Showing posts with label democracy_in_asia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label democracy_in_asia. Show all posts

Monday, June 10, 2019

Hong Kong's proposed extradition law should terrify you

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I want to address this to my friends - especially real-life friends outside Asia, but really anybody who cares even nominally about my well-being. I'd like you to read this with the thought in your head that every possibility described below could very well happen to me - this isn't some abstract thing that might affect people you don't know in a place that's far away. It's a very real thing that might affect someone you do know. Please consider that, and read on.

A massive demonstration took place in Hong Kong today to protest a proposed extradition treaty that would allow people facing criminal charges to be sent to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan for trial. Nobody is quite sure how many are in attendance but everyone agrees that it is at least several hundred thousand (well, the police don't, but they have a reputation for purposely under-reporting).

That may sound fine - boring, even. You might do a quick search and learn that Hong Kong already has extradition treaties with 20 other governments, so why not add these to the mix? Why would up to half a million people or more* take to the streets of Hong Kong Island to protest it, grinding much of the city to a halt?

Because, as this video from the Progressive Lawyers' Group in Hong Kong explains, there is simply no hope of a fair trial in China. The government decides whom it wants to convict, and throughout the sham trial their conviction is a foregone conclusion. Extradition treaties are based on the belief that the other country or territory will give the person a fair trial - and Hong Kongers would be right to have no such faith in China.

It's an even more troubling situation for Hong Kong, where the government is ostensibly partly elected, but in practice under the thumb of the CCP. They run their own Beijing-backed candidates; if too many pro-Hong Kong/anti-China candidates win seats in Hong Kong's legislative committee, they simply fabricate charges to get them kicked out of the government and in some cases put in jail.

If China decided that someone they wanted to punish, 'disappear' or sentence to death would not be adequately punished/disappeared/killed in Hong Kong, they could simply order the government they ultimately control to send that person to China - even if the alleged crime had not been committed in China. Even if whatever action the Chinese government wanted to punish was taken in a place where it was legal, such as Hong Kong or Taiwan. Then China could do what they liked with that person.

Don't believe me? Ask Lee Ming-che, who is currently serving a prison sentence in China despite having committed no crime (what he did took place in Taiwan, where such actions are quite legal - not China.) And he's not the only one.

Under such a system, Hong Kong would have the appearance of a semi-elected governing body and fair, independent judiciary tasked with upholding residents' and visitors' access to their legal and human rights, but in fact every last one of them would be ultimately subject to the much less fair and transparent Chinese legal system - as their extradition could be requested at any time. It would be very difficult to convince skeptics (and a complicit international media) that this is the case, because on paper, Hong Kong wouldn't have the same legal framework as China. In reality, the difference between them would not matter at all.

What does this have to do with me?

I go to China sometimes, and I know that I risk being detained over my criticisms of the CCP. It probably won't happen - there's an element of white privilege (although they have detained non-Asians), and the fact that I'm relatively obscure and will probably stay that way. They seem to be more reticent to detain US citizens. I write in English for an English-speaking audience on a platform blocked in China; my work isn't aimed at China or Chinese readers. But imagine that one day they do decide that I'm trouble, and need to be dealt with.

I'd probably be aware of that well before I tried to enter China, which at that point I might simply stop doing. Hong Kong, on the other hand, is supposed to be a place I can visit where I would still have some basic protections and access to human rights. Under this new extradition law, however, the Chinese government could order the Hong Kong government to send me to China for trial, despite having done nothing illegal in China itself - or anywhere else (nothing I write is illegal in Taiwan or, ostensibly, Hong Kong.)

Now imagine that Taiwan is forced to come under the same 'One Country Two Systems' framework as Hong Kong, either through some annexationist effort from China or Taiwanese blundering into electing a (potentially) a bought-and-paid-for stooge of the CCP groomed to run on a populist, "let's all get rich" platform with absolutely no substance or follow-through, but very attractive rhetoric that cuts right to some endorphin center in enough people's brains. That elected someone would sign over Taiwan's sovereignty for the right price, or no price at all.

China would insist that "One Country Two Systems" would allow Taiwan to keep its current political structure, but in practice everything that's happening in Hong Kong would start to happen here. Intentional flooding of immigrants from China who disrupt elections. Beijing-backed candidates running in races. Beijing-opposed candidates being kicked out of office on bogus charges until everyone in the "elected" Taiwanese government is sufficiently pro-China. The international media would play its same old fake neutrality card, claiming that perhaps this is problematic although the two places technically have different systems.

By then, the same extradition treaty they're forcing through in Hong Kong would be in force in Taiwan, as well.

And I wouldn't just be unsafe going to Hong Kong - I'd be unsafe in the country I call home. If this happens, every single thing I write on Lao Ren Cha could be the thing that lands me in a Chinese prison - despite living in a place that would seem to have its own democratic government and independent legal system. Both, however, would be irrelevant. China could simply tell the government it controls to "send her over", and that'd be that. For all intents and purposes, I'd be under the Chinese legal system.

You know I consider it a moral obligation not to keep my mouth shut about political injustice. How do you think that would go for me? I don't expect random readers to sympathize with the idea that Taiwan is my home and I don't have another one I can easily 'return' to, and I admit to the privilege of having that blue passport. But you guys - my actual friends and family - you know that this is my home and deciding to 'just leave' isn't so simple. 


