Showing posts with label chinese_expansionism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chinese_expansionism. Show all posts

Sunday, November 10, 2019

China will never 'win over' Taiwan: an anatomical discussion of dopey ledes

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Another day, another opinion piece about whether the Chinese government's reaction to the Hong Kong protests will hurt their image in Taiwan, and therefore their chances of convincing Taiwanese that closer ties or even eventual unification. This one comes from Bloomberg, a perpetual font of bad writing about Taiwan. It's become so commonplace, though - the well-founded criticism of China, backed up with some nonsense about how the Chinese government could alienate Taiwan and sour any hopes that Taiwan might willingly "return to the fold" - itself an inaccurate description of the situation.

Or, as Richard McGregor puts it in Bloomberg: 



Without a change in its approach, the Communist Party risks making the already difficult task of winning over the self-governing island next to impossible without force.... 
Amid the Hong Kong protests, the last thing the Communist Party should want is a rebuff from voters in Taiwan. Yet Beijing has shown little interest in modifying its stance. The inevitable result is that Taiwan has become even more alienated from China.... 
A decisive victory for Tsai in January’s election might chasten Beijing and cause it to return to a more consensual strategy. But the example of Hong Kong doesn’t so far give much hope that Xi will change course. If China continues to double down, the eventual denouement for Taiwan may be far more dangerous. 

What these sorts of articles universally overlook (or intentionally ignore) is that the CCP's stance and behavior only play a small-to-moderate role in Taiwan's desire for independence and lack of enthusiasm for unification. In fact, it wouldn't matter much if the CCP adopted a more conciliatory stance on Taiwan: there is no "consensual" strategy available to China because it's quite clear that Taiwan wants independence regardless.

That's not just my opinion - it's reflected in the data as well.

Poll after poll shows that deepening Taiwanese identity, which tends to go hand-in-hand with belief that Taiwan simply is independent and should remain that way. Most strikingly, these beliefs have not only blossomed since democratization in 1996, but only grew during the Ma Ying-jeou era, when the CCP was at its most conciliatory.

According to data published here, in 2008 (when China-friendly Ma took office) 64% of poll respondents said that Taiwan, even as the 'Republic of China', was an independent country, though only 22% of people thought China would use economic tools to force political concessions. According to this more detailed account, the number of people who identified as solely Taiwanese and those who identified as both Taiwanese and Chinese were both in the mid 40% range, with solely "Chinese" identification being quite low, at 3% - about the same percentage as non-respondents. This source says the same thing.

Then what happened? It was an era that some people still label as having "warming" or "closer" relations between Taiwan and China. You'd think that it would result in Taiwanese feeling closer to China as well, right?

Wrong.

Look at that data again. Taiwanese identity only increased from 2008 to 2016 - especially after the 2014 Sunflower Movement. The sense that Taiwan/the ROC was independent increased as well. Fear of China's 'conciliatory' economic gestures being guises for political force spiked, because...duh, they were.

It didn't matter how friendly China was to Taiwan. It didn't matter that Chairman Xi and President Ma got cozy in Singapore. Taiwan wasn't having it. If anything, CCP efforts to be 'nice' only exposed the truth: that none of it was sincere, and none of it came for free. All of it created greater economic dependency that would make eventual extrication under 'colder' ties more difficult, and it didn't even benefit Taiwan that much. Economic growth under Ma was not more impressive - and in some ways it was less so - than during other less 'China-friendly' administrations.

Taiwanese identity blossomed not just in response to this realization about China, but also as a part of a natural upward trajectory. That makes sense. Before democratization, it was difficult to freely form, let alone express, a true sense of identity in Taiwan. Taiwanese history was taught as a part of Chinese history in schools and you could face repercussions for expressing a different view. It's only reasonable that once those restrictions were lifted, Taiwanese people would look back at their own history - which was by and large not as a part of China, even if their ancestors came from there - and form a stronger sense of identity, which would increase over time.

It doesn't make sense that a friendlier stance from China would stem this tide, and indeed it did not.

While some of these 'Taiwan identity' numbers dropped again after Tsai assumed office in 2016, note that none of them dropped very much and all of them are on the rise again. Dipping from around 65% in 2016 back to the mid-50th percentile, and "Taiwanese and Chinese" identity experienced a slight bump from about 32% to about 38%. At the time, people worried that the Sunflower effect might be ephemeral and numbers might dip even further, but that didn't happen. Instead, sometime around 2018-2019 numbers began to rise again. The gap between "Chinese and Taiwanese" and "Taiwanese only" identity that began in 2008 - again, during China's "friendly" years! - only widened over the next eight years never came close to closing.

The reason for the change probably has something to do with Hong Kong and China's response - it would be silly to say it's not a factor. But if these poll results were released in the summer of 2019, the actual poll was probably conducted a fair bit earlier, that is, before the protests really got underway, if not entirely so. That was also around the time that Han Kuo-yu started to gain popularity among some segments of the population, and strongly turned off others - reminding them, perhaps, that games with China cannot be won and are best not played at all.

Considering this, I'd put that 2016-2018 blip down to Taiwan's natural tendency to grow critical of its leaders. Tsai was elected, the Sunflower high wore off, and now that "our person" was in office, and it was time to start nitpicking on her inevitable flaws.

