Showing posts with label international_politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international_politics. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Hong Kong residents and Taiwanese gather outside Hong Kong representative office in Taipei

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This morning, around the same time that protesters began amassing outside of Hong Kong's legislative council (LegCo) to protest the proposed extradition bill that would allow extraditions from Hong Kong to China, a few hundred Taiwanese and Hong Kong residents gathered outside the Hong Kong representative office in Taipei between Songgao and Xinyi Roads (the office is located in the same building as eslite Xinyi).

I missed the first round of speeches by social activist groups and notable people - including former Sunflower leader Lin Fei-fan - due to work. However, I came by later to find several dozen or perhaps a hundred people still there, braving the worsening rain to continue the demonstration.


Speeches continued after the official line-up had finished, with anyone who wanted the mike able to take it. Longtime expat Sean Kaiteri did so; I did not. In between speeches, a television set up under an awning played a feed of the escalating situation in Hong Kong.


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Most of the speeches were in Cantonese, so I couldn't really understand. A huge number of the protesters were also from Hong Kong - mostly students and interns unable to return to Hong Kong to join their friends and fellow citizens in Central. What struck me was that, while anyone with an ARC (Taiwan residency card) does have freedom of assembly - so they actually can participate in protests, just not organize them - it's a bit less clear if some of the students and interns are technically legally able to do so. Some are only here for a few months. Worryingly, there were reports and rumors of immigration police sweeping through. Otherwise, however, the police left the demonstrators alone and some people who appeared to work in the representative office appeared to be watching the demonstration from just beyond it.



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I had to leave to work on my dissertation, but as far as I know the demonstration is still going on. This isn't likely to end soon and looks like it's getting bad in Hong Kong, so keep your ears open. I suspect there will be more news to come. 


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Saturday, April 27, 2019

It's not just about calling Taiwan "China" as a destination (also, Air Canada sucks)

When Air Canada and other airlines around the world changed the way they listed Taiwan as a destination by labeling it incorrectly as "China", that was insult enough.

But another deeper issue is made worse by this change: that of mistaking Taiwanese for Chinese - that is, the Republic of China for the People's Republic of China - when they are trying to travel.

It's already happening, and rather than talk at you about it, I'm going to hand my platform over to someone this happened to recently. Her public Facebook post about the incident is in Mandarin, but no account exists in English. I'm providing one here (with my own translation):



I want to talk about the fact that I was denied boarding by Air Canada last month.

Recap:

My flight was from Toronto to Columbus Airport, then to Vancouver and back to Taiwan. I had already checked in online. When I went to check my bags, the ground staff first asked me if I had a tourist visa for Canada. I said that I'd applied for an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) and the clerk then asked if I had nationality in the US or Canada. I didn't. Then she told me that this meant I wouldn't be able to fly. She explained that the ETA only allows me to fly into a single city in Canada, but my flight transfers across two Canadian cities, so I had to call customer service to change the ticket.

It took me 20-30 minutes to get through to customer service (the last time it took about an hour), and my boyfriend also helped me check the Canadian visa/ETA regulations so we could show them that the transfer was within 48 hours and therefore within regulation. The ground crew still denied boarding, and the boarding time passed.

Here's the truth of what happened:
I had no idea what was going on with the strange regulations regarding the ETA, which I'd never heard of before, and which Taiwanese citizens are clearly exempt from. After returning home, I immediately began searching for answers. I finally discovered that Canada has this requirement for "Chinese" citizens. Of course my passport is from the "Republic of China" (ed: which is not the same as "Chinese") and I became extremely angry! 

After returning to the airport two days later, the ground staff was going to refuse me again. After I disputed this with the staff, they gave me the good news: "ok, you can board" - but didn't seem embarrassed about their previous mistakes at all. I was furious all over again.  Of! Course! I! Always! Had! The! Right! To! Board! 

Air Canada's attitude in dealing with this?  Terrible ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! (it deserves a hundred exclamation points).

The ground staff said the supervisor whom they queried at the time issued the rejection. The supervisor they said was on duty that day said that he was "not the supervisor that day". So I don't know why I was denied boarding, again and again. No one dares to tell me why I was rejected two days ago. Later on, with the same ETA, holding the same flight itinerary, this time I could fly, and nobody dared to just admit they'd confused Taiwan with China! ! ! ! ! ! (let's add another hundred exclamation points).


When I filled out the appeal form afterwards, I found that there was no Taiwan in the options for choosing nationality, only "Taiwan, China." Then I remembered that last year China put pressure on many airlines in the world to fall in line with the "One China Principle" (ed: China's policy that Taiwan is a part of China - not to be confused with the One China Policy). Perhaps this ridiculous mistake was caused by the fact that Taiwan is classified as 'China' in Air Canada's internal computer system. 

No one used to think that airlines had anything to do with politics. Just when you tell yourself that politics is just politics, that as you live your life doing other things like going out to eat or watching TV, and that politics is just a small part of that life - in the end, it turns out that everything is political.

I am even more curious whether you everyday people are really able to accept being treated as 'the same' as Chinese so readily. Are you really willing to sacrifice the existing rights you have as Taiwanese and become Chinese? As we reject the poor quality of 'Made in China' internationally*, do we have to give up being Made in Taiwan and be considered Made in China? 

*I think meaning, "when we stand up for ourselves as Taiwanese in the international arena and when China tries to force us back", but that's my own interpretation of what she means here as it sounds very metaphorical in a Taiwanese way


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 24, 2019

This time, it's Bloomberg choosing its words poorly when discussing Taiwan

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Bloomberg just ran a profile article of Han Kuo-yu, and the language choices are...not great. I have it on good authority that the Taipei bureau chief is a good dude, so I'm not sure why, but regardless the language and framing in this piece (which has some strong parts) merit some detailed discussion. Let's have a look. 




For officials in Beijing looking for a Taiwanese presidential candidate who improves the island’s fraught ties with the mainland, Han Kuo-yu is saying all the right things. The question is whether he runs.

"A Taiwanese presidential candidate who improves the island's fraught ties with the mainland" implies that it is somehow Taiwan's fault that ties with China (not "the mainland" - that's politically charged terminology) are tense.

But it's not. I'm sure Tsai Ing-wen would love better relations with China, if China would accept that Taiwan isn't interested in unification. That's not a position held only by Tsai - she was elected in part because of it, and is the general sentiment in Taiwan.

Tsai has extended olive branches, but they come with the clear indication that Taiwan's sovereignty is not up for debate. China has not accepted them.

