WHO’s early coronavirus response raises awkward questions about Beijing relationship

Good in-depth article:

In the early afternoon of Jan. 31, the lead World Health Organization representative in Beijing held a video briefing to update diplomats on the spread of a deadly new virus – and to laud China for everything it was doing.

Only a day before, the WHO had declared a “public-health emergency of international concern” over the deadly new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, after an initial outbreak in China’s Hubei province began to spread around the world. The WHO also said no restrictions on travel or trade were necessary.

On the video briefing, the WHO’s top man in China, Gauden Galea, praised the Chinese virus response. Then he went a step further, calling on other countries not to step out of line with the WHO recommendations, a key concern for Beijing, which was furious that countries were beginning to close their borders to Chinese travellers.

Any United Nations member country “will have to scientifically justify” any measure that “goes beyond UN recommendation. This justification will be made public,” Mr. Galea said, according to notes of the meeting made by one of the participants and seen by The Globe and Mail.

It amounted to a warning from the WHO, said the person, whose identity The Globe is not disclosing because the source is not authorized to speak publicly. And it was directly in line with messages from Beijing, which in subsequent days said it “deplored” countries that ignored WHO recommendations and enacted travel bans that, according to Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, “sowed panic among the public” and “gravely disrupted” trade.

Now, with the virus rapidly spreading across Canada, new questions are being asked about the WHO’s relationship with China and whether the organization has sought to curry favour with Beijing – for access or money – in ways that have undermined the reliability of its advice.

In 2003, the WHO vocally criticized Chinese leadership for covering up the initial spread of the virus that caused SARS. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the organization has pointedly refused to denounce China’s concealment of information, even after it became clear that authorities in China had muzzled doctors.

In mid-January, the WHO said it had no evidence of person-to-person transmission of a virus that has subsequently shown a remarkable ability to spread through communities. And the WHO has relied on Chinese official data even when their veracity have been called into doubt – most recently by the U.S. intelligence community, which believes China deliberately manipulated numbers to mask the severity of its COVID-19 toll.

The trustworthiness of the WHO is a particular concern for countries like Canada, where public-health leaders have sought to follow WHO recommendations despite internal warnings about the reliability of information coming from China. On Thursday, Ms. Hua sought to deflect concern, saying, “China has been giving open, transparent and timely updates to the world.” Rather than listen to those accusing China of a cover-up, she said, “we should listen to the WHO.“

But concern about the relationship between the WHO and China has grown more intense as the virus pandemic claims tens of thousands of lives, bringing new attention to early failures in detection and containment. The WHO cannot work in China without Beijing’s support, and the organization has won praise for its more recent advocacy of strong measures to counter COVID-19.

Still, Mr. Galea’s admonition in late January only added to worry that the WHO was prioritizing the interests of China over those of other countries.

The WHO, in a statement, said Mr. Galea in the January briefing “referred to the sovereign right of all countries to take the measures they see fit.” But to some in attendance, his admonition only added to worry that the WHO was prioritizing the interests of China over those of other countries.

“National governments didn’t get warned as urgently as perhaps they could have by World Health officials about the severity and potential for non-containment of the virus,” said Andrew Lakoff, an anthropologist of science and medicine at University of Southern California Dornsife. A key question now is: ”What did the WHO know and why didn’t they earlier and more urgently warn other member states?” he said.

Andrew Cooper, a professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ont., who studies global health governance, is blunt: For WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “his priority is to maintain good relations with China.” Beijing has provided more cash than Washington to the WHO COVID-19 response. But China remains far from the largest contributor to the WHO, giving less than 10 per cent of what the United States provided last year.

Beijing, however, has made concerted efforts to increase its influence at key international organizations, and the WHO missteps on COVID-19 have brought that into striking relief.

The “evident bias” in favour of China at the WHO “matches the weakness of other UN organizations in the face of China’s powerful campaigning,” François Godement, senior adviser for Asia at the Institut Montaigne, wrote in a recent internet post. Once China itself began to act decisively against the virus, the WHO became a valuable clearinghouse for information, he wrote. But a key question for the WHO remains “how to lessen the impact of a relentless authoritarian regime.”

Canada has publicly expressed confidence in the WHO. Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu initially said Canada would follow WHO advice to avoid travel bans, saying “there isn’t evidence” for their effectiveness. It was not until March 18 that Canada closed its borders to most foreigners.

