Showing posts with label liberalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label liberalism. Show all posts

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Ted Yoho, AOC and Taiwan’s Bipartisan Dilemma

This week, Republican congressional representative and rotted meat carcass Ted Yoho did two things.

First, he announced the introduction of a package that would explicitly allow the US to use military force if China invades Taiwan. We should all support this: while obviously starting a war in Taiwan’s name is a terrible idea, a stronger commitment to defensive assistance if China were to invade is crucial. Taiwan wants it, defense is not the same as offense, and Taiwan can already govern and defend itself - it needs backup, not a savior. 

Second, he accosted Democrat and peer Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, calling her “out of [her] freaking mind”, “disgusting” and “a fucking bitch”. Why? Because he’s a flaming garbage heap, but also because AOC attributed the spike in crime in New York to corresponding spikes in unemployment and homelessness due to the CCP virus, which the US has responded to so badly that not focusing on the fact that the CCP is to blame for the pandemic is actually a reasonable argument now. 


This disconnect provides yet another reminder that many of our “allies” on Taiwan and Hong Kong issues are not necessarily good people, and that we should not excuse their being terrible people just because we agree with them on a few issues. 

This is a deceptively difficult minefield to navigate. Taiwan and Hong Kong should be bipartisan issues, one of the few things we can actually work with conservatives on. Taiwan has historically been supported more by Republicans than Democrats, and although that is finally changing, the fact remains that we still need to work with Republicans to get important legislation passed.

But the flipside of bipartisanship on Taiwan is that we have to plaster on a smile and work with utter jackbuckets like Ted Yoho. Frankly, they’re all pretty terrible, it’s just Teddy’s week to shine. I know there are those who would rather ignore the fact that pretty much every Republican supporter of Taiwan and Hong Kong who holds elected office is a horrible person — they’d choose Taiwan every time. That doesn’t exactly work; it excuses their otherwise awful behavior and puts voters like me in a bind when we want to vote for the most pro-Taiwan and Hong Kong candidates, but can’t because they’re unacceptable in every other way. It puts advocates in tough positions because it means pretending to be nice to these human dumpsters. It tarnishes the images of activists — how much flak have Joshua Wong and Nathan Law caught for posing for smiley photos, invariably filled with men, rarely a woman in sight, with walking trash kraken?

It’s easy to say “we have different values but we can come together on this”. It’s easy to ignore the time Yoho said “annyounghaseyo” to President Tsai because...reasons. It’s harder to justify “coming together” on Taiwan with a man who just called AOC a “fucking bitch”. I’m sorry, but at that point, are you not simply justifying ignoring blatant misogyny?

There are also those who think we shouldn’t work with them at all and find another way. That’d be lovely, but it’s also not currently possible if you actually take Taiwan’s defense seriously. Democrats look like they are set to potentially draft a China platform that keeps support of a cross-strait policy “consistent with the needs and best interests of the people of Taiwan”. It’s likely this will pass, as it was language used in 2008, 2012 and up through 2016. While it’s unclear how useful this is, seeing as the Obama administration wasn’t exactly Taiwan’s most helpful friend, this is still good news — it means they aren’t taking a “total opposition” stance to officials under Trump who have supported Taiwan more than their Obama-era forerunners. Their voting record of late — in solidarity with Republicans on Taiwan and Hong Kong — and some statements by Joe Biden, have reflected a trend in this direction. But honestly, we’re not there yet, and we can’t afford to end bipartisanship on Taiwan and Hong Kong.

To add to that, it’s not like the right has the market cornered on misogyny and racism (yes, Yoho’s comments, given the context of the spike in crime, are both sexist and racist). I’ve met plenty of centrists and even self-proclaimed lefties who honestly aren’t much better. From ‘our side’ I’ve heard everything from “BLM should take responsibility for the crime wave in Chicago” (what?) to wanting to protest in front of AIT for Taiwan while making deeply sexist comments about Hillary Clinton. The number of Democrats and self-proclaimed liberals in Taiwan and the US who are accused of being inappropriate with women honestly rivals the behavior of Republicans. Saying we shouldn’t work with the right for these reasons may be principled, to an extent, but it ignores how much of it comes from our own side. 

I’ve thought for awhile that there is no such thing as ‘natural allies’, because people on ‘our side’ are just as capable of being toxic jerks. The only way to continue bipartisan efforts on Taiwan is to think of allies on any given issue as people who agree with you on that particular issue and are not otherwise human dumpsters. 

Unfortunately, Ted Yoho, as with others, has shown that he is in fact a human dumpster. People have been burned by this before, thinking Trump could be good for Taiwan and Hong Kong only to find that his ‘challenge’ to China is more of an inconsistent mess.

Can we really consider a party that supports a president that called concentration camps a “good idea” an ally? Can we really smile and shake hands with Ted Yoho while he calls AOC a “fucking bitch” out the other side of his mouth?

If we don’t, how are we going to realistically make sure Taiwan has the backup it needs in the face of a potential invasion that is a very real threat? Raising fists and taking to the streets didn’t work for Hong Kong and it won’t stop an amphibious invasion of Taiwan — and letting China win is arguably worse than defending Taiwan for real. Of course, we should reach out to liberals and the left, though I’ve found that the far left is so thickly populated with tankies (“Taiwan is evil because they are run by the Nationalists, who are evil bad capitalists grr” - don’t even know where to start with this) that they’re hard to talk to about Taiwan. And honestly, even if and when we succeed, Taiwan is still better off with bipartisan support rather than having its assurance of defensive assistance tied to the whims of whomever is in office. 

