Ronan Gao’s great grandmother, surnamed Chai, meeting Ma Ying-jeou in Sydney, Australia in 2006. At the time, Ma was Mayor of Taipei, and would later become the President of Taiwan (ROC). Chai, whose given names are unknown, was interned in Australia during WWII alongside her brother-in-law Liang Hou-min

This is part two in an interview with Ronan Gao – an Australian who recently found out he had a degree of Taiwanese ancestry in his past.

Part one is here.

Ronan discusses what this means to him, how he feels, the hypocrisy of other Taiwanese at times, and even predicts where the Taiwan – China relations are going!

In preparing for this interview we discussed race playing a part in interactions between Asian and non-Asian users of social media regarding Taiwan, primarily white residents or Taiwan commentators seen as having less to offer Taiwan coverage than their Asian equals.

Having grown up as a minority in a predominantly white nation, what do you feel about this?

Honestly, throughout much of my life, I’ve believed that there were too many Asians in my immediate vicinity.

As I’ve mentioned, I went to a selective high school where 90% of students were Asian, even though I live in a predominantly white country, as you’ve stated here.

I also attended a selective primary school where my class (the selective one) was 95% Asian, whereas the mainstream classes were 95% white.

A portrait of Liang Hou-min, Ronan Gao’s great grand uncle, who was interned in Australia during WWII due to his ancestry from Taiwan, which was a colony of Imperial Japan from 1895 to 1945. Drawn by Ronan Gao as part of his Visual Arts major body of work in 2020

I don’t really have an Asian nationalist world view, but rather the opposite.

Throughout much of my youth, I’ve struggled to assert my Australian national identity in contrast to many of my peers, who instead hold much stronger Asian identities.

Because I look Asian most other people, whites and Asians alike, presume that I should have similar beliefs and mannerisms to other Asians.

Whites think “you’re not one of us”, and end up rejecting me, whereas Asians think “you’re one of us”, but end up rejecting me anyway when they learn how different from them I really am.

However, this year, I’ve been attending a TAFE college, which is relatively diverse, and I’ve been accepted by people from all backgrounds here, including both whites and Asians.

Sometimes, I wish that I had never attended these selective schools… however, if I hadn’t attended my selective high school, I probably would have never discovered my Taiwanese ancestry, which I was alerted to by one of my peers.

So, even though I regret the experience overall, at least I’ve been able to take away at least one positive thing from it.

Ronan Gao’s great grandmother, surnamed Chai, meeting Ma Ying-jeou in Sydney, Australia in 2006. At the time, Ma was Mayor of Taipei, and would later become the President of Taiwan (ROC). Chai, whose given names are unknown, was interned in Australia during WWII alongside her brother-in-law Liang Hou-min

In terms of white people in Asia, I do believe that it’s not fair how predominantly white countries tend to allow in huge numbers of Asian immigrants, whereas Asian countries have very strict immigration policies.

You would expect that Asians in these white countries would be more grateful about being allowed to live these countries; some are, but many aren’t.

Some people argue that Australia and the United States, among other similar countries (e.g. New Zealand and Canada) are not truly “white” countries but should rather be considered the property of all their combined ethnic groups.

In fact, I lean towards the view that all people within a given society should be considered equals; which would mean that the previous statement should be true. In fact, it should be true across all countries, including Asian ones.

That said, it’s well known that Asian countries, especially East Asian countries, tend to be ethno-states. To be fair, most countries have historically been ethno-states.

Still, if Australia and the United States are expected to be “multicultural” in the present day, then the same should be expected of countries in Asia, and across the world, for that matter.

How, if at all, are you increasing your awareness of issues relating to Taiwan?

Almost everything that I know about Taiwan, I’ve learnt from the Internet. My grandmother doesn’t like to talk about Taiwan.

My mother doesn’t know anything about Taiwan. As far as I’m aware, my two brothers don’t even know that they have Taiwanese ancestry.

I also do not have any Taiwanese friends, as I’ve mentioned; I know very few Taiwanese people in real life. Most of my friends know relatively little about Taiwan.

As such, the Internet is my primary source of information about Taiwan, either through the media or through talking to people. Taiwan is sometimes mentioned on the television, though this is not common.

At school, most of what I’ve ever been taught about Taiwan has been biased in favour of China, so I’ve not been able to learn much about Taiwan there. There’s a museum dedicated to the internment camp where my family was held during WWII, and I’ve gone there to learn more about Taiwan, though the museum mainly focuses on Japanese history; the museum is called “Tatura Irrigation and Wartime Camps Museum”.

There’s also a book that was written about the internment camp, including some segments about my own family, but it also mainly discusses Japanese history; the book is called “Beyond All Hate”, by Major James T. Sullivan.

Social media websites that I’ve used to learn more about Taiwan include, in order from the earliest to the most recent, Wikipedia, YouTube, Quora, Reddit, Twitter, Discord and Facebook.

