Interview with Aurora Chang · Global Voices in Spanish

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cannot be subject to the same rules as recognized states

Screenshot of the video “Hundreds march in the streets of Taipei City in support of Palestinians” on the AP Archive YouTube channel. Fair use.

As a society, Taiwan, which relies heavily on the States for its security, often aligns itself with Washington on foreign policy issues, including its uncritical support for Israel. This makes any support for Palestine rare in Taiwanese society. However, since the start of the war against Gaza on October 7, the island has gone through a series of initiatives calling for an alternative discourse on Gaza.

Public attention in Taiwan first increased following the widely reported return from Gaza of Hung Shang-kai, a Taiwanese doctor with Doctors Without Borders, in early November. The demonstrations did not take long to arrive: on November 25, more than 500 protesters, including Taiwanese and foreigners, gathered in the center of Taipei, in Da’an Park, to express their support for Palestine and the idea of ​​an end to the immediate . Already on November 22, as can be seen in the following video, pro-Palestine protesters also gathered in front of the Israeli embassy de factoor in Taipei (as most countries recognize the People’s Republic of China, but maintain representative offices in Taiwan):

Pro-Palestine Rally Held Outside Israeli Office in Taipei | TaiwanPlus News

On March 24, a protest was organized in Freedom Square in central Taipei, an iconic location for demonstrations and commemorations. Among others, Dr. Hazem Almassry, one of the few residents of Gaza, or perhaps the only one who lives in Taipei, participated in the protest.

To understand what motivates a minority of Taiwanese to speak out for Palestine, Global Voices spoke with Aurora Chang, Taiwanese human rights activist who, among other commitments, participates in the coordination of Palestine Solidarity Movements. Chang, a Taiwanese national, studied history and politics in London, specializing in Eastern Europe and Russia, and currently works at the International Tibet Network. She is also a member of New Bloom magazine, based in Taipei, and has participated in the Taiwan Defends Movement. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Aurora Chang. Photo used with permission.

Filip Noubel (FN): As one of the few coordinators in Taiwan of actions presenting an alternative narrative about Palestine in Taiwan, a society that is largely ignorant or indifferent to Palestine, how do you assess the developments in the last six months regarding this form of activism and its reception in Taiwan?

Aurora Chang (AC): In the beginning, it was noticeable how Taiwan-based NGOs were reluctant to react publicly, with the exception of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights. But even for them, while individual members supported the pro-Palestinian movement early on, it took them a few months to think about their own public-facing strategy and activities as an organization.

Overall, it becomes clear, not just in Taiwan, that what Israel is doing is completely disproportionate to the October 7,th 2023, attacks. To a lot of people, everything just started in October because they don’t have the knowledge of what happened before the attacks. But views are slowly shifting, as the extent of casualties, particularly children, is revealed.

A few weeks ago, I was on PTT [Professional Technology Temple, a popular social media platform in Taiwan], and saw that people, even if they question the exact figures provided by , say it is still a lot of dead children. No one who follows the news can justify what Israel is doing at this scale.

Aurora Chang (AC): Taiwan-based NGOs were initially reluctant to react publicly, with the exception of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights. But even in that case, although some members supported the pro-Palestine movement from the beginning, it took them a few months to think about their own public strategy and their activities as an organization.

In general, it is clear, and not only in Taiwan, that what Israel is doing is completely disproportionate to the attacks of October 7, 2023. For many, it all started in October because they do not know what happened before the attacks. But opinions are changing little by little, as the number of victims, especially children, becomes known.

A few weeks ago, I was on PTT (Professional Technology Temple, a popular social media platform in Taiwan), and I saw that people, although they question the exact figures given by Hamas, say that there are still many children dead. No one who follows the news can justify what Israel is doing on this scale.

FN: And your own journey over the last six months? What has he learned since then?

AC: I am still learning, this is not my area of ​​expertise. But talking to Gazans in real-life and online and heating their stories humanizes the history you read about, and gives it a face, and that changes everything. Before October, I didn’t know any Palestinian personally. I had a very rudimentary understanding of Palestinian resistance and Israel’s apartheid system. I also had made, in the past, a parallel between Palestine and Taiwan: we are both unrecognized states, we are smaller countries, our identity is constantly under threat. Of course our history is very different.

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AC: I’m still learning, it’s not my specialty. But talking to Gazans in real life and online, and hearing their stories humanizes the story you read about, gives it a face, and that changes everything. Before October, I did not know any Palestinians personally. He had a very rudimentary knowledge of the Palestinian resistance and Israel’s apartheid system. He had also drawn a parallel between Palestine and Taiwan: we are both unrecognized states, we are smaller countries, our identity is constantly threatened. Of course, our story is very different.

