Taking on Capitol Hill (Part 2 of 3)

At four in the morning, jet lag tripped an internal switch and I suddenly woke up.  I stared out the window at monolithic grey buildings against a grey sky. It was like a tone poem. A depressing tone poem. There was not a hint of life in any of the buildings or on the street. Just steel, cement, sky. After two hours of  contemplating how so many materials happen to be grey, I resignedly got up. It was going to be a busy day.

There were three speakers scheduled and then during dinner, I was supposed to make a presentation. First, Thomas G. Hughes, a senior executive in the U.S. Senate, gave a very interesting talk on U.S. foreign policy toward Taiwan. He was followed by I-Chun-Hsiao, who gave  a fascinating presentation on challenges and strategies for Taiwan to join the United Nations. Late in the afternoon,  Gerrit van der Wees and FAPA Executive Director Coen Blaaw talked about the history of US-Taiwan relations. The things I learned:

  • Many East Asia pundits see Taiwan as a “troublemaker.” This made me think that public opinion needs to change to China being the troublemaker. After all,  China is the one trying to unilaterally impose its will on Taiwan.
  •  In 1971, before the Republic of China was officially replaced by the People’s Republic of China, the United Nations wanted to split the China seat into two, like East and West Germany. But Chiang Kai Shek wouldn’t agree. If he hadn’t been so pig-headed, the Republic of China would have probably remained in the United Nations.
  • Now, in order for Taiwan (or the Republic of China) to be accepted into the United Nations, it has to go through several steps. The first is for a formal request to be accepted by the Secretary General. Apparently, Chen Shui-Ban wrote the formal request in 2001 but Secretary General Ban Ki Moon refused it. Interestingly, he did accept the formal request from Palestine. The second is for the formal request to be unanimously approved by all five permanent members of the Security Council. Of course, China is one of the permanent members of the Security Council so this is pretty darn unlikely.
  • Chinese Taipei” is not the only screwball moniker used to refer to Taiwan. In the World Health Organization (WHO), Taiwan is called a “health entity.” In the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), it’s a “fishing entity.” And it’s applying to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as an “emissions entity.”
  • According to the Montevideo Convention which is recognized by the United Nations, Taiwan qualifies as a state since it has (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states. But it’s not recognized internationally as a state. What would it take for this to happen?
  • There’s a Congressional Taiwan  Caucus and it’s the second largest country caucus in US Congress with 151 members who have signed up to receive additional information about Taiwan.

I-Chun Hsiao breaks it down. He was a Senior Research Associate on energy and Climate team at the United Nations Foundation.

I prepped for my presentation during lunch and so I had another hungry afternoon, although this time a bag of popcorn did not magically appear. I was supposed to speak about arts and activism, and although the subject certainly fits within the context of lobbying on behalf of Taiwan, it was also an opportunity for me to air my beliefs on the importance of the arts.

My parents are stereotypically Taiwanese in almost every way, one of which is that they have very little understanding or appreciation of the arts, seeing it as (at best) escapist entertainment or a luxury item. My father, who was in real estate, doesn’t even appreciate artists for the way they raise property values. And while the members of FAPA-YPG aren’t old farts like my folks, it still seems to me that there could be more encouragement for artists to get involved in the Taiwan cause. After all, like Thomas Hughes  said, the story of Taiwan’s democracy is really so inspiring.

A few  friends have asked how my presentation went and I’m not sure how to answer. People were mostly silent during my talk. Maybe I was just going too quickly in my New York kinda way. Maybe they were just being quiet in their Taiwanese way. When Eileen first approached me, she asked for a one-hour presentation, so I was going to make everyone sing Labor songs and perhaps perform one of Luis Valdez’s actos but then she told me that half an hour was enough, so I ended up just talking about music and theater before showing everyone some examples of how different social justice movements used the visual arts. I got some questions about the French slogans in the May 1968 posters and there seemed to be interest in the United Farm Worker posters, particularly the one with Aztec imagery. There also seemed to be interest when I explained how the Obama campaign capitalized on the United Farm Worker slogan Si Se Puede. I did get some positive feedback on the six-minute clip from the film.

After the presentation, there was music by the guitarist, Wei-Yu Chen and I wished we could have collaborated.  In Taiwan, when I interviewed Lin Xin Yi and then watched all those Green Team protest videos with him (see my blog article, The Past is Greener – Part 2), he stopped occasionally to tell me who was speaking or what they were singing. It turns out there’s a whole body of Taiwan protest music that I think isn’t passed down as much as it should be. He told me that We Shall Overcome had been translated into Chinese and then a composer had created a counterpoint version of the song that was sung during the Wild Lily Movement. He sang a snatch of it for me and it was pretty gorgeous. When I later mentioned this to Janice, she didn’t know of it. It made me want to organize a teach-in for protest music.

Wei-Yu Chen regaling the throngs at FAPA dinner.

Mark Kao, the president of FAPA, also spoke at the end of dinner and there was a lively debate about the Taiwan flag or rather the lack of a Taiwan flag. The flag that is used for Taiwan is actually the flag for the Republic of China. Many Taiwanese associate it with the atrocities that were committed against Taiwan. I don’t like the Republic of China flag, but then I don’t like any flags – basically, I find flag-waving nationalist ideology pretty repugnant – so I didn’t have a strong opinion about it until the discussion. But after listening to the debate, now I think the flag is part of a very clever bait-and-switch scheme by the Republic of China. After all, what is a flag but a symbol? And as long as a symbol of the Republic of China is accepted as Taiwan, I don’t Taiwan will ever be able to stand up as itself.

The argument to keep the ROC flag, which many people at dinner voiced, is that the younger Taiwanese generation and the international community have gotten “used to it” – in other words, the struggle to have Taiwan recognized is already so difficult, the flag issue is just an added layer of difficulty. But getting the world to recognize another flag for Taiwan would certainly be a huge step to Taiwan being recognized as its own sovereign state, and not the Republic of China. And it would be a huge step to overcoming fifty years of brainwashing and repressive politics in Taiwan.

After dinner, that fuzzy pink blanket re-appeared and slapped me around until I succumbed to its mothball smell, but this time I don’t think anyone was having a party on their floor since we were supposed to meet in the lobby at 7AM to take on Capitol Hill.

(To be continued…)

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