Thursday, December 22, 2016

São Tomé and Príncipe Drops Taiwan, Embraces China

What was behind the move? What are the implications for Taiwan? 

The African nation of São Tomé and Príncipe on December 20 announced that it was severing diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) and establishing ties with the People’s Republic of China. 

Following the news, Taipei announced that it was immediately severing diplomatic ties with the African country and withdrawing all diplomatic and technical personnel. Taiwan now has 21 official diplomatic allies worldwide, and just two in Africa—Burkina Faso and Swaziland. 

Continues here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

One China, Many Trumps?

Panic, hope, fear and anger are all premature when it comes to Trump’s policy on Taiwan and China 

If we needed one word to describe President-elect Donald J. Trump’s policies on Taiwan and China over the past week, that word would be uncertainty. From a tradition-breaking telephone conversation with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen earlier this month, to his claim that the United States should not necessarily be bound by its longstanding “one China” policy, to his suggestion that Taiwan could be used as a bargaining chip for trade negotiations with China, Trump has both angered and reassured at once. 

This apparent inconsistency has encouraged the wildest speculation and renewed interest in the dynamics of the Taiwan Strait, leading some to conclude that a new era of opportunity for Taiwan, the isolated democracy claimed by China as part of its territory, is at hand, and others warning that Trump’s adventurism or inexperience could severely harm Taiwan’s interests by compelling Beijing to retaliate against it. 

Continues here.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Tsai-Trump Call: The Dynamics in Taiwan

Most analysis of the call overlooks a crucial component: Tsai’s own calculations and the domestic reaction on Taiwan 

The 10-minute telephone conversation between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and U.S. president-elect Donald J. Trump on December 2 — the first such conversation between a sitting president in Taiwan and a U.S. president or president-elect since Washington broke official diplomatic relations with Taipei in 1979 — has sparked reactions worldwide, ranging from consternation at Trump’s breaking with longstanding policy to hopes for deeper relations between the United States and the democratic island nation. 

With much of Western media taking the lead in presuming to interpret Beijing’s ire at news of the unprecedented congratulatory call from Tsai, the incident and its significance were quickly blown out of proportion, so much so, in fact, that Beijing, which regards Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting unification — by force if necessary — may have felt compelled to turn up the rhetoric a notch after a rather mild initial response. Taking a cue from the hyperbole in many Western media, ultra-nationalistic Chinese media soon followed suit, with the Global Times going as far as to call Trump’s team “pigs,” and suggest the need for a rapid buildup of China’s strategic nuclear stockpile to counter any “provocation” by President Trump on issues such as Taiwan. 

Continues here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Taiwan, Not the US, Will Likely Pay the Price for the Trump-Tsai Call

Weighing the pros and cons of THE CALL 

The recent 10-minute telephone conversation between US President-elect Donald Trump and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has sparked much speculation about a possible shift in US policy vis-à-vis the self-ruled democratic island nation, and the consequences of such a move on the all-important Sino-American relationship. 

At this juncture it is difficult to determine to what extent the phone conversation (and subsequent tweets by Trump) portend a change in the direction of Washington’s relationship with Taiwan, with which it has had close (albeit unofficial) diplomatic relations since 1979. It's clear the call was a boost for President Tsai’s image domestically and provided some reassurance (premature, perhaps) that President Trump will not include Taiwan in a 'grand bargain' with China. We can also be certain Trump did not take the call on a whim or due to ignorance of international relations: the potential repercussions are simply too serious. 

Continues here.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Should Washington Recalibrate Relations with Taipei?

President Trump could do a few things to normalize ties with Taiwan, but the options remain limited 

The recent storm over Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s 10-minute congratulatory call to U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump has engendered much speculation about the possibility that an anti-China iteration of President Trump could seek to establish closer ties with Taiwan. 

Whether this is what Mr. Trump has in mind is anyone’s guess and will be largely contingent on whom he appoints to key positions in his administration. In an ideal world, where morals rather than national power determines the course of history, it would be perfectly sensible for the U.S. president to more closely align his or her government with a successful, peaceful, and democratic nation-state living in the shadow of a giant authoritarian—and expansionist—neighbor. 

Continues here.

Trump's Taiwan Call: Cross-Strait Politics by Other Means

What was behind the Tsai-Trump call? What does it mean about US-Taiwan-China relations?

President-elect Donald J. Trump last week seemed to give credence to the claim that the U.S. presidency under him will not be “business as unusual” when he took a call from Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen, breaking nearly four decades of protocol and risking Beijing’s ire. 

