Processing the US PEOTUS-Taiwan phone call

There are so many reports, think pieces, and social media postings after the report of a phone call between US PEOTUS and Taiwan President 蔡英文 Tsai In-Wen. It’s difficult to process everything.

What we know is that there was a phone call that was not within normal protocol. Unfortunately the protocol is the basis of peace on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The threat of China is always there, and now it is expanding to other areas in the South China Sea.

Historically, the US Republican Party in has always been supportive of stronger ties to Taiwan. Earlier this year, the RNC adopted a Resolution Affirming Strong Support for the Republic of China (Taiwan) [pdf]. The cornerstone of this is Regan’s Six Assurances from 1982. The parts to Taiwan’s benefit are the sale of arms for defense, and the support for participation in international organizations. So it is not outside the possibility that there are pro-Taiwan opinions in the PEOTUS administration.

But no matter what the US supports, Taiwan will always be hindered by China in international organizations. Especially now that China is not happy with the Taiwanese government. Ever since 蔡英文 has taken office, Taiwan has been given a hard time. Taiwan was not allowed to be a observing member in UN committees where it was trying to gain observer status. Other countries have been sending criminals with Taiwanese nationality to China because China tells those countries to do so.

For Taiwan, a change to the status quo would be welcomed. Taiwan in 1982 is not the Taiwan of now. The people of Taiwan identify as Taiwanese, want their say in the world, and be recognized. If the incoming US PEOTUS administration has plans to change the status quo, I am sure the Taiwanese government would be willing to listen. It would need to make sure that the Chinese government is willing to listen as well.

Day to day life will go on for the citizens of Taiwan, but who knows what is around the corner? The concern is beyond one phone call, or the reaction to one phone call. The concern is protecting a democratic island nation and its people.

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2016 總統就職典禮 Presidential Inauguration Ceremony

The inauguration of President of Taiwan, 蔡英文 (Tsai Ing-Wen), took place on May 20, 2016. She is the first female president of Taiwan. She is in office during a time when her party, the DPP, has the majority in the legislature, making the Taiwanese government a majority DPP government.

The inauguration celebration started with the formal proceedings inside the presidential building.

Then the story of Taiwan’s history was covered through a performance. It started with the indigenous peoples on the island, and the arrival of Europeans. The description of indigenous peoples was not very sophisticated, as the narrator described the European missionaries as people that changed the indigenous people’s backward cultures and that the indigenous people loved to sing and dance. As part of moving Taiwan forward, we should also move away from bigotry and prejudice against indigenous cultures and people. I also have never understood why the indigenous groups are lumped together and dance the same dance, when they have separate languages, cultural practices, songs, and dances. It would have been nice to see them represented fully, instead of just by different costumes.

The 1600s brought 清朝 (Qing dynasty) rule to Taiwan. The narrator even mentioned that this was when Taiwan became 殖民地 (colony) of 清朝.

As the production moved through different eras of Taiwanese history, I, like many others, wondered how the era of the Republic of China rule would be represented. The 228 Incident and the White Terror era was fully represented. The terror of the time was performed for all to see. A part of history that was previously hidden, whose secrets have not all been revealed, was on display during the inauguration.

The modern Taiwan included the new immigrants to Taiwan. There were dances from Vietnam, with Vietnamese songs. It was a true look into the future of Taiwan: the modern era, mixing history and the present.

There were three music groups that performed, and sang in different languages: Amis, Hakka, and Taiwanese. The highlight was obviously 滅火器, who sang the old new classic 向前行, and the new new classic, 島嶼天光, the anthem of the Sunflower Movement.

There was a 排灣族 (Paiwan) chant before the national anthem to bless the land. The national anthem was then mixed with the melody of chant in a way that made it sound celebratory. The national anthem has the melody of a dirge, so it was nice to hear a different take. Even though the melody was upbeat, the lyrics were unchanged, and still had the same language as the party song of the KMT.

Tsai opened her speech by saying hello in Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, and 排灣語 (Paiwan). Not only does this represent the population of Taiwan, but it also represents Tsai’s own ancestry as she is of Hakka, Min-Nan, and Paiwan descent. The complete text of speech is available, as is the English translation.