It's also worth noting that during this time, "Chinese only" identity - the one most closely tied to openness to unification - did not experience a bump. In addition, if you read that Washington Post article again, you'll see that Taiwanese youth have a huge role to play. The current generation of young adults overwhelmingly considers itself Taiwanese, and those numbers don't seem to have budged much at all. Anecdotally speaking (because I have no data!), that generation was also the most strongly critical of President Tsai during the labor law and marriage equality wars. But it was also quicker to re-embrace her when the terrifying spectre of President Han began to loom, Hong Kong started getting dicey, and marriage equality finally passed.

And if you grow up simply thinking you are Taiwanese and your country is Taiwan, and there's no reason to question that because why would there be?, the chances that China could ever "win you over" are remote indeed.

So why do people still think China has a chance?

Because they're looking at only recent data, not going back to the 1990s, or even 2008. They've also been convinced by an international media that posits every issue facing Taiwan as being related to China in some way because China gets more clicks (even when they clearly not), when in many cases the reasons behind why Taiwan feels the way it does are mostly, if not entirely, domestic.

When you look at it that way and ignore the history of Taiwanese identity, things like this sound more plausible:

Over the past year, Beijing has single-handedly revived the electoral prospects of its political adversary, incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party. At the turn of the year, Tsai’s approval rating was a miserable 24%. Now polls show her with more than 53% support versus about 31% for Han, whose Kuomintang is the natural ally of Beijing. That Nationalist party retains deep ties to the mainland as the former government of China until it lost a civil war to the Communists and fled to Taiwan in 1949.

When, in fact, almost everything about it - and other opinion pieces that use this data point as evidence - is wrong.

It's true that Beijing has helped Tsai to a degree, but "single-handedly" reviving her electoral prospects? I think not. Domestic issues have played just as much of, if not a greater role.

"...the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party"? True, but misleading. It makes it sound as though being pro-independence is a platform of the party and not a common, majority belief in society. That's not the case. The will of Taiwan leans toward independence, and the DPP happens to better match it than the KMT, which often has to hide its closeness to China behind obfuscatory language. Even if Han wins in 2020 and the CCP puts its "the abuser is being charming to win you back" on again, don't expect the general pro-independence sentiment to change much.

Plus, "a miserable 24%"? Rick, do you even follow Taiwanese electoral politics? 24% is pretty normal for Taiwan, and every president who has eventually won re-election (a grand total of two people so far) experienced a huge dip in their first term approval ratings. Taiwanese love to criticize their leaders, so while that wasn't a great number, it also wasn't "miserable" or even out of the ordinary. Besides, that number seems to have come from a KMT poll - unless someone has evidence to the contrary - with another non-KMT-funded poll published around the same time, in May 2019, showing her support at 33.8%. 


Let me finish by simply re-stating the obvious: articles like these are harmful to Western perceptions of Taiwan, and to Western readers' understanding of the Taiwan-China situation in general. I mean that: a good friend emailed me recently positing that China's harshness with Hong Kong might "turn Taiwanese off" to "reunification" after reading the New York Times. (He got a kind talking-to, don't worry.)

People like Richard McGregor and media outlets like Bloomberg, then, actively peddle untruths and misleading notions. The "denouement" for Taiwan was always going to be dangerous, because China might offer some economic enticements or use friendly language, but it's never going to give up on unification/annexation. It's only possible to envision a violence-free denouement if you believe that Taiwan could possibly be persuaded to embrace unification - but that's highly unlikely.


It's clear from decades of research that the Taiwanese sense of identity and national sovereignty has deep, domestically-grown roots - history, cultural evolution, geography, democracy - that anchor it firmly as a place apart. How China approaches Taiwan is just one tiny tendril of a massive banyan that neither China, nor the international media, nor Bloomberg, nor Mr. McGregor here, seem to understand.

In fact, we've seen this play out recently. When China tried to reach out to Taiwan again in hopes of raising the prospects of its flailing puppet candidate Han Kuo-yu with its "26 measures", the reaction was one of near-universal disgust. It's clear to Taiwan that when China 'buys' you, they're not the ones paying the price.

This isn't just about China's treatment of Hong Kong in particular so much as China's vision for all territories it considers to be "Chinese" in general. The only way not to see this is to assume that China's vision is fungible, and that what it offers Taiwan and Hong Kong could ever be anything other than oppression. In events like the Hong Kong revolt, all China is really doing is showing its true face. Taiwanese people aren't dumb; they see that.

So please quit it with the fearmongering that China is "driving away" Taiwan. It's not, really. Taiwan got in the car and drove its own damn self away decades ago, and it's not coming back. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Wan-wan: "That's creepy and you're not my mom!"

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AAAAHHHH



Most people teach their kids about "stranger danger" - not to go off with people you don't know, or in a more modern sense, "here's how to spot situations that don't feel right".

It seems Taiwan, through its blossoming from a nascent sense of individual identity into a fully mature and independent nation, has learned this lesson well.


