Showing posts with label taiwan_advocacy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taiwan_advocacy. Show all posts

Monday, September 28, 2020

The CCP is a black hole that makes me question my own values


This is a piece of street art I found - the artist is Mr. Ogay

Last week, I began a blog post about Chinese apps WeChat and TikTok being banned from purchase in app stores in the US, but never finished it. Partly I just couldn’t maintain a focus as it’s not clearly related enough to Taiwan, my core writing topic, and partly I felt like everything I had to say on the issue tapped into a deeper question:

In so many areas where China is concerned, I find myself going against my political instincts and nature to support certain actions and policies that, generally speaking, I would otherwise oppose. Why is that? 

For example, I am generally against banning apps or access to communication platforms. However, in the case of WeChat and TikTok, I’m ambivalent, with a slight lean toward supporting the ban (despite despising Donald Trump’s administration with not just my bones, but my guts, skin, blood and waste matter). 

I’m not moved by arguments that it denies ‘freedom of speech’ to some communities; freedom of speech is not available on WeChat or even TikTok thanks to Chinese censorship. The only difference is that in the US you may become a person of interest with your post deleted. In China, your post being deleted is the best possible outcome; you could have your account suspended or be shoved in a truck and carted off to a gulag. I’m slightly moved by the argument that it cuts off people in China from loved ones abroad, but ultimately that’s China’s problem: they’re the ones that made it impossible to use just about any other platform (that they don’t control). So why are people mad at the US, not China, for a situation China created? It makes about as much sense as admonishing Taiwan for “provoking China” or “raising tensions” when China is the one creating the tensions and choosing to react with anger. 

I’m especially not moved by the argument that corporate surveillance of our data in other countries is just as bad as CCP surveillance on WeChat. Sure, it sucks, but it’s not equivalent. FaceCreamCo may be harvesting my data trying to sell me face cream, and I hate that, but FaceCreamCo isn’t going to cart me off to a literal gulag if I speak out against this. Even politically, whatever the US government may be doing with our data, we are able to write about that, debate it, disagree with it, insult our leaders — and generally speaking, we can expect that we won’t be threatened and we certainly won’t end up in a re-education camp or be dragged out to a field and shot. (There is a social media moderation problem which censors women and people of color but not white men, however.)

That alone shows you the two issues are simply not the same and should not be compared this way. The reason is simple: what else is the US supposed to do? Allow apps that are basically thinly-disguised hostile government surveillance and malware to operate within their borders, potentially harming people in their country, including their citizens? What’s the better option here?

Anyway, this isn’t the first time I’ve gone against the logical conclusions of my own values where China is concerned. For instance, I’m also generally anti-war and anti-military. On principle, for instance, I oppose the US maintaining the largest military force in the world, by several orders of magnitude, and spending so much on it as American citizens suffer due to insufficient social and community services, crumbling or insufficient public infrastructure and an utter joke of a social safety net, despite rather high taxes (I’m fine with higher taxes, but I want the money to be spent thoughtfully and effectively). 

In theory, I’m against the US getting over-involved in just about any conflict abroad, as we always seem to make such a mess of it while proclaiming that we’re promoting American “values” or “exceptionalism” or whatever the term du jour is, despite the fact that the values in question are universal (human rights, including the right to self-determination) and the US is not exceptional in any good way. 

And yet, I am in favor of US military assistance to Taiwan. I know that my own values as well as the brutal history of US involvement in foreign conflicts, plus the sheer horror of our bloated military, should cause me to oppose it, but I don’t. Taiwan needs friends, and can’t exactly choose its backup. If that means hoping a military industrial complex that horrifies me in every other way will have Taiwan’s back in case it needs to fight the PLA...then that’s what it means. 

In general, I’m also anti-violence. I prefer peaceful resolutions, having grown up watching revolution over bloody revolution fail to deliver a better life for the people of any given place. At the same time, I’ve watched countries that have slowly progressed and improved despite having to make some tough compromises that affect the lives of real people make real progress — Taiwan among them. 

However, I’ve come to realize that fists don’t stop tanks, period. We can talk all we want about how Taiwan should be anti-war but still resist China. But that’s not going to work if China is hell-bent on a war. Refusing US assistance is akin to telling China that this is a fight they can win, and it’s foolish to think they won’t try. They won’t particularly care that such moves would create a state of prolonged internal conflict that would make Syria blush — this is a government that is quite comfortable with literal genocide. 

Then there are the economic issues. I’m no communist, and am barely socialist. That is to say, I’m anti-corporate and anti-crony capitalist, and have never been happy working for any sort of large multinational entity, and I support strong social programs and careful regulations as companies can basically never be trusted, but I’m not anti-free market. 

So when the whole US pork controversy hit Taiwan (again, sigh), my instinct was to think “you all are saying this will be good for the Taiwanese economy, but pork prices are already low, good products are available, and it will certainly hurt Taiwanese farmers”. 

But, in a bigger picture sense, I have to admit that what Tsai is doing probably is best for Taiwan. Taiwan Report summarized the issue well: meat imports are not the only thing potentially on the table. (If that’s all it was, I would probably oppose it). It’s that Tsai has it quite right that Taiwan is too economically dependent on China, and a big reason for that is the lack of trade agreements with other countries, a situation that is mostly the fault of CCP bullying on an international scale. Say yes to pork, and that could open the door to more important agreements. Free trade isn’t always good for all involved, but in this particular case it actually is, for Taiwan: it’s an opportunity to bolster economic ties with the US and, through that, signal to other countries that working with Taiwan may be possible even in the face of Chinese fury. 