This obviously affects Taiwanese citizens even more - they'd be more unsafe than me, with fewer places to go. Please remember that. But, as I'm addressing my friends outside Asia right now, all of those people might seem like abstractions. They're unknown - a large population you have no connection with. Far away. You know me, though. You have a connection with me. This shouldn't be an abstraction. It could affect someone who is actually a part of your life.

I shouldn't have to put it this way - that millions of Taiwanese people would be at risk should be enough to scare you. It should be enough to care. But I'm aware that when talking about large groups of people you don't know from a far-away foreign country you've never visited, it's hard to apply that same level of individual human concern. I ask you to try - but if your brain just won't cooperate, make it personal. Think of me.

Don't like that? Well, let me show you how it's even worse.

I can't substantiate this, but the story flicking around Twitter is that shady pro-CCP groups offered to pay pretty decent sums of money to get a few hundred people to come out to support the extradition law, because they know it's so unpopular. If true, they are literally fabricating support for CCP initiatives to make it seem like this is some sort of controversial issue with many sides. It's not - Hong Kong residents are quite clearly opposed to it.




There is also word (as of when I am writing this) that police beatings are breaking out in Hong Kong.

Even sadder?

Despite the massive size of this protest - I don't think either side estimated that many people would turn out - this law will probably be passed, and Hong Kong will become just as unsafe as China for anyone who expresses opinions the CCP doesn't like.

In Taiwan, a protest this size might just be a wake-up call. Though its light is fading, the Sunflower Movement had a real effect here and its spirit lives on in some of us. In Hong Kong, this should be a clarion call to LegCo (the city's legislative body) not to pass this law - but LegCo is in the CCP's pocket, and the CCP doesn't care.

But hold on tight - if these protests continue, things could get tense in Hong Kong, in exactly the way they need to. It counts for something that people are standing and fighting. Don't stop.

And friends in far-flung places - please don't forget that this isn't an abstraction. It's not some boring legal battle going on in a place you don't know well, affecting people you don't care about on a personal level. However tangentially, it affects me. I know we all have a lot of competing issues battling for space in our hearts and minds, but it's worth your time to care about this. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

I attended the Taipei commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and...

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The event was emceed by Lin Fei-fan and Miao Poya

...I'm not going to give you a rundown. You can read one here (it comes after discussion of a conference that took place last weekend leading up to the event, which I was unable to attend for work reasons.


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I'll just say briefly that I've attended in years past, when the crowd was smaller and perhaps a bit more casual, there to remember the events of June 4th, 1989 but not terribly weighed down by them.


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This year's event was better-attended than those in years past. 


This year, I don't know what it was. I would simply expect that there'd be a greater number of PRC spies in the audience than usual, though I can always assume a few are around at any civil society event in Taiwan, so that wasn't it. Perhaps it was the importance of this being a 'Big 0' anniversary. Perhaps trepidation over China's increasing global influence, expansionism and belligerence. Perhaps its increasingly annexationist and violent rhetoric regarding Taiwan. Perhaps a latent knowledge and fear that political conditions in China are worsening, that a genocide is going on while the world shrugs its shoulders ("never again" my ass), that they've already silenced Hong Kong and Taiwan could be next - they intend for Taiwan to be next and this grows more obvious by the day. But I don't really know.

It was something though, and another friend picked up on it too.


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I got to meet Miao Poya

"Why does the crowd feel different?" he asked. I'd noticed it too, but couldn't put my finger on it.

I thought for a minute and answered, simply -


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Vice-President Chen Chien-jen speaks



"Fear."




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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. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Battle for the Story of Taiwan: De-centering Oppressive Narratives

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Spend any time around nerdy academic/historian types (or just socially aware people) and you'll eventually end up in a discussion about dominant narratives. A dominant narrative is basically the I-sound-like-smart-people way of describing the old "history is written by the winners" trope; the stories of those whose experiences don't align with the dominant narrative are "counter-narratives", as they're marginalized from the dominant narrative. (If you're already familiar with what this means, you can skip/skim the next few paragraphs).

These people may, in fact, be a majority of people spread across a variety of groups who aren't "the winners" in history. Considering, for example, that women's experiences are often not accounted for by the dominant narrative of most cultures, nor are those of people of color (or not in the ethnic majority), LGBT+ people and more, it's hard to argue that the "dominant narrative" is the one experienced by the most people; rather, it's the one experienced by the most privileged people.

Or, to give a real life example, in school in the US I learned the dominant narrative of American history. That history was dotted with august men who did brave things and propelled mind-blowing scientific and social advancements. Then, we evolved as a society and began talking about all the women whose contributions had been left out of this story: for instance, if you listen to the dominant narrative on the history of computer science, you'd think the whole field was developed by men, with the first technological advancements in the field by men, and the first coding done by men. That is far from true, however.

Then women's history became a thing, but it was mostly white women's history, so there was a lot of discussion about women not having access to work opportunities or even being "allowed" to work for pay. Of course, that left out women of color and working-class women, who had consistently earned money through labor...and it goes on.

And of course, it's not that the dominant narrative is totally wrong; it's just told as the whole story, when in fact it's simply one facet of the story. It's a cut in the diamond; not the whole damn stone.