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So when Haixia, a helmet-haired Chinese anchorwoman and Stern Aunt Who Is Spanking You For Your Own Good, spoke about China's candy "26 measures" using phrasing like "mother is calling you home", pretty much every Taiwanese who watched the video looked into her cold, dead eyes, got goosebumps (with that exact turn of phrase from at least one online commenter) and ran in the other direction. Like you would if you were a kid walking down the street and a guy in a windowless van slowed down to offer you a lollipop.

The creepiest moment was when she said "Wan-wan, come home" (灣灣回家吧), using a made-up and frankly condescending diminutive for Taiwan, in exactly the same tone of voice an abuser uses to try to manipulate their target when they think they can leverage whatever sentimentality exists in the relationship to pull them back into that void. 


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I'm not the only one making memes of it - art by A Ray

Speaking of voids, the pan-blue media didn't seem to report on Haixia's Abuser Masquerading As Loving Mother act at all, as far as I can find. TVBS talked about the candy that is definitely spiked with roofies "26 Measures" with some utter bollocks about how "people disagree on what freedom and democracy mean", even referencing the so-called "Green Terror", but not the creepy "Mother" thing. That was about as long as I could stand to watch blue media because there's only so much waterboarding masquerading as "news" that I can take, so I'm not sorry that I didn't look any deeper into that inter-dimensional vortex.

On that side, only somewhat more reputable United Daily News (pan-blue) covered the story, and even they went with a straight report that independent legislator Hung Tzu-yung (洪慈庸) reacted by saying "Taiwan is already home."


In fact, the Taiwanese reaction in general was...not pleased (here's a summary in English). And why shouldn't they feel that way about essentially being nicknamed wayward children?


Given that this reaction was inevitable, who is the CCP trying to reach with Haixia's Creepy Mother spiel? Probably their own people, giving Chinese social media users a chance to watch, share and marvel at how benevolent their government is. It's not like many (or any) people in Taiwan seriously watch CCTV anyway. They don't really care about Taiwan's reaction. It wasn't really intended for Taiwan.



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Art by nagee

But other moments caught my attention too: when she talked about how "Taiwan compatriots will be treated the same as Mainland compatriots", my first thought was utter terror and I gather plenty of Taiwanese had the same reaction. Being treated like a citizen by the Chinese government sounds absolutely horrifying. Who would want that? Do they really think they treat their own 'compatriots' well enough that Taiwanese would think "hey that looks great, sign me up for social credit and getting shot in the face for protesting!"?

This prompted Liberty Times to write about Haixia's soapbox whinge by running a picture of an Uighur detention camp and asking, "if you want Taiwan to 'come home', why don't you let [Xinjiang concentration camp detainees] go home first?" 


Of course, Taiwanese wouldn't have to worry about being sent to a Xinjiang detention camp - I'm sure they'll set up plenty of them in Taiwan once we 'come home'. After all, they'd treat Taiwanese 'just like' their own citizens, right?

Haixia went on to say that "we are sincere because we all have Chinese hearts" and "Taiwan's destiny is with the motherland", adding that "some people are not pragmatic and have been spreading strange rumors and slander - if they don't have a Chinese heart, how can they understand our sincerity?"

This part horrified and interested me in equal measure, but also clarified their true beliefs: that identity - Chinese identity in particular - is something that can be assigned and enforced, rather than something that is cultivated naturally through cultural and historical evolution. What it means can also be decided by them. If you are 'Chinese', you must agree. If you don't, either you are a traitor, or you were never Chinese and cannot understand why all Chinese do agree.

It won't work, of course. For it to be true, Taiwanese would have to agree that they are indeed Chinese, and buy into the notion of what it means to have a "Chinese heart". Clearly, they don't. Telling someone what their identity is never works in the long run anyway. Just look at...well, history.

It's also interesting that they're still trying to implicitly push this narrative that the people who "don't have a Chinese heart" are a minority of splittist troublemakers. If you read between the lines, what Haixia is saying only makes sense if the vast majority of Taiwanese agree that they are Chinese, in the sense that the CCP expects. Otherwise the majority of Taiwanese could be said to not have "Chinese hearts", which means of course they "can't understand" China, and if that's true, shouldn't China just give up on them as "not Chinese"?

It's kind of telling that they can't, or won't, give up on that line of reasoning. Not just because do admit the truth is to make it impossible for them to reasonably pursue their annexationist goals, but because it lays bare what's really going on: the CCP has never cared what the Taiwanese actually think in the first place, so it doesn't matter if it's decided for them. You know, kind of like they do with Chinese citizens. Equal treatment!

Finally, in the English media, Reuters noted that the CCP also promised to respect Taiwan's "way of life":



China will “fully respect” Taiwan’s way of life and social system once it has been “peacefully reunified”, as long as national security is protected, the ruling Communist Party said on Tuesday, in another overture to the self-ruled island.... 
“Under the premise of ensuring national sovereignty, security, and development interests, after peaceful reunification, the social system and way of life of Taiwan compatriots will be fully respected,” it said. 
“Private property, religious beliefs, and legitimate rights and interests of Taiwan compatriots will be fully protected.”