On Thursday, Ms. Hajdu said “there is no indication” that China has falsified data about virus infection and death rates, and accused a reporter of “feeding into conspiracy theories” for questioning the accuracy of Chinese data – and the WHO information that relies upon China.

Chinese authorities have themselves admitted that, until recently, their numbers of confirmed cases did not include people without obvious symptoms. Even in China’s tightly controlled media, numerous questions have been raised about the accuracy of China’s numbers, particularly after photos from coronavirus epicentre Wuhan showed large numbers of boxes containing cremated remains.

It’s a question that has been raised at the highest levels in Canada, too.

Beginning in late January, the Prime Minister’s Office received internal warnings questioning the reliability of China’s reporting on the spread of the virus epidemic, according to a person with knowledge of the information shared internally. The Globe is not identifying the person because they are not authorized to make public comments.

Canada had long since lost some of its own ability to independently scrutinize information coming from China. Under David Butler-Jones, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer between 2004 and 2014, the Public Health Agency of Canada stationed a representative in Beijing – a medical doctor with a specialization in public health.

“It’s a way of getting an earlier heads up … so that if something is developing, we can get good intelligence on it early and get ahead of it,” Mr. Butler-Jones said in an interview. But the doctor who occupied that post left Beijing in 2015 and has not been replaced, leaving Canada with no one in such a position in China during the spread of COVID-19.

“For me, it’s frustrating,” Mr. Butler-Jones said. The position was in China “for good reason.”

Still, other sources of information underscored the threat. One was Taiwan, a region still plagued by memories of the Chinese cover-up of the SARS epidemic nearly two decades earlier. Taiwan, shut out of the WHO at the insistence of China, was ill-disposed to believe Beijing’s early assurances on the new coronavirus.

“We don’t trust anything related to new outbreaks from China,” said Chang-Chuan Chan, dean of the college of public health at National Taiwan University.

Taiwan began inspecting passengers arriving from Wuhan on Dec. 31, and sent a technical team to the virus-stricken city on Jan. 13 to 14. The delegation, which also included experts from Hong Kong and Macau, was controlled in what it could see, and denied access to the seafood market that is believed to be at the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak. But the Taiwanese experts came away convinced that “there is already person-to-person transmission,” Prof. Chan said.

This was out of step with the WHO, which issued a tweet on the night the Taiwanese left Wuhan saying “preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” of COVID-19.

The WHO acted “on the basis of available information,” said spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic, citing a statement from Chinese authorities on Jan. 14 that “there is no evidence to date of a highly contagious virus.”

The close partnership between Beijing and the WHO has continued, with some of the organization’s key leaders showing a striking deference to Chinese priorities, including Bruce Aylward, the Canadian doctor who led a WHO mission to China in February.

He attracted global attention last week when he disconnected a video interview with a Hong Kong journalist after being asked about Taiwan, which Beijing considers its territory. (“The question of Taiwanese membership in WHO is up to WHO member states, not WHO staff,” the organization said in a statement this week. On Thursday, the Hong Kong government said broadcaster RTHK “breached the One-China Principle” with the interview.)

Mr. Aylward’s mission provided another opportunity for co-operation between the WHO and China, which provided 12 of the 25 people on the delegation. Chinese involvement extended to the final edits of the subsequent report, including over which specific language was used.

“There was a bit of wording manipulation, but not the sentiment,” said Dale Fisher, a professor of medicine at the National University of Singapore, and one of the delegates. For example, “we wanted to call it a ‘dangerous’ pathogen, and they felt the word ‘dangerous’ could be linked to bio-terrorism.”

The final report calls COVID-19 “a new pathogen that is highly contagious, can spread quickly, and must be considered capable of causing enormous health, economic and societal impacts.”

The report is effusive toward China, whose virus response it calls “exceptional” and whose people it praises for a deep commitment to “collective action in the face of this common threat.”

All members of the delegation “contributed to the writing, intense discussions and finalization of the report and fully concurred with the final content and language,” said Mr. Jasarevic, the WHO spokesperson. “No major or even minor finding of the mission was not included in the final report.”

Dr. Fisher dismissed criticism that the WHO was too sunny in its report from the mission. ”Everything we saw and everything we learned has completely been replicated elsewhere,” he said, pointing to findings about the ratio of mild, severe and critical cases that have been similar in other countries. “If you’re asking me could it have been any better, my answer is no,” he said.