No sooner had the ten-minute telephone conversation been made public than analysis worldwide began speculating about whether it presaged a shift in U.S. policy vis-à-vis Taiwan, the democratic, self-ruled island nation of twenty-three million people, and willingness on the future president’s part to stick it to China, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan. Not only the call itself, but a subsequent tweet by Trump stating that he had received a congratulatory call from the president of Taiwan rather than using the nation’s official designation, the Republic of China, led many pundits, along with a frenzied international media, to conclude that Trump was signaling a policy shift or, worse, that he did not know what he had gotten himself into and had perhaps been used by President Tsai, who needed to score points domestically. 

Continues here.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

My Marriage Equality Testimony (of Sorts)

As I write these words, the aircraft that is taking me to London, where I am scheduled to give three lectures this week, is flying over Kabul, and a few hours from now it will cross into the airspace of another region beset by misery and violence — the Middle East. I think of the millions of people below me and wonder how and why religious organizations back in Taiwan, my point of departure, and elsewhere can spend so much energy hating others for who they are when there is so much suffering around the world.

In recent weeks I have again written about certain religious organizations in Taiwan that have viciously targeted a group that asks nothing more than to be treated as an equal and to be allowed to love equally. What prompts me to write at 34,000 feet is the appearance at a hearing at the Legislative Yuan on Monday of Katy Faust, an American citizen who became known recently for her short video spelling the supposed nefarious effects of allowing same-sex marriage on young children. Faust, who could not have a more unfortunate surname given her conservative religious beliefs, reinforced her message at the hearing while tens of thousands of LGBTQ supporters were rallying outside.

To sum up her claims: the rights of children should trump (no pun intended) the desires of adults. Children, she says, have the “natural right” to know who their biological parents are, which presumably would be denied them by parents of the same sex. Furthermore, children reared by homosexual parents would allegedly be denied something — an undefined something whose delivery is, again according to her, gender contingent. In other words, a child raised by two women would lack half of an upbringing that is essentially and fundamentally male (and vice versa in the case of a child raised by two men). This lack, she tells us, will result in stunted individuals cognitively and emotionally.

My intention here isn’t to psychoanalyze Ms. Faust or to question the legality of a foreign citizen and non-resident of Taiwan injecting herself into domestic politics using nothing but fear and pseudoscience (this is no Jane Goodall encouraging people to be kinder to little animals; her claims are part of a campaign that aims to deny the right to form a family to a category of people based on their sexual preferences and/or identity).

The reason I write is that days before Ms. Faust made her unexpected appearance at the legislature, the LGBTQ camp approached me and also asked me if I would be willing to testify. While every fiber in my body wanted to do it, and although it would have been perfectly legal for me, a permanent resident in Taiwan, to do so, I turned down the offer because I thought it would be improper for a foreign national to play such a role. (This is also why, while I document activism and unashamedly take sides, I will never hold a placard or chant slogans.) It truly was an honor to be asked, though.

But with Ms. Faust’s scent still lingering around the lectern, I now choose to put in writing what I probably would have said had I agreed to testify for those eight minutes given me. I do it in the name of love and for all our friends out there who only ask one thing — to be treated as equals.

I was born on April 29, 1975, to wonderful, loving, heterosexual parents. I had a catholic upbringing, received first communion, confirmation, and was even an altar boy for several years. Growing up in Quebec City, a city whose mores and values are deeply affected by its long, and sometimes troubled, relationship with the Catholic Church, I chose “catechism” over the other choice given us, “morals,” in primary school. As children, we all thought there was something a little untoward with our peers who didn’t choose bible study. That’s how steeped we were in Catholicism as a culture and system of peer pressure. In my early teenage years I turned agnostic, and after reading lots of books about evolutionary science, I became an atheist. My mother’s initial reaction to my refusal to go to church spoke volumes about the conditioning that religion does on families and children, something that has crossed my mind as I monitor gatherings by groups opposed to same-sex marriage.

We had sex-ed in school. For a while, our sex-ed teacher was replaced (I forget the reason for her leave) by her brother, a man who was unmistakably effeminate and probably gay. Children being children, we made fun of him, though I don’t remember it being in any way mean. We just knew he was different. But he taught us, and nobody became or chose to become gay as a result of our exposure to this man teaching us about condoms, reproduction, and the various erogenous zones we are blessed with.

My mother was into sports: almost every day, at lunchtime, we’d throw ball (I played baseball for 11 years, all the way up to Junior AA). We skated, and we biked — you know, all that man stuff. Tennis and skiing I did on my own, however. Both my parents attended every one of my baseball games. Both were hands on and built their house together which my mother was pregnant with me. My father, an avid jogger later in life, was more the philosopher type, and from him I received a passion for history, politics, and television. We also did lots of electronics together, putting together circuits, fixing TVs and so on. Love for books — that I got from both of them. The same with long walks.