Note that among the things to be "respected", democracy is not listed, but property is. The CCP apparently would get to decide what aspects of Taiwan's way of life are "legitimate" - just as they get to decide both who is Chinese and what it means to be Chinese - and you can surely expect that any sort of non-approved belief or attempt at continued democracy or even basic freedom of speech would be construed a threat to "national security" and therefore "not legitimate". "Rights and interests" is too general a phrase both in Chinese and English to mean anything, other than what the CCP wants it to mean when it says those words.

Apparently, the CCP doesn't think that Taiwanese follow the news. If China respected the "way of life" of various groups of citizens, Hong Kong wouldn't be foggy with tear gas (but of course, they can't accept that Hong Kongers don't, by and large, support the CCP or their version of "Chineseness"). If they respected "religious beliefs", Xinjiang wouldn't be death camp central.

But then, do the Taiwanese they are trying to reach actually follow the news? They might, but the sources they read don't report the full extent of what's going on in Hong Kong or Xinjiang. Instead, it's a never-ending stream of Big Uncle Dirk interspersed with calling anyone who isn't KMT complicit in the "Green Terror". And China is aware of that.

By the way, if you ever get tired of the real lefties banging on about how capitalism is evil, remember this. Free markets may not be inherently evil, but if capital and power weren't intertwined, what reason would these political figures and media outlets have to keep their audiences mostly in the dark about the way China treats its own people? Is it because they have "Chinese hearts" or because they personally stand to profit? Hmm.


So, while the whole "Wan-wan, come home" thing was not actually meant to convince Taiwanese people that China is sincere and trustworthy, the "26 measures" do aim at Taiwanese who watch blue-leaning news, which is to say, fake news. The candy might actually look tempting if you've been conditioned not to fear the dude in the van. 

It has nothing to do with "Chinese hearts" and everything to do with candy.

Or, as Reuters put it:



China has not explained how Taiwan’s democracy may be allowed to continue if it takes control of the island.

Yeah, because it won't.

It won't be deemed "legitimate".

China's just hoping we don't notice that they never said otherwise. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

China won't do anything if you say 'no' to them

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I'm hoping to add to this list in the future, but willing to publish now - and here's what I want to say.

It's OK to say no to Beijing's demands regarding the naming and designation of Taiwan. China may push and whine and scream and threaten, but at the end of the day, if you hold the line, nothing comes of it. In specific, rare instances where it has, it's because an entire industry has caved and so the CCP can flex its muscles without worry.

Take the latest LSE sculpture controversy that Chinese students manufactured. As of now, The World Turned Upside Down has still not been changed. I can confirm this as of April 14th: 


Photo used with permission

No official decision has been made, but seeing as it's no longer in the news, I doubt it will continue to be an issue.

And what has Beijing threatened or done in retaliation?

Nothing. Nothing at all. I've checked every news source I can find on this, and there's nada. Zero.

LSE said they were going to shelve the issue, and silence reigned. The Economist intoned that China could threaten to cut off student enrollment as they said they might do at Oxford:


When Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of Oxford University, was asked by the Chinese embassy to prevent Lord Patten, the university’s chancellor (a largely ceremonial role), from visiting Hong Kong, she refused.... 
British universities have worked hard to court the Chinese, and the rush of students paying hefty international fees demonstrates the benefits of this approach. But as the LSE is now finding out, it is not without drawbacks. When threatened with receiving fewer Chinese students by the Chinese embassy, Ms Richardson of Oxford replied that there were many Indians who would be happy to take their place. 

But so far that has not materialized, and as far as I'm aware it never came to anything at Oxford, either. That allows us to add Oxford University to our list of institutions that have refused Chinese demands and suffered no real repercussions.

Then there was the incident at the Lions Club, which has chapters in Taiwan (in China, they have their own Lions Club which apparently cooperates with the Lions Club International). The China chapter tried to force the international organization to change Taiwan's designation...and failed.

Has there been any blowback against the Lions Club by Chinese authorities since?

As far as I can find, there has been none.

And here's one that may surprise you. Remember when we all thought that an Air New Zealand flight was denied landing in China because the Chinese government had requested that the airline change its designation of Taiwan to show it as part of China?

Turns out that's likely not the case. One website reported it, and everyone just took it as true. But even Reuters - that bastion of bad Taiwan reporting - didn't think there was enough evidence to the story to even report it as a possibility. And as The Guardian pointed out, there's no definitive evidence that this was the reason, and in fact reported that:


China’s foreign affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying said the Air New Zealand flight had turned around on its own accord. “Due to temporary glitch in dispatchment, this airplane failed to obtain a landing permit with its destination and decided of its own accord to return en route.”

Beijing is quite clear on the line it takes with international airlines; it has no reason to lie about this.

So I went and checked. Guess what!

Air New Zealand still doesn't refer to Taiwan as a part of China. On its route map, it puts Taiwan in capital letters just as it does with every other country.



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At least in Taiwan, their website opens with a reference to Taiwan:


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...and Taipei is just referred to as "Taipei" as a destination they fly to, as with every other city.

 Are you hearing news reports about Air New Zealand being denied the ability to fly to China, because they never heeded the request that they change Taiwan's designation? No?