I don’t have an answer to that, but I am personally not inclined to think of people like Ted Yoho as allies. As a woman, a congressional representative calling a female colleague a “fucking bitch” and then trying to justify it by saying he’s a family man affects me, because it affects the discourse of what’s acceptable to say about people of my gender. If you do think of him as an ally, please consider exactly what behavior you are excusing and whether or not that behavior affects you. 



Thursday, July 16, 2020

Guest Post: The Left has been wrong on China since the Trump-Tsai phone call

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I'm still on hiatus -- my advisor's forthcoming feedback on my draft will determine how much longer that will last. But, in my absence, I thought it would be interesting to open up Lao Ren Cha to other voices, especially Taiwanese voices, with a possible series of guest posts.

This is my first experiment in guest posting, from Eric, a Taiwanese Canadian, written as a reaction to this article on the left's silence on genocide in China. It generally fits with the editorial line here at Lao Ren Cha ("editorial line" being fancy talk for "my opinions") while introducing a new style and perspective into the mix. Enjoy! 


- Jenna


With the recent change in mainstream media narrative on the Chinese regime, accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, one would not expect too much of a political cost for raising objections to its actions. Threats and attacks on neighbors, technology theft, fentanyl exports, loan shark diplomacy, concentration camps, genocide, live organ harvesting, systematic societal control — anyone who has been paying attention should have long recognized the threat to liberal values posed by this regime, yet the headlining leaders of the Liberal Left have been derelict for some time on this file. Sadly, this is not a surprise to those of us who have been watching this space for a while and have long lamented this problem.


For anyone who has generally progressive views and supports Taiwan and its continuing existence as a free and democratic country this contradiction is particularly painful, as many writers in Taiwan have noted. I have always been and continue to be a supporter of most of the values espoused by the moderate Liberal Left: social justice, environmental protection, universal human rights, yet I have little faith in international institutions and believe in healthy defense, training and advanced weaponry--peace through strength. Realizing that you have loved ones, friends, places and things that you value under constant threat of annihilation enforces pragmatism.

Personally, becoming deeply skeptical of the capital-L Liberal Left (as an ideological brand or label defined by its leading voices rather than a fuzzy set of held values) was a long time in the making, as I watched liberal papers such as the Guardian give voice to awful regime apologists, saw socially progressive celebrities and politicians look down in meek silence or even take pro-Beijing stances, or journalists unthinkingly regurgitating official narratives, making it easier for Beijing to calculate in its own favor as it continued to trample over every value they purported to hold dear. 

For me, the last straw was the response when President Donald Trump accepted a phone-call from Tsai Ing-Wen shortly after winning her 2016 election as President of Taiwan, and the cacaphony of supposedly progressive voices from that corner screaming bloody murder, warning of apocalypse and doom should anyone cross Beijing, heaven forbid the leader of the United States, for all of his faults, should take a symbolic phone call from the democratically elected, female President of one of the most free, liberal and progressive democracies in the world and risk angering a brutal regime that enslaves its own citizens and threatens others. 

That so many failed to even see this hypocrisy or consider that even a broken clock might be right twice a day made me lose much of my faith in peoples' ability to think critically, on both sides of the political spectrum. The biggest heartbreak came from the disappointment of seeing well-known people who I liked and admired unthinkingly retweeting such Chicken-Littlism and the false narratives that go with it or adding to the chorus.

Before anyone can accuse me of naiveté for thinking Trump did this out of the goodness of his heart, of course political and national interests are always considered, and I am OK with that. The minor symbolism of taking the call was enough.

So here we are, more than 4 years later and yet it seems for many, none the wiser. Just a few months ago, those same commentators were defending the WHO despite clear evidence that they had actively and knowingly caused the COVID19 epidemic to get worse, all in deference to China. While Trump was wrong to pull out of the WHO (how can the USA advocate for Taiwan’s inclusion if it’s not even there?), holding a benefit concert that made the WHO look like the victim in all this was laughable. 

Liberals often pride themselves on their critical thinking skills, and yet swallow CCP narratives that a phone call to a democratic leader friendly to the US is a diplomatic crisis. They pride themselves on logic and facts, yet threw a concert to support an organization that was proven to spread lies that harmed global health. They pride themselves on standing for access to human rights…unless the people fighting for those rights are far away. The right thinks masks are mind control devices, poverty will go away if you ignore it, and that it’s acceptable to put children in cages. How are they right about China while we writhe in indecisiveness? How are we losing the moral high ground on this?

The world did not end in war over a phone call. Universities still compromised their values for unsustainable profits, financiers continued to try to reap profits from the Chinese market, cadre money still got laundered in real-estate and commodities still got sold. On the other hand, the pandering obsequiousness with which the UN, governments, corporates and media treated the CCP regime, abetted by the silence of the Liberal Left, resulted in a pandemic that killed thousands, wrecked countless lives and made the world more dangerous and unstable.

And still, the biggest call to action on the left seems not to be the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang, standing with Hong Kong, or supporting Taiwan, but fear that standing up to the CCP is simply too scary to contemplate. A lot of this stems from thinking everything the right says must be wrong, so they must be wrong about China. 