In her speech, Tsai touched on the major issues impacting Taiwan: stagnant economy; social safety (including the care of the growing elderly population); social justice; cross-strait issues; and diplomacy.

In regards to Taiwan’s own history, Tsai is looking to the past to make amends. The establishment of 真相與和解委員會 (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) will work to find the truths of the aftermath of the 228 Incident and the White Terror era. Also, she stated:

新政府會用道歉的態度,來面對原住民族相關議題,重建原民史觀,逐步推動自治,復育語言文化,提升生活照顧,這就是我要領導新政府推動的改變。

The new government will address issues concerning indigenous peoples with an apologetic attitude. My administration will work to rebuild an indigenous historical perspective, progressively promote indigenous autonomous governance, restore indigenous languages and cultures, and improve the livelihood of indigenous communities.

Apologizing to the indigenous peoples is something that has needed to happen for a long time now. Often we speak of the atrocities of the KMT, but we do not speak nearly enough about the way the indigenous peoples have been treated historically by Han migrants from China since the 1600s. It’s about time that we right that wrong, and give back what we have taken from the indigenous communities. After all, they are the original Taiwanese peoples.

When it comes to cross-strait relations, however, Tsai is definitely not looking towards the past.

兩岸的兩個執政黨應該要放下歷史包袱,展開良性對話,造福兩岸人民。

The two governing parties across the Strait must set aside the baggage of history, and engage in positive dialogue, for the benefit of the people on both sides.

Notice in the entire speech, she never mentions 中國 (China) or 大陸 (continent; often referred to as mainland in English). She calls it 兩岸 (literally “both sides”; “both sides of the Strait” is implied). She does not mention the 92 Consensus by name, only referring to it as

1992年兩岸兩會會談的歷史事實與求同存異的共同認知

the 1992 talks between the two institutions representing each side across the Strait (SEF & ARATS), when there was joint acknowledgement of setting aside differences to seek common ground.

She states past events as historical truths, but not necessarily current truths. I like the change in nomenclature, and am looking forward to her policies in dealing with the governing party across the Strait.

At the end of the inauguration was a very historical and tear-jerking moment. The song 美麗島 (Taiwan the Formosa) was previously banned because of its connection with the independence movement. So for it to be sung at the inauguration really showed how far we have come.

It’s amazing to think, that Taiwan has now moved from being under Japanese rule, to being under KMT martial law, to being a democracy, to a majority DPP government, all within my grandparents’ lifetime. And after 20 years of direct presidential elections, a female president is elected. I also love how the color on the 總統府 (Office of the President) website is now an aqua color: a mix of blue and green. We are moving into a new era of Taiwanese politics. It is no longer just about the two major parties, but Taiwan as a whole moving forward.

This is a great time for Taiwan. I sincerely hope that Tsai can lead the way she wants to, and is able to do all she can under the circumstances. And I hope all Taiwanese will keep Tsai’s slogan in their hearts as they enter this new presidency and government:

國家偉大嗎?國家因你而偉大。

My translation:
Is the country extraordinary?
The country is extraordinary because of you.

臺灣加油!

Election 2016

I spent the end of the 2016 election coverage in tears. That wasn’t much different from the end of the 2012 election coverage. But the difference was that this time, the tears were for joy and relief. Taiwanese people have spoken through their votes and what they want is change.

民進黨 (Democratic Progressive Party; DPP) not only won the presidency through 蔡英文 (Tsai Ing-Wen), but also, for the first time, the majority of the legislature. 時代力量 (New Power Party), a brand new party, has become a major third-party in just one election cycle.

The press conference was a breath of fresh air.

The text is available at Tsai’s election website. Notice how carefully the terms 臺灣 Taiwan and 中華民國 Republic of China are used.

Although the election ended with happiness, the hours before the election started was filled with anger when a disturbing apology video from 周子瑜 (Tzuyu) was released. I do not want to describe the whole situation (it is also currently unfolding), but it is pretty well explained in the link. I only saw the beginning of the video because I could not keep watching. Her first sentences and her demeanor was really chilling. She looked absolutely terrified, and those words were just horrendous. I think for anyone, being forced to denounce one’s nationality is one of the scariest things. I think the only time I was equally disturbed on this level was seeing the violence unfold on March 24, 2014. I sincerely hope that no matter how this settles, Tzuyu is able to continue pursuing her dreams.

