I do not subscribe to such a one-dimensional thinking that great powers and the economy will lead to China’s takeover of Taiwan. Democracy, human rights and the true wishes of the Taiwanese people are much stronger forces. The lack of satisfaction with the current development in Taiwan is seen in the streets of Taiwan, from the writings and statements of international writers and overseas Taiwanese associations.
By Michael Danielsen, chairman of Taiwan Corner
Copyright, Taiwan Corner
This article contains the talk given at London School of Economics on November 14 2013 by Taiwan Corner’s chairman Michael Danielsen.
I feel deeply honored to be here and present a talk at this great seminar at London School of Economics and being in these historical buildings. Before I start, I would like to give a special thanks to Fang-Long Shih and to John McNeil Scott for inviting me to give this talk on the work that we in Taiwan Corner have done over the past 5 years.
For the past 15 years, I have followed Taiwan and I visit Taiwan 1-2 times per year. Today, I am commenting frequently on Taiwan related issues in Taiwan and in Denmark.
In contrast to many of you, I am not an expert on Taiwan or in Asian Studies. My professional expertise lies within IT and I have a Ph.D. in natural sciences. So, I am coming from a very different academic setting and Taiwan is a spare time activity for me
Today, I will try to walk you through my personal angle on Taiwan and the reasons to why I got interested in Taiwan and why we created Taiwan Corner. In addition, I will share with you some details about our networking, volunteers and the tools that we use in Taiwan Corner and the values that we are based on.
As the title says, I hope that you along the way will get an impression on how we are lobbying for Taiwan. Let me tell you that is great to lobby for Taiwan because no matter who is in power in Taiwan, Taiwan seems to be able to create political troubles on a daily basis. This gives us material for talking about Taiwan all the time. The reason behind these political troubles are seldom encouraging, though.
In order to lobby you need to follow these political troubles and you need to be committed and deeply interested on an almost expect level.
My main point today is that you cannot do this kind of volunteer work without the right people. People are simply everything.
Let me share with you some few personal details about myself that may help you understand why commitment, focus and coincidence are important for our work.
Commitment to something is a slow process that starts when you allow yourself to be disposed or be open to new ideas and thoughts. Hereafter the commitment develops step by step.
We are all at different stages in our lives disposed to different things. It can be religion, political courses or that the kindergarten needs a board member. If you are disposed, you may stand up and say, yes I can be a board member for a year in the kindergarten.
You may be disposed only because your kid is in the kindergarten or the reason could be you need to put some other things into your life instead of the usual routines. No matter what at one point many of us get involved in something.
I will take it a bit further. I believe that it is far too selfish and easy to live your life without giving something of yourself to others at one point in your life if you have the capacity.
Now when did I get disposed to Taiwan? I can date it to 1997 at the Lunar New Years’ day in New York City. A Taiwanese friend of mine explained carefully why he did not want take part in the New Years’ celebrations in New York City. The conversation got of course more interesting because this was in the years of serious tensions between Taiwan and China and shortly after US president Clinton send the 7th fleet towards the Taiwan strait due to China’s firing of missiles towards Taiwan.
At that time, I was interested in Asia and in particular South Korea, Japan and China. I had a very broad interest in these countries.
Finally, I guess, I could focus on one thing, Taiwan. The fact is at least that I bought my first book about Taiwan the following day. Today, I get academic stimulated by my decent collection of books about Taiwan’s history, society and various other topics. And I have also contributed with one Chapter about the identity of the Taiwanese in the book “National Identity and Economic Interests”.
You also need luck. I was lucky or I can at least say that, it was a pure coincidence that I had this Taiwanese friend in New York. You can therefore of course speculate about what would have happen if I have had a friend from Burma at this time in my life.
Through most of these years, I have been active in the Social Democratic Party of Denmark, Denmark’s version of the UK Labour party. I am still very active and I have always been particularly interested in democracy and human rights.
So it was natural for me to become political interested in Taiwan. The political interested started in the middle of the 00’s when I got increasingly frustrated at letters to the editor and various comments about Taiwan in the newspapers and at regular articles in the newspapers. What I wanted to read was not written.
Consequently, I decided to write my first letter to the editor in August 2007, which I got published together with a huge picture of Taiwan’s former President Chen. After my second letter to the editor in another newspaper, I was invited to a lunch with the local Taipei representative office. Slowly, step-by-step I got to know several people who support or who are interested in Taiwan in Denmark and later elsewhere in the world.