That's because it never happened. Air New Zealand doesn't call Taiwan "China" and yet they are still able to fly to several cities in China, and keep Shanghai as a hub!

What this means is that all those other airlines never actually had to change Taiwan's designation. There was no risk. There's no way China would have banned all of them, seeing as it won't even ban one.

The same could have been true for organizations that have already bent the knee to Emperor Xi - such as the international English proficiency testing organizations IELTS and TOEFL - I fail to see why they felt it was necessary. Do they really think China would ban IELTS or TOEFL testing? With all of the rich princelings that powerful parents want to send to study abroad? Please. There was no risk here; they just bent over because they like it rough, I suppose. If anything, organizations like IELTS bring pain on themselves when their own governments castigate them over their stupid decisions.

And, of course, while China might cause trouble for international news publications, the New York Times, The Economist and more who refer to Taiwan as "Taiwan" are already blocked in China. I suspect most would agree as well that censoring their content so as to appease China - assuring their reporters access or keeping their sites unblocked - would irreparably damage their credibility as sources of reputable journalism regardless. So, there is no reason going forward for them to make any changes either.

In short, let this be my announcement to the international organizations and businesses of the world: you don't have to give in to Beijing's demands on Taiwan.

It's clear that they don't actually do anything to retaliate if you show them the door.

Monday, April 8, 2019

When a "Taiwan separatist" goes to China...

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The temples here remind me of the ones in South Korea, and one of them (not this one) is a Matsu temple, of all things!  


I'm going to say something that should seem sort-of obvious but might shock a few people anyway.


I like China.

I still hate the CCP, though.

Some of you are probably thinking "why wouldn't you? The people are friendly, the food is great, the history, literature, architecture and culture are fascinating, the scenery is often stunning. There's a lot to like in China!"

And some of you are surely thinking "but they're our mortal enemies! And all the pollution! And the government! It's so oppressive!"

Both of these groups are right.

I've spent a week here running a training course, and was also in Shanghai recently. And I have to say that although I felt a little nervous beforehand for reasons I'll explain below, I would overall say that I had good experiences here. The people - the managers I've worked with, the trainees - have been so friendly and hospitable. Of course, I knew already that people in China are usually very welcoming to foreign visitors. The managers worked hard to ensure that I was comfortable, happy and well-fed while here; I ate like a king. The trainees worked their butts off, were an exceptional class and just all around great to work with, as well as being friendly and willing to learn. It was an honor to work with them, and more importantly, I genuinely like them.

Of course, the food is as spectacular as I remember it. I haven't had much time to go out and actually do anything, however, as these are purely work trips.

And I've found that if two conditions are met, this proud Taiwan "separatist" does like visiting China: the first is that it's only enjoyable on days when pollution isn't bad. The day a pollution and dust storm blew through was awful. The days the air has been breathable have been fine.

The second is that I have fast, consistent access to the open Internet. Without that, I can't even talk to my husband as neither of us uses any social media or chat apps that are allowed in China. I can't do much of anything: the majority of things I enjoy doing online consistently are banned in China, and in 2019 it's just not acceptable to me that my access be restricted.

VPNs don't work well - if you can get them to connect (which they won't always do), they can be slow and the connection can be lost. The only way to travel, I've found, is through one of those Wifi hotspots you can get at the airport in Taiwan. They bounce you right over the Great Firewall quickly and consistently, and cost a little under NT$200/day (my company paid for it).

This might seem like a dumb thing to say to some of you - white girl realizes China's not so bad after all! would be an uncharitable but possible way to characterize it - but remember I've spent the better part of the last decade devoting my time to writing about politics in Taiwan and Asia from a pro-independence standpoint. After awhile you start to think of China as 'the enemy' rather than a beautiful country full of lovely people.

The CCP is the enemy. China's just a country. How can one hate a country?

I'll only say one thing on the other side of that perspective: being here with unrestricted Internet access takes away the most obvious way that China's police state makes itself known. Everything else is normal: great bars with great music (though nothing with particularly thoughtful lyrics), great cafes, great shopping, great food. People living their lives. Fear doesn't lurk around every corner. Xinjiang and Tibet are far away. A great deal of literature is still banned, but they don't always check carefully.

Without the daily annoyance of wondering whether or not you'll be able to get online, you'd be forgiven for forgetting that you're living in a place run by authoritarians who want to annex a neighboring democracy and are perpetrating both cultural and literal genocides in their western provinces. The CCP seems to have figured out - after, uh, some trial and error - that if you force people to give up all cultural touchstones and push them into a gray Communist hellscape, they aren't going to like you very much. But if they can eat, drink, wear, listen to and buy whatever they like and you give them a home-grown social network, that's enough for huge swaths of the population. They might just leave you be.

If you're from China and are used to the Internet issue, you're used to getting state-approved news, you've never seen a banned book, you've been raised to think Taiwan is yours by right and Xinjiang and Tibet seem far away indeed, it must be easy to otherwise forget exactly who is running things. You might even support them: China's gotten a lot nicer in the past 20 years, after all.

I'm not the first to say it, but so much for the idea that economic growth inevitably brings political liberalization.