And it’s not fair to fault the WHO for the failures of other governments to respond, particularly after the severity of the virus became clear in Wuhan, said Bilahari Kausikan, an international affairs specialist who previously served as ambassador-at-large for Singapore.

The United States “wasted time denying that this was a serious issue,” he said. “You can’t blame the WHO for that. You can’t blame the WHO for the Europeans having a terrible, nonchalant attitude toward the whole thing.”

Source: WHO’s early coronavirus response raises awkward questions about Beijing relationship

Hong Kong Immigration to Taiwan Surges as Protests Grind On

Hong Kong Immigration to Taiwan Surges as Protests Grind On

 

Other countries will likely see a similar increase (Hong Kong applications to Canada increased from 1,209 in 2016 to 1,877 in 2018):

As Hong Kong’s unrest continues, some in the city are looking to the less expensive rents, leafy green streets and relative political shelter of neighboring Taiwan as a safe haven.

The number of people moving to Taiwan from Hong Kong has risen rapidly — up 28% over first seven months of 2019 compared to a year earlier — fueled in recent months by anti-government protests that have swept the former British colony amid fear its autonomy from Beijing is being eroded.

Upwardly mobile entrepreneurs, salespeople and managers say they are attracted by a better quality of life in the democratically run Taiwan — including cheaper property prices, business opportunities and a safer living environment.

Hong Kong’s violence has increased in recent weeks as police and protesters clash and demonstrations spread across the city, including sit-ins that paralyzed its international airport for two straight days last week. China has doubled down on support for local leader Carrie Lam amid fears it will send in its army to restore order, and the city’s economy has begun feeling the toll of 11 straight weeks of rallies. With no end in sight, some residents are looking for a way to leave.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has been vocal in her support for Hong Kong’s protesters in their pursuit of greater democracy, a contrast to the aggressive police tactics Lam’s China-backed government has used to try and subdue the rallies. The independence-leaning Tsai is up for reelection in January and has seen her support ratings rebound since the movement began, as Taiwanese voters recoil at the scenes unfolding in Hong Kong. China considers Taiwan part of its territory.

‘No Future’

“I want to move to Taiwan because Hong Kong is in a period of white terror and ruled by the police, which scares me,“ said 37-year-old retail salesperson Steven Chen, a Hong Konger who said he was working to move to the island. “I saw no future for the city when it returned to China some 20 years ago, but now it’s dangerous to live in as the police are not protecting people.”

Chen said he was borrowing money from friends and family to come up with the NT$6 million ($190,000) Hong Kong citizens need in order to apply for residency through a Taiwanese government investment scheme.

Chen said he has joined every protest since July 1 in support of Hong Kong’s mostly student protesters, including one in which he was almost hit by a rubber bullet. He saw his life as being in danger.

Dozens of Hong Kong protesters involved in the July ransacking of the city’s Legislative Council arrived in Taiwan last month to seek asylum, the Apple Daily newspaper reported. They were preceded by prominent activist and bookseller Lam Wing-kee, who fled to the island over the extradition legislation that sparked the current protest movement.

New arrivals from Hong Kong accounted for 9.4% of all immigration to Taiwan in the first half of the year — almost double last year’s percentage — according to Bloomberg calculations based on data from Taiwan’s immigration agency.

The trend is likely to continue as the Taiwanese government has no caps on relocations from Hong Kong and is open to more of its residents coming. “We welcome them,” says Taiwan’s interior minister Hsu Kuo-yung, adding that applications from Hong Kong have risen at least 30% in recent weeks.

A timeline of Hong Kong’s historic summer of protest

In a late 2018 survey from the Chinese University of Hong Kong — before the protests started — Taiwan ranked as the third most popular destination for Hong Kongers planning to move overseas, after Canada and Australia.

Norris Lo is another Hong Konger attracted by what Taiwan has to offer. She and her husband plan to open a pastry shop in the central city of Taichung next year. After considering countries like Australia and New Zealand, they opted for Taiwan due to its affordability.

“We want to open a small store of our own, and it’s impossible to do so in Hong Kong,” the 34-year-old pastry teacher said. She also cited the financial hub’s soaring cost of living and densely packed environment.

“We don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. “If we could see a better future in the next 10 or 20 years, we would be willing to wait. But we don’t see it.”

