Taiwan

Gay and Asian and a New Zealander

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I wrote the following piece which was published in New Zealand’s only LGBT-focused magazine, Gay Express, titled ‘Gay and Asian and a New Zealander‘.

taiwan-nz-gay

Max Lin writes from his unique perspective as a gay Taiwanese migrant, on the issues the GLBT community must still address in order to become more inclusive.

Moving to New Zealand, at the age of six, was probably the single most life-changing moment in my life. People tend to underestimate the power that moving to a new country can transform someone. I cannot conceptualise who I would be. I probably wouldn’t be able to speak English, have the same opportunities, and I wonder if I would even be able to acknowledge that I am gay – to myself, my family, and to my friends. For this, I am grateful – one of the proudest moments is when I walked across the stage in the town hall and became a New Zealand citizen.

I love this country and I believe we can make it a better place.

Being ‘gay’ and ‘Asian’ while growing up in New Zealand has often required me to navigate the demands of multiple ‘identities’. However, I struggled as I tried to capture to complexity behind what it even means for someone just to be ‘gay’ or ‘Asian’ in New Zealand. I want to believe that my experience is not merely the product of reductive notions of each community. I wondered in what ways self-identification is an intrinsic part of who we are, or simply an insidious process of unconsciously trying to perform the expectations of those identities.

It might be easy to come to the conclusion then, that labels are meaningless – that somehow we are all individuals and equal. I wanted to believe that labels are just fictional constructs; that I am free to be who I am – but I know this is not true.

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Linshui Protests: China’s Paradoxical Approach to Protest Coverage

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This piece is written about the protests that are currently unfolding in Linshui, China.

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Chinese police clashing with protesters. Source: Weibo

A violent protest erupted in China yesterday following the demonstration of thousands of people at the displeasure of the government’s decision not to build a high speed rail through the city of Linshui that would have been key to its development. Despite the lack of media coverage, I thought I would write my thoughts. The response of the Chinese government warrants special attention as China in the past year has not hesitated to express its own ‘concern’ about the protests that exploded in Baltimore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Chinese residents were seen hurling rocks at swathes of police, foreign journalists were assaulted and detained, and Chinese SWAT teams were deployed to ‘maintain order’. The pictures and videos show a backdrop of half-completed concrete buildings, and the squads of armoured police evokes a comparison to what is currently happening in disaffected parts of the United States.

The Linshui protest is interesting, because it is a ‘pro-development’ instead of an ‘anti-development’ protest. The largest protests in recent Chinese history have so far been against the fast pace of growth and the associated environmental degradation. However, this time it was sparked by the  decision to build a shorter but cheaper high speed rail around the city instead of through it. This is a superpower which has so far maintained domestic order primarily by trading civil rights for economic development, and the promise of that is being challenged here.

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Who am I? Moving to New Zealand and Navigating my Asian Identity in New Zealand

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Below is an article which I wrote for my friend Asher Emanuel for his publication Ours. You should check it out. It contains different perspectives of young people leading up to the New Zealand General Election in 2014.

photo-asakid

Max Lin and his family moved to New Zealand from Taiwan when he was very young in search of a fresh start. But being Asian in New Zealand has brought its own challenges. Now at uni, Max hopes that New Zealand can still live up to the qualities that brought him here in the first place. 

When I was six-years-old my father told me that we would be moving to New Zealand. I didn’t actually question why at the time; neither did I think about what it would all mean. To me as a child, it merely felt like we were going on another holiday – I went through the motions of life and jumped on a plane with my mother, sister and brother. Except this time we would stay here.

My mother had to give up her job as a pharmacist in Taiwan to look after us. My dad had to stay and work in Taiwan despite being a haoemodialosist because his licence would not be recognised here. I know many families who gave up their jobs, left their friends and their culture so that their children would have a better life. I wasn’t allowed to tell any of my friends and extended family that we were leaving (not even my grandparents) because it would jeopardise my parents’ employment and my grandparents would not ‘allow’ it. My parents did not really explain why at the time. They just told me it was a secret and I treated it like a game.

I had never received formal education in Taiwan, so going to school was always going to be a new and frightening experience. This was all the more confusing with was so much going on in my head—I used to think in Mandarin Chinese, and it was impossible to articulate my mind in what would be my third language. I was extremely shy and for the first few years my report card at school was filled with “poor” and “average” ticks.

