Monday, May 27, 2013

Been there, Done that - Taiwan vs. ROC vs. PRC

A few days ago, I received the following message from the Taiwanese Student Association (TSA)  from my Alma Mater:

收到新生來信說 I-20 上國籍被植為 China,他向 ISS 反應但 ISS 的回復不願意更改為 Taiwan。因此在這邊向各位尋求解決之道,傾各位提供意見」。

Translation: "Hello everyone, we received a letter from a new student stating his nationality has been listed as "China" in his I-20 visa, and the International Student Services (ISS) refused to correct his nationality after he complained.  We are requesting suggestions from [TSA] members to resolve this problem".  

The answer from the ISS was something that makes one go "Huh?" but was also infuriating to the Taiwanese students.  The response reads: 
"Since your passport states your nationality as Republic of China and your place of birth at Tainan City, your I-20 must match your passport.  If your passport is incorrect, please obtain a new passport and send us a copy so that we may update your I-20".

Does it even sound logical to the ISS employee who wrote the email that a country would issue an incorrect passport to its own citizens?

The incident was not the first time employees at the university tolerated and made the mistake of not differentiating Taiwan from China.  When I was a student, I received a complaint from the exchange students from the National Taiwan University (NTU), claiming the school was allowing international students from China to advertise NTU as one of China's universities at the Study Abroad Fair.  Upon receiving complaints from the NTU students, the Study Abroad's Office refused to admit they've made a mistake.  The answer to the NTU students merely stated, "We know Taiwan and China long had problems with each other…"  

It wasn't until I phoned and called a meeting between the university employee who was responsible for handling matters for international students from Asia, the Director of the Study Abroad's Office and the NTU students, that an apology was offered and correction was made.

I much prefer Taiwan to be just labeled as Taiwan, not as the Republic of China, even just for convenience and to avoid mistakes.  I'll leave the political debate of whether Taiwan is (or isn't) the Republic of China for another day.  Unfortunately, Taiwanese students studying abroad must constantly deal with similar situations.  

After further explanation from the new student from Taiwan with the assistance of the TSA president, the employee at ISS wrote back, 

"After doing some research, I found that you are correct. The Republic of China is not the same as the People’s Republic of China. Your country of citizenship should be listed as Taiwan. I will prepare a corrected I-20 for you. Thank you for your patience and understanding".

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Still Going: The Anti-Media Monopoly Movement pushes for Legislation

After the Next Media Deal fell through in March, the Anti-Media Monopoly advocates, including the Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters, embarked on the endeavor to ensure the passage of the Anti-Media Monopoly Law in the Legislative Yuan.  Another sit-in is scheduled this Wednesday (May 29th, 2013) in front of the Legislative Yuan, as legislators of the Transportation Committee debate over the passage of the draft. 
For the Anti-Media Monopoly advocates, the new law should protect the media workers' rights while ensuring the public interest is protected. The law should also guarantee independent reporting and prevent unfair competition among media organizations.  In other words, cable service providers with power to decide and select which channels to be aired or not should not be allowed to operate news media outlets.  The law will also create "red lines" and standard for news media and prevent those lines to be crossed.
As a close monitor of the Anti-Media Monopoly movement since last July, I look forward to see the progress (or the lack of progress) of the Anti-Media Monopoly law in this legislative session.
A few months ago, I was asked by Professor Jon Sullivan of the University of Nottingham to contribute a piece on the Anti-Media Monopoly Movement in Taiwan.  The link to the publication can be found here.  The article is also attached below with photographs from the various rallies and demonstrations. 
Media Freedom in Taiwan - The Real Threat of Monopoly