Taiwan independence advocates (so, almost everybody who cares about Taiwan, and certainly everybody worth listening to) and anti-KMTers have been saying for years that getting too close to China is bad for Taiwan, directly opposing the KMT line that the only way forward is for China and Taiwan to deepen ties. The KMT is wrong, but those who oppose them also tend to oppose every other workable option that would keep Taiwan’s economy robust because they sound scary and not protectionist enough. How do you find alternatives to economic ties with China, if you’re not willing to seriously discuss economic ties with anyone else, in any ways that matter?

I actually do believe in protecting local industry, generally — if that can be shown to be the better path in that particular instance. I don’t want Taiwan to be a hub for major international conglomerates as I’ve seen that create sickening inequality almost everywhere it’s happened, from New York to Silicon Valley to Singapore to Hong Kong. 

And I do think the US starting out with agricultural products (which is bound to create opposition in Taiwan where so much of the history — even recently — is tied to the land) rather than just offering to open up more general trade talks is kind of a dick move. And yet, when it’s all stacked on the scales, I find myself supporting any move that helps wriggle Taiwan out of Chinese co-dependency and towards other international ties. 

These are just three examples: banning apps, military assistance from horrible people, and economic issues. I could add a fourth — opposing talking to right-wing figures in the West even if they support Taiwan —  but I’ve spilled so many words examining that particular issue that I don’t particularly wish to revisit it. Generally speaking, I’ve come over to the side of supporting bipartisan endeavors, not because I think people like Ted Cruz are acceptable (they are not; I’d spit on Cruz if I came face-to-face with him) but because I’ve realized that it’s better if support for Taiwan transcended electoral politics. That goes both ways: hoping the left and center will come around, but also not tying all Western support for Taiwan to their successful elections. 

So, the final question is why. Are my principles just not strong enough? Do I claim to have certain values and then abandon them the second they become inconvenient? Or are my beliefs more tied to ends than means — means matter to an extent, but are some compromises not acceptable if the outcome is preferable? I can’t rule out the former, it would be self-serving to say it shouldn’t be a concern. But overall, hopefully the latter holds more sway: just as a person who believes in peace won’t necessarily say it’s wrong to punch a Nazi, maneuvering Taiwan into a better international position may require me to accept a few choices that I otherwise would not support. 

Anyone who says, for instance, that they support peaceful protest but won’t abandon a cause just because a protest for it grew violent should understand this. I won’t abandon paths that I think are in Taiwan’s best interest just because the means don’t always fall within my most rigid principles, because the key principle I hold dear is that Taiwan deserves recognition and de jure sovereignty. Period. 

And, to bring this all back to China, the enemy also matters (and make no mistake, the CCP is an enemy). When an enemy can be negotiated with, one should negotiate. When non-violence is possible, it should be pursued. We should stand by local business and not be taken in by big money when that can be done without remaining economically tethered to an active, vicious enemy. 

Another way to put this is fundamental values vs. beliefs. I believe in peace, diplomacy, finding solutions, civil disobedience while avoiding violence. Self-determination and human rights as universal (not just Western) concepts, however, are core values. It's best for the means to align with my beliefs (diplomacy, non-violence), but at the end of the day, when a choice must be made, I'll stick with my core values. Taiwan won't get to choose if China starts a war, and if it does, it's more important to me to defend sovereignty and human rights in Taiwan than to refuse to fight because war is bad. Forming opinions about CCP hasn't corrupted that process, it's clarified it. 

But the CCP is so truly awful, so unacceptable, so threatening and so utterly disgusting that the full horror of their actions, from the missiles pointed at Taipei to the cultural and literal genocides in Tibet and Xinjiang, creates a black hole of evil that warps everything around it. It can’t be negotiated with, it does not respect non-violence, and it absolutely will try to use economic blackmail to force Taiwan’s hand. It will exploit party politics and foreign culture wars for its own benefit. That is the stuff the CCP is made of. There is no good in it. 

Even today, your average peace-loving or anti-war person will admit that it was necessary to, say, fight the Nazis. That appeasement was wrong and brought us nothing good. This is how I feel about China. And that’s what the CCP are — Nazis. You can’t negotiate with Nazis, you can only fight them. Frankly, you might not get a choice. 

Appeasement didn’t work then, it won’t work now, and that means that I have to adjust the principles I hold when it comes to everything else, because to Taiwan, it’s a threat unlike anything else. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Yes, it is hard to fight for Taiwan: Small Sexism Stories

Let me tell you a story. You can probably guess where it happened from my previous posts.

While discussing an issue important to domestic policy in Taiwan, a panel of highly distinguished speakers took turns making some opening remarks, starting with the two women on the panel - both elected representatives in the Legislative Yuan.

Then the men spoke. The first one pointed out Taiwan's low birthrate and made a comment along the lines of how we can't expect Karen [one of the legislators] to have "more babies" to raise the birthrate. Then, seemingly slightly embarrassed, he blundered into a repetition of the same comment that we can't rely on this same legislator to have more children. (I have to hope he was repeating his bad joke in a flustered attempt to sort of prove to himself that his slip wasn't that bad). Another speaker said he served with her on various committees, and so spent "more time with her than her husband".

A friend of mine pointed out that every man on the panel repeated some version of this joke about a comparatively young, attractive female legislator (which shouldn't matter but probably does) having more babies for the sake of Taiwan's dwindling birthrate. I missed these other comments as opening remarks tend to be repetitive and I'd kind of already gotten the point and was making notes about what topics I might bring up.

When the floor opened to the audience, I wondered whether I should say something about how inappropriate this was. Or rather, I knew I should but had no idea how to word it. I had no idea if these men and this legislator have this sort of jokey friendship, but didn't think it mattered if they did; that doesn't excuse the inappropriacy of such public remarks.

And, I will admit with some regret and self-chastisement, I weighed in my head the need to discuss issues of national import when it came to language education and teacher training, with how discussion of these blatantly sexist remarks would detract from that.