The association Taiwan Corner – why an association?
Why establish an association like Taiwan Corner? An association has a mission that explains why it is existing. As a private person, you cannot so clearly offer the public a mission statement that explain your goals and why you are here.
The idea of establishing Taiwan Corner came up during a Friday evening. We were six together that evening and we all felt that what should be written about Taiwan was not written. And we felt that we could do a better job. All of us had a good knowledge about Taiwan.
We wanted to create an association with a clear mission and an independent association that you can trust.
Denmark has a very liberal law regarding associations and you do not need to register an association. In order to have a professional association, we decided to establish Taiwan Corner with all the official formalities including internal rules for election of board members and supplementary board members, and Taiwan Corner is publicly registered.
We also wanted to create an efficient and flexible organization that can react quickly to new events and circumstances and therefore only three board members.
We have annual meetings at which the board members have to be elected and the budget has to be approved for the next year.
Values and position
As mentioned, we decided from the very beginning to stay independent. Therefore our views are solely our own. It also means that support that we receive cannot have string attached. Taiwan Corner decides how to use the support and which projects we would like to follow.
We also decided to be trustworthy. It means for instance that we can back up our policies and statements with clear references to sources.
Taiwan Corner’s policies and our Mission
An association has to explain why it exists. Why are you here? We decided to have three missions to explain why we are here:
1) We support Taiwan’s democracy
2) We support Taiwan’s right to membership of all international organizations
3) We support Taiwan’s right to self-determination
We had a careful discussion about the three missions.
Regarding democracy, we find that democracy is not only branding Taiwan but provide the Taiwanese with a way to discuss and develop their own country and identity and stay in the family of democracies.
Supporting Taiwan’s democracy means that we go out publicly if Taiwan’s democracy is developing in a wrong direction. That is the reason why I signed a statement recently regarding the “Wang–Ma” case and earlier have signed open letters to KMT’s President Ma.
I have also written against the DPP when it decided to support “Personal Data Protection Act” which operates with weak language as “acting in the “public interest”.
International organizations have many member states, which are tiny countries. As Bruce Jacobs has said on several occasions, Taiwan’s is a big country. Its economy and population are much larger than most of UN’s member countries. Therefore, it is only right that Taiwan will get membership of all international organizations.
Lastly, we have our support for self-determination. We believe that foreigners shall not decide the future of Taiwan and in particular China. Despite this, we believe that we can and should facilitate and support the Taiwanese’s right to determine their own future free from outside pressure. If the Taiwanese get a free choice the result will be independence.
Volunteers – People are important
So now the situation is perfect right? You have a formal structure, maybe you have some paying members, you have a website and you have a mission. Now you can start working.
Well, it is not so easy. You need people and you need the right people around you. The founders of Taiwan Corner have a close friendship and we have a great chemistry between each other. We understood from the beginning how to distribute our work among us and use our many skills to the benefit of our association.
Moreover, I am truly grateful to our loyal members who participate in our local activities and support our mission by paying the annual membership fee of around 35€. We cannot exist without our members. We try to make social activities in Denmark for our members and to gain more members.
We shall not forget that we cannot do our job if it was not for the many volunteers who work for us with translation, finding articles and helping with our newsletter. These people are located around the world. We are truly grateful for their contributions.
In essence, people do matter. You need dedicated people, people who are interested in the cause and in the mission and who have the perseverance and patience to continue the work for years. And yes, many people cannot walk the distance. But it is perfectly fine if they walk with you for some time.
As in any organizations, you need management tools. You need leadership and therefore you need someone or a group that can go forward, take initiatives and risk in order to move forward. And you need friends and chemistry between the people that you meet on your way.
When I am talking about tools, I am also referring to technical tools. We use several technical tools for communication and storing documents.
These tools are Diigo for storing articles, dropbox and the like for saving and sharing documents, e-mails, WordPress for our website, Facebook, twitter and Google plus, Skype, Messenger.
We will not get far without a solid network. A good network is vital in order to get information and stay up to date. If you only read news or research papers after publication, you are already behind. This is surely no surprise to you of course but this fact emphasizes the importance of being up to date and having a solid network.
We in Taiwan Corner has therefore used many resources on networking and meeting people in order to get news and go into dialogs about Taiwan.