Around that same time my parents separated and eventually divorced. I stayed with my mother, and my father, who moved 250km west to Montreal, drove back to Quebec City almost every week to have dinner with me. I lacked for nothing, and I understood the circumstances. Never did I think that I was not receiving the love that I needed. As a matter of fact, I’d seen it coming. Don’t ask me why. All I can say is that children aren’t stupid, and they feel things.

A few years later, my mother came out of the closet at lunchtime, trembling like a leaf and terrified that I would stop loving her. Growing up in a small town south of Quebec City, she’d known since she was a child — didn’t choose, certainly didn’t “catch” it — that she preferred women. But her religion and environment told her that she should marry a man and “heal” herself, at a minimum forget who she was. By then (1992), her partner, recently divorced from her husband, was living with us. Did I stop loving my mother? Of course not. I told her I wanted her to be happy. Was I shocked? Disturbed? No. Granted I was 16 by then, but I’d been taught to respect others and to embrace difference, and have no doubt that my reaction wouldn’t have been any different if I’d been younger when my mother told me she was homosexual. Again, I suspected it. Children and young adults are not stupid; they feel things. My father’s reaction — acceptance — also helped a lot in how I dealt with the matter, something that cannot be said of several other coming outs.

Now, being a teenager, I did give them “the attitude” for a while, which in hindsight I do regret. But this was a normal teenager reacting to a new person in his parent’s life. That person’s gender had nothing to do with it.

All three of us lived together for a while, and eventually both of them moved to a different house while I completed college and prepared to move to Montreal for university. Overall, I would live six years in the city’s gay village, which was quite conveniently located close to my workplace and a subway station. It was a nice, affluent neighborhood; I was never harassed, threatened, let alone “brainwashed” into becoming homosexual (my typical response when asked was that both my biological parents like women, so of course I like women, too!) My girlfriend at the time, a tall blonde, would occasionally complain that nobody (at least the men in the village) was checking her out.

The first time I took the subway there (Beaudry Station) I ran into two men kissing. Ok, so what? I’d also had Pakistanis as neighbors and went to university surrounded by people of all colors, religions, and beliefs. That was why I found Montreal so fascinating, and why that city continues to have a special place in my heart.

My mother’s partner never was my second mother: she had a name, and that’s how I referred to her. And when they got married after Canada became the fourth country to legalize same-sex marriage, she became my mother’s partner, or spouse. That same year, my father also remarried. Both now live fulfilled lives with wonderful, loving women.

Using a survey, the two of them wrote a book about their experiences and society’s attitudes toward lesbians. They wrote it under pseudonyms. When my mother’s partner’s employer, a Catholic-run hospital, found out, she was expelled, sparking a legal case that dragged for years. She also left her church and went to a different branch that accepts homosexuals.

So yes, I was raised by a homosexual mother — as a child. One doesn’t become a homosexual only after he or she comes out: my mother was a homosexual mother from the day that I was born, even though it would be years before she would reveal this to me. And yes, I did live under the same roof with two lesbians for a few years. I wasn’t tainted. I am not unable, as the anti-same-sex marriage groups aver, to love or to form a family of my own because of some trauma caused by the presence of a homosexual parent.

And yet, this brings me back to Ms. Faust’s point about men and women providing different things to children. I have no doubt that they do, but not for the reasons that she mentioned. Any two individuals, unless they are clones, will offer something different to their children: thus, when a child is reared by two women or two men, that child receives stability and input from two different individuals with different paths and pasts. If I’d been raised by my mother and her female partner, I’d still have learned to throw a mean fast ball, and to skate, from her (the man stuff), while from her partner I’d probably have picked up painting or something artistic. I don’t think there is anything essentially male or female in what a parent brings to a child (of course that is different in conservative societies where women stay at home, don’t have access to high education or can’t drive a car, while the man is out providing financially for the family, but that’s certainly not the case in modern Taiwan, and furthermore those are social constructs rather than natural attributes). What matters is that tons of love, support and stability are provided, and that solid values are passed down by the parent figures. The children — they’re not stupid! — will take care of the rest. Yes, a mother and a father bring different things to a child, but that’s because they are two different individuals, and not because one has XX and the other XY chromosomes.

I have absolutely no doubt that my many gay friends who hope to create families of their own have everything they need to raise successful, open-minded, and loving children who can contribute to society. What I fear most are those parents who choose to hide the facts from their children and teach them to hate, fear, and denigrate others — that, in my opinion, is the real threat to society and, to use their own rhetoric, a threat to children.

Ms. Faust goes back to the United States. I remain in Taiwan, hoping to do my part, to the best of my abilities, in helping build this extraordinary — and extraordinarily diverse — nation.