Showing posts with label donald_trump. Show all posts
Showing posts with label donald_trump. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Why Chinese government spying is the scariest sort: an explainer

I'm in the US for the holidays, and a segment came on some silly morning show (they're all silly) about how China is "revolutionizing" shopping and payment through cell phone payment apps at a far higher rate than the US. Or, as the silly hosts of this silly program described it, "China is decades ahead of the US in shopping technology".

And I made a remark about how that's actually terrifying, because the Chinese government watches essentially everything you do on your cell phone in China, and can and will use it against you. They don't even try to hide it. That everyone I know who is knowledgeable about cybersecurity in any way uses a second dummy cell in China for all of the apps there that come packaged with nasty spyware.

The person I was watching the program with looked duly horrified - after all, the silly segment by that silly host on that silly TV show was making China out to be this amazing technological wonderland of the future (the tone was similar the one taken in this article, but if anything less critical). What I was saying was totally at odds with that.

She came back with "you know, I'm sure the US government does that too, we just don't know about it."

Sure. I mean...kinda. But it's not at all the same thing. I don't blame her for her reaction, by the way - when your exposure to current affairs in China comes entirely from Western media, and mostly Western media that is uncritical about China but highly critical of domestic affairs, interspersed with ads for Shen Yun (with no context whatsoever pointing out that a.) the Chinese government hates them, which is great but also b.) that they are owned by a wealthy cult-like religious organization which is not great), then this would be your natural reaction.

But there is a world of difference, and it's important to know why.

I'm going to come at this from a non-expert, non-academic, non-technical point of view. If you want detailed, professional analysis go somewhere else. I've noticed, however, that the average non-expert finds these issues too dense and daunting and typically doesn't read or fully understand them. Hell, I can't claim to fully understand them (this, for example, is barely readable to me despite being highly important). Instead, I'm hoping to tackle this in a way that helps the average reader comprehend what is so terrifying about China's government surveillance, in particular.


"But the US government does the same thing!" 

This is an issue in that the US government does have some unsettling rights to surveillance and data under the Patriot Act. I don't like it either, and I've had it and other surveillance programs affect me three times that I know of, including having to sign something that allowed the US government to monitor one of my bank accounts in Taiwan, and being unable to open a new IRA in the US.

So, yes, it's creepy and horrible. Please don't categorize me as a defender of the actions of the US government.

But. But! This is really not on the same level as what the Chinese government does.

For reasons explained below, it's doubtful that the US government is directly intervening in what private businesses do, forcing them to put spyware into their devices or app/online offerings. They're not using what data they do collect in the same way as China, and while maddeningly opaque and bureaucratic, the very fact that the US is a democracy with certain freedoms of expression and information means it is still more transparent than China.

Oh yeah, and say what you will about who is watching what you do online, but the US government isn't going to disappear you because you said something online that they don't like. Even if you make suspicious purchases or phone calls, or visit certain sites, you might find yourself detained or questioned, but you won't be disappeared in an unmarked van.

No, you won't. Don't give me any conspiracy theory nonsense. But in China this is a real thing



"The US government could just be putting spyware in our phones too!" 

Maybe. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

As far as I'm aware, the US government doesn't "own" (or have some sort of control over) the various tech companies that make our stuff. The US government can't tell Apple, Google, Paypal, Venmo etc. what to do the way the CCP can tell Huawei, Xiaomi, ZTE, Baidu and Alipay what to do. It's an open secret - if it's a secret at all - that Communist Party members and officials have a controlling stake in those Chinese companies and they almost certainly do have those companies install spyware and other backdoor access to data in their products.

It is not clear at all that the US has the same thing, and I doubt they do.

The US media, for all we deservedly criticize it, is pretty good at rooting out this stuff, investigating it and exposing it in detail. We know that Donald Trump committed tax fraud thanks to an in-depth investigation by the the New York Times, to give just one example.

If the US government were ordering Apple to install spyware into their phones, or ordering Google to have government spyware installed on everyone's phone with every download of the Chrome app, while those companies would certainly not be transparent about it (seeing as they're not transparent about much), it would still likely break in the media eventually. Criticize it all you want - I do! Push the media to be better. But it's a lot better and a lot freer than in many places, including China.

If anything, you should be scared that the Chinese government, not the American government, is putting some scary things into products by non-Chinese companies. Though it's perhaps less likely as they don't actually control these companies, most of the production takes place in China and some of the components of these products are designed/produced by Chinese companies, so it's still a real possibility.


"But the US monitors our financial transactions and punishes us too, through credit scores!" 

I don't care for credit score companies either. I understand why some institutions would want a heads-up as to how well or poorly you are likely to be able to pay your bills from them, but the way scores are calculated is not nearly as transparent as it needs to be, and in some ways is unfair.

However, most developed countries have some form of credit score system, and the effects are not as far-reaching.

In China, the social credit system being developed will operate on such a greater scale than any credit scoring system that the two can't be seriously compared. A bad credit score might make it hard to get a credit card or loan (or, if it's bad enough, a bank account), and you may be denied a visa to go abroad by that country's embassy, but it won't stop you from buying flight or train tickets or from getting a passport. China eventually willEven articles trying to downplay the threat are unconvincing. It is very real, and it's the outcomes, not the details, that matter.

Even if the US government is spying on us in the same way and to the same degree that the Chinese government spies on their citizens (and, possibly, us) - which they almost certainly are not -  a system designed to force you to be a "good citizen" is not the outcome and nobody is talking seriously about building one.

If that were to change (and in the Trump era, who knows?) we still have ways of fighting back that Chinese citizens do not. We can still speak openly about it. Journalists can investigate and publish stories. If nobody will publish your story you can publish it yourself (and who knows, you might go viral or at least show up in search results). We can file lawsuits against the government. We can vote the bastards out of office. We can push for better legislation. We can take to the streets. We can fundraise for a series of legal moves, lobbying and awareness campaigns that aim to change the way things are. It's hard to do, but it is possible and, most importantly, all of this is legal.

In China, none of it is. In China, you have no recourse. You can't protest, you can't sue, you can't raise money for these causes, you can't easily investigate (nothing is transparent enough for you to be able to do so - there is no Freedom of Information Act), and you can't vote in any meaningful way.

Also, in the US, it is still possible to exist (though with difficulty) without giving the government access to a lot of your data. You don't need to use any apps that you don't want to, and you can still (mostly) pay in cash for things. In China, I hear time and time again that it is impossible to keep in touch with people without WeChat (a social media app that definitely funnels information to the government, and every expert I know says likely comes packaged with all sorts of spyware quietly downloaded on your phone) or Weibo (same). You can't hail a taxi without a WeChat-related app, and may not even be able to buy anything at department stores or go out to eat.