Towards the end, another woman affiliated with CG (Corporate Governance) Watch did say something: that Ms. Yu's competence at her job as a legislator "has nothing to do with her ability to have children".

Thank goodness she did say that; someone had to. The audience was supportive; there was a strong round of applause and a few standing ovations (I was one of them). Yu herself looked relieved that someone had said something, though I won't try to interpret beyond that what her private thoughts were. The good news is that the men on the panel also seemed appropriately chastened.

It reminded me that, going forward, I need to do more to be that person, especially if nobody else is standing up and saying something. I do try, but none of us are perfect.

(No, I am not interested in a discussion of whether or not such comments were in fact sexist. They treated Legislator Yu in a particular manner because she was female and able to have children. That means they were sexist, period.)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - it's hard to support Taiwan as a woman who also values egalitarianism. It was easy to get swept away discussing other issues of importance, and basically find a reason not to discuss the very real instance of sexist language on display at the beginning of that meeting.

What do you do when the people who are your allies in one way show that they have very little regard for your sex/gender in another? Would my points about language education and teacher training have gone unheard if I had been the one to say something? Bringing that up and making an issue of it, however right, may make it more difficult to discuss other issues and may even cause one to lose allies (a lot of men who say sexist things turn hostile when it's pointed out, and may not be willing to work with someone who addresses their behavior for what it is). And it takes time away from discussion of other issues.

And it can hurt the cause. There is unlikely to be any great damage as a result of these comments, the reaction to which hopefully caused the men in question to reflect on their behavior and commit to doing better next time. That's all this relatively minor incident needs, and I must hope or even insist that that happens. But what happens when it's, say, one of the leaders of the progressive cause?

It hurts the whole cause when the incidents are more serious, both in terms of media representation and female involvement - and I personally know than one woman who has shied away from joining progressive causes in Taiwan because of the men they'd have to spend time with. What woman wants to get involved when she knows the men she'll be working with are going to say and do sexist things?

It creates an environment where women are tempted - encouraged or pushed even - to overlook minor or even major instances of sexism in their fight alongside people who are otherwise allies, for the bigger picture, the greater cause. But we can't. It could hurt the reputation of the cause itself, or result in fewer women getting involved. If fewer women get involved, issues pertaining to women within that cause are less likely to be considered. For example, who is going to consider sexism in language education, including pay gaps for English teachers, if not as many women join the initiative this meeting was about, because they felt unwelcome after the remarks of the male panelists?

This meeting should not have been clouded with the comments of the men on the panel. It simply should never have happened. I should not even have to be writing this post, but feel I must.

We all need to go forward remembering that the people who brought down that cloud, who distracted from the main point, were not the woman who spoke up and the others who applauded her, but the men who made the comments in the first place.

Now, let's take this lesson and apply it to Taiwan advocacy in general. If Taiwan supporters in the US government are also sexist sacks of crap, we need to acknowledge that and deal with it, however we can. If women in Taiwan advocacy point out that there is a problem, damn it, listen to them and take it seriously. If someone in the movement is saying or doing sexist things, stop that person. Speak out. Men, you too. All of us. Deal with the small incidents like this one in small ways (a simple call-out and request for reflection will do), and the big ones in big ways.

Don't keep forcing women like me and others who fight for Taiwan to always have to do those mental calculations. It's not right, and you know it.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Making a fuss is worth it: IELTS gets a well-deserved smack for calling Taiwan "China"

Screen Shot 2019-02-11 at 6.37.53 PM
I was banned from commenting on IELTS's Facebook page because they're a bunch of dictator-loving pissbabies,
but I'm glad to see others taking up the fight.

Recently, 46 members of the UK Parliament came together to castigate the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) for changing its designation of "Taiwan" to "Taiwan, China" on its website and admonish them to revert to the original wording. The charge was led by legislators from the UK's version of the Taiwan caucus, and to be frank, is a breath of fresh air in a world that seems all too happy to sell out to China.

While it's highly unlikely that any of them read my post, my other post or my husband's (better) post on this topic, I do think it's worth it to make a stink, even in the tiniest way. As a friend pointed out, all that accumulated stink can sometimes build up to something, and cause people with real power to take action.

And all I can say is that I'm annoyed that my own country's government didn't, as far as I know, do anything similar when TOEFL made the same change.

And that's just the thing - the hardest part of advocating for Taiwan is being utterly powerless. When a major testing organization, which is meant to be apolitical (as language proficiency testing shouldn't have blatant political biases) makes such a political move for obviously profit-driven motives, a lot of damage is done. The more organizations with 'prestige' give in to China's demands for how to refer to Taiwan, the likelier it is that everyday people around the world will see that wording and just automatically file 'Taiwan' under 'a part of China' - and there's very little that people like me can do about it or only a very limited sphere in which we can raise a fuss. Or worse, if the topic ever comes up, they'll point to organizations like IELTS and say "oh, look - but IELTS calls it China, so there must be something to that!" and stop listening to reason when people like me, who as individuals don't have the cachet of a generally well-respected organization, point out the clear issues with such logic.

It's also simply psychologically damaging to Taiwanese people, who have to see their country referred to as "China" all over the place, with very little recourse and no warning as to when it might happen or where it might pop up.

These things do matter - the war over what things are called, what language is used. When every major company, organization and website calls Taiwan "China", people start thinking of Taiwan as, well, China. 

It's also difficult to keep up the fight because, to be honest, we lose so goddamn often. It's brutal, it's neverending, it's a psychological beatdown (which is part of the reason why China does it). It's really a thing of beauty to see that we cut deep on this one, and perhaps (perhaps?) a group of MPs will be able to accomplish what people like me simply cannot. Do I dare hope for more? Reader, I dare: perhaps this isn't just a speck of light on a bleak horizon when it comes to IELTS, but a sign that the tide could turn.

