Still missing: expat humility
Were it not for continued US military protection over the past six decades, Taiwan would likely have been forcefully absorbed by China long ago. Given these circumstances, it is unrealistic to suggest policymakers and academics abroad should not have any direct role in determining Taiwan’s future (“More expatriate humility, please,” Sept. 29, page 8).
Taiwan’s ambiguous political status has far-reaching geopolitical implications, many of which are beyond the preferences of the Taiwanese.
I wholeheartedly agree that, in a perfect world, “the battle for Taiwan’s future [would belong] to one people and one people alone: the Taiwanese,” but the reality is more complex than J. Michael Cole implies. There are indeed many non-Taiwanese policymakers and thinkers — particularly in Beijing and Washington — who have an important role to play in maintaining peace and stability across the Strait, while working toward a permanent solution.
It is through the trilateral relationship between Taipei, Beijing and Washington that the future of Taiwan will likely be decided.
With all due respect Mr Cole, it is you who needs to learn some humility. I am shocked and disappointed that a fellow Canadian would espouse such a pontificating stance. Your editorial was no doubt directed, not at those who don’t really care about this country, but those who do so deeply. Does the fact that we weren’t born here or don’t have citizenship preclude us from having an opinion? You seem to suggest the cross-strait situation is far too nuanced for us — except you, evidently — ignorant foreigners to fully understand. We long-term residents have just as much a right to voice our opinions as any citizen. Many of us have studied the situation and hold opinions that reflect our values and backgrounds.
In fact, many of our views have developed because of the Taipei Times itself. Not a day goes by without an editorial to the left or a cartoon above your very letter that voices outrage at the denigration to Taiwan’s dignity by the forces of appeasement. Maybe more Taiwanese would be more vocal about the outrages the People’s Republic of China continues to perpetrate against Taiwan if they knew there was more support for a homegrown constitution.
You mention the Spanish Civil War; as an educated Canadian, I’m sure you’re aware that 721 Canadians fought and died serving in the MackenziePapineau Battalion, not because they were Spanish, but because they loved liberty and democracy, as do those who speak of their love for Taiwan now.
Would you suggest non-Canadian residents of Canada not voice their opinions about Canadian matters that affect them? From my point of view, it is you who is being arrogant to suggest I keep my mouth shut. Sometimes, just sometimes, people need to be outraged.
This probably fits the “Did I miss something” department, but it was with surprise that I read Cole’s recent op-ed piece. Granted that as a deputy news editor at the Taipei Times, Cole has a fairly secure pulpit from which to lecture the expatriate community, but I am left wondering at what occasioned his recent outburst. It reads like the “Confessions of a high-road addict.”
Other questions also arise: Is it necessary to bring in local writer Wendell Minnick to support his view? Does the reference to “Japan expert” John Dower’s critique of [Ernest] Hemingway mean that one should only express a comment if it will make a difference in history? One can certainly grant that Hemingway promoted his own “macho” image, but an alternative viewpoint could be that while he may not have directly impacted the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway did write a great novel about it (For Whom the Bell Tolls) and he did make many outside Spain aware of the many nuances in the conflict as well as the conflict itself.
I would venture that there may be a tinge of jealousy in Dower that Hemingway’s work is more famous than Dower’s Cultures of War. As I said, I may be missing the back story to Cole’s piece, but it does seem he is crossing the line in using his position to promote what he feels people can or cannot express their opinions on.
J. Michael Cole responds:
I invite readers who claim that I was telling expatriates and migrants that they cannot voice any opinion and should “shut up” because they are not Taiwanese to re-read my article. What I suggest is simply more humility when we do so, whether we’re English teachers passing through for a couple of years, some “expert” at a reputable think tank, or a migrant who has made Taiwan his or her home.
As a journalist and columnist, I believe I owe it to my readers to demonstrate that I will not shy away from revisiting my assumptions, even when doing so proves that I have been wrong in the past. I would much rather sound contradictory than show signs of a stagnant mind.
The exercise of journalism is a learning experience and its practitioners, those who take the profession seriously at least, will inevitably be changed by it. The op-ed was part and reflective of my ongoing effort — and yes, struggle — to get closer to the “truth,” without any pretension of ownership.
In no way was this an attempt to “appease” the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) following their attack on my person last month, or the leadership in Beijing, or to insult fellow expatriates. Rather, it is part of my endeavor to find the best voice possible to communicate with those whose identity and survival is at stake.
We all have a right to voice our opinions, but if we decide to become “involved” in Taiwanese politics, I contend that we should pause for a second and think about how our prescriptions are construed and digested, or whether they are even welcome, by Taiwanese.
Over the years I have had the honor of interacting with a great many Taiwanese military officials, politicians, academics and ordinary citizens, and during that time I have paid close attention to how they interact with expatriates. It has become evident to me that in many instances expatriates and Taiwanese were talking past each other when the former believed that we can “help” Taiwanese make policy decisions, decide who to vote for, or define their identity. Either expatriates were “right” and Taiwanese are always wrong, or there’s something we in the first category didn’t get.
If we’re seriously committed to participating in the Taiwan experiment, I think we owe it to ourselves — and to the principal subjects, the Taiwanese themselves — to question our assumptions and not immediately take it as a personal insult when we are told that we might be getting it wrong.
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