It's becoming impossible to pay for things in China without some sort of phone payment app like WeChat Pay or Alipay. Taxis will upcharge you to an insane degree, and some places won't take cash at all. You can't function in China without signing up for these payment apps, meaning you cannot exist somewhat anonymously in even the simplest ways. In the US, you still can.


"But Facebook and Google collect our data too!" 


They do, and that sucks. And the data seems to be mostly used for selling ads. Even though, if I have to see ads, I'd rather see ones that might interest me, I don't really want companies to refine how well they can target me to convince me to spend my money through psychological means that I often find deceptive. That said, I can and do ignore them. It is possible to not buy. You can not pay attention to ads or fake news targeted at you (another way that our data was problematically used). You can ignore memes (I do), check sources (I do), and think critically about what you are reading and seeing, where it comes from and why it appeared on your news feed or in your search results. I do.

That data is not being handed to an autocratic government (the US has many flaws, but it is not an authoritarian state. China is) to build a massive social credit system that you can't opt out of and that you can't ignore the way you can a shitty ad or lizard-brain meme. You can choose not to use any apps you don't trust in the US, and you can choose not to believe or pay attention to dodgy things targeted at you.

And we know that data is not being handed over for the same purposes, and we know the US government doesn't control these companies, because if it were, there would be no reason for Google or Facebook executives to testify before Congress.

You don't have any of those options in China, and there is no need (from the government's perspective) for either testimony or transparency. You know why.


"If you have nothing to hide, then you have no reason to fear!" 

Yeah okay um...who determines whether you have nothing to hide? You, or the horrible government that is monitoring you? Who decides if you've done nothing wrong - them or you?

Do you really trust them to agree with you that you have done nothing wrong? All the time?

What happens when you do have a complaint with the government? A legitimate complaint that is nonetheless not allowed? What if your complaint is that they disappeared your daughter, forced you to have an abortion, or expropriated your house without compensation? What if you took a trip to Taiwan and realized that the situation there was completely different from what you'd always been told, and simply wanted to say that honestly? What if you had an 'undesirable' friend who was not a model citizen like you, but you'd known them since childhood, cared about them and knew them to be a good person? What if the only way to boost your own social credit score was to disavow this friend? What if that person wasn't your friend but your brother, or mother? What if merely calling that person from your compromised phone put them in danger?

Even if you'd been a model citizen up to that point, what happens when suddenly you are faced with this choice?

Don't even get me started with "I have nothing to hide."

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Sexual assault: Taiwan's great under-reported problem - my latest for Ketagalan Media

My latest piece for Ketagalan Media takes this previous post of mine as a starting point, and investigates an important issue in Taiwanese politics further. In short, it seems as though the reason why there are so few sexual assault scandals in Taiwanese politics is not because they just don't happen, but because if they do, they are likely not reported. On the other hand, in the US, women are beginning to speak out more, but the powers that be just don't care. We're not taken seriously - not even to the point of meriting a real, serious - not a joke of a circus show - investigation. 

Some numbers for you, from the piece: 


The US population in 2015 was 321 million, and reports of sexual assault in the US in 2015 totaled 431,837 (male and female). That indicates a per capita reported assault rate of 0.00134. Taiwan’s population in 2015 was 23,485,755, with 10,454 reports of sexual assault in Taiwan 2015 (gender not specified), for a per capita rate of 0.00044.

This is a massive disparity: even considering differences in population, the US still has a far higher report rate of sexual assault than Taiwan, by a factor of three.

Does it make sense that people in Taiwan are three times less likely to be sexually assaulted than in the US? It is unlikely that there is simply less sexual assault in Taiwan overall (although crime in general is on a down swing and Taiwan remains a very safe country). The picture for comparison is clearer when we look at the gap between estimated sexual assaults and the number reported for the two countries: in the US it’s estimated that about 2/3 of sexual assaults are not reported, or around 70 percent. In Taiwan, it is estimated that the number of actual sexual assaults compared to those reported is seven to ten times higher.

Estimating the actual number of cases, Taiwan’s number of actual assaults per capita is somewhere between 78% to 111% of America’s.


Sources for these numbers are linked to in the piece itself. 

And there's this, a point that cannot be made often enough: 


Having spent twelve years in Taiwan, I have encountered “cultural” excuses for gender-based violence here, generally along the same refrain of “it’s Taiwan’s traditional culture” or an appeal to outdated views of gender which are common across both Asia and the world (one need only look at many American conservative views to see how such sexism plays out in the West). There is no truth to these “cultural” excuses: Taiwan has undergone a seismic shift in how society views gender for several generations, yet culture and traditions in Taiwan, regardless of changing attitudes towards gender and sexual power relations, remains robust. The United States has been evolving in its views on gender since the 19th century, and yet I would argue culture in America remains identifiably “American.”  Cultures can embrace gender egalitarianism and still retain their essence.



Anyway, enjoy! 

The problem with so many Western "friends of Taiwan" is that they still see Taiwan as Chinese

So, Vice President Mike "the only reason not to support impeachment" Pence gave a speech about China relations that heavily referenced Taiwan.

Despite having severe reservations about our "friends" on the right, I want to be happy about this. I want to laud robust support for Taiwan coming from the White House, because support in high places matters no matter what horrific woman-hating mouth-hole is shrieking it.

I mean, this is great: 



And since last year alone, the Chinese Communist Party has convinced three Latin American nations to sever ties with Taipei and recognize Beijing. These actions threaten the stability of the Taiwan Strait, and the United States of America condemns these actions.



It's wonderful, because it correctly names China as the agent of these actions, rather than implying that these issues just arose out of nowhere on their own, or are somehow Taiwan's fault. Of course, the media still jumped on this correct statement as evidence of the US "inflaming tensions" with China simply by stating what is true because their writing is bad and they should feel bad.

But, despite some small gems, I can't love this. It's clear from Pence's remarks that 'support for Taiwan' just equates to Taiwan being 'a better version of China'. He - and seemingly, a lot of people like him - don't support Taiwan because it is a unique entity forging its own path. They don't support Taiwan on its own terms as a safe, friendly, vibrant, (mostly) successful, developed democracy. They don't support it as 'Taiwan' at all.

They support it as an alternative model for 'all Chinese': 



And while our administration will continue to respect our One China Policy, as reflected in the three joint communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act, America will always believe that Taiwan’s embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people. (Applause.)



NO! NOT (APPLAUSE)! Don't applaud that! 

While I think it would be great if other authoritarian countries in the region, including China, took note of Taiwan's success and realized it presented a better path, the fundamental reason shouldn't be that they are all "Chinese" - it should be because it is simply a better path, regardless of whether you come from China or Thailand or Vietnam or the Philippines or wherever. 