I'm probably already losing a few readers here, and that's fine. If you're all "ugh but LOBSTERS" or some nonsense at this point, then do yourselves a favor and go. I won't notice. I'm not aiming this at you.

So, what does this have to do with China and Taiwan? Quick-thinking readers surely see where I'm going with this.

Liberal thinkers in many countries have done a fantastic job of pointing out and attempting to rectify the grip on historical interpretation that the old dominant narratives had. They'll readily point out that this or that telling of our collective cultural tale isn't including enough marginalized narratives.

But then they look across to the ocean at Asia and it's like all of that complex critical thinking just goes out the window; where we were discussing a beautifully-cut diamond with near-countless facets in our own culture, we're back to "it's a rock!" when discussing the other side of the world.

It's the result of a good-faith effort not to look at the world through a white/Western lens, and elevate narratives that are not white or Western, but it does exactly the thing that these same people warn against doing in their own cultures: it centers only the dominant narrative in this part of Asia, and marginalizes every other one. In other words, when de-centering Whiteness and choosing a different narrative, they again reach for the most dominant non-white narrative and there's a battle fought anew to argue for the inclusion of everything that is marginalized as a result of that choice.

And because it's big and populous and powerful (by powerful I mean "it has a lot of money"), that dominant narrative is China's.

Or rather, not even China's - it's the Communist Party of China (CCP) narrative. It's the wealthy straight cis male Chinese narrative. It's the Han narrative (oh, you thought only white people could be ethno-cultural chauvinists who try to erase the counter-narratives of others or pound them into submission as 'colorful' but ultimately obedient 'minority' 'ethnic' groups? You're wrong.)

Don't believe me? Okay, why is it that China relaxing its One Child Policy made the international news but nobody's talking about how the CCP still treats women's bodies as property of the state? Why does Taiwan's path to marriage equality make the international news, but no major Western media outlets seem to link it explicitly to Taiwan's cultural distinctness from China (which is nowhere near any sort of same-sex partnership)? Why do so many Westerners seem to think Chinese culture is so "traditionally" anti-gay when that's just not the whole story? I could go on.

So, when the question turns to Taiwan, that same prioritizing of the CCP/Han dominant narrative gets repeated by well-meaning Western liberals.

The results are devastating.  That same quicksilver liberal who could tear apart the way you looked at the world by pointing out every marginalized narrative in her own culture devolves into insisting - often loudly, even stupidly - on pre-fab garbage like "but Taiwan is China because their official name is the Republic of China!" or "but the Taiwanese are Chinese because historically they come from the same culture and heritage and they have the same history!" or "I don't think Taiwanese independence is a good idea because we need more unity in the world and less nationalism!" or "how can Taiwan be a country when it's not in the UN?"

Or - and this is the most insidious one of all in my opinion, a real rabbit hole - "but China has such a different culture and they conceive of these things so differently, we can't push our Western conception of what it means to be culturally Chinese on them!"

Except that's the CCP's line - we're not Western, your Western morals and ethics and concepts don't work here. It only works for everyone in Asia if the general consensus in Asia is that it's true - but that's not the case. Most Taiwanese don't; having as a population forced their own government to democratize and adopt (albeit imperfectly enforce) the basic tenets of universal human rights, they'd argue for the same freedoms and similar political values to the ones your typical Western liberal espouses (family and social values may differ, however).

So if you adopt that dominant narrative as the only narrative that counts in (ugh) "Greater China", you're just telling people in this part of Asia how to think based on your White conception of how people here should think, which is informed by what the dominant (and authoritarian) narrative in these parts is telling you. That dominant narrative will further imply that in order to "respect Asian values", you need to agree. Or, as a friend put it, the CCP picks apart the Western dominant narrative  - which, to be fair, deserves to be picked apart - but their goal is to supplant it with their own.

It is helpful to that dominant narrative if you - the well-meaning Westerner who wants to "respect different cultures" - don't notice that there is more than one narrative in Asia, and that there are all sorts of marginalized Asian narratives you could also be listening to.


In short, by adopting the CCP/China narrative when talking about Taiwan, you are doing to Taiwan exactly what you'd argue against in your own culture. You are telling people who are trying to express a marginalized narrative - of Taiwanese identity, Taiwanese shared history and its many cultural facets - that their stories don't matter and should not be included, that only what China thinks counts. And you're doing it while believing yourself enlightened; believing that by swallowing the CCP's Story of China and Taiwan, that you are "respecting Asian values and other cultures", when you are doing the opposite.

The KMT/Republic of China narrative functions similarly. If you buy into the "Taiwan's official name is the Republic of China, so they too claim to be 'China'", you're centering the dominant narrative of what a former military dictatorship forced on Taiwan, and ignoring the marginalized narrative of the vast majority of Taiwanese who simply don't believe that to be the case, but feel powerless to change what the government must continue to claim under threat of war. 


I've thought a lot about why this is. Part of it boils down to Asia just being far away and unfamiliar. When you don't have much direct experience of a place or its cultures - maybe one or two trips, maybe reading the news - when you hear a narrative from that unfamiliar part of the world, it's natural to seize on it as the narrative, something you didn't know before, yippee! It's human nature to think of something you've learned to be the last thing you need to learn, or to be as deep as you need to go.

