完全不符合事實,「從來沒有給過我們這個選項」。

My translation:

In a follow-up, InterPride also pointed out in a letter dated July 26th of this year that after a vote by the directors and supervisors, the event name can only be WorldPride Kaohsiung or Kaohsiung WorldPride, with no "Taiwan", meaning InterPride's message is counterfactual. 
"[They] never gave us this option." [According to the interviewee]. 

This is very weird. Why would InterPride lie about this? If they're not lying, why would the interviewee in CNA say they were?

There's no mention of the 2021 meeting in the statement, either: just a reference to a compromise they say they offered (but apparently didn't). 

Neither is there a mention of previously referring to Taiwan as a "region" rather than a country.

The statement also ignores other issues brought up by the WorldPride Taiwan 2025 preparation committee: that they felt their competency to host the event was being questioned, that the partnership was not a trusting one, and that their attempts to prove they had the track record to host the event smoothly were ignored. All InterPride said on that matter was that they were working with the Taiwanese side "to ensure they would deliver the event they promised to our members", which to me sounds like a confirmation that they didn't trust Taiwan to pull it off. 

I don't know what went on behind the scenes here, what the concerns were or why InterPride would act this way. Most Pride events in Taiwan are fantastic, but there have been questionable decisions in the past. For instance, at the past pre-pandemic Pride I attended, the weird route and shunting of the event to the side of the road caused significant backups and delays; I spent nearly 40 minutes at an intersection near Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, got so overheated that I began puking somewhere around Zhongxiao Dunhua, and promptly went home. I don't know if this poor planning was a Pride issue or a Taipei City government issue; maybe it was both.

However, if InterPride does not trust the host country of the largest Pride in Asia to coordinate their event, especially when their statement ignores other relevant details, it seems to me that InterPride's own judgement might be what's questionable here. I may have had a single bad experience, but Pride and other large events in Taiwan generally run smoothly. So what was really going on here?

The InterPride website does name countries in the text blurbs for these events (Rome, Italy, for example, or Sydney, Australia. Only Jerusalem doesn't get a country, for reasons we can all guess at). Was that the problem? And if the only real issue is that they usually use city names, why call Taiwan a "region" when the collaboration was announced? Why not just name the country, like everywhere else? 

Basically, there's a lot going on here. It's absolutely baffling. But, at the end of it all, the inconsistencies and elisions from InterPride seem more problematic and questionable than those from the Taiwan committee. The implication that InterPride was treating the Taiwanese committee like a bunch of incompetents especially rankles.

It's possible but very unlikely that the Taiwan side wasn't managing things well,  and yet the condescending "oh, I'm not sure you can pull it off, sweeties" feels like the sort of unfounded treatment of Taiwan by the West that should be familiar to anyone following international media discourse on Taiwan. Taiwan's economy is consistently treated like it's not advanced (it is) or that it's worse than China's (it's not, and that's even if China's reported economic data can be believed, which it probably can't.) Taiwan is treated like it can't handle the international stage (it can) or doesn't have the will to defend itself (it does). 

That said, the Taiwan committee's reasoning makes sense. From the CNA article above:


My translation:

A-Gu [the interviewee] said, "since applying for WorldPride, InterPride has repeatedly misnamed [Taiwan] as Taiwan Province, Taiwan region, etc. This has happened in statements, the 'country' section of the website, in the data review, during tripartite meetings -- the country's name was incorrectly changed. This repeated issue may lead to even greater problems in the future after signing [an agreement], which is the main reason why the preparatory committee decided to stop the event.”

In other words, InterPride kept screwing up, and the Taiwan WorldPride committee realized they were going to keep misnaming Taiwan, possibly to even worse effect. If this had happened -- let's say WorldPride was almost underway and couldn't be canceled -- it would make the committee look extremely bad and also be unacceptable and disrespectful to Taiwan. After all, they knew InterPride was repeatedly misnaming the country! So, they pulled the plug.

This makes sense. InterPride's stance doesn't.

Even in reporting of this issue, AFP copy across multiple media outlets calls Taiwan an 'island', not a country, and leads with China's claims. Even when reporting on Taiwan wanting respect and the use of its own damn name, international media can't seem to get it right. (Al Jazeera's report is slightly better, but not by much.)

I'm not even Taiwanese, and I'm absolutely sick of it! 

In fact, looking at previous WorldPride events, the only non-Western city I see on that list is Jerusalem. Every other location was or will be in a Western country -- North America, Europe or Australia. This is one of the first times, then, that WorldPride has worked with non-Western coordinators. Could there have been some cultural miscommunication or even insensitivity? 

I honestly don't know. I don't want to get into "I'm just asking questions" mode like some right-wing media jackass, but there really are a lot of questions to be asked. The whole thing, from calling Taiwan a "region", to agreeing to "Taiwan" at a meeting, to suddenly reneging on that with a unilateral "compromise", then pulling a *shocked Pikachu face* when Taiwan pulled the plug -- it's just weird. I have so many questions, and most of them are for InterPride. And most revolve around whose calls they've been taking.

I can't say definitively what happened, but if I'm going to pick a side on this, then I'd pick Taiwan. Taiwan wanted this event so much that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stepped in after InterPride's first gaffe calling Taiwan a "region". If MoFA gets involved, you know it matters to the organizers. They wouldn't cancel that on a whim, or single mistake.

The Taiwan committee's explanation for pulling the plug makes sense. If this were really about the tradition of naming WorldPride events after cities -- essentially a branding dispute -- InterPride wouldn't have mislabeled Taiwan in other ways, waited until after a trilateral meeting on the issue, agreed to an alternative, and then lied about a compromise they never offered. It's not just audacity, it's mendacity. Taiwan saw that, and said "no thanks". And they would know: this sort of nomenclature disrespect happens all the time. Just look at any airline website! 

If the local committee felt that this problem would keep occurring and Taiwan would keep being disrespected by InterPride, I believe them.

It wouldn't make sense for the Taiwan side to have called it off for the wrong reasons, so I'm going to trust that they did it for the right ones.