Honestly, they are indeed wrong about almost everything, and Trump is not a reliable ally. Nobody who calls Xi Jinping a “good friend” and doesn’t seem fazed by concentration camps could ever be. But, when it comes to the CCP, the Liberal Left is the one the wrong. Trump is terrible, but when he criticizes China, he’s not wrong just because he’s Trump. 

At this time, I wonder if it would be too small-minded of me to contact those who unknowingly supported the stance of the CCP regime in admonishing the US President for taking Tsai's call four years ago, and see if their view had changed in hindsight. I fear, however, that I would be disappointed.  

Fortunately, critical voices are starting to come out on the Left, surprisingly from parts of Europe, of all places, with the German Green Party or Czech Pirate Party, for example. In the US Congress, important legislation regarding Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang passed unanimously — meaning Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives alike, supported it. There is still time to push Joe Biden away from Obama-era China doves and towards policy advisors who are more realistic about the CCP, and to embrace bipartisan efforts in congress.

We still don't know if even this pandemic is enough to overcome inertia and make people realize that they are affected by what happens in Asia (the last Federal election in Canada was a hold-your-nose-and-vote affair), but hopefully change will come. Regardless, the left-right dichotomy, with its simplifications and polarizing power, has shown that it is no longer useful for the messy, chaotic world we live in.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Photos from the Black Lives Matter Solidarity and Hong Kong Outlander rallies


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I just wanted to share some photos from two important rallies that took place in Taipei yesterday - the Black Lives Matter Solidarity Rally outside the National Taiwan Museum, and the rally organized by Hong Kong Outlander (a Taiwan-based group of Hong Kong civic activists) at Freedom Square later that evening. Both were well-attended - not as big as some protests I've seen, but a great turnout for these sorts of solidarity gatherings.



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There was some local presence at the BLM rally. I hope in the future, there will be more

In between the two, there was at least one rally to express support for Taiwan (well, the ROC)'s continued "sovereignty" over the Senkaku Islands (ugh). I think it might have melded with a pro-Han Kuo-yu rally, or a "Recall President Tsai" rally? It's not clear and I don't care enough to sort it out, but anyway all 9 or so attendees did a great job of enthusiastically calling for more attention to be paid to their cause, before the nursing home curfew kicked in.

If you actually care about these guys, Taiwan Report has a bit more information. 


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Black Lives Matter in the US have expressed that they've been heartened to see global support from gatherings like these, and racism certainly is an issue that needs to be tackled in Taiwan, not only against non-white foreign residents (most notably Southeast Asian members of the community as they form the largest demographic, but other non-Taiwanese BIPOC as well), but also against Taiwanese Indigenous who face discrimination in their own country. Both Indigenous activists and foreign resident activists spoke at the event. 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence were observed - the same amount of time that Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd's neck.


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At the end of the Black Lives Matter rally, which drew a large crowd of foreign residents, the organizers expressed support for the Hong Kong rally later that evening (there was some disagreement over this, but it was quickly defused).






The Hong Kong rally was also inspirational. Though part of it felt more like a pop-up market than a rally, I kind of like that about these sorts of events and purchased a Tsai Ing-wen plushy and rainbow Taiwan pin. Notable speakers included my new favorite person, a professor who went on a profane tirade (he said something along the lines of "fuck the Communist Party of China's mother!" in English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Taiwanese all in a row). I could find out his name, but I'd prefer his brilliance live on, ensconced in mythology.

I do notice a harder edge to the Hong Kong rallies these days - "free Hong Kong, revolution of our times!" is still a popular chant, but "Hong Kong is Hong Kongers' Hong Kong" (it's just as unwieldy in Chinese) and "Fuck China!" are starting to catch on. Black and white bauhinia and "Free Hong Kong" flags are starting to share space with "Hong Kong Independence" flags. I've thought all along that there's no real middle ground here where Hong Kong can maintain its unique character and be a part of China, and independence is the only reasonable (yet sadly, seemingly impossible) solution, so I personally am happy to see this.

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Unfortunately, there were not very many Taiwanese at the Black Lives Matter rally, and few foreign residents (other than Hong Kongers themselves) at the Hong Kong rally. The Black Lives Matter rally didn't get a lot of local press in Mandarin, although the English-language media all covered it in advance. A few public figures on the Taiwanese left - including Sunflower leaders Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting - were present at the Hong Kong rally, but not the BLM rally (though both are supportive of the cause).

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All I can really say is, both of these issues are important, and they are interrelated. That said. I see some BLM criticism of Hong Kong protests online, with some disappointment by Hong Kongers that the Western left doesn't have a lot of support to offer them. This is coupled with criticism of some Hong Kongers' leaning into the support they've received from the American right, which one would be correct to describe as 'hypocritical' on the part of the right. 

 For Hong Kongers, as with Taiwan, I won't judge anyone for taking the support they are offered - even from a deeply unsavory and hypocritical source - when there are few other helping hands extended. Though when I see, say, Tsai Ing-wen publish a cartoon that makes her look buddy-buddy with Trump or Joshua Wong retweeting Marco Rubio, it does make me want to barf more than a little.

In any case, both deserved their own rallies, and it's important that both happened.



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The crowd did get larger as the night wore on


However, I would have liked to have seen more cross-pollination - it seemed to be all the same people (myself included) who go to these sorts of things going to both, not a larger trend.


