Tag Archives: asia


Why has Taiwan not passed marriage equality yet?

Kai Clark

Politics | Asia


"In the face of love, everyone is equal. I am Tsai Ing-wen, and I support marriage equality.” In a short 15-second campaign video, Tsai became a symbol of progressive change in a region tainted by repression of queer rights. She and her party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), later won the 2016 elections, taking the presidency and a majority in the legislature. Marriage equality was imminent.
But she failed. Last year, the DPP was unable to pass its marriage equality bill due to the fierce backlash from Taiwan’s Christian minority. The party looks set to repeat its mistakes this year, delaying the bill’s passage until 2018, or as some fear, 2019.
Seven months ago, the Taiwanese constitutional court found Taiwanese marriage law unconstitutional. The court chose not to immediately grant marriage equality, instead ordering the legislature to amend the law within two years. Failure to do so and the court will then finally abolish the law.
Yet, the DPP prioritised other legislation, squandering the “6-month golden window” to amend the law. The government promised to debate the marriage equality proposal during the current legislative period. But they have not announced the details of the bill, with many doubting it will be passed on time, if at all.
Debate over the bill centres on two proposals. Some legislators demand the government amend the civil code to grant all couples the same rights. Other legislators want a special law that allows for marriage equality, but does not grant equal rights.
[related_article align="left" show_image="yes" index=1 text="Strait differences: China and Taiwan"]
Tsai’s administration hinted that it may propose the latter bill. Writing on her Facebook page, Tsai said: “We are obligated to design a legal framework in line with the spirit of the grand justices’ interpretation, but we are also responsible for ensuring unity in society.”
A majority of Taiwanese support marriage equality. Yet, Taiwan’s Christian groups, who make up less than 5% of the island’s population, threatened to oust lawmakers who support the bill. Their bullying tanked the 2013 and 2016 attempts to bring marriage equality to Taiwan. The recent court ruling has not deterred them.
A Taipei lawmaker, Huang Kuo-chang, faces a recall campaign by Sun Chi-cheng, chairman of the Greater Taipei Stability Power Alliance, a group opposed to marriage equality. Sun detests Huang’s support for amending the civil code, stating it will destroy Taiwanese family values.
Such pressure may explain Tsai’s lack of commitment to marriage equality. With local elections scheduled for late 2018, Kuomintang legislator Jason Hsu suggests that if Tsai cannot pass the bill before January, the DDP will shelve it until 2019 to focus on campaigning.
Many believe Tsai will wait until May 2019, when the court’s ruling will strike down the law. While it would save her from Taiwan’s evangelical backlash, it would create logistical problems and further harm to Taiwan’s queer community.
If the law is struck down, many government offices will need to process marriage claims without clear guidelines. Hsu explains that “[t]he municipal registration office will not know what to do with their certificate and their IDs; hospitals will not know how to process them. A lot of contingency plans must be put in place.”
Meanwhile, the government will still deny queer couples marriage equality for the next 17 months. Some cannot afford to wait. The partner of Nelson Hu, a famous queer rights activist, is diagnosed with a rare form of hemangioma and could die. Hu has no legal say over his treatment.
Many in the queer community now feel betrayed by Tsai and the DPP. In an interview with the News Lens, Nelson Hu criticised the DPP for “[backtracking] on their promises”. Another disappointed couple lamented that “the politicians supported gay marriage as a way to win votes, but now it feels like we have been fooled.”
Desperate to avoid evangelical ire, Tsai may risk angering the queer community she sought to support. Hsu and commentators have urged the DPP to pass the bill by this session or to hold a special session in early 2018. The journey for many in the queer community to be treated as equal partners in society would be painfully prolonged otherwise.

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Pivotal arrogance in Western foreign policy

