Thu, Aug 04, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Does Taiwan genuinely respect plurality?

By Hsia Hsiao-chuan 夏曉鵑

The word “Taiwan” has recently been popping up more than usual in international news reports, but unfortunately the exposure the country has been getting amounts to a slap in the face for Taiwanese and the government.

Before he allegedly perpetrated the shocking bomb and gun attacks in Oslo, Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik posted a video on the Internet in which, besides his undisguised loathing for immigrants, multiculturalism, Muslims and Marxists, he expressed his admiration for Taiwan as a country worthy of emulation because, as he saw it, Taiwan was a successful nation state that had rejected multiculturalism.

When this news spread across the Internet, many Taiwanese made Web posts expressing their resentment and saying that Taiwan was not at all how the Norwegian murderer had described.

Government Information Office Minister Philip Yang (楊永明) quickly issued a statement to the media, in which he stressed that Taiwanese society had always respected a plurality of culture. Yang said that a democratic society should be a tolerant one in which different groups respect and appreciate one another, and that this was the kind of society that the -international community generally took Taiwan to be.

National Immigration Agency officials were also quick to assure the public that Breivik had never been to Taiwan. All this was supposedly to prove that Breivik’s remarks about Taiwan were a baseless misinterpretation.

It is true that Taiwan has never had any incidents of right-wing extremists massacring ethnic minority people or immigrants, but does our society really respect plurality and democracy, as claimed?

I have been engaged in research of, advocacy for and organization of immigrants for many years, in the course of which I have observed the attitudes and actions of official departments at various levels in relation to immigrant spouses — foreigners married to Taiwanese nationals — and migrant workers.

Before 2002, the majority of government departments simply ignored the existence and needs of immigrants. The first departments to pay them any attention were the National Police Agency and the -Department of Health, the former seeing migrant workers as potential criminals, while the latter was anxious to encourage new immigrants from Southeast Asia and China to practice birth control, supposedly out of concern that if they had too many children, it would “lower the quality of Taiwan’s population.”

Since 2002, various government departments have suddenly become interested in immigrant spouses and started promoting various related plans and policies.

This apparent “care” was really a manifestation of the aforementioned mindset that their children would lower the quality of Taiwan’s population, so most of these plans and policies were aimed at “raising the standard of foreign wives” and “lowering the chances of delayed development among their children.”

This kind of mindset, which has penetrated deep into Taiwanese society, finds expression in the words and actions of government officials.

For example, in 2004, then-deputy minister of education Chou Tsan-der (周燦德) openly called for foreign — including Chinese — spouses not to have so many children. Early last year, Hong Wen-yu (洪文裕), a teacher at a high school in Kaohsiung, insulted a female student whose mother was from Indonesia, calling her a “savage” and telling her to “go back to Indonesia.”

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