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Lin Fei-fan surrounded by reporters (I'm not a reporter so I just snapped an amusing photo)


In the future, with rising energy for BLM solidarity in Taiwan and ongoing support for Hong Kong, as well as a growing awareness of the need to fight discrimination in a Taiwanese context, whether it's against other Taiwanese or foreigners of color, I hope there is energy for a larger gathering that brings these groups together to fight for what are, at the end, common goals.


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I would not take a photo of myself at a BLM rally, but I figure Bear Guy - a common sight at Taiwanese protests - was fair game at the Hong Kong rally.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Taiwan decriminalizes adultery, but there is more to be done

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I don't have a good cover photo so please enjoy these creepy dolls















Just a few hours ago, the constitutional court in Taiwan ruled that adultery - until now a criminal offense in Taiwan - was in violation of the principles of autonomy and proportionality in the ROC constitution. 


Specifically, it was decided that the criminalization of adultery interfered too much with the principle of "sexual autonomy", in that it allowed for the prosecution not just of a married spouse, but of her or her lover, a third party to the marriage. In fact, as the law allowed not only for the prosecution of both the spouse and the lover, but also for the aggrieved to drop charges against their spouse while continuing with the prosecution of their affair partner, it had a tendency to enable "revenge" charges.

This is a key reason why the adultery law was found to be punitive against women more than men: male plaintiffs were more likely to prosecute their wives and wives' affair partners, whereas wives were more likely to drop charges against their husbands (possibly forcing them to stay in the marriage) while continuing to prosecute their husbands' lovers.

The number of women prosecuted relative to men amounts to very few actual people, as only a handful of these cases make it to court. Most allegations of adultery are used as bargaining chips in contentious divorces or worse, to blackmail a spouse into staying. However, with slightly more than half of defendants being women, it still works out to more women than men, and therefore affects women disproportionately.

Furthermore, at the time of the law's passage, views of gender roles and traditional marriage were different from what they are today, so the court found criminalizing extramarital affairs was not in congruence with the society Taiwan is today. Although decriminalization still wasn't something society at large favored, overall over the past few decades gender roles have in fact changed.

Of course, this changing consensus on marriage and gender also includes same-sex marriage. The law never covered same-sex couples, meaning it didn't even pertain to all married couples in Taiwan as of 2019. Rather than ask for the full equality of being included in this law, LGBT activists wisely supported abolishing it altogether.


Most constitutional court interpretations are not publicly announced, so this immediate announcement is unprecedented, and we can only hope the trend will continue.

It's interesting to me that the court arrived at exactly the right interpretation - this law hurt women more than men and in  - when the original law was conceived of to protect women. As the court itself stated, at the time, ideas about gender were very different from what they are now. It was believed that men were far more likely to cheat, and giving an aggrieved wife the ability to sue for damages, put her husband's affair partner in jail (and possibly even her husband) and get a divorce was considered to be a way to "level the playing field"...for women.

It is clear that if this ever was the case, it no longer is, and the court was correct to realize this.

This isn't the end of the story, though. Unilateral no-fault divorce is still hard to obtain in Taiwan - you essentially need a judge to approve it, and they may well not - meaning that if you want a divorce but your spouse won't agree to it, you need to prove fault. One possible "fault" that will allow the divorce to go through is adultery, meaning it is still possible in civil court to punish one's spouse for having an affair, by forcing them to pay damages, and in getting a "more favorable" divorce settlement for the aggrieved spouse.

In fact, one of the judges on the adultery case stated that, as some women, specifically, will feel a "bargaining chip to protect rights and interests" has been taken away, that the amount of damages or what they can claim in a divorce settlement should be raised.

The best way to deal with this isn't just to end adultery as an offense in civil court, although that should also happen. It's to legalize unilateral no-fault divorce. Public buy-in is also important: gaining a public consensus that ending a bad marriage is better than staying in it, and worth more than any amount of monetary payout (this also means pushing for greater wage equality in Taiwan, ensuring that women who get divorced will be able to support themselves).

It also includes fairer custody rulings - unlike the West, children in Taiwan often go to the father in a divorce as they are "his" lineage, not the mother, unless she can "prove fault". Awarding majority custody to the more capable parent is the better solution.

If Justice Hsu's comments are accurate, that buy-in doesn't exist yet, even if there is a consensus on decriminalization.

So, honestly, we're not there yet. But this is a step in the right direction for women in Taiwan as well as Taiwan as a liberal democratic country.


Oh yes, one final punch. For those of you who think the DPP is just as bad as the KMT, I ask: do you think this would have ever happened under a KMT administration? The KMT, whose "young", "reformist" chair (lol - he is neither) voted strongly against same-sex marriage - not the same as criminalized adultery but also a marriage/gender-related issue that is a litmus test for liberal thought?

Of course not. The two parties are not the same. Neither is faultless - no party is, not even the "ideological purists" like the NPP - but one is clearly worse than the other.

You may not love the DPP, and you may not care for Tsai's cautious, quiet, sneaking-up-on-you tactics, but more has been done for liberalism in Taiwanese society under Tsai than any other president and certainly any other KMTer. It will never be all you hoped for, but the country marches ever forward. 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The CCP uses social justice language to advance an authoritarian agenda: Part 1 of Zillions



First, I apologize for not blogging much. It's dissertation time. I said blogs would be more rare, and I meant it. It'll be like this through June, if not longer. But, every once in awhile I can catch a breather, and today is one of those days.

Now, with that aside...