For now, we celebrate a little for the DPP, keep Tzuyu in our thoughts, and keep our wishes and hopes alive. The hard work has already started for 蔡英文 and the newly elected members of the legislature. 臺灣加油!

Ma-Xi meeting and the media coverage

The minute I heard about the Ma-Xi meeting, I knew it was going to be a field day in the media. Everyone would want to cover it. But was anyone going to get it right? Probably not many. Of course the academics and people study and follow Taiwanese politics would have their own opinion, and that would be published. What would everyone else see?

The reports from the AP and the like. Reporting the status quo and giving minor concern to the protests happening in Taiwan. The words “Republic of China” are no where to be found, as wiping away decades of history and refusing to acknowledge that the Republic of China took over an island of people. The common words “the 1949 split” further dilutes history. A “split” did not occur – the Republic of China fled China, took over Taiwan, and imposed martial law. A “split” also implies that something was whole and can be put back together, which pretty much just follows the old stance from the PRC and the ROC.

The report from the New York Times was better. It outright calls Ma “the leader of the Republic of China.” It also took quotes from academics and opposition leaders and provided background to different points of view. I think there was also an equal emphasis on the protests in Taiwan that happened before Ma left for the meeting.

The KMT could not fall further than it already did, but it looks like this meeting is making it more and more unpopular. The KMT has had internal issues for the past couple of years, leading to a drastic fall during the last election, which was in late 2014. Ma then resigned as party head and the newly elected mayor of New Taipei City, Chu, became the head of the party.

If there’s anything similar between the two heads, it’s that they have a habit of reversing previous statements. Ma said in 2011 that he would not meet with the heads of state from China during his presidency if he was re-elected. Now, with seven months left of his presidency, he’s meeting the highest leader of China. When questioned about this statement shortly after the Ma-Xi meeting was announced, Ma said that he only meant not in China, and this meeting would be in Singapore. After Chu was elected mayor, he made a promise that he would fully serve as mayor and not run for president. That promise did not last long. The previous KMT candidate for president was ousted; Chu has taken the spot, and has now taken a three month leave to tend to election duties. Some mayor!

These few things summarize the issues with the KMT in a nutshell. None of their politicians can keep their word. The latest decisions, from the cross-strait trade agreement to the Ma-Xi meeting, have all been done behind closed doors. So how can we trust them with the future of Taiwan? We cannot. I thought a really clear message was sent during the 2014 election, but the KMT seems either completely deaf to it or feels that it is completely above it.

Update to 玉山 vs. 喜馬拉雅山 in high school history curriculum change

After the issue about whether “our nation’s” (Taiwan’s) highest peak was 玉山 or 喜馬拉雅山 in the high school history curriculum, the National Academy for Education Research (part of the Ministry of Education) distributed a press release, clarifying the roles 玉山 and 喜馬拉雅山 have in the curriculum. In the junior high school sociology curriculum, 玉山 is mentioned as Taiwan’s highest peak, while 喜馬拉雅山 is mentioned as the world’s highest peak. In the high school geography curriculum, 玉山 is mentioned as East Asia’s highest peak. (Although it is true that the word 臺灣 Taiwan is used, not 我國 our nation.) The press release also said that the claim made by a high school teacher that the high school curriculum changes included making Taiwan’s highest peak 喜馬拉雅山, not 玉山, was unsubstantiated. In the same news article, activists against the curriculum changes wonders why the MoE was quick to respond to the 玉山 vs. 喜馬拉雅山 issue, when the MoE did not respond to 20 out of 31 questions posed to them during the seminar held at 臺中一中 on June 9th.