It's Beijing's fault, not Taiwan's, that relations are "fraught". So it's not Taiwan's job to "improve" them - it's China's.

Also, why are you starting an article with what China wants and thinks, rather than what Taiwan wants and thinks, Ms. Wang?



"Such blunt talk contrasts with Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen, a cautious critic of China who’s bracing for a tough re-election fight after bruising policy battles and an isolation campaign by Beijing."

So, why is she facing a difficult re-election campaign? Is it really because of her stance on China? Most people seem fine with her approach to China - not budging on Taiwanese sovereignty, but not instigating any tensions, either. Her approach ensures that it is clear to all who care to observe that it is Beijing doing the bullying (something that was true, but not always clear, under former pro-Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian).

The reasons why her approval ratings are flagging have to do with the economy (although it's actually not doing as badly as people think) and some displeasure over her 'cool' technocratic governing style, as well as domestic governance at a local level. It's actually not that closely related to issues regarding China.

The sense that it's all due to her views on China is further implied by Wang omitting what these "bruising policy battles" were over. Mostly, domestic issues: marriage equality, labor laws, pension reform, that sort of thing.

Tsai was elected because of her pro-Taiwan views, not in spite of them.

So why is Bloomberg implying that Taiwanese people are angry with Tsai over this, and not domestic governance issues?

Besides, what exactly are we saying here? That in order to "reduce tensions", Taiwanese people might want to consider voting for a Beijing-approved candidate? Are we not aware that that is exactly what China wants, but might not turn out well for Taiwan?



Han’s shock defeat in November of a candidate from Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party in the ruling bloc’s stronghold catapulted him to the top of the list of possible presidential hopefuls from the China-friendly Kuomintang.

Putting this in the same paragraph as the quote above implies that this victory was due to China policies. It wasn't. There were a number of odd convergences here, between Han's populist appeal and some very weird and questionable sources of funding and support (when people talk about possible Chinese interference in the last election, well...I don't know about Han specifically but it wouldn't surprise me). There was anger over local governance.

But your average Kaohsiunger does not agree with Han's pro-China tendencies. Unlike Tsai, he was elected despite, not because of, these views. Look at any data about the political leanings of Kaohsiung residents, and this will be clear (Wang alludes to this later but treats it as an inconvenient aside that contradicts the "China!" narrative.)



On Friday, he begins a week-long trip to Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland cities of Shenzhen and Xiamen.

How lazy does journalism have to be to point this out but not interrogate it at all? It's presented almost like a good thing - no questioning at all of how and why Han was invited to Hong Kong and Macau, and who could have set that up and authorized it...and why? And how his insistence that this trip is "all business" is at odds with what we actually know about it?

No interrogation of whether the candidate China prefers may pose potential risks to Taiwan, and that "improving fraught tensions" is not necessarily the best outcome?

Why - after a few paragraphs implying that Taiwanese want a more pro-China leader (even though that's not necessarily the case) - is none of this considered?


Chinese President Xi Jinping, who held a historic meeting with Taiwanese counterpart Ma Ying-jeou weeks before the vote, has cut off communications with Tsai’s government and led a campaign isolate her island diplomatically.

The meeting was not particularly historic and didn't have much effect at all on how Taiwanese voted in the 2016 election. It was literally a non-event, a stunt to try to convince Taiwanese to vote for the KMT, and it failed. Most Taiwanese do want a strong economy and can accept economic ties with China if they deliver one. But seeing how Ma's push for closer ties did not result in definitive economic growth, and that Beijing showed its hand in terms of quietly tethering 'economic ties' to an agenda of political integration, Wang is making way too much of China's reaction leading up to and post-2016. 



Tsai now looks vulnerable, receiving the support of less than 20 percent in recent polls, as she grapples with both voters concerned about deteriorating ties with China and those who want a cleaner break. 

Though I don't know the exact numbers, Ma didn't have great approval ratings before his re-election campaign either, and won. It's sort of a thing in Taiwan. A smarter write-up would have compared Tsai's current approval ratings to what they tend to be at this point in their administration for any given Taiwanese president.

And it again places too much emphasis on Tsai's China policy, and not enough on domestic-level grievances (some of which, like air pollution and low wages, are merited - but which are results of decades of poor governance and can't be fixed in 3.5 years).

Even if the issue were Tsai vs. China, again, no questioning of what it would mean for Taiwan to choose a Beijing-approved candidate simply because China wished it so? No delving into alleged Chinese interference in the 2018 election? Nothing?


Tsai has sought to push back against Han’s pro-China remarks, saying there can’t be an arranged marriage with China because Taiwan is sovereign and its people have the freedom to choose. Taiwan’s official Mainland Affairs Council also took a shot at him [emphasis mine], arguing the island “must resolutely refuse China’s terrorizing affection.”  

Great way to use language to cast a negative connotation on the rhetoric of one side! "Took a shot at him"? How about "spoke frankly" or "pointed out" or any other neutral choice?

Besides, Tsai is right. Unification is impossible because Taiwan is sovereign and the people have the right to choose...and aren't interested in dictatorship and loss of rights. They can see the ways in which Hong Kong has failed and know not to go down that road.

A note here that most Taiwanese do, in fact, support the status quo (not unification), that the status quo is sovereignty (because it is), do not support unification or "One Country Two Systems", and that Taiwanese identity remains strong would be apropos, but we get nothing.


Others observing from Beijing argue Han’s candidacy could lead to a breakthrough between the long-time rivals. He supports the idea both sides are part of “one-China” -- a negotiating framework Tsai has refused to endorse.

More poor language choices.

First, why is this still being framed in terms of what Beijing wants, not what Taiwan thinks?

Second, when the intentions of one "rival" is to annex the other "rival", and they will not accept any offer of negotiation that doesn't put this potential outcome on the table (which is, to them, the only acceptable outcome), when there is a "breakthrough" that's not necessarily a good thing.

Third, Taiwanese who identify as Taiwanese don't see their goals as part of a "rivalry". Rivalries are for "two Chinas" - the ROC and the PRC. But those who just want Taiwan to be Taiwan aren't a part of that. There's no rival claim to China coming from pro-independence types. It's not a rivalry - it's a bully and a target who refuses to succumb. It's just the wrong word, period.

So on one hand we have this inaccurate, undeservedly positive phrase "breakthrough between rivals", and on the other we have a subtle denigration of Tsai/pro-independence views with "refused to endorse", as though this makes her the instigator or the intransigent side who won't negotiate - as though negotiations could ever be fair in this situation.

Tsai doesn't endorse "one China" because Taiwanese by and large do not want to be a part of China. Why not say that? Why make it seem so negative? Why leave out important facts like this?