There’s something I want to talk about, which has a lot of associated bits and pieces, which begins and ends with the CCP adopting the language of the social justice left to advance an authoritarian, right-wing agenda. This is the first part of that, let’s see how far I get into a series of posts exploring it further before my dissertation takes.

As everyone in Taiwan knows by now, the Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, accused Taiwan of online attacks that included racism and death threats. I won't summarize: there are plenty of sources for that (New Bloom includes a video link with relevant comments). Some say the director - whom I'll call Tedros as that's how he's referred to on Wikipedia despite (I think) being his given name - accused the Taiwanese government of being behind the attacks. Or, in his exact words: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) knew about the attacks and "didn't disassociate itself" from them.

Which of course it didn't, because why would it need to "disassociate" from the comments of thousands of angry Taiwanese? You only need to do that when the attack is organized. You can tell the difference between this and organized 'cyber armies' because the language used in various posts was novel, not copy-pasted or the same arguments, almost verbatim, again and again. The memes, too, were new and creative in ways that organized troll armies simply cannot (or at least, do not) replicate.

It's almost as though he can't fathom why tens of thousands of Taiwanese people would be furious with him, after he repeatedly denied the existence of their country, ignored early-warning data Taiwan provided, excluded Taiwan from most proceedings, and then peddled (false) Chinese data far too late.

Tedros is not a stupid man. Incompetent, yes, but not stupid. He is capable of understanding the very reasonable explanation behind why he is so reviled in Taiwan. His insistence that this is something else is a choice. It is intentional. It looks quite similar to the tactics the CCP employs when it decides to ignore plain truth and push the narrative it has decided is most convenient.

Were some comments from Taiwanese racist? Almost certainly. I haven't seen them, but racism exists everywhere. However, I've witnessed racism against Southeast Asians in Taiwan and heard stories of racist treatment in Taiwan from friends who are people of color, and I can tell you that the majority of comments were not that: they were attacking Tedros and the WHO for their treatment of Taiwan and poor handling of the coronavirus outbreak - two issues that are now deeply linked.

A lot of the racist comments, it's worth noting, were in Simplified Chinese (or from accounts that only interact with accounts that write in Simplified). A wave of "apologies" from "Taiwanese" (all using identical wording, and all in Simplified) has also since appeared. So, while there was certainly some organic racism in the comments against Tedros, I wonder how much of it was, in fact, organized and planted...by the CCP.

Of course, the CCP has figured out that accusations of racism can, in fact, be weaponized. A person accused of racism defending themselves who is actually guilty of racism sounds exactly like someone who was falsely accused speaking up about it.

Let’s admit it: when you have to defend yourself as definitely not racist!  - very often that just convinces people that you are racist. Only a racist would have to insist they weren't racist, after all. If you're not, it should be obvious. You might be tempted to reach for trite right-wing cliches like "you're playing the race card!" which, honestly, just makes a person sound more racist. Even pointing out that an innocent and a guilty person defending themselves against accusations of racism sound exactly the same, and that such accusations can therefore be weaponized, sounds like a right-wing talking point! There is literally no way out of this discursive cesspit: the only way to go is down.

There are also very reasonable calls for Taiwan to do some self-reflection on the racism that does exist here (both by Han Taiwanese against non-Han Taiwanese, and against foreigners, especially directed at Black and Southeast Asian residents in Taiwan). However, that shifts attention away from the fact that Tedros is intentionally lying about the attacks being 'organized' with the blessing of the Taiwanese government.

Of course, these baseless accusations only take away from the very necessary discussion on real issues of race in Taiwan, but that's also the point.

It will be very difficult indeed to make this point to Western audiences, because generally speaking, racism isn’t weaponized in quite this way. If someone in the West says they are the victim of racist attacks, generally they should be believed. (Exceptions exist: Clarence Thomas comes to mind). You get the occasional White person who insists they’re the victim of racism, but the left usually doesn’t take the bait. They know that racism is prejudice plus power, and that White people have the most power.

I’m not at all sure that this same Western left knows what to do with accusations of racism that don’t involve White people, however. And accusations by a Black person, against a population of Asians, who themselves are marginalized in Asian discourses, supported (and quite possibly created, or at least helped along) by a repressive Asian government that claims to represent a dominant group but in fact doesn’t, in order to attack the democratically-elected government of the marginalized group? When racism exists in that marginalized group, but was not the issue in this particular case? Yikes.

This brings me to the point I really want to make: if you haven't noticed that the CCP has been adopting the language of the social-justice, post-colonial left in order to push what is essentially a right-wing, neo-colonial agenda, you aren't listening. This is just one bomb lobbed from that particular trebuchet.

The point is to deflect the media attention from all the good work Taiwan is doing, pushing their success out of the spotlight by creating a new firestorm for people to pay attention to. This was highlighted by former Sunflower Movement and current DPP member Lin Fei-fan:

我認為理由無他,正是因為台灣正積極協助更多國家的防疫工作,而台灣的防疫成果也正被國際社會肯定。我們不僅輸出手術口罩協助其他國家第一線防疫人員,陳建仁副總統也在昨天接受了國際媒體BBC的專訪分享台灣的防疫經驗。 
台灣正在被國際看見,也被許多國家肯定和感謝,這是中國想要摧毀的一切,也是中國的傳聲筒之所以要攻訐台灣的原因!