That word "Chinese" doesn't mean what you think it means, anyway. I don't think it means anything at all: after all, what markers does 'being Chinese' carry? Being a citizen of the People's Republic? Well, Taiwanese aren't. So they're not Chinese then? Singaporean Chinese are not Chinese? Is it ethnic? Whatever it means to be Han - and it seems to mean very little - plenty of citizens of the PRC are not it: see - Tibetans and Uighurs, to name a few. Is it linguistic? Do you have any idea how many mutually unintelligible languages are spoken across what is referred to as 'Greater China'? At least two of them (possibly more) are not even Sinitic. Is it cultural? The cultural differences within China itself vary more than cultural differences across Europe. Is it history? Taiwan and China have a very different history. Southern and Northern China vary historically as well. Dynasties expanded and contracted, rose and fell, across very different swaths of 'Chinese' territory, leaving very different histories for the people of those places. Tibetan and Uighur history are likewise unique. So what does it mean to be Chinese?

In any case, the One China Policy may simply mean that the US acknowledges that China claims Taiwan, but does not necessarily support said claim, doesn't fix this either. Despite various assurances, it is still a policy that:

a.) considers China's feelings on Taiwan to be as important as the Taiwanese people's feelings about their own country

b.) was crafted during a time when Taiwanese had no say in what their government claimed as the Republic of China, and as such is outdated; and

c.) still fundamentally assumes that Taiwan is ultimately, in some way, Chinese, even if it is not a part of China. It's a really weird thing to untangle but basically the Shanghai Communique, where the One China policy is outlined, doesn't say that the US considers Taiwan 'a part of China', but that 'Chinese' people in both Taiwan and China do.

So in theory, this means the US doesn't necessarily recognize that the ultimate future of Taiwan is as a part of China, but is also inaccurate in the 21st century - Taiwanese don't even think they are 'Chinese' let alone agree that 'Taiwan is a part of China', and they have not felt that way for some time. So, continuing to abide by it may make diplomatic sense but doesn't do justice to the world as it is today and certainly misrepresents the Taiwan side.

Even when one could say that the majority of Taiwanese identified as 'Chinese' - which has not been the case for awhile - it was in a period immediately following a long-term effort by a military dictatorship from China to convince them through education and destruction of local and historical cultural symbols that this was the case (what, you think banning the Taiwanese language from schools and actively destroying most Japanese-era shrines in Taiwan were unintentional acts? They were not).

Some may be tempted to point to the fabricated 1992 Consensus, stating that Taiwan and China "agree" that there is "one China". We have to remember, however, that not only does the '1992 Consensus' not exist (there was no consensus in any meaningful sense of the word and the term itself was made up long after the fact), but that even if it did, the representatives from Taiwan who were sent to those meetings in 1992 were sent by a government which was not yet fully democratically elected. They did not represent the people of Taiwan - so nothing discussed in those meetings could possibly reflect the actual views of Taiwan as a modern democratic nation. In fact, nobody has ever asked the people of Taiwan if they actually want to be governed by the "Republic of China", even in the democratic era.

Therefore, if you still abide by the notion that both Taiwan and China agree that there is one China and Taiwan is a part of it, and you refer to Taiwanese as just another kind of Chinese who set a good example for their brethren across the Taiwan Strait, you're not an ally in a way that's actually good for Taiwan long-term.

I can't say, then, that Mike Pence is truly on our side. More likely, his vision of the future involves a democratized China (but not a liberalized one - Pence is no liberal) that has a happy 'reunion' with Taiwan and they all sing and dance in their conical hats to gong music in their cute little Chinese country because they are all Chinese so of course they are in one country because that's how countries work.

Oh yeah, and in this conservative fantasy, they hate the gays and are super regressive on women's issues because the socially conservative Chinese majority will overwhelm more progressive-thinking Taiwan on these issues.

So no - if you think the future of Taiwan is fundamentally 'Chinese', then you may be an ally of someone, but it isn't Taiwan. 

Anyway, moving on. 



Chinese authorities have also threatened U.S. companies that depict Taiwan as a distinct geographic entity, or that stray from Chinese policy on Tibet. Beijing compelled Delta Airlines to publicly apologize for not calling Taiwan a “province of China” on its website. And it pressured Marriott to fire a U.S. employee who merely liked a tweet about Tibet.



I want to like this, but "distinct geographic entity" feels like a flaccid half-stab in place of what should have been a robust, thwacking "country" or "nation". Can't complain too much though - it's something.


I'm less concerned with what this means within the Trump administration. I don't agree that it's a "split" within the White House, because the White House has not been coherent enough on its Asia policy in general for there to even be a split. From Little Rocket Man to "we fell in love", from photo ops with Xi Jinping to "they're interfering in our election", from the phone call to indicating that Taiwan may be a bargaining chip to this, the only thing consistent about current US policy in Asia is that it's kind of screwed up and nothing can be taken as a rock-solid guarantee. In an environment like that, there are so many cracks and signs of strain, I don't see how a split, if it exists, would even matter.

And that's just it. I welcome warming relations, even from absolutely terrible people and weirdos who may not be murderers but just, like, seem like murderers? Y'know? But I want those warming relations to come from an administration that, regardless of how much I hate them, is at least consistent and dependable. I know, I know, a consistent, dependable administration likely wouldn't dare to make a massive change in US policy towards China and Taiwan. But a girl can dream.

As a friend pointed out, the veep can't take any public position on the sovereignty of other territories. He indicated that this speech sets the stage for the normalization of relations between Taiwan and the US in the future, and that would be huge.

But I don't feel particularly great about that, not because I don't want good things to come from a bad administration (we have so few good things these days, I'll take them from just about anywhere), but because it's not a trustworthy administration. 

On top of that, it's an administration that is not just talking about the One China Policy for diplomatic effect, but proactively talking about Taiwan as a model for China, as though it were one part of a greater whole that was doing well, which other parts could learn from. In a pan-Asian context, sure. Taiwan is part of Asia. In a pan-China context, I gotta say, the twentieth century called and they want their talk about "Free China" back.

And I just can't get behind that, or even put a drop of faith in it. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Two roads diverged over wood

Bagildere Love Valley Cappadocia 1510927 8 9 Compressor HDR lvl Nevit
From Wikimedia

Since my last post about men behaving badly and the woman-haters who defend them, I've been thinking about Taiwan's specific situation vis-a-vis politics and sexual assault.

Perhaps it is too simplistic to say "America sucks, but in Taiwan, if there is even a whiff of sexual misconduct your political career is finished!" More accurately, one might say that in the US, only in recent decades are people beginning to fully understand what sexual assault means, and are slowly gaining the courage to point fingers at powerful men (the assailants are almost always male).

In Taiwan, however, it is simply less likely that sexual assault will be reported. I did a little back-of-the-envelope number crunching for 2015 (I have statistics for Taiwan 2017, but had trouble finding specific information on sexual assaults in Taiwan for 2016, the last year that data seems to be available in the US. So, 2015 it is.)