People also have limited time; a Westerner without ties to this part of Asia simply doesn't have room in their daily life to learn more about how things work here, just as I simply don't have the time to delve into the intricacies of North African politics, let alone the narratives within any single North African country, and what marginalized narratives may lie beneath that.

And, of course, learning is a scaffolded process: when the average Westerner may not even be aware that Taiwan and China have two different, sovereign systems of government, it's quite difficult to then make the leap to specialized historical discussions about what was and was not historically considered "China" and why it matters, for instance.

Much easier for the average person to hear a new perspective and decide that it simply and succinctly covers what they need to know. The human tendency to seize on a dominant narrative and accept it because it simply and understandably helps them file away a difficult topic is both natural and global. If you recognize that bias for what it is, it's not even anything to be ashamed of.

The CCP has figured this out: they know people in other countries have limited time and brain space to devote to the full story here. So they expend massive resources to ensure that their narrative is the one everyone hears.

How to overcome it? After years of thinking about this, I'm still not sure, but I have a few pallid suggestions. Like tarps in a cyclone, they are certainly insufficient, and I make no promises as to their efficacy.

Once made aware of the tendency to abandon criticality when faced with a new narrative, most well-meaning people are able to work that muscle in their brain until it's instinctive: meet new narrative, absorb information, ask oneself: is this all there is to the story? There must be more. There's always more.

It's not always necessary to dive in and learn it all; simply being aware that there's a lot more going on underneath any narrative you hear, and that everything you hear may carry with it bias or intent, is often enough to maintain adequate criticality. When discussing Taiwan with people abroad who may be willing to listen, we need to get that muscle working first, but approach our request that one think critically about the narrative they've heard in a way that will be heeded. Keep it brief, and don't be afraid to break out the metalanguage. "De-centering" and "marginalized narratives" are terms that are used so often that they're practically cliché, but they make sense and accurately describe the situation. They're powerful tools when discussing Taiwan with those who are sympathetic to looking at the world through these lenses.


There are so many thoughtful experts, scholars and activists who are knowledgeable about Taiwan, who will pointedly argue for the inclusion of marginalized narratives here. Any contemporary telling of Taiwanese history to such an audience is likely to be met with a barrage of discussions about whether it adequately includes indigenous history, or women's history, or the history of lower-income or rural people. This is fantastic; the battle for the Story of Taiwan as more than the Story of Hoklo Han Taiwan is one we must fight.

And yet, there's also a larger battle we must attend to concurrently; the battle for the Story of Taiwan to be included in the narrative of East Asia, and we've got to keep our eyes on that fight, too. 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The party's starting late (or: it's your country - save it yourself)

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We are all Taiwan souls


Just some thoughts in the warm light of day. 

I'm a little hungover this morning, so I got up late and put up this flag just to remind myself that the fight's not over. 

I have less to say about the races so I'll talk about marriage equality. Honestly, I think that's the one we all cared about the most. 

First, yes, despite the deliberately confusing wording of the referendums, we were a bit too early to the party for marriage equality in Taiwan. The old folks came out and voted, and they showed that the wrong side of history still holds sway here. 

But let's remember a few things. We were early to the party, but what we heard last night wasn't the voice of eternal conservatism in Taiwan. What we heard is that the party is still on, it's just going to start later than expected. 

Young people are more disenfranchised in Taiwan's voting system: they're broke, they can't vote absentee even though they're less likely to live where they are registered, they work long hours so it's hard to travel back. Some perhaps didn't vote because they knew they'd be harangued by their elders for voting the "wrong" (actually the right) way. It doesn't change the fact that the younger generation DOES think differently for the most part, and unlike views on things like fiscal policy, this isn't a view that grows more conservative with age. They got complacent perhaps, because all their friends are pro-equality too so it seemed like the country was more firmly on their side. They thought 10, 11 and 12 would be defeated, so it didn't matter if it was inconvenient to vote. But the old folks will die and the younger ones will do better. 

Let's remember as well that the pro-equality side had far less funding - why aren't you guys donating, by the way? - and young people are too busy and broke to volunteer. You could see it in their materials: their brochures weren't as glossy or thick, or as great in number, because they didn't have the cash. Unlike the bigots, who could recruit housewives with nothing better to do, their supporters work long hours just to get by and so they couldn't get out and volunteer as much. But that doesn't mean supporters don't exist. 

People might say "Taiwan is a conservative society" and I have to admit there's some truth to that. But it is not conservative across the board: older folks still hold a lot of cultural power, but the winds of change are blowing. They were blowing in the US in the 1960s, even though most people still opposed civil rights (the majority were against the Civil Rights Act when it passed). They were blowing in the 1970s and 80s, when most people thought the participants of the Kaohsiung Incident were ruffians and 'bad elements', because the KMT dictatorship portrayed them that way in the media. Now we know better. Both the US and Taiwan still have a long way to go, but we have come some distance. 

And yes, some people were tricked. My student on Friday was talking about how a "separate law" could still be "equal", and I had to set him straight (he'd heard misinformation). A former student said the referendums were so confusing that they seemed to have been written by "an elementary-school student". A lot of people who theoretically believe in equality but are still coming to terms with this new world of LGBT acceptance thought the wording of #12 sounded tempting. A lot of people were misled to believe that the problem with sex education in schools is that it starts too young (it doesn't, by the way) - that's what the commercials said - and don't realize that the intention is to ban it from school altogether. 

