Showing posts with label who. Show all posts
Showing posts with label who. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Sometimes Taiwan's problem isn't global ignorance - it's China-appeasing malice

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From Twitter account Star Trek Minus Context

Until fairly recently, I had a friendly acquaintance. We'd met in person; he wasn't just a Facebook 'friend'. After all I've written about Taiwan, all I've said, all the articles I've posted, he would still make "jokes" asking me about my life "in China". He once referred to my city as Chinese Taipei. I kept asking him to stop, but did not immediately cut him loose, because I knew he was joking and was perfectly aware that Taiwan wasn't China. Wrongly, I believed that if I could convey to him that these jokes weren't funny and only served to irritate me, he'd understand that and stop. He didn't, I got sick of it and unfriended him.

I'm telling you that story for a reason.

In recent weeks, at least three countries have banned (or temporarily banned) Taiwanese travelers over coronavirus fears. These bans weren't directed specifically at Taiwan, but rather included Taiwan in China. Joining Italy and Vietnam (the latter banning Taiwanese travelers only for a brief period), the Philippines is now including Taiwan in Chinese travel bans.


“If you look at the WHO map and the number of cases that they have, Taiwan is included in China. Since we have a temporary travel restriction and ban on China, then Taiwan is included,” Domingo said in a press briefing.

Once again, everything I said about the Vietnam travel ban also applies to the Philippines:


I want to be very clear here: I don't think the dingbats who made these decisions actually believe Taiwan is a part of China. At best it's highly unlikely. Consider the cultural, economic and geographic ties between Vietnam and Taiwan, as well as a fair amount of well-publicized controversy surrounding these ties. There's just no way that Vietnamese policymakers don't know that Taiwan is a thing.
More likely, the airhead bureaucrat who made these decisions either simply doesn't care, or is perfectly aware that Taiwan is separate from China with a separate (and more effective) healthcare system and far fewer confirmed coronavirus cases, but doesn't want to anger China. So they use this exclusion from international organizations and their own country's lack of official recognition as cover for their bad decisions, thinking they're doing the right thing by keeping China happy. 



With all of the connections, both historical and current, that Taiwan and the Philippines have - they're right next to each other! - there is simply no way that Eric "Douchesack" Domingo does not know that Taiwan is not a part of China. Probably part of his job is keeping up on health-related issues in connection with all of the Filipino workers who come to Taiwan. If not his job, then someone under him. 

He knows. He just doesn't care. He's not ignorant; he's making a choice. 

Sometimes ignorance really is the issue. I've met American exchange students in Hong Kong who truly believed that the Chinese government extended to Taiwan. I have relatives who thought Taiwan was not a democracy until I set them straight. I still get mail from people I know that put my address in China. Websites that list Taiwan as a "Province of China" often don't realize that they're using a pre-fab list that says this, and many are happy to fix it if asked nicely. In those cases, it makes sense to patiently and non-judgmentally start a conversation about Taiwan so that they might know more about the issue and reconsider their previous assumptions.

But sometimes, especially at the government and international organization level, the choice to treat Taiwan badly is not made out of ignorance. It's pure China-appeasing malice.

ICAO knows perfectly well that China doesn't control Taiwanese airspace. The WHO isn't stupid (well, they are, but not in this way)  - they are likewise aware. The UN knows Taiwan exists. Italian officials may not be so aware of Asian geography, but certainly Vietnam and the Philippines are quite cognizant that Taiwan's government is not the same as China's. IELTS and TOEFL both know it too. The Lancet is not staffed by morons, they definitely know, and yet they defend themselves with this crap, and people who should know better actually buy it (a fallacious appeal to authority does not outweigh the fact that Taiwan's health care system is different from China's, period).

These people are choosing to feign ignorance, and the result is intentional cruelty and decisions that do more harm than good.


In such cases, an approach of "oh, they must be misinformed" is simply not going to work. Raising awareness is great, when directed at people around the world - the news consumers - who truly don't realize anything is amiss. But thinking that you'll convince Eric Domingo, the WHO or people like them by making a case aimed at raising their knowledge level is doomed to fail - because the problem that needs to be addressed is not a lack of knowledge.

I will reiterate: it's this guy's actual well-paid real job that he is really supposed to do, and do well, for real money to know the public health situation of countries where such issues might affect the Philippines. Of course it is his job to know that Taiwan has exemplary public health, rather than lean on the fallacy of "what the WHO says". It's possible that he's completely unfit for the role, but I doubt it.

He's not stupid. He's an asshole. You can't convince an asshole with "clarification" or sincere discussion, because they are not interested in being informed (or letting on that they already are). 