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Reflections on the Umbrella Revolution and (the state of) Hong Kong

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Below is a post from my Facebook on 1 October 2014. This post has also been edited by Ana Lenard and published as an article in Craccum Magazine, the official student magazine at the University of Auckland.

umbrella man

You must all pay attention to Hong Kong.

The first thing to say is that not everyone is born into a democracy. I was lucky enough that a few years after I was born, a technocratic and progressive elite in Taiwan held the first presidential election just before I moved to New Zealand (after lifting what had been “the longest imposition of martial law by a regime anywhere in the world” at the time and ending one party rule). While I have not experienced its oppression (although my parents and grandparents speak of it), I do remember the opposition winning for the first time when I was a child, and also casting a vote in what would have only been its fifth election when I was old enough to vote (20). Taiwan owes its democracy now partially to a student movement that pressured the government to liberalise.

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Reflections on the Occupation of the Taiwanese Parliament (Sunflower Student Movement) over the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement

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Below is a post from my Facebook on 19 March 2014.

taiwan parliament occupied

I don’t usually write long posts on Facebook, but here is a bit of introspection.

I lived in Taiwan during the formative years of my childhood, and with my family still there, naturally I would care about what is happening in my country. I write this with mixed emotions. Even now I feel weird referring to Taiwan as a country. Because many people will no doubt correct me that ‘No, Taiwan is not a country’ – ‘because it is not part of the UN’, ‘did you not know that your government still claims jurisdiction over mainland China?’, ‘It is part of China’ or ‘It is China’. I am not here to debate technicalities; please spare me things which I already ‘know’, and have lived my life trying to understand and reconcile. I merely ask the question: how do I refer to the place I am from, if not a country? I have always ‘felt’ like it was a country, and it has the semblance of one. For the sake of political correctness, should I be calling it Taiwan, China, Republic of China – depending on who I am talking to? Even the above feels like a crude summary. I believe this crisis of identity has been something that has affected my Taiwanese friends as well.

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The Real China: Taiwan’s Cross Strait Agreement and Realism

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The Real China: Taiwan’s Cross Strait Agreement and Realism

Max Lin, 1635489, University of Auckland, 24/03/2014

How do we reconcile Taiwan’s recent parliament occupation to protest the Cross Strait Service Agreement with realism?

With international spotlight on Ukraine and Russia, this blog post would like to turn towards what is happening in Asia, particularly Taiwan (Republic of China). On 18 March 2014, a group of students stormed past police and occupied the Taiwanese parliament. This is the first time in Taiwan’s young democracy that its citizens have occupied its parliament, and the event is still unfolding as this blog is written.

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/19/world/asia/taiwan-student-protests/

Image courtesy of the Diplomat: Inside Parliament.

More than 200 people, mostly students, occupy Taiwan's parliament building in Taipei on Friday, March 21, to protest the ruling party's push for a trade pact with China.

Image courtesy of CNN: Taiwanese protesters occupying parliament.

Exposition

What was the nature of these protests? How can we make sense of them using international relations theory? These protesters demand that the Taiwanese government reject a trade deal signed previously between Taiwanese and Chinese government (yet to be ratified by parliament) earlier that year, which many deem as unification by stealth. They claim that the deal would benefit large businesses at the expense of Taiwan’s small and medium sized businesses and would allow China leverage over Taiwan, hence undermine Taiwan’s sovereignty. The protest has both substantive and procedural elements to it, claiming the agreement is both damaging and unconstitutional.

The focus of this blog post will be classical and structural realism: knowledge of the three assumptions and six principles will be assumed.

Is Taiwan or should Taiwan be considered a country, and how does it inform our understanding of realism?

Realism is based on three key premises: statism, survival and self-help. This is not a piece advocating or opposing Taiwan’s moral status as a country, but rather what this ambiguity means for political theory. Statism argues that states are the primary actor, and all other actors and concerns are subsidiary. This question therefore is an a priori enquiry, before any further questions on the applicability of realism can be considered, and thus carries normative weight, and not just the descriptive value of theoretical modelling. For example, when we say ‘Russia is merely reasserting its sovereignty over Crimea’ versus ‘Crimea seceded from Ukraine and ceded sovereignty to Russia in accordance with the will of the people’, we are making different value judgments despite the “act” being the same. The key here is to highlight the nexus and the tension between the purported neutrality and amorality of realism vis-a-vis its prescriptive implications.