US population in 2015: 321 million
Reports of sexual assault in the US in 2015: 431,837 (male and female)
Per capita: .00134

Taiwan population in 2015: 23,485,755
Reports of sexual assault in Taiwan 2015 (gender not specified so I assume both): 10,454
Per capita: .00044

That's a huge difference - considering differences in population, the US still has a higher report rate of sexual assault than Taiwan.

I highly doubt that there is just less sexual assault in Taiwan, and that's why there are so many fewer reports. In the US it's estimated that about 2/3 of sexual assaults are not reported, or 70-some-odd percent. In Taiwan, it is estimated that the number of actual sexual assaults c.f. those reported is seven to ten times higher. We also know that domestic abuse is a massive problem in Taiwan, and dare I conjecture that domestic violence and sexual assault share enough characteristics (they are both about power and control, they both disproportionately affect women, they both generally stem from misogyny or a sense of entitlement over women's bodies) that where there's a lot of one, there is probably a fair amount of the other? I do dare - and low report rates of both likely have some connection to the way the Taiwanese judicial system is likely to treat women who report, not to mention cultural stigma surrounding reporting gender-based violence and the "defamation" lawsuits women who make allegations but don't wish to press charges may face.

Taking that further, it's hard to imagine that Taiwanese politicians somehow commit sexual assault at a lower rate than the general population (a rate that is much higher than statistics would lead one to believe), especially given the relationship between violence - including sexual assault - and power. I suppose once in office, some of them might realize that committing such a crime would ruin their career irreparably, but it would be silly to think that such selfish (because such a realization is not really about respect for women) reflection would extend back to their youth.

Considering that Lien Chan is widely believed to have committed domestic abuse (frankly, I find it more than likely that the allegations are true), and the penchant of Taiwanese politicians - or pretty much all Taiwanese men in positions of power - to visit 酒店 or hostess bars, it just seems unlikely that Taiwan's public figures have clean histories regarding women.

Rather, it seems a lot more obvious to me that sexual assault by Taiwanese public figures before or after they take office go unreported - or are shut down before fingers are publicly pointed at identifiable people - rather than that they don't happen.

What this means is that Taiwan may not, in fact, be much better than the United States in this regard. In the US, women feel increasingly willing to hold powerful men to account, publicly, for their misdeeds. The vast majority of the time, these women are telling the truth - research shows that, to the best of our knowledge, only 2-6% of sexual violence accusations are false. Culture is changing in the US, both in ways that can be felt (certainly, as a child of the 1980s, I can say that this culture shift is real), in ways that can be researched, and in ways we can document. Even looking at the Wikipedia entry for sex scandals of federal elected politicians, there has been an uptick as the years go on - almost certainly because women are more likely to step forward now.

Taiwan doesn't seem to have gone through that transformation yet. It's not that sexual assault is considered acceptable here - it's certainly not - it's that ideas of what constitutes sexual assault here sometimes (not always, but sometimes) feel like they're straight out of the 1980s, and the stigma surrounding reporting seeming more like what my mother and grandmother might have faced, rather than me. I mean, this is a country where raping a domestic employee once doesn't bar you from hiring another one after a period of time.

But, there's an entrenched feeling that those in power still just don't care. In the US, Dr. Blasey Ford's testimony against a screaming, weeping Brett Kavanaugh is considered by experts - and basically every woman who has had something like this happen to her, which is a huge number of us - to be credible, there's a fair chance he'll still make it to the Supreme Court. The same thing happened in 1991 with Anita Hill. We know that the President of the United States is unfaithful to his wife, and there are 22 sexual assault allegations against him as of today (20 as of when this was written - included here as it's a better source). Yet, he gets to be president, and his supporters either defend him, or are willing to believe that that many women are lying. (I, personally, think it's so obvious that Trump is a sexual abuser and possibly a rapist that I find it astounding someone might think otherwise.) Every few years, it's a massive battle to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

So, great, we can speak out now and someone might actually listen, but it still has ruinous effects on the women - hurting careers, exposing them to more trauma and harassment - and hasn't made much of an impact on the political machine, or sexual assault rates in general.

In Taiwan, if you manage to publicly accuse a political figure of sexual assault - overcoming all of the pressure not to do so and knowing you'll likely be torn apart in the gossip rags and forums full of angry young dudes (have you seen PTT? Jesus) - and people actually listen to you, great, his career will be over.

But good luck getting to that point.

Alright then - two roads diverged, but they're really worn about equally the same.

Friday, August 10, 2018

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

unnamed-6
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. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

One tiny opinion...and time for a break

So first, I'm going to be cutting back on my posting between now and March/April. Grad school deadlines are getting closer and while I'm chugging along nicely with my written assignments, I need more time to focus on them and that time has to come from somewhere. I am (almost certainly) about to start doing teacher training as well which means more time planning lessons as I get used to my new role. I just won't have the time to write like I did this summer and autumn.

Frankly, I also have some personal junk to work through and I need to make time for that. Nothing serious, don't worry. Nothing even hugely life-changing.

This doesn't mean Lao Ren Cha will be totally dead between now and then - I have a few posts on the back burner that will be going up, and if something really catches my eye I'll take the time to write about it. The volume, however, will be considerably less.

I'll also still occasionally put work out through Ketagalan Media - watch for an interview with a well-known Taiwanese artist coming up soon - and I have another (paid!) writing opportunity coming along, so I'll be around.

And now, for an opinion.

As the whole world knows, in the US chaos continues to reign. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on his way out, some fucker is on his way in (yeah yeah the CIA director...but also whatever, everything is a shambles and we're all gonna die), and Tom Cotton seems destined for the CIA role.

So...Tom Cotton.

You know when I've said in the past that I have an issue with the sorts of conservative Republicans who tend to support Taiwan, because they're so horrible in every other way? Well, Cotton is one of them. He's a horrible person with horrible opinions who happens to have one correct viewpoint - Taiwan. Frankly, just by association with the hellscape that is his political worldview, this makes Taiwan look bad. I'm happy for support in the halls of US government, but it sure doesn't look good for us that he is the sort of person supporting us (and Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, and all sorts of other terrible people).

Of course, I've come around on that a little, seeing this bipartisan letter in support of the TRA, but it still remains that we have a menagerie of horrible far-right ideologues supporting us too.

And now that Cotton is in the national spotlight, all the people whose support we want are talking about how horrible Tom Cotton is, how awful every single one of his policy stances are, and how he has "taken outspoken stances far to the right on every issue domestic and foreign".

