Tue, May 16, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Taiwan: Bubble tea nation

An international audience learned about issues as diverse as the 228 Incident and bubble tea thanks to a radio program on the weekend

By Tony Phillips  /  Contributing reporter in London

Taiwan: An Island History will be aired tomorrow as part of the BBC World Service program The Forum.

Photo: Chen Yan-ting, Taipei Times

Taiwan was in the spotlight on Saturday with BBC World Service program The Forum focusing on the nation in its weekly broadcast, which is also available online.

BBC diplomatic correspondent and presenter Bridget Kendal was joined by Dafydd Fell and Chang Bi-yu (張必瑜) of the Centre for Taiwan Studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Chinese political scientist Cherry Yu of the London School of Economics and historian Emma Teng (鄧津華) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.

The first part of the 40 minute-long program, Taiwan: An Island History, provides a general overview of the nation’s geography and history, with the second looking in more detail at Taiwan’s relationship with China and its diplomatic isolation.

Teng highlights the nation’s natural beauty but is also keen to point out the groundbreaking election of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), something she describes as a “feminist political miracle” that contrasts with the lack of a female president in the history of her native US.

Listeners are then treated to a clip of an Amis song as well as eyewitness accounts of Taiwan in the 17th century and the 228 Incident.

A theme running through the program is identity. Fell highlights surveys over the years that indicate a huge shift away from Chinese self-perception, with Chang and Teng also talking about a distinctive Taiwanese identity.

Yu takes a very different view, asserting that Taiwan struggles with its identity and questions whether a unique Taiwanese identity exists at all, adopting a markedly more China-centric view.

The program concludes with the guests outlining their thoughts on the nation’s future.

Yu sees a cool cross-strait political relationship in the short-term but strengthening economic ties due to China’s economic growth. She says that China-Taiwan relations will serve as a good barometer for China-US relations.

For Fell, their different political systems look set to keep Beijing and Taipei apart. He foresees some tensions over the next few years but nothing to match the levels of, for example, the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis.

While not completely ruling out the possibility of unification at some point in the future, Chang says the ball is in China’s court, stating that the current situation is tolerable for both sides. For her, any moves toward unification will be largely dependent on self-reflection in Beijing and whether a situation could exist in which Taiwanese may be willing to throw in their lot with China.

Teng sums things up by drawing an analogy with a Taiwanese global phenomenon, bubble tea. She points out that tea came from China, milk from the West, that the ice in the beverage is needed to cope with Taiwan’s steamy climate and that the tapioca that forms the “bubbles” was introduced by trade from the New World. Thus, Teng sees the drink as symbolizing the diverse global cultural strands that have been active in Taiwan for centuries.

Taiwan: An Island History is available on BBC World Service radio, the BBC’s international radio station, until tomorrow. For more details go to www.bbc.co.uk/worldserviceradio/help/faq#faq.

The program is also available online on its own Web page, www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0523ggc or via The Forum homepage bbcworldservice.com/forum

A free podcast/download can be found at: www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/forum or through iTunes: itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/forum-a-world-of-ideas/id284278990?mt=2)

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