Therefore, applying realism and assuming the condition of anarchy, and that power is sought to preserve the state, communists and nationalists who wish for unification, would see Taiwan as a renegade province. Therefore in this case China would merely be reasserting its sovereignty over or exercising jurisdiction and leverage over its own territory (not unlike a fiscal union or federalism over an highly autonomous region, or China’s one country two systems with Hong Kong) – realism would appear to be a non-starter, or at least one where it is only one state consolidating power internally . On the other hand, if Taiwan is deemed a state, it would be a bilateral agreement for mutual gain. The takeaway from this is that, before we can ask why a definitional assumption is or should be applied, we must ask how to apply it.

Taiwan Parliament Occupied by protesters 1st time in History

Image courtesy of CNN: Chinese business cards photographed by protesters after occupying one of the Taiwanese minister’s office.

How does economic cooperation fit into the framework of realism, and how do variables such as sovereignty, treaties and international institutions affect this?

International relations theory often focuses on military conflicts, but how does trade fit into the framework of realism? If we accept the three premises of Statism, survival and self-help and the assumption of anarchy, is trade prima facie an objection against realism and an affirmation of the cooperation and institutions central to liberalism?

Not necessarily. This critique is often made because realism is often associated with mercantilism or economic nationalism. However, that politico-economic relationship need not exist. Consistent with realism, Taiwan could be acting to ‘help’ itself in an ever competitive global market. Moreover, if we take anarchy, self-help and survival to its logical extremism, states would regress into autarkies. This would of course be a misrepresentation. The more nuanced approach would be to consider Taiwan’s trade deal with China as one that is necessary under structural realism, one that might be regrettable, but the trade-off of any sovereignty is required because of the incentives that exist in a world which needs to trade with China. We can see this by other counter-balancing moves by the Taiwanese government, for example recent free trade agreements with New Zealand and Singapore, and efforts to join the TPPA, as well as the fishing agreement reached with Japan in the Senkaku, in an attempt to balance against China’s growing leverage and clout.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/23/us-taiwan-protests-idUSBREA2M03220140323

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou speaks during a news conference about protesters' occupation of Taiwan's legislature, at the Presidential Office in Taipei March 23, 2014. REUTERS/Minshen Lin

Image courtesy of Reuters: Ma-Ying-Jeou addresses press on the importance of the Cross Strait Service Trade Agreement.

Of course we could argue that there are other historical and ideological reasons for this trade agreement, for example unification. However that is beyond the scope of this discussion.

Non-state actors, such as corporations and protesters, appear to be influencing state decision-making, how can this be reconciled within our understanding of realism?

To briefly cover this, even if corporations were lobbying the Taiwanese government to sign the trade agreement, the chief beneficiary would still be the Taiwanese state which relies on the activity and scope of these companies to compete with conglomerates such as South Korea’s own chaebol. Accordingly, it is still in the state’s best interest.

Image courtesy of BBC: Citizens barricading themselves against state police.

President Ma-Ying Jeou also spoke publicly about the protest, saying the agreement is too important for Taiwan, thus the actions of protesters appear to be minimised.

Conclusion

This blog explores three theoretical underpinnings of realism in relation to one of Taiwan’s contemporary events: firstly, how do we define the boundaries of realist enquiry, for example what a state is; secondly, what is the relationship between trade and realism; finally, how non-state actors such as corporations and protest movements operate within a realist framework.

References:

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/19/world/asia/taiwan-student-protests/

http://thediplomat.com/2014/03/opponents-of-cross-strait-trade-pact-occupy-taiwans-legislature/

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/23/us-taiwan-protests-idUSBREA2M03220140323

http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2014/03/politics-taiwan

http://www.nzcio.com/taiwan/relationship-between-new-zealand-and-taiwan/anztec-economic-cooperation-agreement

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/01/17/national/japan-owns-senkakus-taiwans-lee/#.Uy-cUvmSzvQ

http://thediplomat.com/2013/11/taiwan-singapore-fta/