I've long feared that the left, hating everything about the right, might continue to not support Taiwan simply because horrible people do support it. In government I'm not that scared - clearly there is bipartisan support. But in terms of winning more Americans over to Taiwan's side (that is, getting them to know Taiwan exists and that China treats us like garbage is one of the many reasons why China ain't great), I could well see American liberals who think of themselves as 'well-informed' turning against Taiwan because someone like Cotton supports us. (The right does this to the left too, but it's the left I'm concerned about persuading). Just because they are usually right and generally do not hold abhorrent social views, do not kid yourself that lefties are smarter - there are plenty of idiots who will hate something just because someone like Tom Cotton likes it.

I've already been seeing it happen. In the past day, more than one person in my Facebook feed has expressed hatred for Cotton and everything he stands for. So far they've been open to hearing that he's actually right about Taiwan, but I doubt every "we hate everything about Tom Cotton" liberal is going to be so easily persuaded, and most won't be approached at all.

So yeah...mixed feelings about this. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it doesn't matter. But it hasn't stopped me from worrying. I want support for Taiwan, bipartisan even, but support from people like him just taint us by association with the people we want to convince. To use a tired cliche, it's a double-edged sword.

Anyway, I need a bit more wine and then to sleep, because I don't have any free time ever.

See you when I have more to say and time to say it.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Sometimes I change my mind

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You know, I have said that I have trouble voting my conscience in American elections, because the people I support on (almost) every other platform are the people who either don't care or seem to be just plain wrong about Taiwan (although even that is sometimes hard to gauge). It's the same reason why I do not attempt to get into more hardcore pro-Taiwan advocacy in the US - when it comes to the conservative blowhards whom I want to mouth-punch on one hand for trying to take away my bodily autonomy as a woman, I doubt I could just turn around and talk to them civilly about Taiwan. It's my reproductive system they want to get their grimy hands in - it's kinda personal. I can't distance myself from it the way a lot of (male) people who are not threatened because of their gender can. I don't doubt they abhor it as well, but the ability to compartmentalize...well, that seems like a really nice privilege of having a penis.

I have also said that, while I was generally a Sanders supporter back when I could be one, and did vote for him in the primary, that I was concerned about what kind of president he would be vis-a-vis Taiwan. He was not exactly known for his foreign policy acumen, or at least was seen as weak in that area.

I mean, Trump is Trump and he's just hair and fart sounds so whatever, but generally Republican presidents have been better for Taiwan than Democratic ones. Those same Republican presidents have been bad news for women.

When you love Taiwan but have a vagina, this is a problem. It didn't seem possible to fully vote my conscience, because it appeared that those I could never vote for had the best possible Taiwan policy - that's not to say great, but the best thing going under the circumstances - and those I otherwise supported, shall we say, did not.

I had friends assure me that support for Taiwan was bipartisan, but that seemed unlikely in a world where Republicans were in the media doing everything I wanted Democrats to be doing - meeting with Hong Kong dissidents, introducing pro-Taiwan legislation. Then we have (rumors? Leaks? Real? Fake? Who even knows?) that Hillary Clinton wanted to discuss ditching Taiwan.

Then I saw this letter urging President Hair and Fart Sounds to support the Taiwan Relations Act in light of his (then upcoming) visit to China to meet with President Angry Pooh.  And unless it's some elaborate troll job aimed specifically at me (it's not), it induced elation and despair at the same time.


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Robert Menendez. Ron Wyden. Edward Markey. Chuck Schumer. Chris Van Hollen. Catherine Cortez Masto. Heidi Heitkamp (though I don't always agree with her). Joe Manchin. Sherrod Brown (who says a lot about Taiwan and it almost never seems to get media attention). Gary Peters. Elizabeth Warren. Al Franken. Bernard Sanders.

Now, I'm not trying to claim that the Taiwan Relations Act is the gold standard of the way the world should be treating Taiwan. It's not. Nobody in the world is treating Taiwan the way it should be treated, not even its (checkbook) diplomatic allies. Taiwan deserves better than what it's getting, period. It deserves international recognition and support, including support for changing its governmental framework from fundamentally Chinese to fundamentally Taiwanese. I'm not a fan of support for the "ROC on Taiwan" as a way of opposing Communism or even simply opposing China - I'm not a fan of the ROC at all.

I'd prefer a world in which it was a given that Taiwan could decide its future without international threat, and in which support for Taiwan was based on it simply being the right thing to do - supporting Taiwan for Taiwan's sake and everything it has to offer the world - and not in any sort of relation to how the world handled China. That is, however, not the world we live in.

Considering Taiwan's former authoritarian leadership's complicity in creating the state of limbo the country still finds itself, and considering that "rah rah ROC because we hate the PRC" - and "well, here's the Taiwan Relations Act which is a bit milquetoast but it's something and frankly a unique piece of policy given the situation" are not ideal but are, unfortunately, how the 20th century shook out, I'll take it.

So, I've changed my mind on a few things.

Yes, GOP rhetoric on Taiwan, while imperfect, is still closer to the mark than Democratic rhetoric. Conservative rhetoric on Taiwan is more acccurate - though again, flawed - than liberal discourse.

However, it is clear that despite this, support for Taiwan is a bipartisan issue. Call me a Doubting Thomas - I needed to see it in the flesh. You don't get Al Franken, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Freakin' Sanders signing a letter alongside Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz if something is a partisan issue. You just don't.

This helps, but does not make me any happier that more than one "friend of Taiwan" is no friend of mine, as a person in a female body who expects bodily autonomy. For every good thing they do or say regarding Taiwan or Hong Kong, I can name some way in which they have tried to subjugate women. The part of me that loves Taiwan cannot reconcile this with the part of me that has, and would like to retain control over, ovaries.

It is also clear that, as much as I might disagree at times, and as much as I might think the US can and should offer something a bit stronger to Taiwan than the weaksauce currently on the table, that those at the top forming policy do, in fact, understand (at least enough of) the intricacies of the Taiwan issue.

Do I entirely trust them? Nope. But I'll take it for now.

So why do I despair?

Because the one thing that consoled me as Sanders left the 2016 race and I cast my vote for Clinton - besides genuinely wanting a female president and knowing that, while I might not like a lot of what she does, I did trust her to do the job competently - was that "Sanders would have been weak on Taiwan".

Except...oops. Nope.

It's not possible to know what a President Sanders would have done vis-a-vis Taiwan, but we can make some educated guesses, and his name on this letter is telling.

And because I actually voted against Chuck Schumer in 2016. Hey, don't judge me, I knew he'd win anyway, I just wanted to give a big pointless middle finger to the Democrats in some small way. I voted Green Party for Senate, knowing they'd lose. Now I kind of regret that a little, maybe?

Oh yeah, and I despair because despite this being a bipartisan issue, Taiwan is still stuck in the status quo morass with a world that does not appreciate what it has to offer and can't bring itself to just do the right thing, and also because this letter was delivered to President Hair and Fart Sounds, which means...ugh.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Let Her and Falsehood Grapple: Women's March Taipei (2017)

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Please excuse the lack of insight - this is more like personal experience and a bit of straight reporting -  I'm writing with a headache and trying to get it done tonight.