My translation:

I think there is no other reason, it is precisely because Taiwan is actively assisting more countries in their epidemic prevention work, and Taiwan ’s epidemic prevention achievements are being recognized by the international community. Not only have we exported surgical masks to assist frontline epidemic prevention staff in other countries, Vice President Chen Chien-jen also accepted an exclusive interview with the BBC yesterday to share Taiwan's experience with epidemic prevention. 
Taiwan is being seen by the world, and it is also being acknowledged and appreciated by many countries. This is everything China wants to destroy, and therefore the reason why China's mouthpiece is attacking Taiwan!" 

Since then, MoFA released the letter it sent to the WHO, and that too has been attacked (either for MoFA “overstepping”, or for them overstating the case that they “tried to warn the WHO” when mostly they were asking for more information, or...whatever.) I’m not particularly interested in this saga (and I’m not the only one). As far as I see it MoFA generally does an amazing job, the letter did raise alarms about what was going on in China, and it shows that Taiwan attempted to use the channels available to it and made no headway. That people are making a big deal over it honestly just feels like more of an attempt to cut down the amount of positive coverage and praise Taiwan is receiving.

The honest truth is that the WHO has done an awful job dealing with thecoronavirus and its refusal to acknowledge Taiwan hinders efforts at protecting global health, while trying to convince the world that it’s done an amazing job. This follows the exact same narrative trajectory of China, and that’s not an accident. While China is still recovering from the outbreak, it continues to try and confuse and destabilize the narrative on Taiwan so the world doesn’t notice that Taiwan has done the best job in the world of handling the pandemic. While the WHO should be focusing on the ongoing global crisis, it’s spending its time challenging Taiwan to fisticuffs because it can’t handle sincere criticism. Again, these matching narratives are not a coincidence.

I want to explore this a lot more, but I’ll save that for the next post.

A lot of people have since pointed out that there’s growing anti-foreigner (and specifically anti-Black, anti-African) racism in China. In fact, it’s always been there but it’s been getting worse thanks to the coronavirus. In Guangzhou, there are reports of exchange students from Africa and other African residents (the city has a fairly large African community) being evicted from hotels, not allowed to buy food, and reduced to sleeping under bridges.

The CCP doesn’t seem to have offered a coherent response, and I tend to agree with those who say it is likely incapable of doing so. Considering that these actions are directly related to the aftermath of coronavirus (plus suddenly forcing people to sleep on the street doesn’t seem like a great move public health-wise even when there’s no global pandemic), you’d think the WHO and Tedros, who are ever so sensitive to issues of racism, and seem to care very deeply about how African people are treated by Asians, would also offer some sort of response or acknowledgement.

You would be wrong.

Compare that to Taiwan, the country accused of  “racism” against Tedros. I spoke out recently regarding businesses in Taiwan discriminating against foreigners. Then, as now, I want to point out that the majority of these businesses changed their policies when approached. Some resisted and had to be complained at rather strongly - calling the discrimination what it was, being told their policies would be publicly blogged about - others were receptive after an initial polite request. Though not all listened to reason, most did.

I didn’t say anything at the time, but while this was happening I reached out to a few friends I have who work in government after one business insisted that “a visiting police unit” suggested such a discriminatory policy, to confirm that this was not a government policy. It certainly was not. (A friend in the Taipei City government actually said, “first, these businesses should be happy to get customers, business is down everywhere. Second, that’s stupid.”)

In fact, I missed it at the time, but it seems Mayor Ko specifically tweeted, asking businesses not to discriminate. Whoever wrote the tweets did not thread them, so I’m just going to post an image:



Although I’d love to have a statement from the national government specifically calling on businesses not to discriminate, this is fantastic, and the issue (mostly) seems to have died down. A few people were denied Airbnb or hotel rooms, but nobody had to sleep under a bridge. Nobody was unable to buy food.

Over in China, reports are that the treatment of Black residents described above is not only not being stopped by the government, but in some cases actively carried out by the police. The Chinese government has offered a few stock phrases - “we treat all foreigners equally” - but not much more than that.

That’s the difference. Those are the facts.

Speaking of “facts”, there’s more I want to say about the CCP using the left’s tendency toward subjectivity and (total) cultural relativism as further excuses for its authoritarian agenda, but I think that’s the subject of a future post.

In the meantime, facts are facts. Don’t be distracted.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Taiwan not only rejected China tonight, it rejected populism and demagoguery - and the world should take note

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Yes, historic. It's historic because Tsai not only increased her tally (something previous incumbents have not done), but also netted a record number of total votes for any candidate in the history of Taiwanese elections. And historic because this is the first time the DPP has re-elected a majority in the legislature along with an incumbent presidential candidate.

But there is something else I hope the world will start saying: 



Also, can we please stop calling it "Chinese democracy" or "Confucian/Chinese/whatever values and democracy can mix" (both tweets I've seen tonight) and realize that the results clearly show a desire for the world to see that Taiwan doesn't see itself as Chinese, Taiwanese voters feel an affinity for their unique, Taiwanese culture, and maybe it's time the world listened.

In fact, while China did play a role, can this result please put the world on notice that Taiwan wants to be taken seriously on its own terms, as Taiwan, and media reporting about Taiwan should respect that and stop framing it always, always, always in terms of China? Taiwan is its own thing - its own place with its own culture and history - and that merits respect.

