Written by Yi-Yu Lai. Lennon Wong is the director of a shelter for migrant workers in Taiwan. Before joining the shelter in the early 2010s, he was already a labour activist and worked in the Chinese Federation of Labour and the First Commercial Bank Union. Although his prior work was not directly relevant to migrant workers in Taiwan, his engagement with the labour movement may have started with the issue of migrant workers from Southeast Asia. As a result, we may thus understand the cross-border movement of migrant workers between Taiwan and the Philippines through some of his observations.
Written by Kar-Yen Leong. In an article by Franklin Zimring and David Johnson, we are reminded of the importance of studying the death penalty in Asia as it is the site of “…at least 85 per cent and as many as 95 per cent of the world’s execution.” The authors add that the region is a key battleground as to whether this practice will continue or become a remnant of a less civilised past. This struggle is no more intense than in East and Southeast Asian states, where the death penalty is not only an indelible part of only their legal systems but also their very societies. The decision to retain or abolish the death penalty has become a matter of intense soul-searching among states such as Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia, navigating landscapes replete with ghosts of colonial and authoritarian pasts. For these countries, the state’s power over life and death is a direct extension of its sovereignty. Giving up this power is to lose that sovereignty, but it also means the loss of a weapon of last resort forged to keep the forces of chaos at bay.
Written by Mei-Fen Kuo. A recent exhibition mounted by Australia’s government office in Taiwan––“40 years, 40 stories”––highlights the importance of people-to-people ties linking Taiwan and Australia since the office opened in Taipei in 1981. These are timely stories. In an exhibition of its own, Beijing recently lobbed missiles over Taiwan’s people’s heads to show that its territorial claims to Taiwan will not be slighted. Australia does not challenge those claims, but it does maintain close relations with people in Taiwan through trade, education, technology, and cultural exchanges, which have flourished despite the lack of official recognition.
Written by Kristina Kironska. Taiwan is considered one of the most progressive countries in Asia but has no asylum law. Although debates on the issue occasionally occurred for more than ten years, there has been no progress on the draft asylum law since its second reading in 2016. One significant point of contention is to what extent an asylum law should address not only people from “uncontroversial” foreign countries, such as the Rohingya in Bangladesh, but also people from China, Hong Kong, and Macau. As with any issue that touches on cross-strait relations, the situation is complicated: on the one hand, the government celebrates Taiwan’s status as a beacon of human rights; on the other, extending asylum to PRC citizens risks stoking tensions with Beijing.
Written by Brian Hioe. Civil society groups demonstrated on Friday, March 18th to call for the release of imprisoned Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-che in China. The demonstration took place the night prior to the fifth anniversary of Lee’s detention, which took place after he crossed into China from Macau on March 19th, 2017.
Written by Huynh Tam Sang and Wen-Chin Cheng. Taiwan’s labour brokerage system has made migrant workers vulnerable to a myriad of untransparent fees. Under the current system, migrant workers must pay hefty fees, including service fees and related pre-employment fees for migrant labour agencies or brokers, adding up to the total amount ranging from NT$60,000 to NT$200,000. To make matters worse, the current system has allowed brokers to charge migrant workers a monthly recurring fee, from NT$1,500 to NT$1,800. The “service fee”, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Labour, is used to arrange work and daily life for migrant workers. However, brokers or agencies charge employers “very few or no fees”, shifting the disproportionate financial burden onto migrant workers.
Written by Adrian Chiu. The National Security Law (NSL) in Hong Kong implemented by the Beijing government in June 2020 has triggered a new wave of emigration from Hong Kong. According to Hong Kong government’s statistics, almost 90,000 residents left the city in the 12 months since – more than four times higher than the previous year. To be fair, emigration waves in Hong Kong is not a new feature – it happened in the 1990s when the Chinese handover in Hong Kong was eminent. Indeed, Hong Kong has always been an immigrants’ city, given the many Chinese immigrants who moved to Hong Kong throughout history.
Written by Bonny Ling. One of the most interesting chapters in the history of modern China and international law is the vibrant and dynamic engagement of the Republican Chinese government with the League of Nations, the intergovernmental precursor to the United Nations, to address the exploitation of women for prostitution, known then as the “traffic in women.” It is an overlooked prologue that provides the historical context for efforts by successive governments on both sides of the Strait to combat exploitation. This issue remains just as relevant today as it did close to a century ago.
Written by Bonny Ling. Last year, on Human Rights Day marking the adoption of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December by the UN General Assembly, Taiwan’s executive branch of the government (Executive Yuan 行政院) released the Taiwan National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP) (臺灣企業與人權國家行動計畫). The Action Plan was celebrated, with Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) enthusiastically describing it as “aid[ing] Taiwan’s efforts to become integrated in international trade and supply chains.”
Narrated by Yosa Wariyanti, written by Isabelle Cheng. I have spent a total of 16 years abroad. When we return home, we have our savings, and we may open businesses. But businesses do not always go well. It is difficult for us to find jobs because we do not have good education or professional certificates. No one would hire us. Soon my daughter will go to university. I want to give her a good education. I need to work for at least another five years to pay for her tuition fees. So, I will just go on, and on, and on working abroad.
Written by Shawna Yang Ryan. Green Island, part of the archipelago of Taiwan, lies roughly 33 kilometres off Taiwan’s east coast. During Taiwan’s martial law period, this was a notorious prison for political prisoners. In my novel, Green Island, the narrator’s father is imprisoned by the KMT for advocating democracy during the transition to KMT rule. Still, the title also functions as a metaphor for Taiwan itself during the martial law era.
Written by Leon N. Kunz. In March 2014, participants in the Sunflower Movement peacefully occupied the main chamber of Taiwan’s parliament to block the ratification of a controversial trade agreement with the PRC that they viewed as a threat to Taiwanese democracy. In September of the same year, protesters involved in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement created street occupations to push for genuine democratic reform. In both cases, participants not merely occupied public space but claimed to engage in civil disobedience. According to the often-cited definition by liberal theorist John Rawls, civil disobedience is “a public, nonviolent, conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done to bring about a change in the law or policies of the government.” To what extent did the occupations in Taiwan and Hong Kong conform to the dominant liberal civil disobedience script?