While the anti-gay referendums might still have gotten more votes than the pro-equality ones had the wording been clearer, I honestly doubt they would have passed. That's what the anti-gay Christians had to do to get votes: to deliberately confuse people. If Taiwan really agreed with them, they could have written three clear proposals. It says a lot that they didn't. 


The fact that the bigots had to deliberately make the wording fuzzy and spread lies to get votes, that they had to pour so much money into their campaign, and that they had to move from trying to "portray LGBT people as morally degenerate" (to quote a friend) to "we support a separate law to protect LGBT rights and interests" shows that they had to pretend to care about equality to get all those votes. Taiwanese people did not vote "WE HATE GAYS" last night. The Christian jerks lost that battle. They voted "we're scared of change, so let's pick this thing that seems like equality so we don't feel too terrible. After all, aren't we still protecting LGBT rights if there's a separate law?"

(No, but I can see why some people were convinced that this was the case.)


Someone else I know pointed out that conservative forces in Taiwan have been studying US electoral politics, and I agree. The deep green conservatives who want global recognition for Taiwan got played with a bunch of needless 'culture war' garbage that has actually set back their goal. Marriage equality was one way to get Taiwan into the headlines, and now Taiwan looks bad. I hope they're happy. They pulled a Trump in Kaohsiung (Han Kuo-yu is not only terrifyingly right-wing populist, he can barely answer questions and never gives details, and beats people up for no reason at all). They're doing a really good job in getting us lefties to all hate each other for no goddamn reason. 

The US voted right-wing in 2016 too, and those of us who are trying to bend the arc of history towards justice realized we weren't fighting hard enough, and we weren't fighting well enough. We realized that marching around with signs is only part of the equation, and we needed to start politicking (again to quote a friend) and stop shitting all over every incremental improvement that was not the total change we wanted. I think Taiwanese youth will realize this too, and stop thinking that only 100% moral purity will do, or that anything less than 100% victory is defeat - and it's time to start politicking. 

We should have learned this in 2014, when the Sunflowers stopped CSSTA and effected a huge electoral change not because every one of their demands was met, but because they ended the occupation after a sufficient victory. Their slogan was 自己的國家,自己救 (it's your country, save it yourself) - and we should have learned from that and not just trusted politicians to do the right thing or for 10, 11 and 12 to fail.

Or we could have learned it during the Wild Strawberries, where they were broadly ignored in their time but have had a big influence on Taiwan in the 2010s. Or we could have learned this during the Kaohsiung Incident, which broadly failed in its day (many participants went to jail, some were tortured), but they kept fighting.


Culture wars work to get out the vote, and as I do suspect that the KMT cut a deal with churches to quash marriage equality for votes (I can't prove this; I just suspect it), which with the deep green conservatives, pushed the anti-equality initiatives over the top. But neither the US nor Taiwan is homogenously bigoted. We might be post-Sunflower in Taiwan now, but Taiwan is not only a 'conservative society'. Remember that it was the Christians - people who follow a Western religion - who spearheaded this. They got others to agree, but non-Christian Taiwanese were not leading the fight. 

And it's ridiculous to let Christians define what it means to be Taiwanese. Taiwan is not a Christian nation. Even if you consider Taiwanese culture to be an outgrowth of Chinese culture (which I don't), Chinese culture was not particularly traditionally opposed to homosexuality. While things may have been different for everyday people, rulers often had gay lovers and nobody cared as long as they produced heirs. There's an entire opera - The Butterfly Lovers (梁祝) - in which a boy falls in love with a girl dressed like a boy, and is conflicted (in the end she's to be married to someone else and they both commit suicide.) In the opera, his confusion over his feelings is merely described; it is not condemned. Being anti-gay is not inherently Chinese (if you think Taiwan has Chinese heritage, which, again, I don't). It may be Neo-Confucian and Christian-tinged authoritarian (the Chiangs were Christian), but it is not "Chinese". 

The 100,000+ people who have turned out for pro-equality events are Taiwanese too. The few million who did vote for equality are Taiwanese too. Those who got tricked into voting for 'a separate law' but are actually not bigoted are Taiwanese too. People say that ascribing certain 'Western' values to Taiwan makes white folks like me 'culturally imperialist', but I'm not the one doing it. I'm describing what they are doing, and they have just as much of a say in what is or is not 'Taiwanese' as the old conservatives.

I mean, when America sort-of voted for Trump, liberals didn't think "oh, I guess that means we don't have any say in what it means to be American". We re-evaluated what we thought we knew about our country, realized we needed a new strategy, and kept fighting, because we were and are just as American as anyone from Trump Country.

What's more, in the US once marriage equality was made law, it ceased to be a relevant issue. Just as with every other country in the world - and even in the US's own past with abolition, suffrage and civil rights - often popular opinion follows law rather than preceding it. That's not the typical order in Asia (generally things don't change here until popular opinion supports a change), but that doesn't mean it's impossible. In fact, I suspect in the years after May 2019 when some sort of same-sex unions become law, they will then become normalized. Then, the groundwork will be there for true equality. 