I prefer living in Taiwan for sure; it's my home. One of my requirements in a place to live is that it be free, and Taiwan is: I feel safe expressing myself openly there, and my friends enjoy democratic norms I feel are crucial. I do not, and will never, consider Taiwan to be a part of China, and I don't intend to live in China. I will still criticize the Chinese Communist Party until I draw my last breath. I'll stay in the fight against their aggressively expansionist policies. In that sense, I'm still in the trenches. You will never see me become one of those Westerners who apologizes for Beijing's brutal authoritarianism and aggressive expansionism. I stand for universal human rights, self-determination, and freedom and that will never change. The CCP will always be an enemy.

In other words, all the shiny things brought about by economic growth shouldn't be enough to tempt Taiwan toward China; Taiwan's sovereignty is about more than that. It's not enough to tempt me, either. My true freedom is worth more. 


But on a clear day, if you have a good portable hotspot, it's pretty good to visit - and I wouldn't mind coming back.

So what made me nervous? Well, being here for work, I couldn't just say what I thought about Taiwan because agreeing to come at all basically means I've agreed that I'm a representative of the company and not here in a personal capacity. That (Taiwanese) company treats me well; I want them to do well and this is good business for them. In any case, nobody asked.

To be honest, I don't know what I would have done if someone had.
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On a street of Hui (Chinese Muslim) restaurants in Shenyang


It's usually not that hard to keep my political views to myself at work, but when you know you can't say anything because it's your job to make your employer's Chinese client happy, being hyper-aware of it makes it more likely to slip out because what you can't say is always on your mind. Like how telling a kid she can't do something just makes her want to do that thing more, know what I mean? Though some managers here figured out, of course I never told any trainees, nor would I.


Because of this, I did feel a bit 'closed': advocating for Taiwan isn't the only thing in my life, but it's a big part of it. Ensuring that none of my trainees was aware of that part of my life, and that they knew me in a professional capacity rather than a personal and political one did entail pretending that part of myself didn't exist for a week, and not just during work hours. We all stayed in the same hotel; I saw them at every meal. In that sense, being only about 3/4 of who I actually am was like cutting off my left arm. I could function, but it wasn't the whole me.

That said, I never compromised. I stood for the national anthem because it's required, but I did not put my hand on my heart (I couldn't have sung it even if asked). I always referred to "Taiwan" and China": no "Mainland", "province" or anything like that passed my lips. Because it was relevant to a class discussion, I mentioned that NTU was founded "when Taiwan was Japanese". I didn't pretend or lie. I walked a thin line between holding to my principles in my language use, but also not offering that information about myself.

But I'll tell you, while the trainees never found out about my political views, the two managers who helped run the course did. One is Taiwanese so I just told him. The other is Chinese but figured it out through my language use and hearing me talk with the Taiwanese manager. She was surprisingly cool with it. If you are open, you will find people who can accept the whole you - the problem is, you won't find out who those people are until you say something, by which time it might be too late.

When she did find out and we could finally just talk openly about these things, the whole feeling just changed. We went from friendly work acquaintances who shared our meals with small talk punctuated with quiet periods to people who could actually have discussions.

And to be frank, that's what made me decide that I did, in fact, enjoy this trip to China. The air's been okay (which I'm told is unusual), the hotspot works, fine. But really, it's the ability to be not just myself, but my whole self, around at least a few other people.

So I'll end with this: pro-Beijing types love to talk about how Chinese and Taiwanese have some sort of special relationship or understanding due to cultural, ethnic and historical ties. A relationship they often claim no-one else can understand, a special affinity. I've heard it both hinted and said obliquely that this creates a special affinity between individuals as well in which they understand each other as ultimately culturally Chinese.

I'm here to tell you that it's not true.

Until that breakthrough toward the end of my trip, I found that when I was out with a mixed group of Taiwanese and Chinese, they were amicable. You might think there was some special cultural affinity or set of tacit understandings that we clunky interlopers could never comprehend which transcended politics.

And yet, I could see the ways in which my Taiwanese colleagues and acquaintances held back whenever it was a mixed group. It was very subtle, like buttoning a bit closer to the collar than one ordinarily buttons. Zipping up a jacket just a little higher than usual. You'd have to be watching for it to see it, but it was there.

The second the company changed and it was all Taiwanese, it was like a collective unconscious breath was let out. The belt loosened. The words loosened.

I know this because, although I am not Taiwanese, I was treated as one in these situations. I felt it too. I even mentioned it explicitly, and the others readily agreed. It wasn't dislike, they pointed out. They liked their Chinese counterparts - you just had to be careful what you said. Among other Taiwanese and the Honorary (that's me), you could speak more freely.

And that same feeling came back the second the Chinese manager indicated that she was fine with my beliefs. Jackets unzipped, collars loosened, guts unsucked.

It has nothing to do with ethnicity, history cultural 'affinity', or even being Taiwanese. If you understand Taiwan's situation and what it stands for, you're in.

If not, you could be as genetically similar as anything, but you're out.

While many of my trainees are likely openminded about Taiwan, it breaks my heart a little to realize that some of them might think less of me if they knew what my real views on Taiwan were - that I stand for everything they were taught to stand against. 