“If he wins in 2020, it is likely that he will reverse Tsai’s cross-strait policies,” said Wang Dong, an international relations professor at Peking University and secretary general of the Pangoal Institution, a Beijing-based research group. “The mainland, of course, would have much more trust in him.”

What's up with the implication that it would be a good thing for China to trust and like a Taiwanese politician? No delving at all into what that could mean for Taiwan, when China's goal is to annex Taiwan?

This is a Taiwanese candidate, not a Chinese one. China's bullying does matter, but Taiwan's views matter more.

The question isn't "will China trust him?" (seriously, quit it with "mainland"), but "should Taiwanese voters trust him?"

Why aren't you asking that question, Ms. Wang? 



Kaohsiung city spokeswoman Anne Wang said Thursday that Han was focused on promoting the local economy and “will not think about other plans for the time being.” This week’s trip was intended to promote economic and cultural exchanges and not touch on politics, she said.

You're just going to take her at her word and not actually question this? Do you honestly think China would allow this trip if there were no political motivations?



The trip will test Han’s ability to navigate sticky issues on the mainland and in the fractious former British colony of Hong Kong. His past forays into the public eye have been rocky.

Again with the "mainland". Ugh.

Anyway, again, you should be questioning whether China cooperating with a Taiwanese politician is actually a good thing for Taiwan, but that's either ignored, or you take it as a given. I'm truly not sure which.


When he was a legislator in 1993, Han punched future DPP President Chen Shui-bian, putting him in the hospital. As president of the Taipei Agricultural Products Marketing Co. in 2016, he dared a city councilor to swallow a hockey puck during a dispute. 
During his run for mayor, he told a gathering of female supporters that anyone who created 1,000 jobs in Kaohsiung would get a kiss. Earlier this month, he was forced to apologize after dismissing the idea of attracting white-collar workers from the Philippines since it was hard to believe maids could become English teachers.

Lest you think I just want to hate on this article, I am quoting this here to point out that it's pretty good coverage of his past controversies. Nice work. 



Han successfully cast himself as the “CEO mayor” during the campaign, propelled in part by a social media campaign led by his Canadian-educated daughter, Coco Han. His focus on economics on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook helped garner robust support from younger voters looking for higher wages. 
One of his slogans was: “With goods sold and talent flowing in, Kaohsiung’s people will make a fortune.”

Sure, okay. Not untrue. But it would be smart to question whether his outlandish and oversize promises had a chance of holding up. If you actually look at his focus on the economy, you'll see that he's unlikely to actually be able to deliver on his promises. Kaohsiung will never be Shanghai. It will probably never even be Taipei. We do need to improve the economy across Taiwan, including in industrial centers like Kaohsiung. But...this seems a bit vague and impossible to deliver on.

And at no point do you question this, or ask whether or not it's prudent to run a guy for president who hasn't even proven he can run Kaohsiung, whose promises seem so pie-in-the-sky that any rational person can see that they just aren't credible, and what it means that the KMT is willing to run him anyway, and China is on board.

Why not, Bloomberg? Why not, Cindy Wang?

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Swedish citizen Gui Minhai has been held by China for three years and Sweden has been super weird about it

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Gui Minhai, Martin Schibbye, Johan Persson, Peter Dahlin


Taipei-based Swedish journalist Jojje Olsson held a talk last week on the case of Gui Minhai. Gui is a Swedish citizen abducted from Thailand by the Chinese government who, beyond some limited contact with family and Swedish diplomats, has been held basically incommunicado. In fact, the talk itself coincided with the date when Gui had been officially held for exactly three years. 

The most informative part of Olsson's talk was his description of what Sweden is doing (or not doing) to get him back. While they are highly involved in closed-door, quiet talks with Chinese officials, it seems odd that these talks are indeed so "quiet": not only has the government not been in regular contact with Gui's daughter, but the case seems to be far more low-profile than it ought to.

This weird silence can be understood in comparison to the government's reaction to two other Swedish journalists who were similarly kidnapped and held for over a year in a foreign country on trumped-up charges. Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye spent over 400 days in an Ethiopian jail for essentially doing their jobs. Similarly, Gui had broken no laws in Hong Kong, where his books (which were semi-biographical tabloid fodder about Chinese leaders) were published, and was in Bangkok when he was taken. Like Persson and Schibbye, he is a Swedish citizen.

This is even more eyebrow-raising, as other European countries (most notably Germany, according to Olsson, but including much of the continent) have not only more publicly called for Gui's release, but have tried to work together to collectively take public action. And yet, Sweden stays on the path of "quiet diplomacy", even though it doesn't appear to be working. Bad publicity scares China. A few polite Swedish diplomats? Yeah I don't think so. 

But in Persson and Schibbye's case, there was an uproar in Sweden and the government much more transparently and openly feuded with Ethiopia over their detainment. What's more, Swedish officials were regularly in contact with Persson and Schibbye's family members.

Why are they raising much less of a fuss in dealing with China over Gui Minhai? Why are they not in regular contact with Angela Gui (his daughter)? When Gui was snatched a second time from a Chinese train under the noses of Swedish diplomats who were taking him to Beijing for medical care, why did the reaction seem so muted?

In the international media as well, while the case has been reported by major outlets such as the BBC and the Guardian, the average person (including the average Swedish person, I'd gather) doesn't even know that this is happening. To even your typical well-traveled educated European, the idea that China would abduct foreign nationals in foreign countries might even seem farfetched. But that's exactly what they've done.

The suggested answer is that China is a powerful country, both politically and economically. Ethiopia means little to Sweden; there are fewer risks with starting an openly critical campaign to get abducted citizens back.

I suggest an even more obvious answer. Here is a photo of Swedish citizens with Swedish names, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye:



Wikimedia Commons

And here is a photo of Swedish citizen with a Chinese name, Gui Minhai:
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A screen grab of a screen grab - not many photos are available


Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Do you think it could be...?

Yeah, I do.

The rest of Europe, as noted above, seems to understand the gravity of the situation. I have to wonder why the Swedish government doesn't.

Certainly, China wants the world to think that Gui is Chinese and this is a Chinese matter. Gui is not Chinese; he may have been born in Ningbo, but China doesn't recognize dual nationality. The day Gui became Swedish is the day he stopped being Chinese. Regardless, Chinese state thugs forced Gui to say publicly that he wanted to renounce Swedish citizenship and he "slammed the country" on television. (It is certain that this was a forced statement; there is no possibility that this is truly how Gui feels about the matter).