And, of course, it's personally challenging as well. As I've written, I have some work through IELTS, the nature of which I'm not allowed to publicly reveal (of course, by telling you that, I've essentially revealed it, and since I'm furious at IELTS, I don't even care.) Fighting this has taken a toll on my income, as I now sign up to do work for them as little as possible, when I used to do it pretty regularly, for pretty decent pay. I had to proactively decide that principles were more important than cash, and I was privileged to even have the choice open to me. It stands to hurt my future plans as well - there's a fair chance I'll do a PhD in the United Kingdom, as full-time study is the only way to get funded. Doing IELTS work would theoretically be better-paid than a lot of other things I could do to bolster my funds while there, but if I'm committed to my principles, it's not really open to me. It takes a hard, personal toll.

Alongside that is how difficult it is to get other people involved. I know the local administrative staff is upset about the change as well, but their entire full-time jobs depend on working for IELTS. I have the ability to tell IELTS to take a hike, but they don't. Other foreigners who do similar work are either tepid about fighting back (thinking it's too much trouble) or not financially able to cut into their work.

It's a brutal, brutal slog. More often than not, we lose. But sometimes we don't, and we're on the right side.

Make no mistake, IELTS's decision was evil, and they deserve a smackdown for getting political about such a sensitive issue. I'm just happy to see it was delivered.

And IELTS, if you're reading this...

...screw you. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

A short post about sad tidings

As anyone who reads about Taiwan knows by now, The View From Taiwan is done. As Donovan Smith noted, the loss is huge. I didn't always agree with the View's views, but more often than not I did, or at least respected the arguments behind them. As official news sources failed to consistently report well on what goes on in Taiwan, The View From Taiwan had become one of the smartest things to read in English to keep up on current affairs. I learned a lot about Taiwan from that blog, including the three most important lessons on advocating for Taiwan that I needed:

First, that the way Taiwanese history and current affairs are narrated, both from the international press and local sources (whether they are KMT Chinese chauvinists or Hoklo ethnic chauvinists), leaves a lot to be desired and almost never, ever tells the whole, accurate story. Don't look at what they say; look at the language they use to say it. Point it out. Especially if it has anything to do with "tensions".

Second, that half the fight for Taiwan on the international stage is about representing Taiwan well. International spectators aren't very good at paying attention to the details of local embroilments and messes, and when they do notice, they aren't very good at incorporating them into an overall arc of right vs. wrong. Don't air our dirty laundry for the world to see when it isn't necessary, when all the rest of the world really cares about is good guys vs. bad guys. Make the case that we are the good guys, not that we can't get our act together (even if, here in Taiwan, we're frustrated that we seemingly can't.) We're David (as in vs. Goliath), not Cletus (as in the slack-jawed yokel). The View From Taiwan has probably been the biggest influencer in what turned me from a Taiwan advocate who was uncompromising even if it made Taiwan look bad abroad, to a Taiwan advocate who understood that our top priority is to get the world on our side.

And third, if you're going to make a hard statement on something, know your facts first. You might still get it wrong - it happens - but make an honest effort to do your research. If you are not intimately aware of the inner workings of something, don't write about it as if you are. Thanks to seeing the background that went into posts on The View From Taiwan, I probably do an hour or so of research for every hard statement I make here. I don't always get it right regardless, but it was that blog that made this blog less a "shouty lady with opinions bloviating in a corner" (though I am that) and more a "shouty lady with opinions who did her homework before bloviating in a corner".

Oh yeah, and blog under your own name. No hiding. Put your own skin in the game, even if just a little.

All in all, it is not an exaggeration to say that without The View From Taiwan, Lao Ren Cha would not exist in the form it does today.

So, you know, thank you for that. *sniff*

Friday, July 6, 2018

It is really hard to support Taiwan (Part 2)

So, I've tried to write before about certain issues I see in who Taiwan's 'friends' are in the US government, and why that's a problem. I didn't do a very good job, and I won't bother to link it. I do still think it's an issue though, so consider this my attempt at refining and re-articulating what I want to express.

Overall, it does seem clear that Taiwan has more bipartisan support in the US than you'd think at first glance. I've written about this before; more recently, you can see evidence of this in the fact that the Taiwan Travel Act was passed unanimously by the Foreign Affairs Committee and both houses. The situation is not as dire as it seems.

But, despite this, we do still seem to get the most vocal support predominantly (though not entirely) from conservatives, some of whom are otherwise just...dire people. The Taiwan Travel Act was Marco Rubio's bill. Ted Cruz likes, uh, okay. Dana Rohrabacher has submitted a resolution for formal US-Taiwan ties, which of course I heartily support.

Note above that I said "conservatives", not "Republicans" (though they are that too) - that's intentional. I'm sure what I'll say below will be dismissed as "tribalist" or "partisan", so I want to make it very clear that this isn't about parties or tribes: it's about values. If a dodgy Democrat (and they do exist - I'm not a huge fan of Andrew Cuomo for example) or an upstanding Republican (I don't have many problems with, say, Susan Collins although we don't agree on everything) were to show support for Taiwan, I'd judge them on their values and history of elected service, not their party.

I also understand the importance of taking help where we can get it: I may not like it, but in Taiwan's position I can't get behind abandoning the few people who have actually spoken up for us, while those I'd like to see in our court have, frankly, failed to live up to the universal values they claim to support.

With that in mind, I don't think I have to list the many ways in which people like Rubio, Cruz and Rohrabacher are, in almost every other respect, horrible. (I say "almost" very intentionally. Cruz occasionally stands up for what he thinks is right, Rubio is a big supporter of Hong Kong's political freedom, and Rohrabacher is pro-weed, which has all sorts of race implications that people don't always think about: people of color are far more likely to be incarcerated over a marijuana-related drug violation than white people, with the discrepancy not explained by rates of use).

