People-based “dumpling alliance” – Taipei Times
The recent wave of COVID-19 vaccine donations from four Eastern European countries not only bolstered Taiwan’s vaccine arsenal, but also created an opening to foster closer ties between Taiwan and these countries, especially given the similarities in the trajectories of their contemporary political and geopolitical development. challenges.
In response to this new positive dynamic, the Taiwan Digital Diplomacy Association put forward the idea of a “dumpling alliance”, or an informal online collective bringing together Taiwan and the four donor countries in a spirit of “shared values and love for dumplings “. . “
This concept has a strong potential for strengthening ties with new potential partners and their collaborators.
First, its name clearly refers to the “Milk Tea Alliance”, which sends a clear message about the nature and objectives of the group.
Second, it seeks to channel the rhetoric of kindness into a productive tool, making the process of building relationships more accessible.
Last but not least, the reference to the dumpling, a simple comfort food dish with many iterations, is a creative way to highlight the often overlooked connections between ordinary people in Taiwan and Europe.
At the same time, this idea underlines that Taiwanese civil society actors must clearly distinguish between top-down and bottom-up approaches to fostering foreign relations, and understand the importance of this distinction when engaging with foreign partners.
Although the nations of Eastern Europe have been hailed as success stories in democratic consolidation, divisions between government and civil society have opened up since alternative strategies of political legitimation, such as populism or nationalism, have opened up. have emerged in the region.
While Taiwan might seek to draw parallels between itself and these nations by alluding to ‘shared values’, it should not lose sight of the fact that the region, despite being seen as a beacon of democratization successful, is experiencing a dramatic decline in democracy.
Therefore, formulating a “dumpling alliance” or other similar, values-based solidarity initiative requires an understanding of the local political realities on the ground.
While interpersonal or non-governmental interactions have important foreign policy implications – especially for actors with limited international space, like Taiwan – it is imperative that the appreciation narrative does not whitewash aspiring authoritarians. regional.
The energy behind a “dumpling alliance” is truly precious and should not be taken for granted.
The renewed curiosity about Poland – Taiwan’s third-largest vaccine donor – and other countries in Eastern Europe may be the first step in raising awareness and deepening mutual understanding. At the same time, this energy should be channeled towards strengthening ties with civil society, instead of pampering singular political figures and exposing Taiwan to the negative externalities of electoral volatility.
Since coming to power in 2015, the Polish Law and Justice Party has continued to restrict certain expressions of civic activism and to undermine the independence of the judiciary and the media.
In the latest Liberal Democracy Index from the V-Dem Institute at Gothenburg University, Poland has achieved the dubious “honor” of being the “most autocratizing country” in the world over the past decade.
Likewise, Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report from last year stated that Poland could no longer be considered a full-fledged democracy.
Nonetheless, the dire state of democracy in Warsaw appears to have been overlooked by various stakeholders in Taiwan, including government officials and members of civil society.
“The crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed us to deepen our friendship with the Polish people, a fraternal nation loving freedom and democracy,” said Progressive Democratic Party lawmaker Tsai Yi-yu (蔡 易 餘) .
Likewise, Polish teacher Emilia Chen (陳 音 卉) wrote: “The close relationship between Taiwan and Poland has been forged through a shared appreciation of democracy, freedom and human rights” (“Taiwan and Poland bound by the love of democracy”, Sept. 15, page 8).
While it’s heartening that the Polish government returned Taiwan’s generosity – Taipei donated one million masks and 25,000 items of personal protective equipment to Warsaw at the start of the pandemic – we need to take a break before celebrating the so-called normative synergies.
The current initial iteration of a “dumpling alliance” arose in response to vaccine donations that are managed exclusively by government agencies, rather than civil society groups.
While a “dumpling alliance” aims to promote mutual understanding, there is a danger that it may also legitimize political elites in Eastern Europe who are engaging in democratic retreat.
By comparison, the attraction of the Milk Tea Alliance stems from its grassroots, bottom-up approach to multinational and pro-democracy mobilization.
Poland’s Law and Justice government subjected organizations perceived to be hostile to party interests to withdrawal of state support and state sponsored smear campaigns.
Moreover, while Taiwan has made considerable progress in mainstreaming the concerns of LGBTQI + and other minorities, many right-wing and conservative movements and politicians backed by the ruling party in Poland unequivocally qualify pluralism and inclusion of democratic diseases.
At the same time, despite the systemic suppression and imposition of right-wing cultural narratives, Poland has experienced an increase in political conflicts, demonstrating the potential of its civil society.
During the women’s strike, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest the country’s strict abortion laws and violations of women’s rights. Queer collectives such as Warsaw-based Stop the Nonsense are valiantly standing up against the anti-LGBTQI + movement in a country considered the worst in the EU in terms of gay rights. Polish refugee and migrant rights advocates are also mobilizing, mainly outside formal institutions, to challenge false accounts of homogeneity.
These are precisely the kind of actors that a “dumpling alliance” should target.
Despite the problems of Taiwan’s majority political system, the nation has developed a mature civil society with tangible achievements in strengthening democracy at home and networking abroad. The “shared values” that have inspired an alliance are realized by our respective civil societies, rather than by political elites.
If Taiwan is serious about forging a “dumpling alliance”, it is essential that the initiative targets the right stakeholders. Governments come and go, but people stay – maintaining positive links at the level of civil society will remain imperative for building lasting and strong relationships.
Marcin Jerzewski is a researcher at the Taiwan NextGen Foundation think tank.
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