A few days before my June trip to Taiwan I looked up on my iPhone what the weather would be like there—well I tried to, but according to Apple I was headed to a place that doesn’t exist.
Eventually I discovered my destination under “Taipei.” There is no mention of Taiwan on any Apple products or apps because the electronics company is just one of the many U.S. companies that is caving to pressure from mainland China to refer to the sovereign island as part of “One China.”
Also just before my trip, U.S. clothing retailer Gap apologized for selling T-shirts with what it says is an “incorrect map” of China because it didn’t include self-ruled Taiwan.
“Upon the realization that one of our T-shirts sold in some overseas markets mistakenly failed to reflect the correct map of China, we urgently launched an internal investigation across the group and have decided to immediately pull back this T-shirt from all the concerned global markets,” the company said in a statement, adding that the shirts had already been pulled from Chinese shelves and destroyed.
During my layover at LAX I discovered China’s bid to reclaim Taiwan as a territory has even taken to the skies. This summer “TW” (the abbreviation for Taiwan) disappeared from arrival and departure boards at airports around the world at China’s request.
QANTAS was the first to give into Chinese “bullying” by making changes to its website and marketing materials so Taiwan is no longer listed as a separate country. Beijing is cracking down on companies that refer to the island of Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), as a different nation to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This is despite them having separate governments for 70 years, since the formation of the Communist regime on the mainland.
Airlines are motivated to stay in the good graces of China, which The International Air Transport Association forecasts will surpass the United States as the world’s top aviation market by 2020.
And so it came to be Christmas in July for Beijing when American Airlines and Delta updated their websites on July 25 to show they fly to Taipei, with no mention of Taiwan. A few hours earlier, both websites offered flights to “Taipei, Taiwan.” United also removed references to “TW” from its website, dropping country designations for all cities in Taiwan and China.
So it was before I had even landed in Taiwan (which is a real place btw, just ask the 23 million people who live there), that I became aware of the pressure its under from its domineering “motherland.”
When my media delegation entered the lobby of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs we were greeted by the flags of the 18 countries that are diplomatic allies with Taiwan. Just a month earlier there had been 20 flags on display. Giving in to relentless pressure from communist PRC, the Dominican Republic broke ties with Taiwan on May 1 and Burkina Faso followed on May 24. At that rate of attrition there won’t be any flags in the lobby a year from now.
As an American I naturally looked for the stars and stripes, but they weren’t in the line up. Official relations between Taiwan and the United States ended in 1979 when the U.S. recognized Beijing. We have an unofficial relationship that involves the establishment of the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States.
Diplomats say our policy of “deliberate ambiguity” between the U.S. and Taiwan is important to stabilize cross-strait relations. In other words we’re keeping our relationship on the down low as to not upset China. “Sorry, you mean the world to me, but we need to maintain ‘deliberate ambiguity’ so we don’t upset my wife.”
Yes, to me it seems we are keeping Taiwan as a mistress—and is usually the case in these situations, she deserves better.
The second day I was in Taiwan, a new $255.6 million AIT compound was dedicated (I guess my invitation got lost in the mail), a big reinvestment in our relationship with Taiwan that again feels like setting up our someone “on the side” in her fancy new place.
At the dedication, US Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce spoke of the “wide affection Americans have for Taiwan across the political aisle, in the executive and legislative branches alike, at all levels of government and throughout American society.”
When with Taiwan we express our affection for her, but we don’t invite her when the whole global family gets together. With a population equivalent to Australia, Taiwan is the most populous state in the world not represented at the United Nations.
“While Taiwan’s valuable contributions have been widely acclaimed around the globe, the UN continues to ignore what Taiwan can offer,” wrote Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu as the 73rdGeneral Assembly convened in September. “The UN has refused to accredit Taiwan’s journalists covering its meetings and activities, yet the work of such people is in the interests of the people of Taiwan and the world.”
As a reporter and a journalism instructor, it is my informed opinion that when people don’t want reporters around they have something to hide.
“Over the past years, China has been lobbying in every possible way to isolate Taiwan on the international stage, including preventing its journalists from doing their job,” writes Reporters without Borders secretary general Christophe Deloire in a Sept. 19t, 2018 letter calling for the UN “to accredit all journalists of good faith, regardless of their nationality or the place of origin of their media.”
A Work in Progress
On my last day in Taiwan during a visit to the Central News Agency, I puzzled a room of journalists by asking if they had any equivalent to the freedom of the press provided to American journalists by the First Amendment.
“No, nothing like that,” finally answered Jenjey Chen, editor in chief of the government-funded news agency.
Like many freedoms in this fledgling democracy, free speech is not an absolute. During my visit the government was discussing putting people in jail for three days as punishment for sharing “fake news” on Facebook.
People are officially allowed to protest, but only in a controlled manner. During my visit, huge barbed-wire barricades were erected around government buildings in anticipation of protests to changes in government worker’s pension plans.
When the generation of Taiwanese who have known only democracy (refered to as “natural independents”) stage peaceful protests in defense of their freedoms, the press on the mainland write about the “chaos of democracy.”
Democracy is messy, more so than ever in the United States. Since the early morning hours of Nov. 7, 2016, I’ve struggled with being a part of a country that elected someone like Donald Trump to our highest office. And while I still struggle everyday with the actions of our president, my trip to Taiwan restored my belief in the system of government that elected him.
Taiwan deserves the promise of Democracy: that there is always another election ahead.