From being anti-choice (and comfortable, therefore, with condemning more women to death as anti-choice policies only lead to fewer safe abortions) to climate change skeptics, to not supporting marriage equality, our allies on Taiwan are not good people. Period. The sort of world they want to build is one in which a huge swath of Taiwan ends up underwater, and on other issues such as marriage equality, a woman's right to bodily autonomy and health care access (and more - this is just a shortlist), I worry that the sort of Taiwan they would like to see would not be the one that other independence advocates like myself (and many others, including most young Taiwanese) hope to build.

That shouldn't matter - after all, they don't have any say over Taiwan's internal governance, but it still makes it difficult to support Taiwan for a few reasons. I find it unfair, then, to dismiss these concerns as mere partisanism or tribalism.

The biggest one is that liberal pro-Taiwan American citizens don't have many choices in terms of voting for pro-Taiwan candidates (this is why I haven't mentioned people like John Bolton, and am sticking to people one might actually see on a ballot). It's not a huge problem for me as a New Yorker (Chuck Schumer signed the letter summarized in the first link in this post; Kirsten Gillibrand studied in China and Taiwan so while I worry that she might be too forgiving of China, at least she doesn't lack basic knowledge of the issue, and nobody who runs for Congress in my district seems to have anything to do with Taiwan regardless of party), but it is a problem for many others. What do you do if you're a pro-Taiwan liberal, for example, and your choices are pro-Taiwan Ted Cruz or a not-so-pro-Taiwan challenger who is better than Cruz in every other way? Or your choice is between pro-Taiwan Dana Rohrabacher and his not-as-pro-Taiwan challenger, who again is better than Rohrabacher on every other platform?

Another problem is that it is starting to feel as though any critique of this issue among pro-Taiwan advocates initiates an immediate, reflexive and frankly unfair pushback of "that's PARTISAN!", which - while I know this isn't the case for many (most!) people on our side, kind of lends the whole endeavor of fighting for Taiwan a veneer of being far too closely tied with the conservative agenda in the US.

I know, for example, that FAPA is not "overly" focused on Republican lawmakers; they'll talk to whoever is in power. I have no issue with them. However, they are widely seen* as being in bed with the American Right, and have done little to dispel that notion. I would imagine that Taiwan independence advocates do - and are willing, even happy - to talk to the left, but the public perception seems to be that they don't make an effort (rather than that the left has failed Taiwan), and that is a problem. Of optics, but a problem nonetheless. That concerns me.

And, of course, the issue I so inarticulately brought up in the past: that it's easier to compartmentalize when talking to odious people in government as a man. The people you are discussing Taiwan with aren't trying to take away your ability to access important health care (forget even the abortion issue: they want to shut down Planned Parenthood which does a lot more than perform abortions. For some women it's the only way they have access to regular pap smears, STD tests and birth control.) They aren't trying to oppress you. You have the privilege of compartmentalization. I don't. I can't talk to them, and therefore I cannot be more deeply involved in the Taiwan independence movement in that way.

In fact, it is a privilege to be able to do so. It is a privilege to have the ability to treat every cog in the American power machine as a neutral actor who might help your cause, because your bodily autonomy is not on the line. For me, it's like knowing there are some men in power who would very much like to be Commanders and turn women like me into Handmaids, and being told to be nice to them, to approach them (or their office - same difference), to engage with them, maybe to even hope they are re-elected, because they might help you on another issue. To be told that if you support Taiwan, you can vote for people like them who will fight for recognition of Taiwan in the US government (something I have been told) - oh, but they want to turn you into a Handmaid.

And the answer there is a strong non-negotiable no to all of that. In fact, it is a privilege to be able to say yes, or even maybe.

This worries me, because it is not a great leap from "but that's PARTISAN!" to "if you can't be involved, that's your fault", when, frankly, it isn't. There is not a moral equivalency between their wish to oppress me and my insistence that I will not hold my tongue against people who both wield power and wish to oppress women. It's the fault of the men who hold these views.

Nobody has said this as of yet, and I know most wouldn't, but to be honest, some days I feel like it's inevitable that someone will. I suspect that if it comes down to just a few votes between turning American women into Handmaids (or not), and the deciding votes are held by conservative pro-Taiwan candidates, that some (many?) who lobby for Taiwan will stay silent for the sake of Taiwan, because Taiwan allies winning seats is more important to them than women's rights.

And as a woman, I just can't support that. I love Taiwan, but I also have a vagina, and I cannot work with the same people who want to oppress me. I can't stay silent, and I do hope many friends of Taiwan lose their seats.

In other words, it's not "tribalist" or "partisan" when my actual bodily autonomy is at stake. It's about my bodily fucking autonomy, not a tribe or party.

This leads me to a final issue: with this tug-of-war between liberal values (which often leave women in the cold regardless) and fighting for Taiwan, and calls of "partisan!" and "tribal!" on one side and calls of "you're all sellout imperialists!" (or whatever) on the other, it is very hard to support Taiwan when everybody else who supports Taiwan seems to hate each other, the whole thing is a fishbowl, and when you bring up concerns about our 'friends' who are manifestly anti-woman as a woman, it's your turn to be the center of that fishbowl and everyone hating each other and whatever.

(For the record, I don't hate anybody, and those in Taiwan whom I dislike are not Taiwan advocates although some are pro-independence.)

