Taiwan's Council of Indigenous Peoples has signed an agreement with the Pacific Island state of the Marshall Islands aimed at increasing bilateral exchanges to promote Austronesian culture. The agreement seeks to foster cooperation between Taiwan's indigenous communities and the ethnically and linguistically related people of the Marshall Islands, particularly in the fields of language and preservation of traditional wisdom and skills. The agreement, signed last month, coincides with the opening of the UN International Year of Indigenous Languages, which acknowledges the critical state of many indigenous tongues, and seeks to promote their protection and use, both at national and international levels.
Leaders of Taiwan's indigenous peoples issued a joint statement Jan. 8 directed at Chinese President Xi Jinping, who said in a Jan. 2 speech that Taiwan "must and will" be united with China. Xi called for talks on a "one country, two systems" arrangement, and darkly alluded to the use of force, saying Beijing "reserves the option of taking all necessary measures." The indigenous leaders retorted that their peoples inhabited the island for thousands of years before the first Han Chinese settlers reached its shores. "We are the indigenous peoples of Taiwan and have lived in Taiwan, our motherland, for more than six thousand years," the letter says. "We are not ethnic minorities within the so-called 'Chinese nation.'"
Pressure from China, restrictive legislation and self-censorship among Taiwanese youth have emerged as threats to freedom of speech in Taiwan, according to Nylon Cheng Liberty Foundation director Cheng Tsing-hua. He made his comments on Taiwan's Free Speech Day, April 7, which commemorates the day in 1989 that his brother Cheng Nan-jung, a young democracy advocate under the gradually loosening one-party dictatorship of the Kuomintang, self-immolated as a protest against government restrictions on freedom of expression. The surviving Cheng noted that the recent Taiwanese film Missing Johnny was last month banned in China after the male lead, Lawrence Ko, was reported to be a supporter of Taiwanese independence. He also pointed to Taiwan's Assembly and Parade Act, a holdover from the KMT dictatorship, as restricting the right to hold public demonstrations. And he noted government orders banning the public from displaying the national (Republic of China) flag at various occasions— such as the 2008 visit of Chen Yunlin, then chairman of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits.
A Chinese court on Nov. 28 sentenced Taiwanese democracy activist Lee Ming-cheh to five years in prison on charges of attempting to "subvert state power." Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council immediately denounced the sentence as "unacceptable" and "politically motivated." Lee was sentenced alongside Chinese citizen Peng Yuhua by the Yueyang City Intermediate People's Court, in Hunan province. Peng was sentenced to seven years, also for "subverting state power." The convictions followed a trial in September 2017. Lee first went missing in March 2017 after crossing the border from Macao to Zhuhai, Guangdong, in southern China. Ten days later Chinese officials confirmed he was being held on suspicion of "endangering national security." The case concerned an Internet chat group Peng started in 2012. Prosecutors said the group attempted to foment a "Western color revolution."
Panama announced June 13 that it is breaking its long-standing diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of establishing relations with China—a clear political coup for Beijing. The Panamanian statement said it recognized "only one China" and considers to be Taiwan part of it. The change was spurred by an unavoidable fact: China is the second most important Panama Canal user after the United States. Last year it sent 38 million metric tons of cargo through the interoceanic waterway, accounting for 19% of its traffic. The announcement of the diplomatic switch also comes just as Chinese enterprises began building a container port, with natural gas terminals, in Panama's Colón province, on the Atlantic side of the canal. "I think Dominican Republic and Nicaragua will soon follow," Mexico's former ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, tweeted soon after the announcement.
This week's unnerving incident in which US jets intercepted two Russian bombers off the coast of Alaska leaves us wondering how to read events. Russia sent the two "nuclear-capable" bombers to within 100 miles of Kodiak Island April 17, prompting the US to scramble two F-22 stealth fighter jets from Elmendorf Air Force Base. The US and Russian craft were side-by-side for a full 12 minutes, until they crossed out of the US Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). (The Telegraph, April 18) This came as ExxonMobil was seeking a waiver from US sanctions against Russia to move ahead with its Black Sea venture with Rosneft. The decision rested with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), while Secretary of State (and ex-Exxon CEO) Rex Tillerson is officially recusing himself from any matters involving the company for two years. Still, it is counterintuitive (at least) that OFAC turned down the waiver April 21. (NYT, April 21; Fox Business, April 19)
We aren't sure how much method to place in Donald Trump's madness. Right on the heels of the outrage over his diplomatically incorrect telephone conversation with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen comes word that he's appointed Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as the next US ambassador to China—news that will apparently be welcome in Beijing. The New York Times says that Branstad describes China's exceptionally authoritarian President Xi Jinping as an "old friend." Reuters tells us Branstad said he's had a "30-year friendship" with Xi, and added: "The president-elect understands my unique relationship to China." A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson reciprocated the warmth, calling Branstad an "old friend" of China.
On Aug. 1, Indigenous People's Day, President Tsai Ing-wen issued a formal apology to Taiwan's aboriginal peoples for centuries of oppression, and outlined her policies for reconciliation. In a ceremony attended by leaders of aboriginal communities from throughout the island, she said: "For the past 400 years, each regime that came to Taiwan has brutally violated indigenous people's existing rights through military might and land looting." She pledged that her government will give indigenous communities greater autonomy, improve their land rights, and work to preserve native languages.