FN: Do you think the Taiwanese government will also change its position?

AC: I am extremely ashamed of my government, but also about the Taiwanese media coverage, and the ignorance of our civil society. Regarding our government, I don’t think things are going to change. The current Foreign Minister Joseph Wu seems to personally support Israel. In February 2024, that is four months into the war, there was also the confirmation of the establishment of a Taiwan–Israel congressional alliance. No Taiwanese official will say anything supportive of Palestine in a public forum. What is disappointing is that this alliance is of the DPP, and includes people who are indeed progressive.

I am very critical of my government, but also recognize that Taiwan received undue scrutiny in its attitudes towards Palestine, compared to European countries that are also silent on Gaza. Taiwan cannot be held to the same standards as it is an unrecognized state. We have an existential threat, so we can’t always choose the powers we are in bed with — the US.

Furthermore, while official Chinese rhetoric supports Palestinian self-determination, in reality Beijing conducts massive trade with Israel, and shares learning in terms of surveillance technology, which is used against Uyghurs.

AC: I am ashamed of my Government, but also of the Taiwanese media coverage and the ignorance of our civil society. As for our Government, I don’t think things are going to change. Current Foreign Minister Joseph Wu appears to personally support Israel. In February 2024, four months after the war, a Taiwan-Israel alliance was also confirmed in . No Taiwanese official will say anything in support of Palestine in a public forum. The disappointing thing is that this alliance is from the Democratic Progressive Party, and includes people who are progressive.

I am very critical of my Government, but I also recognize that Taiwan received undue scrutiny on its attitudes towards Palestine, compared to European countries that are also silent about Gaza. The same cannot be demanded of Taiwan, since it is an unrecognized State. We have an existential threat, so we don’t always get to choose the powers we hang out with: the United States.

Furthermore, although official Chinese rhetoric supports Palestinian self-determination, in reality Beijing maintains a lot of trade with Israel and publicizes learning in surveillance technology, which is used against the Uyghurs.

FN: Where do you think pro-Palestinian activism has done best in Taiwan?

AC: This is more related to my personal experience, but the most powerful thing is actually the fact that my father has changed his views. He was always interested in Israeli history. In October 2023, he would say that both sides are wrong but also deserved his sympathy. But after seeing my work and struggle, he once acknowledged it is a genocide. I feel that if I can change the opinion of my parents, I can change anybody’s opinion. In terms of activism, we haven’t made much headway with local media. In our events it is usually always the same group of people coming. Our Instagram account promoting pro-Palestinian activism is growing, but numbers remain small.

It is important to note that there are other groups involved in pro-Palestinian activism, and we don’t always agree, but it shows this is an organically growing and diverse community.

AC: This is more related to my personal experience, but the most shocking thing is actually that my father changed his mind. He was always interested in Israeli history. In October 2023, he said that both sides were wrong, but that they also deserved his solidarity. But after seeing my work and my struggle, he once recognized that it is a genocide. I feel like if I can change my parents’ opinion, I can change anyone’s opinion. In terms of activism, we have not made much progress with local media. The same people usually always attend our events. Our Instagram account to promote pro-Palestinian activism is growing, but the numbers are still low.

It is important to note that there are other groups involved in pro-Palestinian activism, and we do not always agree, but this shows that it is a diverse and organically growing community.

FN: You also work for a Tibetan NGO as a coordinator between movements. Can you explain what this means, why it is important and why it is very challenging?

AC: I work for the International Tibet as a coordinator for East Asia. I liaise with Tibetans in Taiwan, Japan, and Australia on how to build stronger ties with the Uyghur, Southern Mongolian, Chinese dissident movements — they have a common enemy in the current Chinese regime. This work connecting people from different backgrounds is important; only true solidarity can lead to change in the long term. It is challenging; we are fighting authoritarian regimes with immense power and control over the occupied regions, and also global politics. People live in exile and have never set foot in Tibet, so there is a lot of trauma.

AC: I work for Tibet International as coordinator for East Asia. She collaborated with Tibetans from Taiwan, Japan and Australia to strengthen ties with the Uighur, Southern Mongol and Chinese dissident movements, which have a common enemy in the current Chinese regime. This work of connecting people from different backgrounds is important; only true solidarity can lead to long-term change. It is a challenge; We fight against authoritarian regimes with immense power and control over occupied regions, and also against world politics. People live in exile and have never set foot in Tibet, so there is a lot of trauma.

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