Anyway, every year I say I'm going to take Lao Ren Cha back to its roots - a blog about life as an expat woman in Taiwan, and women's issues in Taiwan and Asia. Every year I fail, instead doing what I've always done which is just to blog about whatever I want. 2017 is likely to be no different, but at least this one time I can post something in line with Lao Ren Cha's original intent.

Today was International Women's Day, and the fine folks at Indivisible Taiwan put together a march from Freedom Square to Da'an Park Station to raise awareness of women's issues in Taiwan and around the world. Perhaps 80-100 people showed up - I'm neither a great journalist nor a great crowd estimator so I'll just run with that. That's pretty damn good for an expat-heavy march not aimed at a specific issue, and I was proud to be a part of it.

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That's big for me - I'm usually not free on weekdays, and I'm not much of a marcher (but ask me to hang out at Jingfu Gate for a good cause and I'll be there), and as the years go by my loyalties really have shifted from US issues to Taiwanese ones. This is my home, after all. I don't really do signs, balloons etc., I just like showing up. You know I care about something if I make time - on a weekday afternoon! - for an activity I am not otherwise inclined to do.

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Yu Mei-nu speaks at Da'an Park
I spent much of the march toeing the line between kinda-sorta-reporting-on-it and participating, which I think is a fine liminal space for a spitballing, F-bomb dropping feminist blogger to be for something like this. I marched, and I didn't interview anyone because I am lazy, but I kinda hung around with my journalist and videographer friends. All sorts of different folks showed up - some high schoolers, many expats, many locals, a good mix of men and women of various ages. People had different reasons for marching, from supporting women's issues and causes worldwide to a targeted statement from expats in Taiwan to the Trump administration (my reason for marching - and specifically targeting the assault on reproductive rights in the US and globally) to simply wanting to see more expat-local inclusive events with greater international exchanges in the name of women's rights and progressivism generally.

Anyway here's an actual article on the march from New Bloom.

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Before the march, I wasn't even sure right up until I got on the MRT at 4pm if I was going to go - I had a lot to get done and I'm just not a marcher. I had felt like I did my part by helping to put together and edit a Taipei Times letter to spread the word about the march. That I went, and am now writing this despite coming down with a headache, says something!

Once we reached Da'an Park station, there were short talks by legislators Karen Yu, Yu Mei-nu and Jason Hsu (you can watch two of those three - with English, in fact Hsu spoke exclusively in English - in the links above - lazy journalist that I am, my phone was low on power so I could only capture two talks).

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All in all it was nice to come out, meet some people I'd only interacted with online and some expats I hadn't known in person (though it seemed like everyone knew me? If it weren't for the red hair and being super loud on Facebook that would be creepy, but okay, cool) and walk for something that matters. I don't have any deeper thoughts than that - and I have a headache - so I'll leave you with this:

Even in Taiwan our really not-that-controversial march attracted a religious nutter. As we passed she, an older foreign woman, stood to the side literally thumping a Bible (like LITERALLY thumping itm you guys, I thought that was just an expression but no!) and shouting "Jesus is the only man who can save you!"

Okay, whatevs, Jesus was cool, but who says I need any man to save me? Anyway, God is dead so that's fine.

All I have to say is that it's weird to come across that specific brand of nutbag in Taiwan. They're all over the US, we practically breed them there (literally - they tend to have a lot of kids. Again, fine, whatever). But in Taiwan? Was she a missionary? If so, she wasn't very persuasive. Was she a garden-variety expat who just happened to also be a Bible-thumper? If so, okay, but...really? It just seems like a rare type out here where the expat community I know trends very liberal.

I suppose she was out there thumpin' that Bible for the same reason we were: to come out and demonstrate for something she truly believed in. Sure. It's just, in the war of ideas, I simply don't buy that her ideas are equally valid. One side preaches equality, the other intolerance. One side preaches not judging and giving opportunity to all, the other preaches slotting people into categories based on their genitals. Like, you have a vagina, you go here. Act this way. Be like all the other vagina-havers. Or something. I don't get it. It goes against any real notion of science or ethics.

So, let her thump. We have better ideas. Or as John Milton put it:


“Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”



Friday, February 24, 2017

The Archaeology of a Protester

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I was born in autumn, at a liminal time between more distinct seasons. My birthday was technically in the summer but not quite summer. In New York it would be cool at night, and the school year would have started, but not really started - I had hardly had time to get to know my new classmates when my birthday rolled around.

Not to wax too poetic on this point, but that "what season is my birthday even really in?" feeling seems to have transposed from general childhood anxiety about who would come to my parties (when I had them, they were lightly attended because my old classmates were making new friends and my new ones didn't know me. Also, I was a huge dweeb but let's not talk about that) to generally feeling more comfortable in liminal spaces. I get a little nutty if the space I inhabit is defined too clearly.

People deride expats for going abroad because they like feeling like they don't belong, which seems to be taken as a symptom of being generally socially incompetent or a failure in your native country. This is especially assumed of the ones who went abroad by themselves and have never enjoyed a cushy expat corporate or government package. I see where that stereotype comes from but I'm OK with it. I get it. Charitably, it might describe me, though I was doing fine in the US and have had a thriving social life ever since society decided dweebs were okay.

Ten years later, here I am. I've been trying, sincerely, to get more involved in activism aimed at the US: Indivisible, protesting the direction the Republicans are taking America in (I do pin blame on Trump, but jellyfish Republicans are letting him do it and I harbor no sympathy), generally raising a ruckus. I've been feeling slightly 'meh' about it, though, despite being deeply against the new administration and horrified and upset about pretty much every news alert on my phone. Something isn't clicking. I have that familiar old grade school feeling of wanting to do something, seeing the goal, but for no clear reason, lacking the motivation to get started.

One could assume that my ambivalence was due to distance: there's not that much that a long-term expat in Taiwan can even do vis-a-vis issues in the US. Letters, I suppose, to newspapers. Calling one's elected representatives at hours when one really ought to be sleeping. Gaining political awareness through reading. I like that last part, but have been immersed recently in books on Taiwan, having realized that I am poorly-read, practically unlettered, in a subject I ostensibly know quite a bit about. It's the Taiwan books that are holding my interest. But all in all, the work that can be done from Taiwan doesn't seem like particularly effective work (it doesn't help that the biggest group doing the same thing meets in the evening, exactly when I am rarely free). Perhaps as I push ahead, I'll gain a different perspective and be heartened. I'm not sure though. Deep down I don't think it's the distance, or at least not only that.

So what is it, then?