Taiwanese students and activists protest against high school history curriculum changes

The ongoing fight against high school history curriculum changes began last year. The changes basically changes the narrative on Taiwanese history – diminishing or using biased opinion as truth about 戒嚴時期 (Martial Law era) and 白色恐怖 (White Terror). Early on, the primary activists were educators, academics, and civic groups. However, starting last month, high-school groups started showing up online, declaring their school, and that they were students against the black-box curriculum change. More recently, civic groups have said that if the changes are going to be implemented and not revoked, they will take to the streets in July.

I was really glad when I saw that students were standing up for themselves. Too many times in Taiwan, students are told to just study and not care about social or political issues. But as we’ve seen from social movements in the past, this is a generation of high school students so much more aware of the history of Taiwan, and of the social issues that are still being fought. This is a new generation of students, born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, who have seen a fully democratic Taiwan, and know our current open society as a given. I’m glad they are not taking it for granted!

I would like to think that these students are influenced by parents who themselves are more open to discussing our past and the truth in history, away from required reading in school. A rough estimate would be that the parents were born in the 1960s and 1970s, and experienced part of the Martial Law era, but also experienced loosened restrictions as high school and college students.

The fact that these high schools students are standing up for their rights is even more of an argument that the voting age needs to be lowered to 18. These students have educated themselves on how it will influence their education. They are fighting against the brainwashing that prior generations were subjected to as part of the national education curriculum. Perhaps this is the reason some politicians are against lowering the voting age – they are afraid of the opinions of these students.

On a more personal note, the latest news that the curriculum change included making Taiwan’s highest peak 喜馬拉雅山 (The Himalayas), not 玉山 (Jade Mountain) brought out a really adverse reaction. When I was in elementary school, I had to learn a song called 中華民國頌 (Ode to the Republic of China). It was basically in line with the history curriculum at the time: all about China. It described grasslands, the Yellow River, the Yangtze River, and, yes, the The Himalayas. I don’t remember how often I heard or sang the song, but it’s so embedded in my memory that now when I see the words 喜馬拉雅山, I remember the melody and rhythm of the song. Talk about brainwashing!

That was what life was like then. I memorized the geography of China, the history of China, and the biased view of a glorious ROC. It wasn’t until later that I learned about the atrocities of the ROC government, the fear during White Terror, and the suppression of rights during Martial Law. None of this was in my textbooks. Adults, most likely from their own experience of living through all of it, never mentioned history or politics. I have been playing catch up to learn about the geography and true history of Taiwan. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to make it up completely, but I’ll try. This is not just my story. This is the story of generations of Taiwanese who were denied the right to learn from an unbiased curriculum.

The current curriculum does cover Taiwanese geography and a more comprehensive view of Taiwanese history. Languages that were once banned in school are now being taught. The approved changes to the history curriculum turns back the clock on Taiwan’s education system and sovereignty. Everyone should be concerned about it. We already know what happened in the past and how it influenced generations of Taiwanese. As we grapple with our past, we need to make sure future generations are not subjected to the same influences.

318 a year later

永遠不忘318
永遠不忘學運的教導
永遠追求真相
永遠保護我們的家

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since students and activists occupied the Legislative Building. The social protests leading up to and including the Sunflower Student Movement have collectively increased awareness in social and political issues. Criticisms will arise in looking back and reflecting on the movement, and while we can learn from the past, we must also do what we can to protect our future.

It’s pretty clear that the increase in voting participation by the younger generation was a result of the student movement. More people became aware of social issues. People who were perhaps unclear or disinterested in politics became educated. More social groups were formed to help students return to their hometowns to vote. However, there is a lingering problem ahead.

The next general election (which will decide the president and legislature) is scheduled for January 16, 2016. Currently this runs into the middle of final exams for universities. This will severely hamper the ability of students to return home to vote. Election day is on a Saturday. Not only would students need to pay expensive Friday or Saturday fares for the train ride home, but they would also need to quickly return back to school. This is making election day an unfair disadvantage for university students.

The KMT would be at an advantage with a low student turnout since students tend to vote for the opposition party. This was very clear in the November election when the KMT did very poorly. The election date issue also comes up time and time again leading up to the presidential election.

Until this is figured out and everyone is given a fair chance to vote, we will not have a fair election. This is why the battle for our rights has not ended. We need to keep fighting against unjust situations like these and keep democracy alive in Taiwan.