That's one of the great tragedies of Beijing's warmongering over Taiwan: if they'd just accept that Taiwan is already independent and wants to stay that way - if they'd just respect that Taiwan has the right to determine its own future - a lot more Taiwanese and Chinese would likely be truly open with each other on a personal level, and there would be a lot more closeness between them. More friendships would form, and the world would be a better place.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Nobody should need a personal "refugee fund" to feel safe in a developed democracy

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Hey Taiwan residents - both foreign and local - do you have a refugee fund?

That is, personal savings or some other safety net that you are preparing in the event that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan forces you to leave?


I do. I don't want to leave, and would not do so unless I absolutely had to - we're not talking "the invasion is coming soon", we're talking "my house just got bombed, people are dying and I have nowhere to go." And I only mean that in the event that I am not a citizen: I don't owe my life to a country that won't even give me a passport. If I had obtained Taiwanese citizenship by that point, however, that's a different obligation and I would stay and fight.
The money I have set aside could be used as a down payment on property. If I don't need it, it will be part of my retirement fund. I could use it to pay off my student loans. There are a million other things I could do with it, but I may need it for this purpose and don't feel safe not having it available, so here we are. 

Of course I'm very privileged that I'd even be able to leave (a lot of locals would not be) and that the money is there, but here's the thing.

I should not need to set aside money specifically for my escape from a free and developed democracy due to a highly possible invasion by a hostile foreign power. Nobody should have to.

Not in a country that actively wants to exist in peace, and has no desire to start any wars with any other nation. 


I should not need to wonder, quite pragmatically, whether the rest of the world will tolerate a brutal dictatorship violently annexing the world's 22nd largest economy, one of the US's top trading partners, with a population comparable to that of Australia which is free, basically well-run and friendly to other nations. I should not need to consider whether my decision to stay or go - and the money I need to do that - may well hinge on whether that help comes. 


I'm reasonably sure all of my friends in Taiwan - local and foreign - can understand this.

I am not sure at all that my friends abroad do, though. I'm not sure especially if people I know in the US, Europe, Japan (all developed countries/regions, a group in which Taiwan also qualifies) and beyond are aware of what it's like to have a practical, non-insane notion that they might have 30 days' notice that their life and livelihood as they know it is about to be over. Where "getting out" and losing everything would be the better outcome, and how many more people (again, the population of Australia) might not even have that option.


So I still hear things like "oh but you don't want US help, it'd be just like Iraq or Syria, they'd wreck the place!" or "I don't want your city to become another Fallujah."

Do they understand that it is China who would turn Taipei into an East Asian Fallujah? 


And that their and their governments' wishy-washy response to Chinese threats against Taiwan are a part of why I need to have this fund at all? 

That they think they support peace, but in fact they'd leave us (foreign residents and Taiwanese both) to run or die in war? Do they understand what it would be like for Taiwan to be forcibly annexed by China? Do they understand that giving in and just surrendering to authoritarian rule - and the loss of very real and important freedom and human rights - is not an option? That there is no One Country, Two Systems?

Over the past few years I've come to realize that while at heart I want to be a dove, I can't. Sure, I agree that the US is a neo-imperialist murder machine. Fine. We suck. I won't even argue that we don't. We've done so much harm in the world.

But Taiwan is not Iraq. It's not Syria, it's not Iran or Afghanistan or Central America. It's just not. It's not even comparable. It has its own military and simply needs assistance (or the promise of it, to keep China from attempting an invasion). It has its own successful democratic government and rule of law (I mean...basically. Taiwan does okay.) There'd be no democracy-building or post-war occupation needed. It just needs friends. Big friends, who can tell the bully to back off.

So, y'know, I don't give a crap anymore about anyone's "but the US is evil!" I just don't. Y'all are not wrong, but it simply does not matter. China wants to wreck this country, not the US. China's the invader and (authoritarian) government-builder, not the US. China will turn their guns and bombs on Taiwanese, not the US.

And if you're not the one who has all those missiles pointed at them, you're not the one with lots of friends who could lose everything (including their lives), or lose everything yourself, and you're not the one actively building a refugee fund to escape an otherwise peaceful, developed and friendly country, then you can take all that "but the US is evil!" and shove it. This is a real world situation where we don't exactly have the luxury of choice in who stands by us. There isn't a "better option". There just...isn't.

Unless you think a friendly, open and vibrant democracy being swallowed by a massive dictatorship and losing all access to human rights is totally fine, or that having a refugee fund when living in said open democratic nation is normal.

It's not normal. My refugee fund should not have to exist. Please understand this. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

IELTS takes a political position (and my ongoing battle to fight The Man)

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Jerks.


As my husband noted in his nail-on-the-head post on the same topic, pretty much every IELTS teacher and examiner we know is horrified by the change on IELTS's website of "Taiwan" to "Taiwan, China" (Notably, Hong Kong and Macau bear no such designation. If I didn't already know this was all about politics, I'd say that's odd).

Many of us have written to IELTS to protest the change, including me. I'd include a screenshot, except that e-mail contains references to the nature of my employment which I cannot divulge, but which when blacked out render the letter incoherent. Suffice it to say, it was an angry but basically formal letter of protest and complaint.