Dominic Huntley



For the first time in centuries the most powerful nation on Earth is going to be non-Western, and this has terrified policymakers from Canberra to Washington.
The almost existential panic which has characterised the response has combined an incredible capacity for self delusion with an almost impressive degree of arrogance that even our Colonial forbears would be staggered by.
Bit players like Australia have mindlessly “reaffirmed” support for the US alliance, as if it was ever in doubt, while the US itself has pursued a “Pivot to Asia” that has about as much substance as a stereotypical American meal.
Neither of these speech acts do anything to change the facts on the ground.
At its core, the re-alignment of power in Asia is a strategic shift, not some transient challenge by a rogue state or an ideological game of the Cold War. This is far less about the application of power than it is the distribution which has yet to be grasped by the West.
Neither the “measuring contest” taking place in the South China Sea nor the angsty equivalent in the East China Sea will have any measurable impact on the long term trends in power distribution. It is in economics, the cold hard numbers that will determine what the major powers can bring to the table and in this China is clearly in the ascendant, if only thanks to the low hanging fruit long since plucked across the sea.
The Western response however has been entirely tactical in its nature, confusing the cosmetics of the power shift for the shift itself. The far too much-lauded American Pivot promised to “reaffirm” the American commitment to Asia, that the 21st century would be “America's Pacific Century” in the words of one particularly unreliable former presidential candidate.
Its substance however has had zero impact on the strategic equation. Since its announcement almost a decade ago China has continued its advance, solidifying its control over the South China Sea and showing no signs of slowing its erosion of American power. The US in the meantime has descended into an almost humorous disaster.
This should come as no surprise of course, as a series of statements and failed economic deals do not translate into the sort of military preponderance needed to roll back a direct military challenge. To the extent that the US has increased its military cooperation with Asian nations no arms deal or joint exercise is going to remove artificial islands or, more importantly, slow down Chinese military spending.
To a degree there is no blaming American failure here, as it is an unwinable battle. Short of an inherently racist worldview that sees Chinese as fundamentally weaker than Westerners, there is simply no paradigm through which 330 million Americans can continue to have greater resources than 1.3 billion Chinese .
There is however reason to believe that there is an inherent racism in the Western approach, a modern version of the Colonial view that the White nations of the West had an inherent advantage over the rest of the world, and that it was this that had given them their technological advantages and not the other way round.
The entire enterprise is soaked in a watered down version of the Atlanto-centric arrogance that until recently has reigned supreme in Western thinking for almost half a millennium, thinking that is proving unable to conceive of a world not slanted in its favour or with its desires not preferenced above all others.
How else could a nation like America, distant and outnumbered, possibly imagine that it could indefinitely maintain primacy over a much larger nation that is adopting all the technologies and practices that gave America its strength in the first place?
In the 19th and 20th centuries this was called the White Man's burden, the view that at best the lot of non-whites is to be “students” of the West, so that one day they might emulate their betters in practice and culture if not in race.
Similar today is the arrogant view that Western countries should unilaterally act against what is seen as Chinese aggression such as the calls to recognise “Taiwan” as an independent state. Whether or not a declaration of independence would be good, there is a great irony in Western commentators calling for a unilateral recognition of “democracy” without the consent of the Taiwanese people, whose lot it is to face the consequences.
Both sides of politics are guilty of this, and it is entirely debatable whether the mindless meandering of Trump is any worse than would have been the calculated condescension of Clinton.
The great blunder of our time is that rather than seeking to amend this flaw in the system Western powers are seeking to deny any criticism. That the attempt will surely fail will be of little comfort in the face of just a fraction of the potential misery that could result.

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An interview with Dr. Nicholas Farrelly

Mish Khan

Society and culture | Asia


This week we caught up with Dr Nicholas Farrelly, a fellow at the Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, to discuss his academic career and life as a former ANU student. Nicholas is the director of the ANU Myanmar Research Centre and convenor of the PhB program in the College of Asia and the Pacific. Nicholas also runs the Asia Pacific Week internship course and supervises various honours, masters and PHD students at ANU.

Nicholas was born in Canberra and retains “close connections” to the city, feeling really privileged” to be working and living in a city which is continuously developing. An ANU alumnus himself, Nich grew up in Canberra and studied a bachelor of Asian Studies at the ANU. After completing graduate study in the UK, he seized the opportunity to return to ANU where he has built an incredible academic career focused around Southeast Asian studies. Speaking fondly of his time as an ANU student, Nicholas felt he would be “always thankful” for the individual attention he received from passionate academics prominent within the Southeast Asian Studies field. It appears that Nich’s ANU experience was instrumentally influential to his future in more ways than one- many are unaware that Nich met his wife when working at Woroni!

When we asked Nicholas how he found himself within his current research area, he detailed a journey that began with a focus on Indonesia and bloomed into a wider interest in Southeast Asia. After studying Indonesian at school, he was unable to spend much time in Indonesia due to the security situation at the time. Instead, he spent a year in Thailand working with a northern Thai rural development organisation. The intensive language and cultural experience threw him into the deep end straight away, and the skills from the experience helped him emerge with an honours thesis on the Shan people. But the question of what next was already playing on Nich’s mind, who sought to challenge himself even further.

Focusing on “politics, social change, and potential for conflict,” Nicholas was soon drawn to Myanmar, which he described as “a mess” under its heavy constraints at the time. A process of gradually working his way into the “Myanmar realm” began as he built up the confidence to research in the fringes such as the Shan and Kachin states. It wasn't until 2013 that he was able to conduct research in a Bamar majority, Burmese speaking area. Nicholas labels these as “early difficult years of trying to understand what my own research activities would look like.” He believes these areas of Asia are “so important to Australia’s future” but have been drastically unacknowledged, something he wishes to change.

