A GLOBAL STATE OF CHAOS:
FROM TAIWAN TO CANADA
Written By: Taysha Brown
When I first heard the news that an unknown virus was breeding in China only a short distance away from my new home in Taiwan, I felt a little uneasy, but mostly unsure of my feelings. I concealed any fears I had with optimism, believing that China would prevent the virus from spreading, a soothing cocktail of naivety, hopefulness, and apathy.
There is an African proverb that says “silence gives rise to peace and with peace comes security”. My journey to uplift my life and move to Taiwan in August 2019 is rooted in this very notion, searching for a place of stillness where I could heal and reflect. Escaping the hectic noise that embodies Toronto’s fast-paced culture, I searched for a place to be with my thoughts. I left Toronto to find peace and quiet, which I found in Taiwan. Whenever I feel uncertain of my feelings or find myself slipping back into old patterns, I disappear into the country’s beautiful mountain ranges, my place of solace - a place where I can be silent, regroup, and rise.
It was only when I reached the summit of my favourite mountain in Taipei, that I was able to truly reflect on the news of COVID-19. As I sat there reading one of my favourite books of poetry, The essentials of Rumi, an excerpt struck my eye that read, “here comes a sea followed by an ocean” by Fariduddin Attar. I felt my suppressed fears resurface: fears of uncertainty, isolation, and security came into question. It finally dawned on me that this virus was only the beginning of something much larger at play.
Although I came to terms with my own uncertainties, I realized that this was not something I could stay silent about, nor was it going to go away as easily as I presumed. Apathy was no longer an option. Fortunately, because Taiwan prevented an outbreak from occurring, residents continued with their daily lives. I was able to reflect on a mountain top and not within the confines of lockdown measures. I still count my blessings that by chance, I had made my way to Taiwan only months before the pandemic, where there has only been a total of 446 cases, 7 deaths, and zero new cases for 55 consecutive days as of June 10th 2020.
Beginning in January of 2020, Taiwan established the Central Epidemic Command Center to handle preventive measures. The government introduced travel restrictions and established quarantine protocols for high-risk travelers during Chinese New Year, prime time for travel between China and Taiwan. At the English school that I teach for, they began conducting surveys for each employee to ensure we had no symptoms and to track our interactions with people traveling abroad during the holidays. As February arrived, schools enforced mandatory masks, in addition to temperature checks, hand washing and sanitizing before entering the premises. More importantly, the Taiwanese government took over the production and distribution of medical-grade masks to prevent panic buying and implemented a mask rationing system across the country at an early stage. The government's transparency and communication with its citizens paved the way for an honest, preventative framework allowing residents to follow the progression of the virus every step of the way. While everyone has taken individual precautions to stay safe, the containment of the virus has been met on a collective level - every aspect of society working together.
It is no coincidence that Taiwan has so gracefully contained the spread of the virus and prevented lockdown procedures in the country. Since President Tsai Ing-Wen’s first term in office in 2016, her transparency and commitment to improve communication with the public reflects an urgency for collective action. As the first woman to be elected into office, the seventh president of the Republic of China under the 1947 constitution, and the second president from the Democratic Progressive Party (DDP), Tsai has led the country to safety and security amid a global humanitarian crisis.
For centuries Taiwan (Republic of China) has experienced political turmoil, including constant invasions from foreign powers, to political tensions with neighboring China. The long history of disputes between Taiwan and China has been rooted in China’s claim of the island as its own territory. Fearing the democratization of the self-ruling island, President Tsai cautions Taiwan’s citizens to “be aware that China is infiltrating and dividing Taiwan’s society in an all-round way”. China’s concerted diplomatic campaign to isolate Taiwan from global affairs has silenced the nation from working with organizations such as the U.N. and the WHO, making them more vulnerable during times of crisis.
Despite tensions with China and being excluded from the WHO and the U.N., Taiwan sought communication with the WHO on December 31st 2019, when they [first] suspected that the virus could potentially be transmitted from human-to-human contact. The WHO ignored warnings from Taiwan and reiterated China’s statement that there was “no evidence of human-to-human transmission”, which Dr. Lo Yi-Chun, the deputy director-general of Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control says, “provided a false sense of security to the world”.
"When world leaders lack transparency and communication between the government and its people as a means to contain ‘social order’, we can no longer tune out and take a break from global matters."
The continuous coercion and silencing of Taiwan has shed light on the underpinnings of a global system that is broken at the very core. Countries such as the U.S. and China have conveyed a lack of cooperation and communication between nations during the pandemic, which have only escalated and made matters worse on a global scale. When world leaders lack transparency and communication between the government and its people as a means to contain ‘social order’, we can no longer tune out and take a break from global matters.
What does this say about the global state of democracy? It declares a global state of chaos.
According to the global Democracy Index, which aims to measure the state of democracy in 167 countries, Taiwan is ranked in the ‘flawed democracy’ category, below the rankings of Canada and the US. However, during these chaotic circumstances, North America has failed to provide security for all of its citizens. For me, this index was perplexing and seemed like utter nonsense. Though, when the democracy index is compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, it all becomes a little clearer.