We all got the same completely irrelevant form letters in reply, which didn't actually address the issue we wrote about:




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"Thank you for your enquiry and comments. The IELTS Partnership is updating IELTS websites and materials in order to ensure that IELTS remains available to test takers in Taiwan. The IELTS Partnership will continue to deliver IELTS tests in Taiwan, ensuring that the widest number of Taiwanese students and professionals can benefit from the work and study opportunities that the test provides."



You can write to them too, by the way, their email is globalielts@ielts.org. See if you get the same bogus form letter! It'll be a fun international discourse comparison!

Of course, I wrote back to point out that their form letter reply was irrelevant to the protest lodged and got a snottier, though I suppose more relevant, reply:



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"Thank you for your feedback. Please be aware that your position has been noted. Our priority continues to be to ensure that the widest number of Taiwanese students and professionals can benefit from the work and study opportunities that the IELTS test provides."


This is where I got a little testy. I'd say "I have a short temper", but several days on I decided to send this anyway. It won't make a difference, so please enjoy it as a retort created for your entertainment:





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"If you consider them 'Taiwanese students', why do you list their country as being 'China'?"


Here's the thing. I know perfectly well that we're probably not going to win this, because The Man doesn't care about our tinny complaints. It pretends to be apolitical while taking a political, pro-Beijing position. And that is what you're doing when you list Taiwan as "Taiwan, China": you are taking a political position. You are saying Taiwan is a part of China, a position most Taiwanese do not agree with.

It's hard to fight the power, which as a friend pointed out, is the entire point of having power - so it's harder for people to fight you. IELTS pretends to be a dispassionate language proficiency test, but it's also a source of power: are you a non-native speaker who wants to study in the UK (or other countries) or get certain kinds of visas? You have to take it. It's tied to the government through British Council and the UKVI service. That's power. It's not just a test.

It wants to think it's not The Man, but it absolutely is. And as The Man almost always is, IELTS is wrong.

For me, this is the point at which "Taiwan, China" stops being an abstraction: it's not just an unfair, stupid thing that terrible companies do for money. It affects me personally: I'm associated with the brand. Some of my income comes from them. If I refuse to accept this, there is a real impact on my life, moreso than boycotting airlines or slagging off TOEFL. I don't earn money from those companies. I don't know how I can take dirty money now, so for the first time in a very long time, I'm faced with a choice between a chunk of my income, and my principles.

As China expands its forcefulness, more people like me will start facing that choice. I have to hope enough of them will choose principles, as I'm headed towards doing, but I know that many won't.

This isn't a small issue relegated to Taiwan and China. It affects people like me. It affects international workers and foreign residents.

And, as Brendan pointed out in his excellent post (which you should absolutely read), IELTS is essentially helping China accomplish its political goals, which serve as precursors to its military goals:



The government of the PRC would like nothing more than to take over Taiwan and incorporate it into their territory....This is not the ranting of a conspiracy monger -- China isn’t even trying to hide its intentions. 

 Whether China takes Taiwan by force or by “peaceful” coercion, it doesn’t want the rest of the world to see it as a larger country taking over a smaller, less powerful country. That would look very bad. Instead, China wants the rest of the world to see Taiwan as a recalcitrant part of China that needs to be brought to heel. That’s why (among many things) it’s got people pushing to change “Taiwan” on those drop-down menus to things like “Taiwan, China” or “Taiwan, Province of China”. It’s all about changing the world’s perception of Taiwan so that if Invasion Day comes, the rest of the world doesn’t see Xi Jinping as another Hitler invading Poland. 

And every airline that lists Taiwan as China and every educational institution that forces students to declare their country as “Taiwan, China” is complicit in this. With Beijing -- not politically neutral.


I don't know how to fight that. I don't know how to tell you to fight that. I'm still weighing my options, although I know that not acting is not an option. I don't know what to tell my students, except not to take IELTS.

I know some Taiwan-based examiners read this blog. I know a lot of Taiwanese do, too. I don't know what to tell you.

I considered suggesting a strike, and still think that might be a possibility. I worry, however, that it will hurt local centers like IDP Taipei, who are not our enemies (I suspect a lot of the local employees of IELTS centers are on our side, in fact) without really hurting IELTS as a global organization. It might be our best shot, however, at getting this story to stay in the news and embarrass IELTS as much as possible.

I considered a petition, but TOEFL ignored the one directed at them, and IELTS will too. That's what The Man does - he ignores petitions, because he has power.

I considered saying you should change your scripts and say explicitly that Taiwan is NOT CHINA, but that could hurt candidates' performance and that's not fair. It's not their fault (even with the Chinese candidates, it's not their fault at all that their government sucks).

Of course I will continue to encourage Taiwanese students not to take the test.

Something more should be done, but the result has to hurt IELTS Global. What should that something be? I don't know yet. But I have no intention of going away and I have no intention of quietly choosing money over principles.

All I can say is that I encourage you to organize (and feel free to get in touch with me, by the way. I'm easy to find). Be creative, and don't back down. The Man usually wins, but that doesn't mean you have to sit down and obey meekly.

I wish I had better advice, though. I'm not sure what the next move will be, but I can assure you we're not done here.