During [the lunar new year break], a group of university students traveled around Taiwan in the back of a small, old pickup truck, embarking on what they ultimately named the “To the End of the World and back Tour” (一車走天涯串聯行動). The tour covered ten major cities from Keelung to Pingtung. The students stopped in front of train stations, night markets and temples and stood on a Taiwan Beer case (instead of a soapbox) using a megaphone to address the gathering crowd on what they perceived as the dangers of media monopoly and the deteriorating quality of democracy in Taiwan.
The truck tour was the last of a series of activities and protests against media monopolization in Taiwan since last year. Starting last July, six protests were held in front of the CtiTV station building, the Want Want China Times Group, the National Communications Commission, the Executive Yuan, the Fair Trade Commission and the Legislative Yuan, all to demand appropriate government agencies and institutions fulfill their obligations to protect Taiwan’s media diversity and maintain the quality of the media.
The largest protest, in September, drew more than ten thousand to the streets of Taipei. It was the largest protest involving mostly youths, (often referred to as “The Strawberry Generation/Tribe” for their post-martial law birth-date, pleasant physical appearance and care-free attitude), since the Wild Lily Student Movement in the early 1990′s.  University professors also took part in the protest against monopolization of the media. Last December, professors from seventeen universities offered free classes for three weeks to students interested in learning about the dangers of a media monopoly to a democratic society, allowing business conglomerates to determine which news to print and broadcast.
More specifically, young Taiwanese, journalists, academics and activists are deeply concerned by the Want Want China Times Group’s plan to acquire the China Network System (CNS)  and the NTD$ 17.5 billion (USD$600 million) deal to sell the Next Media Group to two consortia of powerful Taiwanese businessmen with large financial stakes and business operations in mainland China. The young protesters, mostly university students, all of whom grew up in a democratic Taiwan, saw the aggressive media acquisitions by business conglomerates and the possible effects this might have on Taiwan’s democracy as grounds for major concern.
In particular, they objected to the influence of Tsai Eng-meng, the chairman of the Want Want China Times group, due to his very public pro-China rhetoric and political stance. A self-made business tycoon, Tsai began building his business empire in 1976, when he took over his father’s canned fish company, Yilan Foods Industrial Co. In the 1980′s, Tsai collaborated with Japan’s Iwatsuka Confectionery Company Limited to make rice crackers, and became the first successful brand of its kind in Taiwan. Tsai’s Want Want Senbei rice cracker and the successful extension of business ventures to China made him the richest man in Taiwan according to the Forbes magazine. In 2008, Tsai purchased the China Times Group, which included print media (the China Times, Commercial Times, China Times Weekly) and TV stations (CtiTV and China Television (CTV) networks).
Since Tsai’s purchase of China Times, he has been accused of interfering in editorial matters, such as firing a China Times newspaper editor who published an article labeling China’s top negotiator on Taiwan, the Chairman of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), Chen Yun-lin as “third rate”.  Tsai’s critics are even more troubled by Tsai’s consistent echoing of Beijing’s ‘party line’. In an interview with the Washington Post, Tsai said he couldn’t wait to see Taiwan unify with China, while claiming reports on the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 were not true, because “not that many people died”.  Moreover, Want Want Holding’s internal newsletter  reported that after Tsai acquired the China Times Group in 2008, he met with Wang Yi, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office minister, and elucidated that the goal of his procurement of the China Times Group was “to use the power of the media to further cross-Strait relations”.
