Two stories occur in the press this week regarding relationships between Vietnam and Taiwan. They span the poles from selfless altruism to inhumane exploitation. Or do they?
Ranging from various media sources from the BBC, Vietnam women in Taiwan 'abused', to Vietnam's Thanh Nien (Youth) News, Two Taiwanese now charged with rape of 30 Vietnamese women.
Japan's Asahi reports that Taiwan is passing new legislation to deal with this issue, known as the "20 Policy" which states:
* The bride to be must be at least 20 years old, and must have a minimum command of the Chinese language.
* The age difference between the bride and groom must be less than 20 years.
* Couples must also submit to a private interview at the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations, a government branch office, prior to registering a marriage.
The move is intended to prevent bogus marriages from taking place for the sake of obtaining visas for women who will end up working in the underground sex trade. Since the new regulation took effect, the number of quickie weddings has dropped by 40 percent. As of June 2004, out of Taiwan's total population of 23 million, about 500,000 (excluding those from mainland China) held foreign resident certificates. Many were from Vietnam, at 130,000; about 80,000 of them had come to the island after marriage to a Taiwanese. However, the divorce rate among this group was much higher than the Taiwanese average.
Legislation usually responds to problems that exist. The Pearl S. Buck Foundation has established a hotline for domestic abuse in Tapei with support in five languages, one of them being Vietnamese. It was reported that 56% of all calls required Vietnamese support.
One Side of a Coin
In an apparent counter effort, the other story as listed on the Taiwanese e-governance site (also implying an official Taiwan government site) is the attempt at a feel good story, "Taiwan reaches out helping hand to Vietnamese victim of Agent Orange." It's not my intent to detract from the merits of goodwill, but the way this story reads is like a self-congratulatory pat on the back. It opens:
"With swelling of his brain membranes, cleft palate and lip, and severe maxillofacial deformities, eight years ago Ah-fu came to Taiwan as a charity case to undergo surgery. Today, he is a lively child who has grown taller, of course, and is now able to turn his head from side to side. These miraculous changes have caused A-fu's whole family to express their gratitude whenever the word "Taiwan" is mentioned, while the 6,000-odd other children in Vietnam with similar deformities can only sigh with envy."
Doesn't something seem scripted here? Does this feel good? It tastes sour. It reads less like a news story and more like a screenwriting exercise. It reminds me of Noam Chomsky's point about American resistance to the ongoing US military interventions around the world. He said that the administration strategy was to create framework around "supporting the troops" when the real question should have been around "supporting the policy". One cannot say, "No, I don't support the troops" just as one cannot criticize the a nation willing help victims suffering from the disabilitating effects of chemical warfare. But one can question the motivations, under certain conditions, for doing so.
The Other Same Side of the Coin
Surely there are mechanisms in place to protect women from such horrors! Apparently, up to 50 women are receiving refuge and shelter with a Vietnamese Catholic priest in Taiwan. This does not seem to be an isolated incident, and it follows a pattern of abuse well known and established.
As reported in the BBC article, "The Vietnamese media frequently publish stories of Vietnamese workers overseas being maltreated, beaten and humiliated by their employers. For several years they have criticised the Vietnamese Ministry of Labour for not doing enough to protect the workers abroad, particularly those in South Korea and Taiwan."
Responding to such allegation by the Vietnamese media, "In an interview with the BBC Vietnamese Service, Mr. Tran Dong Huy, Head of Vietnam's Ministry for Labour's Representative Bureau, denied that the Vietnamese authorities were not doing enough to protect the women, who are now said to be living in very poor and cramped conditions. He said that his bureau had contacted the Taiwanese authorities immediately, asking them to help any Vietnamese women who came to them needing protection and accommodation, and that his mobile number was always available. Tran Dong Huy replied that those women only went to the priest because they had his phone number."
Why would women that had Mr. Tran's mobile number for official protection still chose to contact the priest? It would seem to imply that allegations that these women are not finding the level of protection by the Labour Bureau adequate thus confirming the allegations by the Vietnamese Press. The article includes, "Dinh Quanh Anh Thai, a journalist for Little Saigon Radio in California - who has been investigating the conditions for Vietnamese female workers in Taiwan - said the fact the alleged victims are now under the care of Father Nguyen Van Hung, and not with Tran Dong Huy, proved they did not trust the government's representative."
To be honest, I'm very wary about citing clips from the Vietnamese American press in Southern California whose certain members have on record admitted to compromising their journalist integrity for personal motivations. I recall hearing one such reporter say bluntly that he will lie and fabricate stories without hesitation to rally support for his cause. I am not saying that all Vietnamese American journalists, or that the specific journalist above, compromise their journalistic integrity or fabricate stories, but only that they exist. Unfortunately, for me they stick out. Very few Vietnamese American journalists, from my own experience, have had the courage to confront the ever increasing power of the extreme right anti-communist political lobby at the expense of the larger Vietnamese American community.
I feel the Vietnamese American community on one hand, particularly the younger generation, largely does not share this viewpoint (unabashed lying) yet in the irony of seeking community empowerment, democratically elects these anti-democratic politicians. These politicians are currently trying to ramrod a certain issue down the American community under the guise of a flag. Thank you Minthy Bach for posting this.
Posted by on June 7, 2005 11:31 PM | Permalink