Source: Hong Kong Immigration to Taiwan Surges as Protests Grind On

How Taiwanese Think About Immigration

Some interesting research on yet another Asian country facing labour shortages and the need to address immigration needs and concerns:

Concerns about immigration remain a focal point in both American and European politics. The competing demands in Taiwan are familiar to those watching immigration debates elsewhere: the need for workers, especially unskilled workers, for jobs locals cannot or are unwilling to fill versus concerns about the political and social costs of migration. Meanwhile, immigrant workers in Taiwan frequently protest labor conditions.

According to the Ministry of the Interior’s National Immigration Agency, of the over 770,000 foreign residents in Taiwan, more than 90 percent are from Southeast Asia, and predominantly from Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. In 2017, Taiwanese married more Southeast Asian partners than partners from China. Despite government policies over time to increase ties with Southeast Asian countries as a means to be less economically ties to China, and discussion on immigration policy to encourage Southeast Asian skilled labor immigration to counter Taiwan’s brain-drain, such efforts have not been without controversy. For example, in December 2018 several Taiwanese universities were accused of skirting labor laws by recruiting Southeast Asian students for factory work under the questionable guise of internship programs, although many Indonesian students deny these claims. Another scandal concerned the disappearance of 152 of 153 Vietnamese touriststhat arrived in Kaohsiung, with only 67 located by early January, raising concerns of human trafficking.

Concerns about immigration largely focus on the often interrelated perceived criminal, economic, and cultural threats. For example, considerable research focuses on the ethnicity of immigrants vis-à-vis the citizen population and its impact on perceptions of market competition and negative views more broadly of immigrants (see here, here and here). In terms of individual-level factors, higher education consistently corresponds with more favorable views of immigration, while other scholars have found living abroad and contact with other cultures also positively impacting immigration views. Meanwhile, limited scholarly work addresses both either communities in Taiwan (see examples here and here).

I wanted to unpack whether evaluations of immigration differed in Taiwan based on two factors: immigration in general versus Southeast Asian immigration specifically and whether the focus is on skilled immigration. Considering that academics, political advisers, and marketers have long identified the role of framing and priming in influencing public perceptions, we would expect that relatively small differences in how immigration is presented would influence support, just as previous research on Taiwanese perceptions of free trade agreements, refugees, same sex marriage, diplomatic recognition, and President Donald Trump has shown.

If Taiwanese implicitly or explicitly distinguish between types of immigration, this should be evident when comparing perceptions of similarly worded survey questions. In particular, one would expect that if Taiwanese view Southeast Asian immigration as a criminal, economic, or cultural threat, a focus on Southeast Asian immigration should elicit stronger opposition than when asked about immigration in general. Similarly, if the concern is about unskilled labor and thus competition for jobs, a focus on skilled labor immigration would be expected to generate more positive views on immigration.

To address this, I conducted a web survey in November of 1,000 Taiwanese, surveyed via PollcracyLab at National Chengchi University. Respondents were randomly assigned to respond to one of four versions of a question regarding immigration and asked to evaluate it on a five-point Likert scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree):

Version 1: Taiwan should encourage immigration
Version 2: Taiwan should encourage immigration of skilled workers
Version 3: Taiwan should encourage immigration from Southeast Asian countries
Version 4: Taiwan should encourage immigration of skilled workers from Southeast Asian countries

The figure below shows the percentage of Taiwanese surveyed agreeing to each version of the survey. For simplicity, I combined those that agreed and strongly agreed. Here we clearly see that Taiwanese are more supportive of encouraging immigration when framed as skilled immigration, a 46.2 percent increase from the baseline of Version 1. However, support decreases by 21.4 percent from the baseline when simply focusing on Southeast Asian countries. Furthermore, while the version focusing on skilled Southeast Asian immigrants increased support compared to the baseline  by 14.8 percent, this is still far lower (31.4 percent) than support for skilled immigrants in general.

The figure below further makes it clear that Taiwanese are more favorable to skilled labor immigration and less favorable to Southeast Asian immigration. Support increased by 45 percent when skilled labor was mentioned compared to no mention at all, while support for immigration decreased by 26.6 percent when the focus was on Southeast Asian immigration rather than immigration in general.

Additional analyses controlled for a myriad of factors — age, gender, education levels, household income, political ideology, and party identification — with consistent results as those shown above. Overall the results sugest the extent to which Southeast Asian immigration generates a visceral reaction, one that is only partially overcome when the focus is redirected to skilled labor. However, it is unclear how to rectify these biases. With several hundred thousand children of Southeast Asian immigrants already in the Taiwanese elementary school system, ignoring this issue will only create larger identity concerns for Taiwan in the future.