Nicholas feels that the rewards from “effective academic work” are “endlessly fulfilling” as being able to explain a complex matter in a way that encourages people to appreciate its “subtleties” is a challenge, but is incredibly rewarding when successful. However, he notes that the “academic business is a tough one” due to its intensely critical nature. Nich credits his website New Mandala, which provides commentary on Southeast Asian political affairs, as a learning tool for his resilience. Growing accustomed to “strongly worded” criticism forces him to continuously evaluate and improve upon his writing, and he expressed that criticism, when done well, “improves all of our works”.

For current students Nicholas outlined four main pieces of advice for university. Firstly, he stresses the need to take risks in order for students to “stretch their wings”. Secondly, for those interested in the world around them Nicholas emphasised learning foreign languages as a vital skill which offers exposure to different ways of thinking. Thirdly, this is best accomplished by students spending “a lot of time outside Australia,” and lastly, by taking advantage of their youth and flexibility, students should travel to all types of challenging places. This allows students to develop their adaptation skills and ultimately, be comfortable in any type of environment.

Nicholas is a great academic to have a chat with about Southeast Asia, and enjoys talking with passionate students. You can read his website New Mandala at asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/ if you want an interesting and easy way to stay up to date on what’s happening around the region.

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An academic talk with Professor Hugh White

Mish Khan

Politics | Australia


In Monsoon's new series we will be sitting down with academics from College of Asia and the Pacific to discuss their life as an academic and to get to know them a bit better. This week we sat down with Professor Hugh White for an engaging discussion about his experiences as a student, working for the government and to talk about his academic work.

Hugh spoke about his interesting life that spans from an education at Oxford to a staffer for Kim Beazley and Bob Hawke to a journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald all before becoming a professor at ANU.

For those of you that don't know Hugh is a Professor of Strategic studies in the Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs with College of Asia and the Pacific. Previously he was the head of the Strategic Studies Centre but is no longer in that role. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses whilst conducting his own research. Hugh's main research consists around Australian strategic policy, therefore his interest in our region and the relationships within it is strong. He particularly is interested in areas where Australia is deploying armed forces but does not regard himself as an expert on the Middle East. We were surprised to learn that Hugh does not have a PhD himself but did begin one in the 1980s at ANU which he never finished.

As such, Hugh is not a career academic. He has never formally studied political science or strategic studies as his undergraduate and graduate degrees are in philosophy. An ambition to work in government, particularly in foreign affairs, was formed early on through the influence of his father working in government. His professional career began with work at the Office of National Assessments before becoming a foreign affairs correspondant at the Sydney Morning Herald. He spoke warmly of his time as a staffer for Kim Beazley and Bob Hawke as he was able to gain great experiences in this work. A move back to the ONA and Department of Defence occurred before he was offered a job at ANU in 2004.

We began to speak more about his teaching and in particular what he found most memorable as a student. His reply was "the really great teachers" particularly those who "made the hair on the back of your neck stand up." Their sense of energy encouraged and inspired him throughout his studies.

Hugh believes that he adopts a rather "gloomy position" in his research as his main interest lies in the circumstances where Australia might find itself at war. "Conditions of peace in the Asian Century have changed very sharply" and this is an immense "mega-development." With the contest of primacy in the Asia now being hotly contested Hugh believes that his research matters now more than ever despite him appearing "sometimes quite gloomy." But his strong belief in how important his work is becomes immediately apparent upon talking to him. His passion and interest in the field are very strong and goes back a very long way.

Hugh's main advice that he felt we should take from his varied career pathway is that career planning is difficult and it is often best to "do whatever seems like most fun." This will engage you a lot better and normally leads to you being quite good at it! He elaborated on the importance of working hard and obtaining good marks at university. And for those interested in government or foreign affairs, an understanding and appreciation of history is extremely beneficial.

Hugh's work is often quite publicly criticised and he has had to repeatedly deal with this. He emphasised the need to not "take it personally" and to be thick skinned. An early career amongst politicians helped him develop this view. He feels most of his readers are more engaged in the issue itself rather than the person who is writing them anyway.

Hugh White was extremely warm and easy to talk to. A clear leader in his field who is passionate about his work. He concluded by letting us know that he was kicked out of law school in his undergraduate degree due to unstatisfactory progress! A very humanising element of an extremely interesting ANU academic.

For more information about Hugh please go to: https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/white-hj

4 minute read

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Humans of West Papua

Emma Roberts

Society and culture | Southeast Asia


Emma Roberts documents an eye-opening week in the Baliem Valley of Papua, Indonesia. What she encountered was a place where Melanesian culture is strong but the lives of the locals are also dominated by mosques and Indomie; a place where people live in regions impenetrable by transportation but continue to travel long distances on foot with big smiles on their faces; a place where life is tough but resilience is tougher.

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