And yes, a lot of young people also voted against equality, because they grew up in conservative families. Because Taiwan is more "filial piety"-oriented (well, Neo-Confucian obedience-oriented - Confucius never envisioned 'filial piety' this way) it will take longer, but more will break free as they grow, and the ones who do not will not be the definitive voice of the next generation. 

So we need to support them - with our time, our advice from the battles we've fought in our own countries, and our money (DONATE, YOU GUYS) - so they can make this party happen for real. We need to engage with them and they need to figure out how to engage with their elders. 

Let's remember as well that the DPP may be spineless, and they don't all support us, but they didn't want marriage equality to be decided by the electorate for just this reason. They knew how it'd turn out, and they knew what the more conservative wing of their base thought. So they may lack moral courage, but we do have allies among some of them. We can't make the mistake of thinking that electing them will fix everything again: it's your country, save it yourself. 

The good news is that their conservative base is pro-Taiwan, and Taiwan stands for equality and human rights. I do believe that some of them can be convinced in the coming years, if we make the right arguments about marriage equality being good for the country's international profile, for Taiwan's economy, and for Taiwanese values, of which equality is a part.


Another bright spot as well is that the NPP won several city council seats, and Miao Poya, the first openly LGBT city councilor, was elected last night in my district. We do have allies. The old people don't get to define all of what it means to be Taiwanese. The Council of Grand Justices has already said their ruling stands. 

That shows we've already pushed the conversation a little bit in the right direction. The "gays are degenerate and have AIDS!" argument no longer works here. And no matter what, there will be some form of same-sex partnerships in May. This is not a 100% victory, but it's a step. Once that happens, and people realized that AIDS doesn't start falling from the sky, then we can actually get this party started. 

I'm here in my party dress and I have to believe it will start. 

In other words, that flag above and the people who fly it are *just* as Taiwanese as any old bigot at the polls. And we've got one thing that most of Asia doesn't: actual democracy. China says "'Chinese' [by their definition] people are not ready for democracy", but although we don't like the results, and some outcomes seem straight-up stupid, you have to admit: people were engaged and talking about the races and referendums. People turned out to vote. They didn't vote the way wed've liked, but Taiwan can still prove that 'Chinese' [again, China's definition, not mine] can and have built a democracy. We only have to hope that it stands, because there are some huge tests coming.

Well. We are all Taiwan souls. Some of us were born into it, some of us are not actually Taiwanese but this is our home. I don't get any say in what is or is not "Taiwanese", but our liberal Taiwanese friends do. We need to support them. Now. 

I am deeply disappointed in Taiwan today. I still love this country, but I don't like it very much right now. But this is my home and I may be crying and hungover, but I have to keep fighting for it.

Friday, August 10, 2018

It is really hard to support Taiwan (Part 3): being pro-Taiwan doesn't mean being pro-US!

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Westerners pushing into Asia is not always a great idea - just ask this guy.
(But when it comes to East Asia, I'd rather have the US around than China.)


I'm aiming for this to be the final set of ideas that I express in this series of posts (though you never know). In the previous two posts I took aim at Taiwan's domestic issues and the state of Taiwan advocacy - this time, I want to shift my focus to other Westerners.

I've had a few friends and Facebook people say things which have caused me to worry about the relationship between Western liberals: that no matter how bad the threat from China is, Taiwan must find a solution that doesn't involve the United States because we're evil; surprise that China even wants to be the next global superpower; that seeking the best possible realistic solution for Taiwan amounts to being pro-right wing or pro-Trump; that saying continued US influence in Asia is the only realistic way to counter China is "dangerous propaganda"; that Taiwan being annexed by China is actually preferable to its having close ties to the US because "the culture and history is the same".

All of these (wrong-headed) statements carry an implication that advocating for any realistic solution that contains Chinese influence in Asia (especially vis-a-vis Taiwan) amounts to being pro-USA. 


This is one pushback that doesn't seem to have been mentioned in critical essays on China's United Front efforts. Michael Turton wrote an excellent piece on weaponized narratives for American Citizens for Taiwan, of which I have no criticism. In it, he describes the ways in which China supporters tries to twist narratives to make those who criticize the Chinese government's actions seem ignorant, uncivil, hysterical or racist. Some of these notions were echoed more recently in The Monthly:


Relentlessly, and through a thousand different channels, the Party was working to collapse the categories of “Chinese Communist Party”, “China” and “the Chinese people” into a single organic whole – until the point where the Party could be dropped from polite conversation altogether. From there, the Party’s critics could be readily caricatured as “anti-China”, “racist” or even “Sinophobic”.


But, I have to say, I'm not afraid of being seen in these ways. No real person (leaving aside the fifty-cent trolls) would look at what I have to say and declare that I am "ignorant" of China or the region. I'm not an academic in this field, so I'm not worried about incivility. Hysterical - well, yes, okay, my criticisms of Chinese government actions are numerous. However, when I point out that I live in a sovereign democracy that China has openly said they intend to annex by force, most reasonable people do understand that the threat to my home is very real, and it is not hysterical to point this out. I've had "racist!" leveled at me a few times - but any reasonable person will note that I live in and advocate for an Asian nation, not a majority-white one.