My husband said once: 



And that's really it. A pro-Taiwan position is predicated on knowledge. People come to Taiwan's side because they learned more. An anti-Taiwan position (that is, any Taiwan position espoused by China) is predicated on remaining ignorant - you can only stay that way if you don't learn about Taiwan's fascinating and unique history and political situation and just invoke repeated, yet fallacious, appeals to authority until the other side gets tired.

At some point, that's a choice, especially when it is your job to know better.

Taiwan advocates have a really great hammer. We might call it Thor's Hammer, but it's really more like Cassandra's Hammer. Cassandra's Hammer works just as well as Thor's Hammer, except nobody believes that it can do the things it does. (Also, it earns 77% of what Thor's Hammer gets for doing the same job.)

That hammer is knowledge - we know the history of this country. We know why it's unique. We know, in painstaking detail, why and how it is different from China. 
We understand that these are facts: That Taiwan's health system is different from China's is a fact. That Taiwan's government is not the same as China's is a fact. That data consistently show that Taiwanese people want to keep it that way is a fact. That we are not overwhelmed with coronavirus as China is...well, unfortunate for China, but also a fact. These facts are not up for debate, and they form a powerful - I'd say unassailable - argument. 

When you have a hammer like that, every problem really does look like a nail. You want to inform, educate and clarify because you have a great tool for it.

That's important - raising awareness among people who truly don't know plays such a crucial role. I will never say we should stop doing it - in fact, we should do it with patience, humility and joy.

Did I mention patience?

But not everything is a nail. You can't win someone to your side with "clarification" and "awareness raising" if they are already clear and aware, but are choosing to be a douchesack anyway. You're trying to solve a problem they don't have.


I don't know how to fix the issue of intentionally harmful decision-making aimed more at the political expediency of appeasing China than actually doing the right - and most effective - thing by including Taiwan, as itself, in international affairs.

Call them out? It works to some degree - that's how we got ICAO to stop mass-blocking anyone who mentioned Taiwan and got some online participation at the WHO. It sure feels like cold leftovers when we deserve a full seat at the table, though.

Unfriend them, like I did with that guy on Facebook? I'd sure like to see Taiwan say to the Philippines, "okay, if you think we're China, please send all work applications for Filipinos coming to Taiwan to Beijing and see how that works out", but the fact is that we need to stay on good terms with other countries in the region. (It would also hurt workers who are just trying to earn a living).

Continue to push persistently, refusing to be gaslit by their feigned ignorance, while cultivating 'establishment' allies who can get things done for Taiwan? Sure, but it's a slow process.

The work is brutal and the road is unclear. I don't have any better solutions. But it must be done. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Nobody knows anything about coronavirus, and there are two reasons why

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Source: Facebook (I've seen it in several places, I have no idea who to credit for creating it)


I noted in my last post that "we know nothing" about coronavirus, and I want to expand on that a little and talk about why.


...the international media is taking government data as gospel, which people in China know right now not to do. We don’t know what the fatality rate is because nobody knows how many people died before being diagnosed because they couldn’t get care. China keeps reporting “2.1%”, a number I don’t think anyone in China believes. We have no idea how contagious it is, either. We know nothing.

Let me be clear when I say "we don't know anything" - we don't know the fatality rate, as I noted. We also don't know yet where it came from (though as SARS originated in a wet market, coronavirus probably did too). We don't know how contagious it is, because if we don't know how many people have it, and how many have died from it, how can we know how easy it is to get?

We probably know that it's transmitted through aerosolized body fluids - that is, droplets of saliva from normal breathing - and you can get it by getting it on your hands and touching sensitive membranes in your face. At least, we think we know - that information also comes from China, but it seems highly plausible, even likely. In fact, it's hardly groundbreaking, that's how most colds and flus spread. 


In fact, if you're going to be worried about anything, don't let it be coronavirus. If you are not in China, you probably will not catch it (even if you are in China, you might be fine). Be afraid that we don't know anything about anything, the people fighting it don't really know anything, and even if the CCP did know, they'd probably lie about it.

But why? We can blame two factors - the first is that the Chinese government and health care "system", such as it is, is completely overwhelmed and it's likely they themselves don't have a clue what these data actually are. The second is that the Chinese government thinks it can decide what is true, and attempts to push a political agenda even to their own detriment, as well as the world's. 


So there are two layers of unreliability: the CCP is lying about data it doesn't even know itself. 

The first reason isn't entirely China's fault. I mean, it is absolutely their fault that they covered up the initial outbreak, allowing it to get worse. If they've learned anything from SARS, it's manifested in a slightly faster path from "pretending this doesn't exist and punishing anyone who says otherwise" to "admitting we have a problem", not in eliminating the first stage altogether. It is also their fault that they've allowed the nation's lackluster health care - which is absolutely not "free" or even "public" as many Westerners believe - to fester for so long.