It is well-known that China thinks of basically every person of Chinese ancestral heritage as Chinese; their actual nationality doesn't seem to matter to the CCP. They do this by threatening Chinese students abroad, taking over Chinese-language media aimed at the diaspora and threatening loved ones who may still be in China, among other tactics.

It's also not a stretch to see that they think they can get away with holding Gui in part because he, well, looks Asian. They are betting on the rest of the world seeing this as a "Chinese" issue, not an international one, and that the world cares less about these things. Basically, China is deeply racist about such matters (thinking everyone with Chinese ancestry is Chinese and therefore subject to CCP control  no matter how many generations ago their family left is racist), but they're also betting that we are racist too: that we will care less because Gui is Asian.

Why do I say this? Well, compare China's treatment of Gui to their treatment of another Swede involved in China: Peter Dahlin. Gui published books - legally - that threatened the CCP's reputation. Dahlin is an activist who threatens the CCP by working with human rights lawyers in China.

Dahlin was released after a few weeks. Gui has been held for three years. Dahlin was taken in China, over actions he undertook in China; Gui was taken in Thailand over actions he undertook in Hong Kong.

I'll repeat myself: Peter Dahlin is white and has a European name. Gui Minhai looks Chinese and has a Chinese name.

China didn't want a disappeared European on their hands, so they let Dahlin go. They are betting on you not thinking Gui is European.

Don't believe me? They abducted another foreign citizen too: Lee Ming-che. Lee is Taiwanese, not Chinese. But his name is Lee Ming-che and he looks Asian. Lee was abducted in China, over actions that he took in Taiwan where he broke no laws.

Like Gui, the Chinese government wants you to think Lee is Chinese and that this is therefore a Chinese matter and none of your business. It is no such thing. They want you to fall back on old mental blocks - for you not to care as much about people with Asian faces.

Still don't believe me? Despite Swedish officials being fairly quiet about pressing for Gui's release, China has started a massive diplomatic row over a family of play-acting Chinese tourists and China's ambassador to Sweden is something of a grandstanding jerk: all of this (even according to Olsson) seems to be related to China's attempts to pressure Sweden to just forget Gui Minhai exists, and to shift the spotlight of the Sweden-China disagreement from a Swede abducted by China to a family of shrieking stooges.

Again: China wants you to forget about Gui Minhai, and Lee Ming-che too. They want you to see these foreign prisoners of the Chinese state as "Chinese", so you won't worry your pretty little head about them. The Swedish government, for some reason, seems to be playing along just enough to keep Gui out of the news. The result is that most people seem to be forgetting about him, if they knew he existed at all.

You, however, should do no such thing. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

This Week in CHINA TENSIONS!!!!

Apparently the old way of avoiding saying that China creates tensions through its own aggressive expansionism and weaponized use of 'hurt feelings' (and century-out-of-date victimhood - more on that later) isn't harvesting as many clicks as it used to. Perhaps passive voice (those tensions - they were just...raised!) isn't thirsty enough, perhaps simply attributing these tensions to everyone but China wasn't interesting anymore.

Now, we need BIGGER and STRONGER verbs to THROTTLE readers' attention because REPORTING THE SITUATION ACCURATELY is apparently not enough.

The accurate situation: China is engaging in territorial expansionism using fabricated historical narratives to justify it. The "tensions" over Taiwan are created by China, and are a policy choice on the part of China. They are not - as someone on my twitter feed put it - a "natural reaction" to what others do. China does not suffer because the US sent warships through the Taiwan Strait. The strait is considered international waters (and this has been pointed out before). Nothing changes in China when a country sends a warship through international waters.

If anything, China is the one creating the situation where a response is necessary. If China hadn't been slowly pushing the envelope towards a world where it controlled Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait as well, the US wouldn't have felt it necessary to demonstrate that it had the right to sail ships in all international waters.

That means that China is not only choosing to respond to this with "OMG that means tensions!" but in fact that they created the tensions to begin with.  

If the media reported that accurately, here is what these completely ridiculous headlines and tweets would actually look like:



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Ooh, a new one - "antagonize"! I guess simply "causing tensions" wasn't eye-catching enough. 


But it should be:

 "US May Sail Through Taiwan Strait In Response To Chinese Antagonism In Region" 
(This was later changed to "provoking", which isn't much better.





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Wow, fury! Really? Actual fury? What has China got to be "furious" about when another country sails ships in international waters, unless it is choosing to be furious?

Nope, let me fix that for you:

"Chinese aggression against Taiwan risks U.S. fury, Pentagon sends two warships into nearby international waters"


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EXACERBATE! Hah.

I'm especially saddened by this tweet, because the Beijing bureau chief of the Washington Post should understand the region better than this. Anyway, her tweet would more accurately read:

"Two US Navy vessels sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Monday, in a move that warns China against further exacerbating tensions with Taiwan"

Let me add - "already high tensions" - where did these tensions come from? Who created them? In whose interest is it for those tensions to remain high? Who keeps getting angry?

You know the answer is "China", so why does your tweet imply that the U.S. is to blame?


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Oh man. LA Times finally got someone other than Ralph "I hate Taiwan" Jennings to write about Taiwan, and they still come out with this garbage. What's even more annoying is that the most salient quote is in the article itself:

“The ships’ transit though the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Lt. Rachel McMarr, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. “The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

So, if you have to report on this at all (which you don't), maybe try:


"Pentagon sends two warships through Taiwan Strait as warning to Beijing to cease raising tensions"


or even:

"Why is China angry about the Pentagon sending two warships through international waters?"


And your laugh of the day:


Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 12.07.03 PM

China provoked a US response, not the other way around. But this is Global Times, who cares. But let's play anyway:

"China's actions in Taiwan Straits [sic] provoke US response of sending warship through international waters"

* * *


This worries me, because I fear the way these things are being reported won't change. Newly-minted journalists will feel they have to stick to the old lines to get published and won't insist on accurate wording, editors will continue to edit pieces on topics they know nothing about, and actual bureau chiefs (jesus) will EXACERBATE the problem by sharing news that makes it seem as though this situation is everyone's fault but China's.

They know better: like with Chinese "tensions", it's a choice to publish headlines this obtuse and backwards.

It also worries me because China will absolutely continue to use this to their advantage, and nobody will say anything. Then the US will respond to China's actions. Or Taiwan will. And everyone will jump on that, pointing fingers at the U.S. and Taiwan and saying "these guys are exacerbating tensions!"

It makes it impossible to respond to China, when China's own actions are not held up to the same standard. When they are not objectively considered.