I'm not suggesting we change anything per se - I don't see how we could reasonably and realistically keep up this fight if we ditch our allies, odious as they are (I've heard a few proposals and am sympathetic to some, but none that are actually workable). But, I am concerned that the privilege of treating everyone as a neutral potential ally is not fully understood, and that attempts to point this out are met with reflexive and unfair critiques of "partisanship" rather than a true attempt to understand that one only has the privilege of advocating in this way if one does not stand to lose as much from some of these people staying in power (and if you are a woman who stands to lose, that it can be extremely stressful to join the fight anyway, or to decide not to do so because you simply can't abide your would-be oppressors.)

That Taiwan advocates don't seem to make much of an attempt to reach out to the general electorate at all is another problem - publishing only in outlets that people who are already knowledgeable about Taiwan read (like the Taipei Times), or niche publications that the average Western liberal wouldn't read regularly. I know it's difficult to get published more widely - I'll admit that I've tried and failed - but we have to. We're not reaching the voters. One can find non-Palestinians who care about Palestine, and non-Tibetans who care about Tibet among the electorate of any Western democracy, but it is rare indeed to meet a pro-Taiwan person who has no personal connection to Taiwan.

We need to change that, and we aren't trying.

Finally, I worry. What happens if a "friend of Taiwan" then slips into his speeches some sort of appeal to ensure marriage equality never becomes a reality, or supports people like Katy Faust returning and meddling in our business? What happens if links between some pro-Taiwan conservatives and the  American Christian right groups that are trying to influence the future of marriage equality in Taiwan are found to exist? (Sounds crazy, but they are on the same side in the anti-equality fight.)

This whole constellation of issues which are interrelated (although their relationships might not seem initially clear) are why, yet again, it is really, really, very hard to support Taiwan.

*I'm using past tense here because it's important to me to protect the identities of the people I know who have said exactly this. I won't name them and as this is a blog, not a journalistic endeavor, I don't have to. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

It is really hard to support Taiwan (Part 1)


Greetings from England!

You probably won't be hearing as much from me as I start the 2nd semester of my Master's program, but I'll pop in from time to time. Don't expect me to be on top of the news cycle - but then, I had always intended for Lao Ren Cha to be about commentary, not original reporting, so I'm not sure it matters.

Anyway, despite having a few postcard reminders of Taiwan on the bulletin board in my less-than-stellar dorm room, I have to say, domestic news over the past few months has not been making it easy to love the country.

I could cite many stories to make my case, but I'll stick with two. The first is reminder we seem to periodically need that the Taiwanese fishing industry goes beyond deeply unethical and straight into 'human rights abuses' and 'slavery'. Yes, slavery. To the point that I don't each much seafood in Taiwan anymore. I am sure there are other ways I consume that uphold exploitative systems which I'd be horrified to know more about, but I am now so hyper-aware of how fishing companies operate in Taiwan that I've lost my taste for seafood in particular.

The other one is the more recent news that Taiwan is essentially complicit in Australian human rights abuses, by agreeing to give medical care to refugees in detention on Nauru so as to ensure they never set foot on the Australian mainland. Of course those refugees need care, and they will be well cared-for in Taiwan, but the purpose is to make it impossible for them to access the Australian court system as refugees who do have the right to apply for asylum. This is unacceptable on the part of Australia, and Taiwan is facilitating this flagrant flouting of human rights.

And, of course, Taiwan itself talks big about caring about refugees, but in fact doesn't really accept them (there is no provision for the granting of asylum or refugee status according to that Taiwan Sentinel link, corroborated here). There are people who have refugee-like status in Taiwan, but...well, it's complicated. Although Taiwan provides some assistance to refugees abroad, this still means that President Tsai's claim that Taiwanese are 'empathetic to refugees' reads like an Asian version of "thoughts and prayers".

So not only are we not taking in refugees ourselves, we're also helping other countries avoid their obligations to consider applications for asylum by ensuring those refugees never have a chance to apply. Taiwan's actual treatment of refugees is like turd sauce on a turd burger, with the aid we do offer being a pretty okay pickle that nevertheless does not improve the giant turd entree we plop down at the international table.

The thing about advocating for Taiwanese de jure, recognized independence as Taiwan (not the Republic of China) is that a huge part of my most convincing arguments rest on what an exemplary country Taiwan is. I talk of people I know who were sent to Taiwan for work, and later found the country so much to their liking that they chose to return as retirees. I speak of a vibrant history of social movements. I speak of how Taiwan insisted on democracy for itself, and won. I speak of friendly - no, not just friendly, but kind - people I know who have become local friends, in a world where many foreign residents struggle to forge truly local connections. I speak of how, although there is room to improve, Taiwan has had, and continues to have, some of the most robust LGBT and women's rights movements in Asia. How in many ways, in the way its government is modeled, it looks to the liberal democratic West and is on the forefront of the fight against totalitarianism. I speak of how, in contrast to China, Taiwan does recognize human rights and there are mechanisms in place to ensure people can access them.

All of that is true, but I have trouble maintaining with a straight face that Taiwan is such an exemplary place, a society of kind people with profound respect for human rights within the framework of a successful democracy when, to be frank, they pull shit like this.

It is really, really, really hard to fight for Taiwan when I know what the seedy underbelly of Taiwan looks like, and when it comes to fishing boat slaves and human rights abuses (and let's not forget abuse of domestic workers, sexual and otherwise).

Fighting for Taiwan isn't just about fighting for independence. What does independence even mean if the country we are trying to build is so deeply troubled? It starts to feel like empty, jingoistic nationalism. Taiwan for what exactly? Taiwan for slavers and rapists? Independence for the sake of independence, nevermind anything else? I can't accept that. We must discuss as well how to create a better Taiwan, so that an independent Taiwan will be one to continue to support.

And yet, here I am, still advocating for Taiwan in whatever way I can. I still talk to my classmates, who have no reason to care, about why Taiwan matters. And it does matter, although it can be hard to see that sometimes.