No - what I'm afraid of instead is being labeled "pro-America" or "pro-Western imperialist".

That is a difficult one to fight, because a strong case for Taiwan does tend to include a case for liberal values, and an argument against attempts to eradicate and replace them with what China might call "Asian values" but I call "authoritarian, pro-oppression, anti-human rights" fascism. However, it's hard to make that case without sounding too much like a booster for the West as a whole and the US in particular.


Liberal values are universal, not Western

I consider "liberal values" to be universal - freedom, human rights, equality. Democracy too, though there are a variety of ways to structure it (some being more democratic than others), but a lot of people have been convinced to see them as distinctly "Western". This is misguided: it assumes there is no bedrock of historical fact and a philosophical history (in many cultures, not just Western ones) of ethics that have brought about the idea that human rights are for all, not just some.

But, if you see my stance as fundamentally "Western" (which, again, it isn't) that makes it sound like one is totally fine with a continuation of a system in which white folks continue to be on top - it can be twisted around and interpreted to mean that one doesn't want to give up a position of power and privilege to Asia because you as a Westerner may stand to lose from that. 


We're not unaware

It also sounds as though one is unaware of how systemic exploitation is either accepted or encouraged with those at the top (that is, white people) allowing the rest of the world to continue to toil for their benefit by, say, making clothes in Bangladesh or iPhones in China in dangerous, slave-like working conditions. It sounds like one is in favor of the continued supremacy of a country whose foreign policy has completely screwed a large chunk (though not all) of Asia. 

Of course, I'm not in favor of a system in which the West is on top forever and necessarily keeps the rest of the world down to maintain its primacy. I'm not particularly pro-US - if anything, my views veer in the opposite direction.


What China wants vs. what's best for Asia

It's difficult to argue that, however, when it sounds so close to advocating for the status quo, especially when one then directs criticism at China's goal of global hegemony.

A lot of people don't believe this is the case: I've met many who believe that China has no desire to take America's place as the global hegemon. This is clearly untrue: China barely tries to conceal what it wants - total global supremacy - but people believe it nonetheless.

It wants a world in which other states are economically dependent on it. It wants to control the world's main transport networks. It wants to impose at least a tributary acceptance of Chinese censorship on the world. It wants, if not wholesale adoption, then at least acceptance of authoritarianism as a viable and "right" system of government and that human rights are not universal.

It wants to start by replacing the US as the biggest influencer in Asia. This sounds great on its face - Asia for Asians, yeah? - but remember that China is a dictatorship that wishes to impose its own will on the nations that surround it, including many successful, developed democracies (like Taiwan!) whose political values are actually closer to those of the West. An authoritarian system such as China's - and being subordinate to it - is actually a massive problem for successful Asian democracies. 

The US may not be an Asian nation, but working with them rather than China is actually in the interest of countries like Taiwan (and Korea, and Japan...) if they want to maintain their current level of freedom and democracy. Try saying that, though, and not sounding like an Evil Imperialist Capitalist Exploiter to a certain kind of liberal. 

It also requires that one ignore that so much of Asia is now at the top of the economic food chain: the only way the "you're an American imperialist!" narrative works is in a paradigm where there is only oppressor and oppressed, rather than an entire set of successful developed economies that counter this notion. I wonder what Koreans, Japanese, Singaporeans, Hong Kong residents, Taiwanese and residents of some Chinese cities would say to being told that they are victims because the West is their oppressor.


It smells like a right-wing narrative, but it's not

Two more issues compound this problem: the first is that this whole "freedom and democracy!" bass drum has been banged so much by the American right (well, until recently anyway), alongside the "anti-China" snare drum and "capitalism!" cymbals. Trying to separate all of that out and advocate for Taiwan (which involves being anti-CCP, but not anti-China) and for the spread of democracy and human rights is difficult: people expect to hear the rest of that conservative rhetoric along with it, and it seems more difficult to process when it's not there. 

They expect you to be a right-winger, because you sound a little bit like one. And they expect the same level of insincerity about "freedom of democracy" that the American (and increasingly European) right shows. Because of course, they are totally insincere. You can't be a strong ally of Saudi Arabia, or decline to comment on how your nation does not share so-called "Chinese values", and still call yourself the leaders of the free world. 


Anti-democracy liberals

The second is that believing that the US is evil and anyone who advocates for continued US dominance in Asia (regardless of the subtlety of their actual argument) is advocating for Western imperialism, and that China is the victim in this story, is a terribly anti-democratic view to take.

It is essentially using liberal precepts and twisting them around to support fascism. It is taking the idea of "equality" (which really means equality of people under the law) and turning it over to say that some people can live under dictatorship because all narratives - including CCP propaganda - are equally valid (which they are not), and disagreements can be brushed away with "eh, different cultures".

It totally ignores how many Asian cultures are in fact already democratic, and successfully so. That complicates things too much apparently. 



I got nothin' ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 
I don't know how to solve this - I'm not pro-US. I'm not pro-status quo. I want to live in a world where nobody is the superpower, where there is no hegemon. Nobody to act like the 'world police', because the world police never actually act for the benefit of all. They always prioritize themselves. This means a world in which the US plays a more egalitarian role, and also one in which China either cannot or does not take the US's place.