Again, this is a choice. They know better. They are helping an authoritarian regime look like a victim, and therefore helping them expand not only their territorial claims but their attempts to export authoritarianism. They are aware of this. Yet they continue to do it.

And, finally, it worries me because China is taking its cues from nobler causes in the West. It's looking at how we legitimately talk about historical victimization and how that affects modern society (think: arguments about inheriting tangible and intangible generational wealth vs. inheriting trauma while still being discriminated against).

It's taking that - a real, legitimate argument - and twisting it around to weaponize its own "century of humiliation". It is the most powerful actor in Asia, has taken by force most of the territory it says it wants (which is mostly full of people with distinct cultural backgrounds who don't want to be ruled by China), and is an economic powerhouse.

In whatever ways China was victimized in the past - and it certainly was - its claim on Taiwan is not an extension of that. Not historically, not culturally, not legally. The government that rules China now has never ruled Taiwan, and if we're going to talk "antiquity", has only in recent history even considered that Taiwan could possibly be Chinese.

Let me say that again for the people in the back: even if a historical argument supported China's claims on Taiwan, which it doesn't, it wouldn't matter. Taiwan has a culture, sense of history and identity that differs from China now, and they do not want to be a part of China ever. China doesn't get to have an opinion on the future of a territory it does not hold, and which its current government (with its current borders) has never held.

China can whine and cry and play victim, but the fact that it does not have Taiwan is not a facet of its historical victimhood. And even if it were, there is no just world in which the lives of 23.4 million people are an acceptable form of reparations.

And yet all of these headlines about 'antagonizing', 'exacerbating' and 'provoking' China make it sound as though it is. As though China is still being bullied like it's the Opium Wars or something. As though it isn't the one upping the ante, with Taiwan and the U.S. responding.

This is the best possible headline, by the way:



Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 8.39.51 PM


It's from Focus Taiwan so will obviously show Taiwan's point of view, but that happens to also be the accurate point of view in this case, even incorporating a quote from a U.S. military spokesperson.

You know this, journos, yet you report all that other garbage anyway.

Seriously. Quit it. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Why is everyone so upset that Ko said Taiwan is a "product on a shelf"?

44378478_986461788204459_3214075326409736192_o
The screenshot that launched a million words


Because I'm gonna say it: he's right. 



Taiwan must focus on making itself more valuable to President Donald Trump and accept its status as a pawn in the great power game between the U.S. and China, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je said.


Nobody likes to hear that they "must accept their status as a pawn" - but that doesn't make it untrue. We absolutely should not overestimate the US's willingness to defend Taiwan.

And he's not only right about Donald Trump, who is absolutely not a reliable ally to anyone and sees everything as an opportunity that can bolster his own self-image or worth or a threat to be eradicated (or at least shouted at incoherently), he's also right about the US in general. Not only that, it's been true for awhile.

This doesn't mean Taiwan shouldn't deal with the US, or should refuse its help, but that's not what Ko said: he said we needed a strategy to deal with this reality. That's just a correct statement.

But it seemed as though nobody wanted to hear it. What struck me was the swiftness and absolute horror of the reaction from Taiwanese activists, commentators, friends and other people involved in the struggle for a better Taiwan. The general feeling seemed to be, essentially "how could he say such a thing?"

I was a bit curious about that so I asked around, paid attention to various comment threads (like this one) on the topic, and generally just tried to get a sense of what was so terrible about essentially making an accurate, if damning, statement about the US's commitment to Taiwan.

The main point of anger doesn't seem to be the idea that Taiwan is a "pawn", but that the Ko has not equally addressed the fact that if Taiwan is a poker chip to the US, then it's also one to China. Essentially, he's speaking out about how the US sees Taiwan, but is seen by the public as worryingly - and oddly - growing closer to China.

There's a sense among many Taiwanese that Ko has questionable motives, from using China's language on two sides of the strait being "one family" to gaining Chinese state television endorsements to rumors that China is encouraging Taishang (Taiwanese businesspeople in China) to return to vote for Ko and is supporting him for a 2020 presidential run on the assumption that the KMT can't win, with Ko himself not doing much to dispel these notions. I've even heard rumors about some deeply weird cross-party alliances that...well, I won't even go there.



44426256_911279235743800_1094803265582792704_n
From 幹幹貓: probably one of the most common things I read to improve my colloquial Chinese. It's all in Mandarin but you should check it out!

There's also the general sentiment - captured in the Fuck Fuck Cat cartoon above - that so many Taiwanese voters and politicians are willing to bend over for China at a few sweet words promising economic incentives, ignoring China's stated and obvious intentions. These (often same) people will blast the US-Taiwan relationship as something they can't trust, despite all sorts of actually good things the US has done, from the Taiwan Travel Act to arms sales, without anything close to the ill intent of China.

So it makes sense from their perspective to worry that he'd be so dismissive of Taiwan as a commodity of the US, but silent on how China views Taiwan.

I get that too - here he basically says there is no such thing as "cross-strait relations": one could charitably parse that as "China is a foreign country like any other", but I can see how someone might hear it as "cross-strait relations don't exist because we're all the same" given some of his language choices in the past.

He goes on, however, to basically speak truth to power: saying that Trump has repeated "America First!" ad nauseam, and it's foolish to not believe him. When one reporter said "but some are insisting that you really shouldn't say 'Taiwan is just a product'", he replied, basically, "I dunno, what else am I supposed to say?"

Which...yeah.

I'm sure there are people under Trump who care about Taiwan as more than a 'product', and they've had enough say in the US's recent Taiwan policy that we've seen some real benefits. But an entire book could be written on how past administrations have seen Taiwan as a poker chip - from Bush speaking out against Taiwan independence in 2003 to Obama "selling so few arms to Taiwan that he came close to violating the Taiwan Relations Act", as a friend once put it.

The Bloomberg piece that created this poopfest goes on to say:



The outspoken former surgeon and potential presidential contender told Bloomberg News that Taiwan shouldn’t overestimate the U.S.’s willingness to defend the island from an attack by its much bigger neighbor. Ko, 59, said Taiwan needed to boost its worth to America by strengthening shared values, such as democracy and economic transparency (emphasis mine).


Again, yeah. What reasonable person would argue with that?

I could argue that playing up values like 'shared democracy' wouldn't matter - the US has a history of ignoring human rights abuses, or responding flaccidly to them, when economic benefits might be at stake (including the US's response to Tiananmen Square after 1989). That doesn't mean we shouldn't make this a selling point for Taiwan, however.