Source: How Taiwanese Think About Immigration

Taiwan may expand citizenship to Southeast Asia to staunch brain drain to the mainland

Interesting to learn about Taiwan’s demographics and the factors underlying its need for a more open approach to immigration and citizenship for skilled workers:

Taiwan’s lawmakers are expected to decide next month on whether to offer citizenship to students and skilled workers from Southeast Asia to help cope with a severe brain drain to the mainland.

The legislators will vote on the island’s economic immigration bill, Taipei’s response to Beijing’s efforts to lure talent away from Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a wayward province to be brought back into the fold – if necessary, by force.

If passed, the bill would open the door to professionals from Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Besides tackling the brain drain, the bill was a way for Taiwan to address its shrinking labour force, officials and analysts said.

“By 2026, 20 per cent of the population will be over 65 years old, and in the following year, there will be an insufficient working-age population,” National Development Council Minister Chen Mei-ling said.

“If the current trend continues, by 2065, the population of Taiwan will fall to between 16 million and 18.8 million from 23.57 million in 2018.”

And that was why the council was looking to the economic immigration bill to recruit foreign professionals and make Taiwan more friendly to immigrants, Chen said.

Under the legislation, people with special skills would be able to apply for permanent residency after working in Taiwan for three years; foreign professionals would be able to do the same after working on the island for five years, and mid-level technicians or skilled workers after seven years.

Foreign students who graduated and worked in Taiwan for five to seven years would be eligible to apply too, the council said. The new law also would apply to skilled foreign workers who had worked in Taiwan for seven years.

Although Asean nations are a priority recruiting target, the laws also are open to professionals and students from countries outside the bloc.

The proposed bill has generally been well received by industry leaders but critics point out that prospective new Taiwanese citizens would no longer be required to invest either in government bonds or a for-profit enterprise to spur local job creation. The council originally included an investment immigration clause that allowed foreigners investing at least NT$15 million in a profit-oriented enterprise or at least NT$30 million in government bonds, and who creates work opportunities for five Taiwanese, to get permanent residency after staying in Taiwan for three years.

The requirement was removed because it was seen as too onerous.

“There is a drawback [in] that the government has taken out the investment immigrant part, which could have helped increase foreign investment in Taiwan,” said Tsai Lien-sheng, secretary general of the National Federation of Industries.

“The biggest problem in Taiwan is not just [its shrinking] talent pool, but also stagnant investment.”

Tsai said Taiwan’s leaders needed to learn from Singapore and the United States, which allowed investors to acquire citizenship if they met their investment immigration requirements.

In the US, for instance, the EB-5 investor visa programme offers green cards to potential new citizens who put at least US$500,000 into US businesses in high-unemployment or rural areas that have been found to generate at least 10 jobs per investor.

The bill comes amid rising cross-strait tensions. Beijing has put the squeeze on the island since President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle, which Beijing regards as the foundation for dialogue.

Beijing has suspended official talks and exchanges with Taiwan to force Tsai to accept the principle.

Lee Ming-chang, deputy principal of the Lashio Holy Light Chinese Language School in Myanmar, told the Central News Agency that Beijing’s sweeteners to Taiwanese professionals and companies were hampering Taiwan’s ability to recruit talent.

Analysts said Taiwan struggled to retain talent because of low salaries and struggled to attract professionals from places such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan because of the incentives already in those places.

“The bill is well-intended, but employers might not want to raise the salaries to keep those workers,” said Cheng Chih-yu, a professor with the Labour Research Institute at National Chengchi University.

Cheng said the average salary for foreign workers amounted to just over more than NT$30,000 (US$979) per month. Under the government plan, the payment for skilled workers would be between NT$32,000 and NT$41,393.

Chayaphon Mulasar, a Thai worker for a Taiwanese electronics company based in Taoyuan, said he was willing to do what was necessary to get permanent residency in Taiwan.

“But according to the regulations, if I want to apply, I need to start it all over again, meaning I have to deduct the six years I have worked in Taiwan since 2012, which is unfair,” he said.

The council said the proposed legislation was new and revisions would be made accordingly over time.