Just yesterday, I unearthed - I mean, from my closet - my box full of all the flags, headbands, stickers and other paraphernalia I've been given at every protest, rally and parade or march over the past 8 years. It's all there: Furious, UN for Taiwan, Pride, marriage equality, the Sunflowers (I was there for the Hong Zhongqiu outcry too, but gave my headband to a student who wanted it) and more. It's like a time capsule of 8 years of showing up. More importantly, of caring enough to show up.

This excavation also churned around some fertile brain matter. I have cared enough to walk for hours, plop my ass down at Jingfu Gate with 200,000-400,000 other people to stand (or sit) for what I believe in, wave a flag in the air, tie ribbons to my head, arm and purse straps. I have been willing to physically be there for all sorts of issues in Taiwan (and I did attend rallies and protests in the US before I moved there, but more rarely). I tend to prefer non-party-affiliated single-issue protests - I am aching to get back out on the street for marriage equality, but was ambivalent about Furious. Yet clearly, I care about something.


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Archaeology of a protester


But that something seems to increasingly be Taiwan - or rather it has been for awhile, but I'm just really noticing it now. It's not that I don't care about the US. I do. I'm horrified and disgusted. I'm somewhat ashamed to have a passport from there (and ashamed of the privilege that entails, and the privilege to even feel ashamed). At the end of the day that is the country I have spent 24.5 of my 36 years in, the country I was born in, the country of my citizenship.

I have to admit, though, that the visceral sincerity just isn't there. It's a shame, because being a citizen of the US, I have more standing to be active. In Taiwan, I do show up (boy do I show up), but I never get too close. I never get too involved. I don't organize. I keep my distance because I'm aware that this is not the country of my birth, I am not a citizen, and Taiwanese history and culture is not my history and culture. To do more than show up would feel inappropriate - my voice isn't the voice that should be elevated. I don't mean to bring in identity politics - I don't think it's wrong for me to speak up. I wouldn't have a blog about Taiwan if I didn't think that. I live here, things that happen here affect me, and I have the right to talk about that. Familiarity and impact on daily life do breed loyalty even when the passport doesn't match.

However, it's important when joining the struggle of another group to be aware of one's privilege and perhaps listen before one speaks. By dint of being born white and American, I have the privilege of having the voice that, in the past, as not only taken precedence (that is, the white Western voice) but drowned out other voices (anyone who was not white). I do feel it's crucial to understand that, and I feel more comfortable simply being supportive than trying to take any sort of organizational or leadership position. I'll have my voice, but I won't allow it to drown out people who could more appropriately lead.

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Except not really. Yet I took the picture anyway (forgive me). 

This is perhaps the source of my annoyance when a friend said, not long ago, that I could "occupy Trump's office". Sure, I could try. I could fly back and get arrested or shot attempting it. I am a citizen of that country after all. The annoyance came from the assumption that, being originally American, that I would primarily care about American issues, or that my loyalties would be to the US.

That, right there, is what I mean about being in a liminal space, belonging where I don't belong. I am not Taiwanese, Taiwanese history is not my history. I'm not even a citizen. Yet I am loyal to Taiwan, at least, more so than to the US. I feel I belong here, even as I know I don't fully belong. There are limits on the appropriacy of my activism, perhaps, but ultimately this is my home, and I feel that full-throttle sincerity when advocating for Taiwanese issues that I don't feel when advocating for American ones, even though that is the country of my citizenship.

I have no clear answers to any of this, I just thought I'd put it out there. If other people feel this way too, comments or thoughts would be most welcome.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

One of those stupid year-in-review posts (#8 will shock you!)

I mean, I generally don't like these and I am not sure I have ever done one. But I feel like doing one for 2016 because the general consensus seems to be that it was a shit year and we're thankful it's over. And on a societal level, that's true.

However, there's something I really can't deny - in fact, on a personal level, I had a pretty good 2016. I did! My shit year was Dec 2014-Dec 2015, for reasons you know if you know me.

So, this isn't to gloat, it's to point out that a bad year on a sociocultural level doesn't necessarily equate to a bad year in total. I am sure good and bad things happened to us all despite the fact that the world is in a political shambles and we're probably all going to die.

A look back:


1.) Taiwan elected its first female president and, for the first time in its history, is not controlled by the (awful) KMT (not that I particularly love the DPP) - I know this isn't personal but it's worth mentioning. A few of these are not personal, but I think good enough to include

2.) My cousin spent several months in Taiwan

3.) I published my first ever journal article

4.) I passed the final module for, and received the full diploma for, the Cambridge Delta

5.) I was accepted into grad school

6.) I visited the US twice

7.) American women had the chance to vote for the first ever female presidential candidate (no, she was not a perfect candidate, and yeah, that turned out kinda bad, but I refuse to give up on that milestone in political history)

8.) I accomplished what I feel is my greatest achievement to date

9.) The Taiwanese legislature got the wheels rolling on marriage equality

10.) Hong Kong elected a slate of pro-democracy, pro-localization candidates (that, again, didn't turn out well thanks to Stupid China, but it still meant something)

11.) I made a fair number of interesting new friends

12.) I went to the Grand Pasta'ai

13.) I went to Vietnam for the first time (post forthcoming) and Indonesia for the second

14.) I traveled a fair bit around Taiwan, visiting Tainan three times, Kaohsiung, Yunlin, Xinpu (again, post forthcoming), and probably more that I can't recall exactly as I try to leave Taipei frequently to keep in touch with the rest of the country

15.) My closest and oldest friend in Taiwan got married

16.) I went to Hong Kong for the first time in five years (again, post forthcoming)

17.) Taiwan actually made the international news (kind of a mixed blessing though)

18.) I was invited to observe a session of the Legislative Yuan - watch my video here!

I would call that a pretty good 2016, wouldn't you? At least, it offers a chance to see the good parts, or find a few gems among the burnt rubble of the political and social sphere. Don't get me wrong, things were bad. The whole world with the possible exception of Taiwan is trending towards reactionary politics and fascism. The climate is, well, getting worse and it will probably be a massive problem very soon. A horrific mass murder and total destruction of a once-great city took place very close to my ancestral home, and the West did nothing. We elected quite literally the worst person in the world to be the leader of the "free world", a thing (I don't mean the event, I mean the "person") I can never accept as my president. As a result, I no longer consider myself American in anything but name and have no loyalty whatsoever to the USA. There is no forgiveness for this.

So yeah, things are bad globally. But personally, I have a few gems.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Seek out Taiwanese voices, but don't prune them to fit your own narrative

This is interesting read in and of itself, but I have a specific reason for sharing it - and it's not an entirely positive thing.

Quick editor's note: I'm switching around the halves of this post because too much discussion has been happening on my criticism of the over-inclusion and enhanced credibility of Dr. Some White Guy Who Is An Expert On China (a criticism I believe is merited and which I stand by) and not nearly enough on the co-opting of Taiwanese voices to fit Western narratives. I am disappointed to say the least that the wrong point was emphasized. While I have my criticisms of the idolizing of Dr. Some White Guy Who Is An Expert On China, I don't want to be yet another in a list of people using a Taiwanese voice to air a grievance of my own.