That sounds like fairy dreams, but it is my ideal. It may not be possible, but I'd love for other Westerners to at least understand the real case Taiwan advocates like myself are making, rather than knee-jerk assume that because we are pro-Taiwan and anti-CCP, and that happens to hew closely to a strong Taiwan-US relationship, that we are pro-Western imperialist or pro-US.

Because that is simply not the case. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

It's like air: Tiananmen in Taipei, 2018

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Honestly, I feel the need to write about the Tiananmen Square memorial event held yesterday, June 4th not because I think I have anything unique to say about it that others couldn't, but because this year it felt so lightweight that if we don't note it down for the collective Internet memory, the event as a whole will just float away, as though it never happened. Which is, of course, exactly what the Communist Part of China wants. Nobody likes the world remembering massacres they perpetrated.

The event was mostly in Chinese, with a few speakers addressing the crowd in English. I would like to suggest here that the entire event should be bilingual, and next year's 30th anniversary event might actually make the news, so it would be smart to have translators ensuring all talks are available in English and Chinese. I can follow the Chinese, but I can imagine many foreigners in Taipei who'd be otherwise interested in attending might not, because it's not very exciting to hear speeches in a language you don't understand.

As usual, the event featured a number of speakers from a variety of activist groups across Asia, including recorded talks from Uighur activists, two speakers from Reporters Without Borders (based in Taipei) and a particularly electrifying speech by Vietnamese activist and Taipei resident Trinh Huu Long. Yu Mei-nu, Yibee Huang and Zheng Xiu-juan (Lee Ming-che's boss, although that sounds odd to say in English) were some of the Taiwanese speakers.

Zheng likened China's human rights abuses to its intractable pollution problem, saying that "human rights are like air" - when you're breathing comfortably you don't notice them, but when the pollution ratchets up to PM 2.5, you realize how vital clean air to breathe is, and suddenly you're suffocating. (I'm translating roughly from memory here).


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Zheng Xiu-juan (鄭秀娟) and Yibee Huang (黃怡碧)


There were also performances, including a memorable entrance by Taiwanese rapper Chang Jui-chuan (張睿銓), who sang one of his newer songs, Gin-a. The lyrics (in Taiwanese) discuss Taiwanese democracy movements and freedom fighters post-1949:

Killing after killing, jail after jail...
Hey kid, you must remember

Their blood and sweat, torment and sacrifice
Gave you the air you're breathing



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Empty chairs at empty tables



And that's just it - the 6/4 event, held every year, feels like a part of the air here in Taiwan. It just happens, everyone knows it happens, and they assume others will attend so they take it for granted. It's there, it's always there, maybe next year, someone will show up. I don't need to worry about it. Ugh, Monday night.

What you get, then, is an attendance rate that looks like it might have been less than 100 (but damn it, Ketagalan Media made the effort. We showed up.) Which, again, is exactly what the CCP wants - for us to forget.

In 2014 this event was huge, with camera lights stretching back into the distance and prominent Taiwanese activists showed up - including Sunflowers fresh off the high of electrifying society and about to watch the tsunami they started wash across the 2014 elections. We thought we could change Asia. We thought it was within our grasp...and now there are empty chairs stretching back, and nobody seems to notice the air they're breathing.

Some say it doesn't matter, or is odd to hold in Taiwan, as China is a different country. It's true that China and Taiwan are two different nations. What happens in China affects Taiwan, though, and hosting memorial events so close to China and in venues where a number of Chinese are likely to walk by does make a difference, if a small one. We're on the front lines in the fight against China's encroaching territorial and authoritarian expansionism, so it means something to take a stand - even a small one - here.

In 2016 an entire group of Chinese tourists walked right past the event - this year, someone seems to have ensured that wouldn't happen again. For once, Dead Dictator Memorial Hall was completely devoid of Chinese tour groups and I doubt that was a coincidence. What I'm saying is, somebody noticed.

It also serves as a reminder that Taiwan is not China - we can and do hold these events here, and we do so freely and without fear. We talk about our history, as Chang does in Gin-A. We discuss our common cause, as democracy activists from across Asia did last night. What we do - let's not forget human rights abuses that happen in Taiwan - may not perfectly align with what we stand for, but we talk about it, and we have the space and air we need to work toward something better. In China you can't breathe at all.

But the people who died at Tiananmen 29 years ago are among those whose sacrifice may eventually give China the air it needs to breathe - though I grow less sure that it might happen in my lifetime. Fighters like Lee Ming-che, thrust into the national spotlight and just as quickly forgotten even in Taiwan, give Taiwan the air it needs to breathe. We give ourselves air and beat back the oppressive particulates trying to suffocate us, by standing up for what's right and refusing to forget the massacres of the past.

We must remember. We can't let this event float away on the air, as though it doesn't matter, or it doesn't matter for Taiwan. It absolutely does.

I mean, I get it - I'd like to feel totally safe knowing my freedom and guaranteed access to human rights was not in question. I'd like to sit on the couch and eat Doritos and not even worry about it, because I don't have to. It's tiring to keep showing up. Unfortunately, Taiwan really is on the front line, and we can't do that - we can't pretend it doesn't (or shouldn't) matter.

Next year is the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Mark your calendar now, make sure you're free, and show up.