In 2011, Tsai’s intention to acquire China Network Systems (CNS), one of Taiwan’s largest multiplesystem operators with 11 cable TV services, sparked objections from more than 800 academics, 100 civic groups and prompted the resignation of three members of the National Communications Commission, as the government sought to grant permission to Tsai’s venture. Tsai pushed his endeavor even further last year, by signing a buyout agreement to purchase Next Media Group. According to the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ), if the Want Want China Times Group acquires the print media section of Next Media, it would give the Group a 46 percent market share, effectively making it a media monopoly. The Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters, a watchdog and activist group comprised of mainly undergraduate and graduate students, deemed the hypothetical monopoly “The Media Monster” of Taiwan. Both media acquisition deals are still under review, with the latest NCC ruling being that Want Want China Times Group has not met the three conditions it set last year for the group’s acquisition of the cable TV services operated by CNS.
Media freedom and diversity have always been a struggle for the Taiwanese, from the Japanese colonial era through 38 years of Martial Law under the Nationalist Chinese Party (KMT) rule, to issues continuing through the democratic era. Under Japanese rule, Taiwan Minbao (台灣民報) struggled to stay in publication with the permission, and under the watchful eyes, of the colonial government, with the precondition that a Japanese edition be printed as well. Taiwan Minbao served as the forum for various social movements in Taiwan, ranging from farmers and workers rights to feminist movement.  Minbao was banned on March 8, 1947, soon after the 228 Massacre and the disappearance and subsequent murder of its president, Lin Mao-sheng (林茂生).  After the Nationalist Chinese government declared martial law on Taiwan, publications such as the New Frontier (前鋒), New Taiwan (新台灣), New Knowledge(新知識), The Political and Economic News (政經報) and the Taiwan Review (台灣評論) survived between a few months to a year. Lei Chen’s Free China (自由中國) in the 1950s, and the subsequent publications of the Formosa Magazine (美麗島雜誌) and The Eighties (八十年代) in the 1970s and 80s, all symbolized the Taiwan’s administrator’s desire to control political and social rhetoric and to suppress opposition views and ideologies.
Taiwan has been a democratic polity for more than two decades, with regularly held free elections, universal suffrage, multiparty competition and the alternation of political power. However, Taiwan now faces a new strand of struggle for media freedom. The monster this time, as the Alliance of Youth against Media Monsters identified, is not a colonial or authoritarian regime, but business conglomerates with great financial stakes and operations in the country across the Taiwan Strait that claims Taiwan as an inseparable part of its territory. With the majority of the population in Taiwan desiring separation from China, mass media have become an essential tool for China to improve its image with the Taiwanese people and to promote its unification policy through Taiwanese business leaders.
The Anti-Media Monopoly movement in Taiwan is showing no signs of slowing down. The National Communications Commission released a draft of Broadcasting Media Monopolization Prevention and Diversity Preservation Act (廣播電視壟斷防制與多元維護法), also known as the “media anti-monopolization act”, last week.  Members of the Legislative Yuan are now mulling over amendments to the Radio and Television Act (廣播電視法), the Satellite Broadcasting Act (衛星廣播電視法) and the Cable Television Act (有線電視法) for a better regulatory framework to deal with media acquisitions and to prevent media monopolization.
The issue of media and press freedom in Taiwan is multifaceted with interlocking political and social implications on social movements, identity, nationalism and democratic quality. More social and political activities regarding freedom of media are expected to manifest themselves in the future. So, as one popular television narrator in Taiwan often says, “Let us continue with our observations (讓我們繼續看下去)…”