But it is not their fault that the virus broke out there; these things happen around the world. So it's not their fault that they are the epicenter, nor that they had to be the first to fight it, while the rest of the world got a heads-up and some time to prepare.

The second - their consistent lies and cover-ups when SARS should have been a lesson against such behavior - obviously is their fault. That should not need to be explained. The lying, yes, but also their consistent opposition to Taiwan's participation in the WHO and other international organizations (such as ICAO) where their expertise and superlative health care and responsiveness to the epidemic could be of great help in combating it.

With all that in mind, let me hazard a few speculations about these things we don't know. 


First: coronavirus probably is highly contagious - we just don't know to what extent. We don't have enough data to compare it to the common flu, so please stop doing that. But the flu exists in China, and hasn't created an epidemic like this in previous years. If people going out for hot pot can infect much of their family and it's possible to contract it just transiting through Hong Kong, that points to potentially high contagion rates. It's possible that China is overreacting by locking down entire cities, but I doubt they'd self-destruct their own economy - through two sources I know that even Shenzhen is in full-city quarantine, which would be economically devastating - if they didn't have reason to worry.

But - how much of that contagion is simply because it is highly contagious, compared to how much is potentially caused by overwhelmed health care systems in China and poor public hygiene in general? I contracted bronchial pneumonia twice in one year in China; this is almost certainly a contributing factor. How much of it is due to an inability to practice appropriate epidemic-fighting hygiene protocol because masks, sanitizer and alcohol cleaner are all impossible to get, in a contagion zone?

I have no idea, but the fact that the virus seems to be spreading slowly and is basically under control in most of the rest of the world means that it probably can be contained, and isn't necessarily going to be a global pandemic. You might want to keep people in China in your thoughts, however. They don't deserve this and with every Chinese system on overload, it's probably going to get worse.


How much of the unknown fatality rate is caused by those same factors - an overwhelmed system, shortages of necessary hygiene supplies and poor general public hygiene, as well as paranoid quarantine policies that put people in non-virus-related danger and have resulted in at least one death?

It's impossible to say, but the fact that a lot of people are dying from coronavirus in China (though we don't actually know how many) and very few have died abroad shows that the environment and poor government response in China are factors. 


That brings me to my final points - first, I don't even know how much to blame China for actions which seem malicious. That charter flight meant to bring at-risk Taiwanese back to Taiwan, that ended up being full of wives and children of evacuees (who also deserve to be flown out, but not at the expense of at-risk people)? You know, the one which ended up containing at least one confirmed coronavirus carrier? Some have accused China of purposely putting infected people on that plane as an attack on Taiwan, but I honestly think, in conditions that have been described as "wartime", that it's far more likely that they didn't have the wherewithal to intentionally put a carrier on that plane, and just let a person who'd bribed their way into a seat take what they'd paid for.

Second, if you are not in China, please stop freaking out. Taiwan's response has been exemplary - this is what open information and quick responses can accomplish. Japan has done a good job as well; Singapore is pretty good at this sort of thing. In fact, it seems that even if this coronavirus is highly infectious and highly fatal, that a strong public health response can keep it in check. Again, it's not China's fault that it was the epicenter - only that it spread in a government-imposed information vacuum.

That the rest of Asia has done a brilliant job of organizing a strong response before it could spread further is good news for the world.

This is probably not the last epidemic virus that will originate in China - the huge population, generally poor public health care, poor public hygiene (think bad plumbing, undrinkable tap water, rarely-cleaned public toilets, public spitting - though that has decreased markedly in the last decade) and prevalence of wet markets almost guarantee it. I certainly hope for the people of China that coronavirus is brought under control, though I also hope that they can overthrow that useless CCP and create a government more capable of responding to such outbreaks.

In other words, sunlight is in fact the best disinfectant. Open information, strong public health and quick action seem to be pretty effective in combating coronavirus, and they are protecting entire populations. I can only hope China figures out those three coronavirus 'vaccines' sooner rather than later. 


But the ability of much of the rest of Asia to coordinate a containment response and share what information they have freely is good news for the rest of the world. Forget the "first island chain" and South Korea in terms of traditional defense - warships, airstrips, bases and whatnot. This is the front line when major epidemics originate in Asia, and rather than excluding a key node in that defensive chain from organizations like the WHO, maybe the world should stop pretending the CCP is a true ally, and start realizing that the rest of Asia - including Taiwan - should get more credit. 

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The consequences of Taiwan's exclusion in international affairs are not abstract

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Screenshot from the South Park episode where Randy kills Winnie the Pooh in China



Years ago I was having a one-on-one class with an adult student who - athough we didn't talk about politics much - seemed to lean pro-KMT, and had a strong enough identification with the ROC for me to have noticed it. Although generally we avoided the topic - I think she knew where I stood, it's not hard to tell - we did once talk about whether it mattered if Taiwan were a UN member nation. I said it did.