Finally, this election shows that the various causes and pushes for progressive values in Asia - Taiwan independence, marriage equality, Hong Kong self-determination - are all intertwined. You can see that simply by observing the people present outside DPP headquarters tonight. This is why liberals around the world should take note of Taiwan, and support it as they do Hong Kong. It's a different angle of the same fight.

That's really all I wanted to say. I hope the international media picks up on this idea and frames it as "Taiwan shows a better way, Taiwan shows we can defeat populism, divisiveness and disinformation. Taiwan shows that Trump-like figures do not always win."

Who wants to write that story?

Anyway, here are some photos. I'm off to the Maldives tomorrow so that's all you get from me. 







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Sunday, December 29, 2019

What do we mean when we say “third force”?

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I don't know, this just seems appropriate. 


In the current election season, I’ve noticed a new cluster of third party political figures attempting to refer to themselves as “third force” as a signal to voters that they represent some sort of new political wave. Most of the people actively using this term, or appearing onstage next to people who do, seem to be old guard - say, James Soong and the People First Party (PFP), Terry Gou and his general crappiness, Ko Wen-je and his general crappiness.

Considering that in recent years, the term “third force” has more closely been associated with progressive, pro-independence political parties such as the NPP, I think it’s worth a closer look at what it actually means both historically and in contemporary discourse. Is there room in the meaning of “third force” for non-progressive, generally pro-China parties or is it pure appropriation for political gain? Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between?

The general meaning of the term “third force” in a global sense - that is, beyond Taiwan - simply refers to smaller third parties who are unaffiliated with big-party power blocs, though in practice they often support larger parties or coalitions. What those third parties actually stand for is irrelevant if we take this definition. 

In Taiwan, the term “third force” has been around a lot longer than you’d guess from a quick n’ dirty Google. Results almost exclusively bring up the NPP, and sometimes mention smaller parties at the same end of the political spectrum which either formed or gained social currency - if not actual power - after the 2014 Sunflower movement. 

Dig a little, however, and you’ll find that the idea has been around a lot longer. Around the turn of the millennium, it meant pretty much any third party, with a spike in electoral victories around 2002. The biggest of these was the PFP, which claims to move beyond “green and blue” but is actually just a a satellite pan-blue party. There was also the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), which currently holds no seats, the pro-unification and generally horrible New Party which holds a few local seats but none on the legislature, and the Green Party which has held a handful of city council seats in the past but never made it to the legislature. 

All of these could be called “third force”, and all of them were founded in the 1990s or early 2000s. All of them have won at least a few seats in the past, at least locally. And yet they have wildly divergent political views.

But, let’s be perfectly honest, that definition of “third force” - any unaffiliated set of third parties which defy a major-party binary - just isn’t what people mean when they use is to refer to Taiwanese politics. 

New Bloom defines “third force” as a veritable Pleiades of post-Sunflower parties and political luminaries - bright young things, newcomers to politics, and as such generally progressive and pro-Taiwan. These would be the New Power Party (NPP), Trees Party and Social Democratic Party (SDP) folks: these parties formed around 2014-2015. 

In one sense, I think this definition has real currency. As someone who impersonates a linguist, I am very much a descriptivist. Words mean what the general societal consensus believes they mean, and it can be very hard to research and clearly define all of their associated connotations and subtler meanings, especially as such meanings are prone to sometimes-rapid evolution. 

Although the explicit meaning of “third force” does not technically require a party to be post-Sunflower, pro-independence or progressive, the current connotation of this term does include these meanings. Such implicit connotation in use - that is, the full extent of the term’s current pragmatic meaning - can’t just be ignored because it’s hard to categorize, or because it has evolved from earlier meanings.

That said, it’s still problematic to use “third force” in this way without examining it further. Other parties that can be said to be in this constellation include Taiwan Radical Wings (now Taiwan Statebuilding Party), which was formed in 2012, before the Sunflower Movement, though it surely drew some of its energy from the pre-Sunflower rumblings of the Wild Strawberries, anti-media monopoly and anti-land expropriation protests - many of those activists went on to become Sunflowers. The Green Party could even be included, and they were founded in 1996!

On the other hand, conservative/pan-blue or straight-up creepy parties like the Minkuotang (now merged with the Congress Party Alliance) formed in the same post-Sunflower wake. The Minkuotang was founded in 2015). There's even creepier Faith and Hope League, a conservative Christian anti-gay party formed 2015 in the wake of the marriage equality wars. Ko Wen-je’s Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and Chen Shui-bian’s Taiwan Action Party Alliance (TAPA) have formed more recently.

If the term means “political parties formed after 2014”, we have to include them. 

If it means “parties of generally young progressives”, we don’t, but we do have to include the Statebuilding Party and Green Party, which throws the post-2014 connotation into question. 

It’s also worth considering what we call “progressive” - do we include the Labor Party (formed 1989) in that? They are political leftists, but also unificationists. They are not pro-Taiwan.

If we define “third force” as being pro-Taiwan/pro-independence, we don’t have to include them, but we do have to include TAPA, who are not progressive, and the TSU, whom I have anecdotally found to harbor a streak of Hoklo nationalism that I find unpalatable and anti-progressive. Neither party skews young - quite the opposite. 