Systems, such as this index only specify rankings based on economic ability, lacking transparency and accountability beyond the numbers. The same systems whose values are rooted in colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism have been put into place for economic gain.
This doesn’t sound like the ‘full democracy’ that Canada ranks on the index scale. How can we declare the state of Canadian democracy as ‘full’ and Taiwan, ‘flawed’ when Canada has failed to meet the demands and needs of its people? BIPOC groups in Canada continue to suffer from the effects of COVID, in addition to the daily discrimination brought on by systemic colonialism, capitalism, and racism in patriarchal societies.
"This pandemic is an expression of an ongoing war between tired systems that sacrifice humanity in the interest of profit, self-interest, and power. This is an issue that goes beyond medical science, political allies, and global politics."
The mutual understanding, coordination, and harmony displayed between the Taiwanese government and its citizens illustrate the positive attributes of a democracy that are needed to mend these broken societal systems. Social systems have lost their sole purpose, which is to protect the earth and its inhabitants. This pandemic is an expression of an ongoing war between tired systems that sacrifice humanity in the interest of profit, self-interest, and power. This is an issue that goes beyond medical science, political allies, and global politics.
Watching North America unravel at the seams has been an interesting journey to say the least. While I have been fortunate enough to witness the deterioration of North America’s systems from afar, I have had ample time to question what Canada has been doing to combat the virus. Although we are perceived to be the more refined cousin of the U.S., we cannot ignore the fact that both countries were built on the same colonial foundations, inflicting violence and the continuous oppression of BIPOC. While Canada aims to encompass equality and is known for its world class health care system, the virus has magnified the inequalities in our health care and social systems.
In Canada, the majority have access to basic life necessities such as housing, water, and access to programs and services. As I watched complaints over social media platforms and saw people “suffer” in quarantine, while they day-drank and posted ridiculous Zoom meeting memes, “many Indigenous remote communities are without clean running water, safe affordable housing, education, health and a robust economy that support a quality of life.”
If we take a further look at Canada’s epicenter of the virus, Montreal North, one of the poorest urban regions in Canada, we will see that the neighborhood has a large racialized and immigrant population: more than two-thirds of its 84,000-plus residents were born outside of Canada or have at least one parent who was, according to 2016 census figures.
What do these two groups have in common besides being the most vulnerable to COVID-19? They belong to BIPOC communities, which are continuously hit the hardest during times of crises. This is a reminder that we need to stay curious and keep asking questions when we may feel uncertain, fearful, and isolated. How can we respond to the fact that COVID is having a disproportionate impact on BIPOC communities and the working class?
While it is still too soon to say where this state of flux will lead us, one thing the pandemic has brought to light, is our need for collective action on a national and global scale. Although COVID-19 has brought many unfortunate attributes to the forefront, it also has the potential to reshape the sociopolitical systems that support them, or at the very least the way we think about them. When the world has acknowledged that these systems, which are meant to protect us, are systemically embedded in racism, colonialism, and capitalism, only then can we take collective action to bring justice to our political, social, and health care systems. A lack of cooperation between individuals, communities, countries, and beyond, will only keep us stagnant during times of unrest.
"[O]ne thing the pandemic has brought to light, is our need for collective action on a national and global scale."
As an observer during these weird and uncertain times, I can vouch for Taiwan's success story. It highlights the importance of solidarity, compassion, and communication amongst its citizens and their ability to put political differences aside for the benefit of humanity.
As COVID-19 has asked the world to be still, we cannot continue to stay silent when we cannot trust global organizations and our own governments to keep us safe and secure. We must look inwards and call every person to act both individually and collectively. When we become complacent with the very structures that oppress the vulnerable, we become the oppressor. When we can recognize the suffering of others, coming from a place of empathy and tolerance, we can begin to reshape the systems that are put in place to help one another.
So, when will we stop being content and realize that complacency will be the death of democracy?
"If we cannot trust our own communities to practice mutual-respect for others’ safety and value every human life as much as one’s own, then we have not done our job as a collective."
As Canada begins its second phase of reopening after lockdown limitations and we watch crowds desperately flock to overcrowded parks and beach parties, my concerns continue to grow. While I have traded in my cocktail of naivety, hopefulness and apathy, I question whether most Canadians have done the same. The actions taken by park and beach goers; failing to abide by social distancing restrictions, reflects the necessary shift from a place of self-interest to a more collective outlook. One that acknowledges the suffering of others and expresses willingness to help communities that do not have the luxury to picnic in the park or disappear to a mountain top during an epidemic.
If we cannot trust our own communities to practice mutual-respect for others’ safety and value every human life as much as one’s own, then we have not done our job as a collective. As Taiwan has exhibited individual precautions to stay safe, the containment of the virus heavily relies on the joint effort that has continued to date, an outlook that is embedded in the Country’s value system, one that favours collectivism over individualism. Once we realize that the protection of humanity and of oneself is united, we can collectively heal.
As we watch BIPOC communities across the world continue to suffer from the repercussions of COVID, in addition to the daily injustices supported by broken social systems; we need to continue to question why some people feel comfortable returning to a state of ‘normalcy’, while others are still faced with fear and uncertainty. A question that has been provoked by the epidemic, but one that goes beyond the virus and should not be forgotten after its passing.