But, this is apparently not good enough: there are all sorts of rumors about his having a role in organ harvesting (getting discounts on organs from China? Something like that. I'm not too clear), on the nature of his previous visits to China and other things I won't bother with.

I'm not saying I believe all of this - I'm just pointing out that this is what is being said.

Some of the above are clearly election season character-smearing trash or at best should be taken with a Tainan Salt Museum mountain of salt, yet a lot of the comments I've been seeing slamming Ko for calling Taiwan a "product on the shelf" for the US reference the above rumors as though they are fact, and therefore prove that Ko wants to move away from a stronger relationship with the US and towards a friendlier one with China. Of course, they prove no such thing.

I don't know. I see their point vis-a-vis China - I too have been disappointed with Ko's rhetoric in this area (though much more worried about his only serious opponent's even stronger pro-China talking points). I find it odd that he'd be so quick to abandon the base that voted him in, of not-quite-DPP pro-Taiwan voters and Sunflower-energized youth to start talking like a weird old unificationist, and yet, I remain agnostic on the notion that he actually is a unificationist. I also remain agnostic on the idea that he has some deep-level "four-dimensional chess" strategy going on to deal with China: the evidence doesn't support that, either.

And I've been deeply disappointed with some in the Taiwanese electorate who are willing to believe any and all claptrap from China, who really is our enemy, and then are so quick to turn around and criticize the US.

Anyway, I get it. We big-noses are talking about how Ko is "telling it like it is" because we're just thinking about his comments vis-a-vis the US, without looking at how they stack up to his comments about China. Removed from that context, we're right. Put back in context, however, I see why this angers a certain subset of Taiwanese.

Finally, there's a sentiment among some as well that Ko supporters are becoming overly rabid themselves - acting like extremists or fundamentalists, balking at the slightest criticism (I've seen this in action, by the way - it is, in some cases, a thing). Among Ko supporters, there's a sentiment that everyone knows the guy speaks bluntly and undiplomatically, and we all say we want politicians who say what they mean, so are you really going to crucify him every time he does exactly that?

And yet, I can't repeat it enough: when you strip all that away and look at US-Taiwan relations specifically, and ignore the rumors dogging Ko in other areas, you have to admit: he's absolutely right. Trump keeps repeating "America First" - and when people tell you who they are, believe them. 


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Talk on Gui Minhai by Swedish journalist to be held on 10/17

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Time:
October 17 (this Wednesday), 7:30pm-9pm
Location: Enspyre; 12th Floor #181 Fuxing N. Road, Songshan Dist. Taipei (section not given but it's basically near/on the Fuxing-Changchun intersection)
台北市松山區復興北路181號12樓


Top-notch Swedish journalist Jojje Olsson will be hosting a talk on the disappearance and continued detainment of Swedish citizen Gui Minhai this Wednesday.

Olsson has been holding Sweden's feet to the fire over the government's silence on Chinese government crimes against Swedish citizens for some time, and is deeply knowledgeable about these issues. He is well worth listening to and I strongly recommend attending.

Gui's disappearance affects us all. First, it shows that the Chinese government is deeply racist: it is far more likely to go after dissidents of Chinese ancestral heritage, showing that it considers all people with ancestral ties to China to essentially be "Chinese" regardless of where they actually come from, live, or are citizens. China seems to have wagered that the rest of the world doesn't care as long as the victims look Asian. I fear that they have wagered correctly.

It also shows that China's actions are not just impacting their own citizens (although prominent Chinese citizens are disappearing as well, including ones who head prominent international organizations and do not reside in China, such as disappeared Interpol chief Meng Hongwei). Gui Minhai is a Swedish citizen; this issue also calls to mind Li Mingche, the Taiwanese citizen also 'disappeared' by China. Li, too, is not Chinese: he is Taiwanese, and his actions in Taiwan were entirely legal.

Even scarier is that Gui's disappearance did not happen in China - he was in Bangkok. Essentially, this means that the Chinese government does not stop at its own citizens or borders, and is certainly willing to abduct foreign nationals from other countries. It is possible - likely, even - that they attempted to do the same thing to Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong when he arrived in Bangkok, but had to release him as he was able to get word of his detainment out on social media.

This is what we're up against. This shows that, as evil as you think Western countries can be (and they certainly can be), the CCP is several orders of magnitude worse: they are crueler, more evil, and more terrifying.

Knowing more about these issues, especially if you reside in Taiwan, is absolutely worth your time. Also, you'll be supporting one of the foreign journalists whose mission it is to expose Chinese government atrocities to Western audiences and who is committed to Taiwan. We need more of those, and to support the ones we already have.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

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 8, 2018

IELTS bends over for China

Another day, another money-making entity kowtowing to China. This time the culprit is IELTS, the international English proficiency test that is the exam of standard for those hoping to study in the UK, Australia and several other countries (most of Europe if English is the required language, Canada, New Zealand - many, if not most, American universities accept it as well).

This makes no sense to me. Sure, China is a huge market for IELTS, but China needs IELTS as much as IELTS needs China. Chinese students and others hoping to move abroad need to take IELTS to make it happen, period. An innocent reading of this would be that many Chinese want to study abroad, and everyone - including the government - welcomes these international connections. A more sinister one is that China can more effectively expand its United Front operations abroad if it has a large contingent of Chinese abroad to facilitate that, including students. Most of those students would have to take IELTS.

So - unlike with airlines - this just doesn't make sense. IELTS could have told China to suck an egg and I don't see that China would have had a choice. Why didn't they? The only answer I can come up with is cowardice.

In my dreams, every IELTS examiner in Taiwan (or enough of them to make an impact) goes on 'strike'. They refuse to examine, or examine only at the bare minimum to keep their certifications, causing a severe examiner shortage that the IELTS head office will have to deal with. They don't budge until Taiwan is called 'Taiwan' again.

In reality, I know how unlikely that is to actually happen.

Here's a ray of good news, if you are an IELTS examiner who is angry about this change. If you don't want to refuse to examine - though come on, do ol' Lao Ren Cha a solid and refuse to examine! Make the consequences real! -  it is possible to get in touch with the IELTS head office. Ask your employer in Taiwan (so that would be either British Council or IDP) for the correct contact information and encourage them to complain in an official capacity, as well. Don't just leave this to the Taiwanese government. Then write to them.

It's not much, but it's better than trolling Air Canada for kicks (though by all means, do that too). Someone might actually read your letter and then politely respond to you with some British blather that translates to "we don't care", but it's something.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The left finally notices Taiwan - super late to the game

IMG_6738
Come on, give Taiwan a chance.