I’ve also come across various Taiwanese news outlets such as Taiwan News, Taipei Times, Focus Taiwan, Commonwealth, New Bloom, Ketagalan Media and, of course, Taiwan Times.

I vaguely followed the 2020 Taiwanese presidential election, mainly through Reddit.

It was not surprising to me that William Lai ended up being chosen as Tsai Ing-wen’s VP. I also found Han Kuo-yu’s fall from grace amusing.

Throughout my online Taiwan-related endeavours, I’ve come across many “wumao”. I’ve also come across pro-KMTers, whom I honestly find quite bizarre.

I’ve joined a few pro-KMT online communities (on Quora, Reddit and Discord) in order to learn more about their perspectives.

Interestingly, I have managed to find a photo of my great grandmother shaking hands with Ma Ying-jeou. Maybe my family is pro-KMT; though, I really don’t know.

Would you like to visit the country in a post-COVID world?

I would like to visit Taiwan in a post-COVID world.

However, I’m not sure how or when I would arrange to do so.

Right now, I’m still stuck in Australia, and likely will be for the foreseeable future. I may end up spending the rest of my life in Australia.

Taiwan's CECC in Taipei
CECC HQ in Taipei

Or, I may end up travelling overseas. I’m not sure. I’m currently interested in the Visual Arts. A career in that field might be accompanied with overseas travel, including to Taiwan, which seems to have a decent art scene.

I’ve come across at least one Taiwanese artist displaying his works in Australia; at the Sculpture by the Sea in Bondi.

If offered the chance of a Taiwanese passport, would you take it? And why / why not?

If I was offered the chance to acquire a Taiwanese passport (with little effort required), I would most definitely take it.

However, I’ve got an ethnic-Burmese friend here in Australia who tried to get a Taiwanese passport (he has minor Chinese ancestry) and he wasn’t successful.

Of course, there’s always the option of immigrating to Taiwan… though, I think I may have to give up my Australian citizenship, which is probably not a good idea.

If I could have dual Taiwanese-Australian citizenship somehow, that would be great.

I can’t speak Mandarin or Taiwanese, so it would probably be helpful to learn those languages, if I ever do decide to move to Taiwan.

Last Q – a decade from now, where does a young fella from Oz with some Taiwanese ancestry see Taiwan vis-a-vis its links to China?

Ronan Gao visiting Hong Kong in January 2019

I’ve previously predicted a couple of things regarding the futures of Taiwan, China and Chinese-Taiwanese relations (i.e. Cross-Strait relations).

I believe that the DPP will win the 2024, Taiwanese presidential election (I also predicted that they would win the 2020 presidential election, and this prediction came true).

I believe that the KMT is on the verge of collapse, which could spark a fourth Taiwan Strait crisis, with the PRC perceiving that its principle ally in Taiwan is losing influence.

I believe that Chinese and American influence in Taiwan is going to increase substantially within the next few years.

Regarding United States influence, even if Joe Biden wins the 2020, United States presidential election I still think support for Taiwan in the United States is only going to increase.

It’s notable that I made most of these predictions prior to both COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests, as well as prior to the implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong.

These three factors have substantially changed the geopolitical atmosphere, though not enough, I would say, to change the tide against Taiwan.

This is especially true since Taiwan has been one of the world leaders in its response to COVID-19, and since Taiwan has been gradually liberalising over the past couple of decades.

Regarding Chinese influence, I’m more unsure about that, but I predict that not much will change from what is already happening.

Chinese economic encroachment (such as in Kinmen), attacks from Chinese military hackers, and Chinese (empty) military threats will continue.

I have theorised that, within the next 30 to 60 years, Taiwan will attain de jure independence.

I also believe that the PRC will not collapse within the next 130 years, contrary to what some commentators such as Gordon Chang believe.

As such, I believe that Taiwan is going to have to manage its relations very carefully with both China and the United States, essentially forever (I will probably be dead130 years from now).

The Somaliland delegation in Taipei

It would probably be a good idea to expand alliances to other countries, which Taiwan is already apparently doing such as Thailand, Hong Kong, the Czech Republic, Somaliland, India, Japan, Vietnam and Australia.

The United States will be a rather unreliable diplomatic partner in the very near future, due to the ongoing 2020, presidential election.

There’s a slight chance that Taiwan will end up being annexed by China at some point in the future. However, the longer China waits to annex Taiwan, the harder such an act will become.

Taiwan is drifting further and further away from China by the day.

Recognition for Taiwan is on the rise. Taiwanese nationalism within Taiwan is on the rise. I don’t think “peaceful reunification” is possible anymore.

A minor conflict is likely going to occur soon, but not an all-out war.

If WWIII occurs at some point within the next, say 30 years, then I’ve got no idea what is going to happen to either China or Taiwan.

 

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