While we have to talk about building a better country at home, I am reminded that every country has flaws. I do what I can to fight for American democracy in the face of powers that would like to see it disappear (including China), despite knowing full well that the US is a deeply problematic place - from the streets not being safe for women and people of color all the way to the selfishness of our foreign policy and all the nutters and religious freaks and sexists and racists and exploitative rich business jerks in between. I'll still stand up for making the US a better place, and I won't say it's not worthwhile. I'll help friends in trouble and refrain from judgement, even if I know their own flaws helped create the situation in which they needed a hand, because we're all imperfect.

I suppose I hope they judge Taiwan fairly, as they would their own country. Americans don't generally read about, say, how communities of color are afraid of the police because their men and women are disproportionately killed and then say "oh well we should just let China and Russia turn us into a dictatorship captained by a stupid orange puppet because nothing is worth anything", so I would ask them to apply the same level of complexity to thoughts on Taiwan, because it's easy to make sweeping generalizations and form poor judgments from them when you don't really know a place.

Taiwan is imperfect too - that doesn't mean it's not worth fighting for. But we might sometimes have to incorporate this plea for complex judgments into the arguments we put forward.

But, damn, it's sure hard to make the case sometimes, when you're discussing the country you call home with people, and not knowing if you should be frank that it is indeed rife with problems just like everywhere else, or hope they never come across the relevant reading material and in light of that information, dismiss everything you've said (I've seen it happen). Or, if they do, that they weigh it against the case you made and understand that every country is flawed.

Friday, December 1, 2017

One tiny opinion...and time for a break

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

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

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

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

And now, for an opinion.

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

So...Tom Cotton.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 7, 2017

Pass the sausage: a crazy theory about why there aren't many female Taiwan experts

First, let's take a moment to acknowledge Freedom of Speech day in Taiwan, although it is not an official holiday (but should be). Today was the day 28 years ago when activist and writer Nylon Deng self-immolated before his imminent arrest by police after a period of barricading himself in his office.  Nylon s best remembered by the activist community in Taiwan for insisting on "100% freedom of speech", and for openly supporting Taiwan independence when it was not quite safe to do so. Today also happens to be the day that Reporters Without Borders announced that they'd open their Asia bureau in Taipei rather than Hong Kong, and I am choosing to believe that this is not a coincidence, even though it probably is.

As it is around the world, activism and feminism tend to go hand-in-hand, although through history many liberals have been supportive of liberal causes yet dismissive of feminist ones, or of women's equality. I remember, when watching the tear-jerking documentary on Nylon in the museum dedicated to him on the site of his self-immolation, an offhand comment that he was "cruel" to his wife and daughter. The moment went by quickly and I haven't re-watched the film, though I will soon as I do own it, but it caused me to reflect on that point.

But that was the 1980s and this is 2017, a time when being a liberal, progressive or activist but not being feminist will cause one serious problems. I do think, then, it is worthwhile to reflect on the presence of women in Taiwan Studies and advocacy around the world, as tenuous as that link may be.

This generally excellent piece came out recently on the Trump-Xi meeting (which I am not commenting on much because I don't have much to say), and it was pointed out that nine Taiwan experts were included, and not one of them was female. "Yup, bit of a sausage fest", it was acknowledged (and I do appreciate the acknowledgement). Of course, that's not to say there aren't any Taiwan experts. Some of my favorite books on Taiwan were written by women (reading this now and loving it), and of course there's the well-known Shelley Rigger (though I have to say I'm not a huge fan of her work for the reasons Michael Turton outlined here). Edit: a few more names I have in fact come across have been pointed out: Bonnie Glaser and Gwyneth Wang, to name a few. In any case, pickings sure do seem to remain slim. 

But if you could ask me to name other prominent female Taiwan experts or advocates, I don't think I could. I know the community, so I'm not shooting in the dark here, yet, it really does seem to be something of a sausage fest.

Why is that?

Of course I have a theory.

Keep in mind it's just a theory, concocted within the confines of my own weird brain, as far as I know really only explains the dearth of notable female Taiwan supporters in the US, and is quite open to constructive feedback. It's not meant to be a definitive statement on the matter.

Yet, as far as the US is concerned, I can't help but notice that most Taiwan experts also happen to be Taiwan advocates. It's quite common, even the norm, to be both an expert and a part of the Taiwan independence movement. In the US, who are the 'friends of Taiwan' in the government that Taiwan independence supporters tend to turn to, or at least receive the greatest support from?

Republicans. And in some cases, some of the worst Republicans in office. In every other sense, beyond their support of Taiwan (which usually seems to stem from a hatred of China rather than a genuine caring for Taiwan), just really terrible people. People like Marco Rubio, who supports both Hong Kong's localist movement and Taiwan, but who is a total shitlord when it comes to women's issues. People like Tom Cotton, who also supports both Taiwan and Hong Kong, who is also a total douchestick on women's issues. Even Bob Dole, that ol' 90s throwback who honestly was more moderate than these other losers on women's issues for his day (emphasis: for his day), isn't great.

No, I'm not going to be nicer about that because they're friends of Taiwan. They're also turdburglars and they deserve the criticism.

And to be fair, not every friend of Taiwan is like this. I don't have any particular criticisms of unelected supporters of Taiwan in government (think Bolton, Yates), but they tend to be Republicans, and Republicans are at this moment in history actively working against women's rights.

I'm not even going to talk about Trump because he doesn't have a clear Taiwan policy (the one thing that is clear is that he cares about nobody but himself, his family and sweet sweet money, and possibly power as well, and he'll sacrifice anything and everything for those things). But Taiwan's association with Trump, I can tell you honestly, has hurt Taiwan's standing among liberal voters, if they cared about Taiwan to begin with, which most don't. I'll stop there, because "liberal voters" are not the same as "Taiwan experts" or "Taiwan advocates", and I'm talking about the latter. The former is a different issue that I may or may not tackle at a later time.