Friday, May 24, 2013

Unholy Matrimony - Huaguang Community protest turns ugly

Persistent Advocacy

I arrived in front of the Executive Yuan a little before 10am yesterday morning, thinking it would be just another press conference and demonstration by the residents of the Huaguang Community and their supporters.  I decided to go and observe this particular event, because I was curious about the mock traditional Chinese wedding ceremony the students were planning, where Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) marries big land developing and construction corporations using the Huaguang Community as dowry.

As I approached the Executive Yuan, I took a quick sweeping look to examine the composition of the demonstrators and the police force.  I sensed an unfamiliarity from the police, as I saw many unrecognizable faces (as many protesters as I’ve observed in the Zhongzeng District (中正區), where most central government buildings are located, I started to recognize members of the police force) and somehow the body language from the police seemed more tense than usual.  

The press conference started out fairly routine.  One of the student leaders presented a scathing critique of the Ma Ying-jeou administration, for the law suits filed against the community residents and for imposing tremendous amount of fine for “illegally profiting” and charging back rent from the residents.  The student leader also pointed out the administration’s refusal to provide assistance in relocating the residents, who are mostly elderly and with health problems.  

After the resident representatives of Huaguang Community delivered their emotional plead, the mock wedding ceremony was on.  It was one of the most creative skits I’ve seen at demonstrations.  As the groom, in this case, Premier Jiang Yi-huah, courted the veiled bride with plot where the Huaguang Community is located as dowry, the veiled bride, who turned out to be large corporations, accepted Jiang’s courtship and reciprocated with two hands full of ghost money.  The demonstrators then sent the happy newlywed off to their honeymoon.  

The protesters then attempted to enter the Executive Yuan to deliver their banner and plead to the real premier, who was having a cabinet meeting inside the building.  Even then, this initial clash was fairly typical, with the protesters crowding together and pushing the shields of the police officers.  A few protesters were grabbing onto the shields of the police but were quickly subdued.  The students retreated back as they picked up the ghost money from the ground and threw them at the Executive Yuan.  Many students now had their backs turned to the police, as they prepared to wrap up the demonstration and to clean the ghost money off the ground.  

Then, a loud whistle pierced the air and broke the chants of the protesters and the microphone announcement of one police commander with the sign for the protesters to disburse.  Without warning, another commander ordered the police positioned in front of the gate to charge the students with their shields.  Many unsuspected students fell to the ground, as well as the tall police officer from the Zhongzeng First Precinct, who rushed between the students and the charging police to separate them.  

Meanwhile, I was standing on the sideline, photographing and taking notes to document the event.  I decided to stay further from the crowd, as I had meetings all day after the protest, and I was in a dress.  I saw something blue coming at me from my periphery vision, as I raised my camera to snap a few shots, then I felt a sharp pain on my left hand, as a shield clobbered then scraped down on my hand.  I was caught completely by surprise and almost fell to the ground.  I instinctively responded with a loud, “Ouch!!!”  As I regained my balance, I yelled at the police officer, “Are you crazy!?  What are you hitting me for!?”  The cop said nothing and turned to push other students with his shield.  I looked down and my hand was already very red and throbbing with pain.  

The pushing and shoving continued for another few minutes, as I observed two different commanding officers, both with microphones, yelling different things to the shielded officers.  

The second clash ended just as abruptly as it started.  Both sides received scrapes and scratches.  

The videos of the clash and the police charging the students can be found here, here and here (the video here has subtitles).

Some Reflection

As I examined the photographs I took after coming home, I discovered why yesterday’s protest was such a mess.  I observed three groups of copsfrom different divisions - the Zhongzeng First Predict police (中正第一分局) from the district, the Special Police First Headquarters from the National Police Agency (保安警察第一總隊), who specialized in riot-control training and were the ones charging the students, and Taoyuan County police.  

My conclusion is the two additional groups of police officers were probably dispatched to assist the district police, that somehow found itself short of working officers yesterday.  The Special Police commander’s unwise decision to go after the students escalated the situation rather than helping it.  There were miscommunication all around, different announcements being broadcasted, as the police scrambled to make sure the protesters did not enter the Executive Yuan premise.  

The force applied to the students was excessive, when the protest was obviously close to ending.  I thought the Special Police officer who decided to hit me with his shield acted unprofessionally, as I was clearly not pushing the police nor did I look like a protester (I also don’t believe they should use the shield as an instrument to hit any protester either).  The lesson l learned from yesterday is always expect the unexpected and be aware of one’s surroundings.  

After all this, there will be another demolition on May 30th, unless the Ministry of Justice decided to postpone this one as well.  The plight of the Huaguang Community persists, with the dedicated student advocates vow to stand with the residents until the very end. 

(All photograph by the author).

The Taoyuan County police putting a protester on a chokehold 
The Special Police squeezing a young student 
Students picking up the ghost money and cleaning up after the protest. 