When you build up your network and when you try to expand it, you need to talk with a lot people before it pays of and it takes time. It is my personal experience that you never know when you meet the right person with knowledge, with contacts, willingness to do a work and with the right personal chemistry. Consequently, you need to meet a lot of people.
Today, we are able to be in contact with politicians and journalists. In our network, we meet with Taiwanese from the two main political parties, think tanks and various other people.
In addition, we attend academic conferences and at these conferences, our purpose is to talk about the very recent research and we are not attending these conferences for lobbying purposes and not in order to get arguments that fit our mission.
Networking is essential and no matter if you like it or not, the more appropriate people you connect with the more attractive you become.
Power today is about settings the agenda and react quickly on political events and promoting interest. This requires that you have information and that you can share it.
The hardest people to network with is your own and this means other associations or groups. I feel that many groups prefer to have their own websites and that they follow their own agendas. On the other hand, it provides people with a broad array of opportunities for people and I personally do not mind the competition. However, it can hurt our common goal by not using the scarce personal resources we have more efficiency
When we look at our work in the past 5 years, it has become clear to me that there is a dormant support for Taiwan among politicians in Europe and I feel the same is the case among the public. There is widespread sympathy for Taiwan and for the Taiwanese’ challenging position in the world.
Taiwan can win even more sympathy by engaging itself in a professional public relationship strategy that can portray Taiwan as a unique and democratic country.
Why is public relationship important for Taiwan today for Taiwan? Today, nation states can no longer provide the same assurances to their citizens as before, because numerous economic decisions are taken elsewhere by companies, world unions or other international actors. They operate above governments and for this reason, governments need to create or enter trade unions, such as the EU, in which countries can obtain greater control.
This development challenges Taiwan because it is typically not invited into trade unions due to China’s obstructions. The opportunity for Taiwan is to develop an even better public relationship strategy and utilize its uniqueness, its democratic brand and its industrial background to break this trend. This is partly done by Scotland, Catalonia in Spain and Bavaria in German. They are able to brand themselves as unique and special. Taiwan has a public relationship option, which today is not used well enough by the current KMT government. Taiwan is seen as Chinese. And surprise, it is really not unique.
I can get a bit frustrated at the lack of a strong public relationship strategy because the support is there and it needs to be activated even further, also among the public.
It is also clear to me, that associations like Taiwan Corner can work in between governments and between political parties and government institutions and governments. This can consist of very simple things like personal contacts to politicians or institutions. In this way, politicians can get broader impression when they visit Europe or when European politicians are visiting Taiwan.
Taiwan Corner can also be involvement in specific cases such as when we write about the case with the young German guy who was denied entry to Taiwan earlier this year. After he was send back to Germany from Taiwan, he filed a petition against the National Immigration Agency with the help of Taiwanese lawyers. Now his ban has been lifted because the ministry of interior has admitted he is innocent and that he has been unjustly treated.
We in Taiwan Corner has also followed our democratic mission by signing open letters to President Ma and by signing the recent statement that was published in the Taipei Times and in Liberty Times about the democratic development and the Wang-Ma case.
We try to be active in the media. We have focused on writing comments in newspaper on Taiwan’s politics. We have the capacity to do this but we also believe that we by doing this can reach people who are not already “religious” about Taiwan and we can hopefully reach new people who are interested in Asia or in foreign policies.
Our comments in newspaper have focus on Taiwan’s relationship with China which is important. It our experience that two other areas are important. That is identity issues and especially the issue of being Taiwanese contra Chinese and the development or the current lack of a positive development in the Taiwan’s democracy.
One of our main missions is support of Taiwan’s democracy and therefore, it was a pleasure and vital that we in Taiwan Corner participated as an election observer organized by the International Committee for Fair Elections in Taiwan during the 2012 elections. We also assisted in writing the final report signed by the 18 election observers from 7 countries.
As mentioned earlier, I have contributed to this book “National Identity and Economic Interest” that was published last year at Palgrave-MacMillan.
I also give talks on various topics about Taiwan.
In academic settings, I have given talks about the Taiwanese identity and about Taiwan Corners’ work at conferences arranged by the European Association for Taiwan Studies. In addition, in Taiwan I have given a talk about the international impact of promoting a Chinese identify in Taiwan.