So, let's start with the bad of it: this is Lin Fei-fan's reaction to his inclusion. There is also a Facebook post in English, which if I did the link right, you should be able to read here. It is worth your time.

He was a bit disappointed, though he recognized the honor of his words opening and closing an article on Taiwan in the New York Times. He was not misquoted, but the crux of what he was trying to say was that the solution to threats from China over this phone call - and in general - was to work towards normalizing relations between the US and Taiwan, and that current policy on Taiwan is in its own way a selling out of Taiwan already (which is absolutely true). All of that was excised. To wit:

"Lin said he told the paper that while many in Taiwan worry that US president-elect Donald Trump will change policy directions after he assumes office, the best way to handle a potential change in policy would be for Taiwan to seek the development of normal relations with the US.

Lin said the NYT’s reporter emphasized the worry that he mentioned exists in Taiwan over Trump’s intentions, while overlooking the emphasis he placed on the development of normalized relations between the two countries...I did absolutely say this, but they emphasized the wrong point. Of course I am unhappy about seeing Taiwan used as a chess piece,” Lin said."

Why? Well, I do understand that reporters and editors have to take many interviews and ideas and create a narrative flow, and that means not every idea, as strong as it may be, and not every quote, as pertinent as it may be, is going to make it in. In some ways it's fairly standard.

I have another, less innocent suspicion though: the New York Times, and most Western liberal media - has already created, cultivated and sold the narrative that talking to Taiwan is Bad Bad Bad because China is Scary Scary Scary. Like parents - yes, that means I'm calling the Chinese government a baby, because it is - who don't realize that their spoiling of their kid is a direct cause, if not THE direct cause, of why their kid is an asshole. Who think continuing to spoil said kid is the only solution because it's already too late. "We've tried nothing, and we're all out of ideas!"

My liberal friends, I am sorry to say (and I love you guys, I do! But please!) have bought into this in a scary way. I get it - this isn't InfoWars or whatever, it's not even Addicting Info or other liberal clickbait. It's the New York Times, among others. You want to believe them. They are respected journalistic organizations. They created this narrative, and you bought it. You trust them, with good reason (usually).

Only as the initial furor has abated, when readers may not be reading anymore, are they seeking out Taiwanese voices - and Lin is among the best voices to seek out - and to their credit, they're not making them sound unreasonable or vacuous. They come across as cogent, knowledgeable and and thoughtful.

As I said above, that's an important and laudable step, but note how, in this case, when those Taiwanese voices voiced ideas too far outside the curated-and-sold narrative, they are edited to fit it. You can't broadcast a revolutionary idea - as sad as it is that normalizing relations with Taiwan is "revolutionary", it really shouldn't be - because the media doesn't want its narrative called into question. They just don't publish it. They probably think they are doing the right thing. They may not even be aware of it on a conscious level. We all, consciously and sub-, create, broadcast and defend our narratives. We don't even realize we're doing it.

What concerns me is that this feels a bit like Taiwanese voices being carefully edited to legitimize the pre-existing narrative on Taiwan. By cutting out the rebuttal -  that no, the status quo is not very good for Taiwan, yes, we are hurt that American liberals ignore progressive, liberal Taiwan, and the solution is to stand up to China and normalize relations - and pruning a few quotes regarding Taiwanese sentiment and also suspicion of Trump, the latter thought already resonating with American liberals, are they not co-opting Taiwanese voices to lend credence to the narrative they've already decided to sell regardless of whether those voices actually agree? Is that not just as problematic as quoting Dr. Some White Guy Who Is An Expert on China, if not more so? To make it sound like the Taiwanese more or less endorse this narrative because they, too, are suspicious of Trump (when that support is not necessarily as full-throated as you want to believe)? Is there not something a bit icky about pruning quotes from a local voice to support your Western worldview when the actual local voice is disappointed in how the article ended up including it? How do you feel if you are one of the folks who bought the narrative?

So, here is a confirmed example of how those Taiwanese voices who are interviewed do not always think the main point of what they want to express is included when they are asked at all - and a powerful example of perhaps legitimizing one's pre-existing worldview by including selected quotes from local voices to fit the narrative you want to sell, rather than letting the local voices speak for themselves.

But it's not all bad. Aaaand, here we go.

The good of it is that finally, reporters in the West are seeking out Taiwanese voices on Taiwanese issues. This is a big change from analysis on Taiwan brought to you by Dr. Some White Guy Who Is An Expert on China, no thought paid to the fact that Taiwan is not a part of China. It also finally reports on the Taiwanese reaction to the Phone Call Heard 'Round The World (and I do appreciate more pieces in recent days finally looking at alternative viewpoints to the knee-jerk "China Is Big And Scary And We Have To Placate Their Tantrums!" Western liberal reaction - and again, I say that as a liberal).

This piece on Medium lays it out well:

"As producers and transmitters of knowledge, the media plays an indispensable role in shaping how a society learns about and understands a topic. Individuals’ beliefs are significantly impacted by the voices that are amplified in the media they consume....We can witness the epistemic marginalization by observing who gets quoted in articles about Trump’s Taiwan phone call. While the US and Chinese political actors are given the agency of chess players, Taiwan is represented as merely a pawn. The most basic articles include a quote from an American and a Chinese government official. The more advanced articles add quotes from an expert on China, Taiwan, or Asia — typically a White person working in a Western institution. The very advanced articles add quotes from expats or journalists working in the region — again, typically White and Western. In mainstream publications like The Financial Times, The New Yorker, and The New York Times, there was not a single quote from a Taiwanese perspective. Instead, it is those who already occupy dominant social positions who get to be heard."

The issue is not, of course, that the voices of Western scholars and experts are being included, it's that they are included while Taiwanese ones are not. They supplant Taiwanese voices, when they are not effective substitutes. It's that Dr. Some White Guy Who Is An Expert on China is considered to be all that's needed, rather than just one voice bordered by others. And, of course, that these guys are almost never experts on Taiwan - those who are often have an outdated understanding of Taiwan - and that does hurt the quality of the "journalism" being churned out.

This is especially great because, as a Mandarin-speaking long-term resident of Taiwan with a degree in a closely related subject, I am a bit sick of being told by Western media how I should feel about the Taiwan-US-China relationship, and well-meaning people quoting that media to insist that this is what's best for Taiwan, without ever having heard a Taiwanese perspective. Yes, this has happened. It's condescending - to me, sure, but I don't matter - but mostly to the Taiwanese.

Consider this the next time you swallow an article by the Western media on Asia, as reputable as the source may be.