We also have to consider whether the term includes the independents - most notably Freddy Lim and Hung Tzu-Yung, both of whom left the NPP earlier this year. And, of course, there’s the question of whether one can be truly considered “third force” if they choose a side in the great green-blue divide. Do Lim and Hung, actively campaigning for Tsai Ing-wen, count? How about the SDP now that Fan Yun has gone over to the DPP (they’re not dead though - they still have Miao Poya, their only elected representative). If we can include them, why can’t we include pan-blue parties?

Does it only include political groups that have power or who might influence the current election cycle? If so, I don’t think we can include Trees Party or Green Party, or the TSU at this point. 

You’re probably asking by now - “who cares?” Well, as a linguist impostor, I care. 

But also, how we define the term has political implications. As a friend pointed out, we can’t just use it to mean what we want it to mean, and we can’t just define it to mean “the people we like”, finding excuses to exclude people we don’t like. 

With that said, allow me to define the term to include only the people I like: pro-Taiwan and progressive, skewing young, but not necessarily formed after 2014 and not necessarily directly opposing the major parties. That gives us Green Party, SDP, NPP, Statebuilding Party, Lim and Hung (and their Frontline alliance - more on that later), and the Trees Party. 

Please don’t take my definition too seriously. I don’t have a better one though - all I can say is, don’t apply the term lazily. Don’t just throw it out to describe people you like without examining further what you mean by it. By all means, leave lots of comments with your own ideas of what the term should mean in 2019. 

So what political implications does this have?

From a discourse perspective, if the societally-understood connotation of a term not only has power but is also in a state of flux, that means it will be seen as ‘up for grabs’ by anyone hoping to appropriate it.

If the term is evolving, it makes sense that people vying for power would want to direct its evolution in a direction that benefits them. That’s what we can see with Gou’s use of the term.

If that’s the case - and I believe it is - there’s a concerted and intentional attempt to move “third force” away from its current association with Sunflower ethos, and back toward its earlier meaning of “any third parties who claim to be unaffiliated with the DPP or KMT (but in fact usually are)”. 

I don’t care for this sort of intentional strategizing, but honestly, he’s free to try. If I get to define it in a way that includes only people, parties and beliefs I like, he is free to do the same. I’m not sure it can be called ‘appropriation’ given the term’s history - it sure feels that way, but I have no well-founded basis on which to challenge it. 

I suppose that’s a good thing insofar as the global meaning of “third force” never required newness or progressive ideology, but problematic in that it confuses the pan-blue/pro-China and pan-green/pro-Taiwan sides. I think it would be better to think of these two groups as separate.

It also makes it harder to identify and discuss the liberal-conservative axis. While the pro-China/pro-Taiwan cleavage is still the most enduring and influential split in Taiwanese politics, I still believe there is a purposeful attempt underway to change that.

Finally, looking at who is attempting to gain traction as “third force” can shed some insight on their electoral strategy. 

For example, Donovan Smith recently made fun of James Soong for leaning heavily on the Orchid Island nuclear waste issue. I agree that this seems like an odd strategy given how few people live on Orchid Island. But the Green Party - a “third force” party that actually has access to the term’s new social progressive connotation - does really well on Orchid Island (and nowhere else). I don’t think, therefore, that Soong’s tactic here is just to get Orchid Island voters. I think it’s to encroach on the Green Party vote on Orchid Island (and maybe grab some votes from the KMT too), and through stealing the Green Party’s votes there, get some of their “third force activist” cred to rub off on the PFP. 

To be fair, I don’t think this will work and in any case it’s a waste of time that wouldn’t help the PFP gain much even if it did.

I do think it's significant that Ko (who paints himself and his party as "apolitical"), Soong (who does the same, while going after other third party bases) and Gou (who directly invokes the term "third force") tend to appear together - a uniting of pan-blue, conservative voices trying to bring cohesion to that end of the third party spectrum, and (re)take the moniker "third force"?

On the other end, we have Frontline (前線), a loose alliance of pan-green/progressive candidates from different backgrounds who seem to be trying to bring more unity and cohesion to their own end of the spectrum, especially after the upsets and factionalization that has characterized the past year. Or maybe they're just trying to build a progressive, unified third force without the destructive Huang Kuo-chang element. It's entirely likely that they too are actively trying to hold onto the mantle of "third force" as they face attacks from the TPP and PFP on the pan-blue side as well as TAPA representing the old guard, conservative greens.

Side note: 前線 isn't a great name. It's easily confused with Christian group as well as with Hong Kong Indigenous (本土民主前線) - though I wonder if the similarity to the Hong Kong group's name is intentional.


It also helps us better understand what’s going on with Ko Wen-je and his party. It may seem odd that he started his political career passing himself off as a friend to pro-Taiwan progressives, won the Taipei mayoral election riding the post-Sunflower wave, and then took a turn towards China before his first term was up. We can argue whether he “changed” or whether we just didn’t see it before, and we can ask what supporters the TPP aims to attract. But within that loose Sunflower/Third Force alliance, there were always people who saw the movement not as opposing getting too close to China, but rather the way it was being done. They could be more broadly considered anti-big party corruption. There was also always a contingent (often church-affiliated) who didn’t actually share what we think of as Sunflower social progressivism. 

Someone like Ko wouldn’t necessarily look as gross to them as he does to ‘us’. It makes sense that he’d then get friendly with Soong, who already claims to represent this type of voter. 

In any case, how we define “third force” impacts how we look at third-party politics, liberalism/progressivism, the Sunflower effect and the China cleavage in Taiwan. Use it if you want, but think first about what exactly you mean by it, and whether that's justified.