It is also important to differentiate between advocates for Taiwan, and the people they lobby and talk to. Advocates for Taiwan outside of government tend to be very good people. I am friends with many of them (and yes, they are almost entirely male). The people they talk to are the problem. There are also some powerful female voices for Taiwan in other areas, such as Linda Arrigo and Shawna Yang Ryan, but I'm trying to be specific in terms of Taiwan experts who also advocate (and in many cases actively lobby) for Taiwan in Washington.

Of the women who are a part of this community, it is notable that of the 9 (9? Someone mentioned 9, I counted 8) people asked to comment for the article above, not one of them was female. How is it that they found 9 experts, all male, and ignored all of the women who do good work or are strong voices in this field? Is there perhaps a connection between being asked to comment on a piece like this and how often one is seen around government folks? Is there a connection between not doing that, and being female? If so, could that connection be in part because most of the people you would be talking to not only are not known generally for having much respect for women, but are actively working against women's rights?

I happen to think so, yes.

Or, perhaps they are overlooked because women simply tend to be overlooked in many fields.

I mean, to be a Taiwan expert - at least an American one - means making peace with the fact that the country you are most interested in and are likely to advocate for finds its greatest support among some of the worst people in Washington. On some level this is praiseworthy: it means setting aside differences to work on a common goal. I can see the value in that. I can see the value in not always giving in to identity politics, as well.

However, this is really easy to do if the people you are talking to and working with aren't actively trying to take away your rights, or subjugate your gender. It's much easier to "set differences aside" when the other side's differences aren't actual, literal and active attempts to make your life worse. It's easy when it's not aimed at you.

It is far more difficult to do when you can't even fathom being in the same room with some of them. I cannot imagine I would do anything to Marco Rubio other than spit in his stupid asshat face if I had to look at him, let alone talk to him. Perhaps I am more tempestuous, temperamental or I just care more about these things than others, but I know I'm not the only woman who would rather punch some of these Republican twatwads in the mouth than talk to them.

So how could someone like me - a woman, a lover of Taiwan, a supporter of Taiwan, someone who makes it her business and passion to keep up with Taiwan affairs despite not officially being any sort of expert - actually be an expert? When expertise tends to overlap so much with advocacy, and advocacy overlaps so much with talking to people I cannot bear to dignify with even basic manners, because they cannot bear to dignify my gender with basic rights, how is this even a possibility?

In fact, this is one of the direct causes behind why I went into education as a professional rather than Taiwan Studies. Perhaps 5 years ago - I don't remember exactly - I was in Hong Kong, sitting on the upstairs deck at the Fringe Club talking to friends there. We were discussing my next move, and I said I had three key interests: TEFL, the Chinese language and Taiwan Studies. I didn't know which I'd pursue, I said, but it would be one of those three, I would be going back to school at some point, and soon enough it would be come clear which I'd choose.

I chose education, because I actually kind of hated Chinese class though I love learning Chinese, and because Taiwan Studies to me is inextricably bound up in Taiwan advocacy, and that would mean lobbying or talking to all sorts of odious socially conservative Republican types, the sort who are actively trying to roll back my basic human rights. Even then, I knew I couldn't do it.

This is, as a side note, why I am eager to jump on any alternative at all. It sucks to love Taiwan but hate the friends of Taiwan in the US government. It sucks to know you might be able to go to school for Taiwan Studies, but you wouldn't be able to advocate with a straight face, nor would you be able to work with Taiwan supporters in the US government, because when their rollback of basic rights and dignity is aimed at your gender, it is impossible to "set differences aside" or look the other way. If someone presents even the most unlikely alternative model for advocating for Taiwan, it's like a flame for my inner moth.

I know I can't do it, and I don't think it's fair to ask any woman to do it. That's absolutely not to say that I think the men who do do it - who bite their lips and talk to assholes for Taiwan's sake - don't care about women's issues. I'm sure it's not easy talking to someone you disagree with on nearly every other thing (and most of the ones I know are good people, solid liberals, and women's rights supporters). Yet they do it - they do what I can't, and I won't pretend that gender is not one of the reasons why. It's simply easier when it's not your basic human rights on the chopping block, even if you have the best of intentions.

So that's my crazy theory. At least as far as Americans are concerned, there are not many female Taiwan experts because, while they might have common cause with some of the worst people in government over Taiwan, these same people are enemies of their gender. That's just too much to ask - and frankly, shouldn't have to be asked. It is 100% stone cold not okay, especially as Taiwan independence is, fundamentally, a liberal cause. 

There are surely other reasons - Taiwan is a harder place to live long-term for foreign women being one of them and many foreign experts on Taiwan have spent significant time here. (As a side note, this is why most foreign commentators on Taiwan skew male - there are simply more male expats, and I do explore the reasons for that in the link above. Another reason might be that a lot of currently known Taiwan experts got into the field decades ago, when this sort of field was male dominated. When I was in school my International Affairs cohort was not particularly male, but several decades before that it likely would have been. Yet another may be "because the women are choosing China where the action is". Perhaps. I may explore these other possibilities in future posts.

I do hope for change going forward, and it would be interesting to see what the younger, perhaps less recognized cohort of Taiwan experts looks like gender-wise. However, I can say that when I was younger and looking at that path, the sorts of horrible people I'd have to talk to were a clear reason why I steered away from it, and made Taiwan affairs a hobby rather than a profession. I cannot imagine I am the only woman to have been put off. It does cause women to turn away, and I know that because it turned me away.

Constructive feedback is welcome. Hateful or misogynist comments will be deleted without being fully read.