Mr. Chiu

Monday, May 13, 2013

Destruction Delayed, Anxiety Continues - The Huaguang Community Update

Demolition Postponed 

The latest development of the Huaguang Community is that the demolition originally scheduled on May 17th, 2013 has been postponed.  The residents received notice of temporary suspension from the Ministry of Justice last Friday (May 10th, 2013) without any specifics or explanation.  According to a section chief from the Office of Secretary from the Ministry of Justice, Lu Je-Ke (盧哲科), the reason for the postponement isn’t due to the extent to which the Ministry of Justice might reconsider assisting the relocation of the elderly residents.  It is because “the student advocates and the police have all paid a price [in previous protests], and the Ministry of Justice sought to be even more effective during the execution of demolition and to avoid the frequency of protests”.

One of the houses due to be destroyed on May 17th, is the home of 90+ year-old Mr. Pan ().  Mr. Pan has been residing in his house since 1958 and worked as a security guard for the Ministry of Justice.  In the 1970s, Mr. Pan received permission from the former Director of the Taipei Detention Center, Wang Zhao-tai (王肇泰) to build an additional housing unit on Aiguo E. Road, after the residence he was assigned to began to leak.   Mr. Pan also applied for and received approval from another former director of the Taipei Detention Center to be relocated to another residence for civil servants.  Mr. Pan was never relocated.  Thirty years later, Mr. Pan and his children were sued by the Ministry of Justice and found liable for presiding on government land illegally and now have to pay two million NT dollars for “illegally profiting” from the land.  

The residents of Huaguang Community and their supporters know the delay is only temporary.  They also suspect this is yet another strategic move from Ministry of Justice to buy time and to decipher the extent to which the executioners of the Ministry can return to complete their task without being confronted, yet again, by the determined young advocates.

Meeting up with Mr. Chiu

When one comes to a demonstration or rally for the Huaguang Community, one is certain to observe a slender figure in the crowd.  He usually stays at the periphery of the crowd, moving silently from one spot to another to get a better look of the front event, usually puffing one cigarette after another.  His facial expression is often of concern and seriousness. Sometimes, he’d join the young advocates in their chants, and sometimes one could see tears swell up in his eyes. 

He is Mr. Chiu, a 72-year-old Taiwanese retired mason and construction worker.  Mr. Chiu inherited the small house he raised his four children in from his grandmother, who was a resident of the community under the Japanese Colonial Era.

I finally had a chance to catch up with Mr. Chiu for a chat last Friday (May 10th, 2013), when he joined the other community residents, academic and students for a protest in front of Taipei City Hall to urge Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin to help with the relocation of community residents and to stop assisting the Ministry of Justice’s endeavor by dispatching Taipei City police to the community. 

“We’ve been living there before the Kuomintang came to Taiwan”, Mr. Chiu exclaimed in Hoklo, “We owned the house even before there was a Nationalist government in Taiwan, so how did it become we were living illegally on their land!?  They were the ones who claimed our property illegally!”  

When I asked him about the MOJ lawsuit against him and his family, Mr. Chiu grew even more upset.  “I used to work construction.  I did masonry all my life. But, after I got my coronary stents, I could no longer lift anything too heavy, so I had to retire.  I now live on fixed income.  How am I supposed to pay the two million dollar fine the government won against me for ‘illegally residing’ on government property?”  I realized there wasn’t anything I could say to relief Mr. Chiu of his anguish.  “So what now?” I said.  “Keep fighting”, Mr. Chiu said, as he slowly taking off his Huaguang Community protest vest, “It’s just me against the system.  I have nothing to lose.  You see those politicians getting away with corruption?  They don’t go after those.  I’ve been a honest working man all my life, and they come after me”.

As I walked away from Taipei City Hall, I waved goodbye to Mr. Chiu.  Mr. Chiu called out to me, “Hey! My house is the one with orchids out front.  My son planted those.  Come see us when you have time and thanks very much for caring”. 

(All photographs by the author)

Mr. Chiu at Friday's protest

Residents of Huaguang Community demonstrate in front of Taipei City Hall (May 10th, 2013)

Official from the Taipei City Government's Department of Urban Development
receiving the letter of plead from the residents