Racism, Disinformation Cast Shadow On India-Taiwan Cooperation

Taiwan, despite being a technological powerhouse, suffers from serious demographic challenges. In January last year, people over 65 accounted for 16.91 percent of Taiwan’s total population, making it an aged society. In fact, Taiwan became an ‘ageing society’ in 1993, an ‘aged society’ in 2018 and is poised to become a ‘super aged society’ in 2025. The fertility rate, or the number of children born per woman during her lifetime, sharply declined from seven births in 1951 to 0.975 births in 2021, while the share of those aged above 65 increased from 2.5 per cent in the 1950s to 17.56 per cent in 2021. Keeping the negative demographics in mind and the implications it can have for the island’s future growth, the Taiwanese Ministry of Labour announced that it would introduce migrant workers from India and sign a pact soon.

India, compared to Taiwan, does not have an ageing population or declining total fertility rates. In December last year, a report published by the World Bank stated that remittance flows from Indian labourers abroad were on track to reach a record USD 100 billion for the year, and that remittance growth in 2021 from a year earlier was 7.5 per cent. Indian labourers – blue collared and white – are found in every country. However, as soon as the Taiwanese Ministry of Labour announced plans for Indian labourers to be brought into the Taiwanese market, there was frenzy on social media about whether the safety of women in Taiwan would be endangered.

While sexual crime is a reality in India, as it is across the world, the stereotypes attached to Indian labourers thwart all possibility of cooperation between India and Taiwan and point to the deplorable attitudes Indian labourers could face in Taiwan.

Earlier this year, the Garden of Hope Foundation unveiled a report highlighting problems in the Taiwanese government’s enforcement of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, leading to difficulties faced by migrant workers in Taiwan. In 2021, the nation came under fire for its racist policies towards Southeast Asian workers, which was seen as nothing short of social apartheid. Taiwanese factories were reportedly implementing discriminatory policies restricting the movement for Southeast Asian workers, which was not the case for their Taiwanese colleagues.

In the malicious propaganda on social media against the planned arrival of Indian labourers, what is often missed out is Taiwan’s own crime rates. According to survey data from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, one in five women in Taiwan report having been in abusive relationships. Statistics reveal that a case of abuse occurs, on average, every five minutes in Taiwan, with 322 cases reported per day. The multitude of crimes against women and children in Taiwan highlight its problems with misogyny. In 2021, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Kao Chia-yu revealed that she was physically assaulted by her partner.

There is another plausible angle to the malicious propaganda being pushed out on the Taiwanese social media space – that of disinformation originating from China. One of the first articles pushing out racist and malicious stereotypes against the possible arrival of Indian labourers in Taiwan was from China Times of Taipei. Since it was bought by the pro-China Taiwanese tycoon Tsai Eng-Meng in 2008, China Times has veered into an editorial stance that is more sympathetic to the positions of the Chinese Communist Party. The standard depiction of Indian women, per Chinese stereotyping, is that they are innocent victims of barbaric traditions in India. Chinese handles often push out a narrative around the lack of safety for women in India, while covering up China’s track record of crimes against women. The stereotyping, beyond racism, is a ploy of Chinese sharp power, in which there are concerted efforts at censorship or the use of manipulation to diminish independent institutions; to take advantage of the asymmetry between free and unfree systems, or democratic and autocratic or authoritarian systems.

The approach allows authoritarian regimes to limit free expression and to distort political environments in democracies while protecting their own domestic public spaces from any democratic discourse from abroad. In 2021, there were 82,476 assault cases against women while there were 39,577 cases of rapes reported. In 2022, China stood at 48 in terms of the UN’s gender inequality index, and at 102 in terms of the UNS’ global gender gap index.

The sad reality is that many women across the globe sorely lack equal status and this manifests in crimes against women, unequal pay, workplace harassment, unfair burden of work at the workplace and so on. India, Taiwan or even China are no different. However, hyping up racism against nationalities is not a solution to seeking global gender justice, nor is it feasible for reaping possible benefits of economic cooperation that can both help India and Taiwan.

Given the record of racist attacks against Southeast Asian workers in the past in Taiwan, along with the hyping up of racism against the potential arrival of Indian workers in Taiwan, New Delhi must take adequate precautions while formalising the Memorandum of Cooperation with Taiwan, which must incorporate mechanisms to fight racism and discrimination. In addition, a more stringent framework against disinformation from China that can thwart all possibilities of benefits due to labour mobility between India and Taiwan needs to be devised.

(Dr. Sriparna Pathak is an Associate Professor of China Studies, and the Director of the Centre for Northeast Asian Studies at O.P. Jindal Global University.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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