A truly excellent piece of writing and overall backgrounder on Taiwan and why the Western left should care about it appeared in Dissent Magazine recently.

I'm elated. I have nothing bad to say about the piece. My only disappointment is that not enough mainstream Western lefties read Dissent, and its online access is blocked by a paywall (frankly, the reason for the former is certainly, in part, the latter). So a lot of people who should read this piece, won't.

Because you probably don't have access to read the full article, and I do (don't ask how, but I have my sorceress ways), I'm basically going to quote relevant bits here without going full-on copyright infringement, and hope that this will make the ideas therein a bit more accessible to those who so desperately need to hear them.

Here's how it starts: 



Imagine a small, peaceful, progressive island in Asia about the size of Mary- land. Ruled until the Cold War’s very end by a military dictatorship, it is now a robust democracy, although it endures incessant hostility from its giant neighbor. Its people treasure their hard-fought equality, free press, and vibrant civil society.


The rest of the introduction is free to read, so I'll be taking the rest from the parts that are not accessible to non-subscribers. In any case, this is the country I call home. And, with some exceptions, it basically lives up to this promise as well as any democratic nation can.


Boasting the world’s largest standing army and an expansionist outlook, the People’s Republic of China deems Taiwan a “renegade province” that must be “reunified” in due course. And because the Chinese claim the island as part of their territory, they go out of their way to block its international participation. Essentially, they have made befriending Taiwan a zero-sum game for anyone who dares to do so, and the rules are simple: Engage with us and we will reward you; engage with them and we will punish you. It is fierce dollar diplomacy Beijing insists on waging, and Taipei can’t win.


Exactly, and thank you to this writer for putting "renegade province" and "reunified" in the scare quotes they always needed. Why can't mainstream media outlets do that? It's simple, easy and more accurate than what they do print (which is similar copy without the quotation marks, implying the claims have merit.) That the West doesn't see the game China is playing here, or doesn't care and is willing to sacrifice 23.5 million people who currently live free is terrifying to me. If you say you have values, live up to them, damn it.


In a recent poll that asked whether unification is an option if China democratizes (itself a long shot), just 24 percent of respondents aged thirty-nine or below said yes, while 73 percent said no. Since 2009, according to another survey, a majority of the island’s population has consistently self-identified as taiwanese— not as Chinese, nor as both—a sign that they have long assumed their de facto independence.


Yup. This idea that "both sides of the Strait" think of themselves or identify as "Chinese" is basically complete trash-in-the-dumpster bollocks. It's not true and hasn't been true for some time. Why the rest of the world is willing to force an identity on Taiwan - "but they're officially the Republic of China so they think they are Chinese too!", which is an oversimplification that leads to a dead-wrong conclusion - is beyond me. Everyone else gets to identify as they wish with liberal support - why not Taiwanese?

Keep in mind that Taiwan cannot change its official name from the Republic of China because doing so would precipitate a war that nobody wants, especially not the Taiwanese who, above all else, want peace. It wasn't a country name chosen by the Taiwanese - it was decided by the Nationalist government in China, without ever asking any Taiwanese what they thought about it. In essence, it is colonial. So it's a bit of a jerk's game of Catch-22 to then say this attempt to maintain peace means they "are Chinese".


As a diverse, tolerant country with a leader who has shattered the ultimate glass ceiling for Asian women, there is every reason to expect that tai- wan’s most faithful allies in the U.S. are on the left. Except that is not the case at all: American progressives tend to view it as either a reactionary state or one of no importance.


I think I need to change my pants. 

This is so true it hurts, and what is worse, it's so painfully wrong. It calls to mind, forcefully, a "conversation" (more like an ignorant rant-fest on his part that I very much wanted to end) between a friend-of-a-friend on social media, in which he went on and on (and on and on), basically Dunning-Krugering himself into a tizzy about how it would be "better" and we should "hope" that Taiwan takes over China, because apparently this worked in Hong Kong (I don't think he's ever asked any Hong Kongers what they think about that, or read about how that's actually gone down, because that's not the answer I think many would give) and anyway, they're the same people with the same culture and history, so why not?

That 23.5 million people don't think they are the same people with the same culture and history, and who have already built the sort of democracy with a healthy respect for civil society that Western liberals can only wet dream about (just try occupying Congress in the United States - you'd be dead), didn't seem to factor in.


John Bolton, who would later become Trump’s national security advisor, electrified conservatives when he declared on Fox & Friends: “Nobody in Beijing gets to dictate who we talk to.”

But then came the partisan backlash. It just so perfectly fit the anti- trump narrative: a buffoon elected president who was already, before taking office, eroding well-established “norms” because he was either too reckless or too ignorant. “that’s how wars start,” tweeted Senator Chris Murphy. trump’s “flippant calls” were “threatening to create diplomatic crises,” Vanity Fair asserted in the same article that compared tsai with other controversial world leaders with whom trump had also spoken, like Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, as if she, too, was a notorious human rights abuser.




Somebody please get me a towel, because it's getting hot in here. 

Anyway, yeah, all this. Tsai is a moderate - if anything, too careful and too conservative - democratically-elected leader. Like all elected leaders, she is imperfect, but damn, she ain't Duterte. Likewise, Taiwan's democracy is imperfect. Some people who ought to be protected, aren't. But it ain't Turkey. 

This echoes what the rest of the world writes about Taiwan and China - as though Tsai were somehow the one "causing tensions", or her fairly mild "we won't take any crap from China but we won't make waves either" stance (exactly the right attitude to take when facing a bully) was some sort of "hardliner" rant.

But since Horrible Death Walrus John Bolton said it - despite the fact that this one (and only) time, he was right - the left flipped the hell out.

And I thought our side was better at evaluating the merit of the idea rather than dismissing it based on its source. Hmm. Maybe we're not as smart as I thought.




Absent from the mainstream media discourse were the views of ordinary taiwanese, most of whom do not remotely share trump’s politics but were delighted to learn of their country’s long overdue acceptance and validation on the international stage. One commentator called it “the happiest thing” for Taiwan since the Jimmy Carter years.


HOO BOY HOSE ME DOWN.

Seriously, we have been trying to tell the West this for years. Why is it that the views of China and the CCP are always given center stage in the media and general pundit commentariat, and nobody ever seems to ask what the Taiwanese think about all this?

The article goes on to reflect on some of the ideas of this piece, which you should also read. 



So, as late as the waning days of 1986, this was the scenario Washington faced: neither side could accept coexistence as they each claimed to be the sole, rightful owner of China and Taiwan combined. to keep gambling on Beijing—which first began with Richard Nixon’s famous visit in 1972 and formalized when Carter severed diplomatic ties in 1979 with Taipei—seemed sensible enough.