Taiwan’s President Apologizes to Aborigines for Centuries of Injustice – The New York Times

Learn something every day, not aware of this history:

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan offered a formal apology on Monday to aboriginal peoples for centuries of “pain and mistreatment,” and she promised to take concrete steps to rectify a history of injustice.

In a ceremony at the presidential office in Taipei attended by aboriginal community leaders, she said that although Taiwan had made efforts to end discrimination against hundreds of thousands of indigenous people, a formal apology was now necessary.

“Unless we deny that we are a country of justice, we must face up to this history,” Ms. Tsai said. “We must tell the truth. And then, most importantly, the government must genuinely reflect on this past.”

Taiwan has 540,000 residents who are members of aboriginal groups, or about 2 percent of the population of 23 million. The Council of Indigenous Peoples officially recognizes 16 groups with three — the AmisAtayal and Paiwan — making up 70 percent of the total indigenous population.

Taiwan’s earliest known residents are believed to have come to the island 6,000 years ago or earlier from Southeast Asia and are part of the Austronesian peoples who range from Madagascar to Polynesia. When Han settlers from mainland China began arriving in the 17th century, indigenous peoples, particularly those on Taiwan’s western plains, faced assimilation, loss of land and outright violence.

Today, indigenous groups face high levels of unemployment, low wages and less access to education and other services.

“Another group of people arrived on these shores, and in the course of history, took everything from the first inhabitants who, on the land they have known most intimately, became displaced, foreign, non-mainstream and marginalized,” Ms. Tsai said.

Capen Nganaen, 80, a representative of the Yami, said he was happy to receive the government’s apology.

“Taiwan has had many presidents during its history, but never before has one been willing to offer an apology to the indigenous peoples,” he said during the ceremony.

Source: Taiwan’s President Apologizes to Aborigines for Centuries of Injustice – The New York Times

Taiwan’s Growing Multiculturalism

Numbers still small, but the debates and discussion interesting:

Migration trends over the past two decades have seen an impressive increase in the number of foreign permanent residents in Taiwan from 1,649 in 2005 to 10,811 at the end of 2014 (excluding residents from mainland China). In 2014, for the first time, the number of first and second-generation immigrants living in Taiwan exceeded the population of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.

Two of the biggest factors leading to the recent increase in immigration to Taiwan include the creation of permanent residence in 1999 and the relaxation of rules applying to the financial, health, and criminal records of immigrants. Some of the largest groups of foreign residents now living in Taiwan include Indonesian, Vietnamese, Japanese, and American-born nationals.

At the end of 2014, important draft amendments to the Nationality Act were announced. Under the proposed reforms, foreigners applying for Republic of China (ROC) citizenship will not have to renounce their original citizenship. These changes would mean that foreigners could be dual-nationals.

This is a very important step in the right direction. But Taiwan faces large challenges as it grows into a more cosmopolitan society.

Taiwan’s past immigration policies have reflected a perception that Taiwan is essentially a mono-cultural society based on a narrow shared ethnicity and culture. Public and political discourse on multiculturalism has solely focused on the indigenous population, Chinese mainlanders, the Hokkien and the Hakka people. Combined with Taiwan’s isolated political situation, this has not aided Taiwan in becoming more open, competitive, and vibrant.

One of the most common questions asked of foreign students in Taiwan today is “Why did you choose to study in Taiwan over China?” Questions such as these exhibit the lack of international self-awareness that still plagues the Taiwanese people. Taipei’s new Mayor, Ko Wen-je recently accurately described this situation, suggesting, “Taiwan is like a car with very powerful engines but no steering wheel.”

In addition to this, Taiwanese people themselves have little experience with international travel outside the narrow confines of East Asia. Travel data collected by the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau confirmed that the Taiwanese still prefer to visit countries very close by, with 88 percent of international travel in 2013 being to Asian countries, primarily China (32 percent) and Japan (26 percent).

Despite these challenges, the cultural landscape in Taiwan is changing and this shift has also been reflected in the media. Until recently, foreigners were largely excluded from representation in Taiwanese media, but now they are increasingly being featured in films, television dramas, and documentaries. Films such as Homesick Eye illustrate the hardships faced by Southeast Asian migrant workers in Taiwan. My Imported Wife is a documentary about the victimization of immigrant wives and the issues that come along with transnational marriage. These creative representations are an interesting reflection of the changing cultural dynamic in Taiwan and point to a trend toward an increasing acceptance of multiculturalism.

Taiwan’s Growing Multiculturalism | The Diplomat.