A total misreading of the situation in Taiwan by an official with China’s Association of Relations across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) should come as no surprise, but it is still dispiriting, given the extensive number of Chinese delegation visits promoted under former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration.
A misogynistic opinion piece in the Xinhua news agency-run International Herald Leader on Tuesday criticizing President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was quickly pulled from Chinese Web sites, but no one who knows how tightly the Chinese media is controlled should be in any doubt that some people at high levels initially thought it was a good idea.
The commentary by People’s Liberation Army Major General Wang Weixing (王衛星), a “senior scholar” at the Academy of Military Sciences and an ARATS member, said that because Tsai is unmarried, she is extreme, emotional, prone to radical action and focused on short-term goals since she does not have “‘the burden’ of love, family and children.”
Wang also claimed that Tsai was insecure because her father had had several wives, and then criticized her family’s connections with Japan during World War II and her fondness for Japanese rice balls.
Wang’s commentary, headlined “Exposing Tsai Ing-wen,” only served to expose the rampant sexism that remains at the heart of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), despite Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) oft-quoted aphorism that “women hold up half the sky” and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) pledge at the UN in September last year to promote gender equality.
While the lives of girls and women have changed tremendously in the past several decades in China, women remain conspicuous by their almost total absence from the CCP politburo and their omission from the party’s top organ of power, the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, in contrast to their increasingly prominent role in Taiwanese politics.
That a female politician should come under misogynistic attack is not uncommon in many countries in this day and age, whether on social media or publicly — as in the case of the ramblings of a Republican presidential hopeful in the US — and the vitriol in Wang’s writing did not rise to the level seen in so much of the trolling and shaming of females on the Internet and Twitter.
Unfortunately, such incidents have not been rare in Taiwan either, for those who remember how one-time democracy activist Shih Ming-teh (施明德) in April 2011 said Tsai should “clarify” her sexual orientation before the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chose its candidate for the 2012 presidential election, or who remember the insults and mocking heaped upon former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) while in office or during her years as a lawmaker.
However, while Tsai’s decision to focus on a career over marriage and a family might have been questioned since she entered politics, her sex and marital status were clearly not an issue for a majority of Taiwanese voters in January.
While the Presidential Office and the DPP’s ignoring of Wang’s commentary showed it the contempt it deserved, it was heartening to see how quickly and heartily he was condemned by average Chinese and Taiwanese.
Wang said China’s dealings with Tsai would basically be a contest of will and wisdom.
He showed little of the latter, while Tsai has, throughout her career and in her resurrection of the DPP and two presidential campaigns, shown just how much willpower she has.
Personal attacks come with the territory for those in political life and this incident is unlikely to be the last blast from Beijing. However, more worryingly, it showed just how little those in ARATS or positions of power in China understand Taiwan or Taiwanese.
It is that kind of stupidity that will cause trouble, not Tsai.
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