It was not at all imaginable that Taiwan would be the one to emerge as Asia’s beacon of freedom so soon while China would backslide.


Exactly. In 1979 the Western reaction to Taiwan made more sense - Taiwan was still a dictatorship, ruled by people not from Taiwan, who never asked the Taiwan if they wanted to be ruled. You know, like a colony.

And yeah, that dictatorship (which, again, was not Taiwanese) claimed to be the sole legitimate government of China. That sucks, but it's not Taiwan's fault and certainly doesn't reflect the views of the Taiwanese today. These guys did not even come from Taiwan and their dictatorship is over (though the party still, unfortunately, exists).

The idea that the legitimate government of China is currently in Taiwan is ludicrous, and almost all Taiwanese would agree with this. Those that don't tend to be in their 90s and were not born in Taiwan. And sure, maybe it's too bad that Grandpa lost the war, but things have changed.

So why doesn't the West get this too?  Because, like, hey libs. It's not 1979 anymore. The king is dead! Long live the democratically elected leader of one of the freest countries in Asia!

There's a bit more history there, but I'm getting a little quote-happy. Just be aware that it was the 90s, and the first George Bush's actions after Tiananmen Square, that led to neo-conservatives taking up the cause of Taiwan (called the "Blue Team" - though Taiwan isn't exactly 'blue' anymore, it was then). Of course, what neo-cons champion, those liberals - well, the ones who don't think or don't know better - reflexively hate. Cue Clinton's tepid views on Taiwan, which set the stage for a general liberal ignoring of a quickly democratizing and liberalizing nation.

Some more recent history for you:



Simultaneously in Washington, the Blue team became ever more influential with Congress, think tanks, and even the incoming president’s inner circle. But while George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies were keen to confront Beijing early in his first term, they soon found themselves need- ing crucial Chinese cooperation in North Korea and especially the Middle East after 9/11; this compelled Bush to speak out against taiwanese independence in December 2003. the “One China” policy hence survived as a cornerstone of American foreign policy. Obama’s “pivot to Asia” did not alter that either, as he kept Taiwan out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, although the free-trade pact was itself designed to counterbalance China’s regional clout.


You may hate the TPP, but if its more noble goals were ever achievable, it was just stupid to leave Taiwan out. A sign of liberal shortsightedness.


Today in Ttrump’s America, the staunchest supporters of Taiwan have been the same band of Republican hawks, from heavyweights such as Bob Dole and the late John McCain to Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who are descendants of the Blue team. Because of this interconnection, the issue continues to be perceived as a right-wing cause with which progressives are reluctant to be associated.


Weeeeeelllll...here's where I begin to disagree. Pro-Taiwan lobbying groups and associations talk to Republicans and Lizard People like Ted Cruz because they have power now, and they'll take whatever help they can get (you may not like that, but it is a pragmatic approach. Yeah, it makes my skin crawl too. I know.)

But pro-Taiwan bills have recently had unanimous support, and Taiwan generally does have bipartisan support. As for why the left doesn't speak out for Taiwan as much as the right, I have no idea. I suspect it's because they're not as smart as they think they are, and as smart as I always wanted them to be that they don't see a natural ally in Asia staring them right in the face. A shame. Taiwan is super hawt and needn't be the nerdy virgin in this story, hoping to get the guy. 




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The Guy

(from here - I've talked to them about permission to post their work generally - they are great and you should check them out)


The rejection of Chiang’s memory reflects an undeniable reality: the old assumption that both Taiwan and China long to unite as one nation-state but disagree on which regime has legitimacy is simply not accurate any- more. Beijing’s failure to uphold the promise of autonomy in Hong Kong and Macau only makes unification with Taiwan even more far-fetched. For Americans in this day and age to still defend Kissinger’s “One China” policy—a shameful, self-serving lie to please the Chinese—is to pretend otherwise; the passive strategy aims to do the bare minimum to maintain the status quo, a status quo that is inherently unjust.



If you take one thing away from my quote-fest here, liberals, let it be that. And this:


It is high time for the political left to rethink taiwan. Progressives’ silence—whether because they are oblivious to the island’s changing politi- cal landscape or disinclined to anger Beijing—does a grave disservice to the taiwanese people who have come such a long way.



I SCREAM THIS AT PEOPLE IN MY DREAMS.


But where the island struggles most has always been on the world stage. When the SARS epidemic was killing hundreds of victims in neigh- boring Hong Kong and China back in 2003, Taiwanese epidemiologists had to combat the disease alone after the WHO denied them access to samples and information. Few things have changed over the years. the International Olympic Committee returned a verdict this May that forced Team Taiwan to keep playing under the awkward “Chinese Taipei” designation in the forth- coming Tokyo 2020 Games. Even with the deck stacked against it, however, Taiwan has not stopped fighting for respect and recognition.


The island merits them; it has never exploited its diplomatic alienation 
to act out. Rather, it has proven time and again to be a responsible, if minor, power. At a time when many Western countries are turning inward, Tsai has called immigrants “an infusion of new strength and a force for cultural diversity.”

 

Well, I'd like to see all those nice words on immigration translate into a shot at dual nationality without having to fit into some Special Magic Foreigner box, but cool. Some laws have been relaxed, and I appreciate that. I think she means what she says, and I think the generally pan-green or anti-KMT/pro-Taiwan side finally believes this while fighting conservatives in their ranks.

In any case, when it comes to Taiwan, this is dead on. Taiwan has done nothing to make waves - if anything, it accepts more humiliation than it ought to (it shouldn't have to accept any) to keep the peace. It has been nothing but stable and calm in the face of an increasingly screamy, angry, irrational China.

And yet, Taiwan is painted as the bad guy - raising "tensions", full of "hardliners", who need to make "concessions" because what China thinks about Taiwan is apparently more important than what Taiwan thinks about itself.

Let's bring it home with a hit right to the liberal sweet spot: 


If the American left is serious about opposing a reactionary foreign pol- icy that preserves unequal power relations, it should speak up for Taiwan. Its enlightened views on gender, ethnicity, and class have translated into a social structure that’s reminiscent, in certain ways, of Northern Europe’s. Its capability and readiness to tackle the greatest challenges of our time, from terrorism to climate change, make it a well-deserved member of the international community. Its unlikely historical trajectory shows that bringing genuine progress to a part of the world where individual liberties are more often threatened than cherished is possible.


OH YEAH.