In European Parliament, I was invited to give a talk on Taiwan’s international challenges and opportunities.
Then we have the talks about my travels in Taiwan, which tends to include many pictures of Taiwan. It has been fascinating for me to share my travels with mostly elderly women at various retiree clubs but also for the Danish athletes that was going to the deaf OL in Taiwan.
Is the work important?
It is my impression that our work and network diplomacy can be used to share and address democratic issues in Taiwan and our political issues that may not be discussed that much if other actors are silence or not informed.
If others and we do not inform politicians and journalists, the right issues may not get to these people and therefore not addressed.
If we take a look at the EU policies and statements we may get an impression why it can be important to address many political issues.
If we take a careful look at the many statements from EU and politicians in the EU on Taiwan’s political developments, it reveals that EU’s has directly and indirectly supported an unsustainable policy leaning towards China and seems to have misjudged KMT’s democratic support.
The unsustainability of this policy, or lack of a clear policy, is now on display in Taiwan. Taiwan is experiencing many demonstrations among youth and other about for instance demolitions of houses, media mergers and Chinese control of media and cross strait relations. Moreover, you have a president with an approval rating at 9% which is a historical record.
Let me be more specific about the pros and cons regarding EU’s policies on Taiwan.
Regarding democratic support, it is encouraging that EU has criticized Taiwan’s directly on several accounts when Taiwan continues to execute prisoners on death row.
However, it is less heartening that EU interfered in Taiwan’s election in 2008. In March 2008, the DPP government decided to ask the Taiwanese if Taiwan should apply for UN membership under the name of “Taiwan”. EU targeted only the DPP for this proposal and not the KMT despite the fact that the KMT used “Taiwan” as well as one possible name it is referendum question.
What can we do concrete and specifically?
It is my impression that others and we can and should share and address democratic issues in Taiwan because it may not be discussed if the other actors stay silence. I am delighted, that EU is willing to listen to the less encouraging developments in Taiwan’s democracy.
This applies to the media mergers and various cases against persons in the former DPP administration and problems for European citizens entering Taiwan.
It can also be possible now to address, the deteriorating democratic development with Wang-Ma.
The cross strait policies are an area in which others and we can engage in outreach and dialog in order to balance the view.
The Cross-Strait policies of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) fits EU’s One-China policy and especially after President Ma declared in his inaugural address this year that the relations between Taiwan and China are not international relations.
EU and many of its member states have on several accounts blindly approved President Ma and the KMT government for the results on the cross strait relations. Also, the European Parliament “noted that Ma’s efforts on this front have helped to replace tensions and conflict with peace and stability” on the 100 years anniversary of the ROC.
I think only a few people cannot see the positive in dialogs between Taiwan and China and the 19 agreements that have been signed. The problem is the secrecy and the lack of involvement of the parliament and the Taiwanese people, and that the agreements have diminished Taiwan’s international trade status because they are signed outside of the WTO.
EU also has a tendency to condemn Taiwan and not China. The anti-secession law from March 2005 is one great example. EU only took “note” of China’s law despite China allow itself to use military means to take over Taiwan. But EU was hard against President Chen’s reaction to the anti-secession law, namely the abolishment of the National Unification Council a year later in 2006. The EU council did not find it “helpful in maintaining stability and peaceful development in the Taiwan Strait”.
I hope these examples clearly show the need for Taiwan Corner and others to speak out and address important issues concerning Taiwan.
Let me the end by saying that many people has told me that our mission is impossible that Taiwan’s future will be decided by the great powers such as USA and China.
I really do not believe in this. I am of the belief, that the ending cannot be determined beforehand. This applies to Taiwan’s right to self-determination. I do not subscribe to such a one-dimensional thinking that great powers and the economy will lead to China’s takeover of Taiwan.
Democracy, human rights and the true wishes of the Taiwanese people are much stronger forces, which will give the Taiwan the right to determine their own future. The lack of satisfaction with the current development in Taiwan is seen in the street of Taiwan, from the writings and statements of international writers and overseas Taiwanese associations. There is hope for a much better future but it does not come automatically.
If people in Taiwan, us here at this seminar and associations like Taiwan Corner are not raising our voices, Taiwan’s democracy and political development may not be addressed by the politician who really like to support Taiwan. And they want to support Taiwan, I feel confident about that.
Thank you for your attention.