She disagreed, saying it didn't really make a difference as membership in such organizations confers abstract benefits at best. I mentioned the data-sharing of organizations like the WHO, and she pointed out that Taiwan handled SARS just fine without them (I'm not so sure about that, but...whatever). To her, these organizations conducted endless meetings and discussed an awful lot, but didn't actually do much of anything, and had no real political power, so it was not only fine not to participate, but preferable to stay locked out as the Republic of China, rather than be allowed in as Taiwan, because the ROC still mattered on some level.

Yeah, well, you can see why we didn't talk about politics that much. Anyway. 

In the past two days, a number of countries have banned entry to non-citizens traveling from China, or suspended flights from/to China. Italy banned incoming flights, Vietnam halted all air travel, Australia, the US and Israel are denying non-citizens coming from China entry, and Qatar Airways has suspended flights. This is of course all thanks to the panic about the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus.

All of this happened despte the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO)  did not recommend suspending flights (source: above link). And yet, two of these countries - Italy and Vietnam - included Taiwan or Taiwan's flagship airline in their bans. 

It's worth noting that Taiwan's flagship airline is very confusingly named China Airlines. 

Vietnam has since reversed its ban on air travel to and from Taiwan, but Italy has not. 

And this is why my student was wrong. While it's true that "health statistics" and "information sharing" and "taking part in discussions" all seem very abstract, air travel is concrete and real. 

When international organizations like the WHO, Interpol and International China Asskissers Organization International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) exclude Taiwan - and in ICAO's case, blocks anyone who questions this exclusion on social media, myself included - it gives national governments the cover to follow suit and just treat Taiwan as a part of China.

This has real-world, concrete effects. When flights to and from your country are at risk of being suspended because some dingbat decided your country should be included in a China travel ban as "a part of China", that's not abstract. That's real canceled flights on real airplanes, real lost business, real travelers with real suitcases stuck in real airports. That's real people who are trapped in a place and can't get home (it's unclear to me if travelers from Taiwan would have been able to circumvent the Italian and Vietnamese bans by flying through another country, however, changing a ticket that way costs real money from real bank accounts). 


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Yes, I was blocked. By the way, ahem, did you know you can follow Lao Ren Cha on Facebook? 

I want to be very clear here: I don't think the dingbats who made these decisions actually believe Taiwan is a part of China. At best it's highly unlikely. Consider the cultural, economic and geographic ties between Vietnam and Taiwan, as well as a fair amount of well-publicized controversy surrounding these ties. There's just no way that Vietnamese policymakers don't know that Taiwan is a thing.

More likely, the airhead bureaucrat who made these decisions either simply doesn't care, or is perfectly aware that Taiwan is separate from China with a separate (and more effective) healthcare system and far fewer confirmed coronavirus cases, but doesn't want to anger China. So they use this exclusion from international organizations and their own country's lack of official recognition as cover for their bad decisions, thinking they're doing the right thing by keeping China happy. 

My student was just a person with an opinion rather than a politician, lobbyist, writer or policy analyst. However, it's also fairly common for people with more influence to try and soften the way Taiwan's current situation looks. For example, one might say it is acceptable for Taiwan to just have observer status. While an improvement, no, that would not be "okay", it would be a pittance - begging for scraps when we deserve a full seat at the table.

Others say that "unofficial" ties with other countries are good enough. Often, they are, but I'd contend this is still not good enough. 

It's true that Taiwan's formal diplomatic relations are not necessarily our friends or allies. Though some of them do speak up in support of Taiwan in those international organizations, for the most part they are the result of 'checkbook diplomacy' and thus offer little benefit, while being fairly easily lured away. In the meantime, countries that do not officially recognize Taiwan show support regardless - recently, the US, Canada and Japan have all said Taiwan deserves some sort of status at the WHO. 

However, I'd still contend that it does matter - if your country does not recognize Taiwan, it's easier for your lazier or more malevolent, China-fearing bureaucrats to just lump it in with China. Then Taiwan has to "scramble" through unofficial channels to essentially beg - like a starving orphan - not to be hurt in very concrete ways by being included in China policy. 

And all this happens despite the fact that Taiwan is not a starving orphan. It's a wealthy heir to human rights and democratic norms in Asia. 

We deserve better - full recognition and a full seat at the table, and we deserve not to have to beg for it in a whisper from the back door, like a hungry maid creeping from the servant's quarters, asking the master's less-cruel son whether she can have a scrap of extra bread after dinner. 


And the benefits of a fairer arrangement are not 'abstract' at all.