Charlie Wu: Why should Vancouver befriend Kaohsiung?

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      By Charlie Wu

      The Taiwanese-Canadian community in Vancouver is proposing that city council consider the City of Kaohsiung in Taiwan as Vancouver's first "Friendship City". 

      According to the Friendship City motion passed on September 21 by city council, this program has to be a community-led initiative. The Asian-Canadian Special Events Association (ACSEA), of which I'm the managing partner, is answering the call. 

      Despite an open objection by the Chinese consulate in Vancouver, Vancouver cannot be pressured by a foreign government, especially one with a track record of harassing Canadians and Taiwanese for years.

      First, why does it make sense for Kaohsiung to be considered as a Friendship City for Vancouver? Both cities share many characteristics. Geographically, both are harbour cities, with Kaohsiung being the third largest city in Taiwan and Vancouver being located in the third largest metropolis in Canada.

      The City of Vancouver is the centre of major arts and culture in Western Canada while the City of Kaohsiung is famous for the Megaport Music Festival and for having some of the newest world-renowned arts venues in Asia.

      Furthermore, both cities proudly celebrate their Indigenous roots and have very vibrant LGBTQ2S+ communities. Taiwan has been one of the most remarkable democracies in the world and one of the most progressive societies in Asia.

      Secondly, the annual TAIWANfest in Vancouver is one of the longest-running festivals in Vancouver. It has been connecting Vancouver to Taiwan for more than 32 years.

      Starting in 2016, the festival has evolved into a platform where Asian cultures come together to share and learn about our similarities and differences. 

      Over the years, communities representing Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and South Korea have all participated in TAIWANfest's Dialogue with Asia series; there are plans to continue these dialogues with many other cultures around the world. 

      Our organization, the ACSEA, also partnered with the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics Cultural Olympiad in creating LunarFest, which is now one of the largest Lunar New Year celebrations in Canada. 

      Since 2010, LunarFest has evolved into a celebration that aims to bring communities together and foster a new celebration unlike any other city in the world. Not only was LunarFest inspired by the Taiwan Lantern Festival, the evolution of Coastal Lunar Lanterns and The Lantern City exhibitions in Vancouver have been made possible with contributions by indigenous artists from both Canada and Taiwan. 

      In addition to the two signature annual festivals, our organization has partnered with many arts organizations in Vancouver in facilitating exchanges between Taiwan and Vancouver. I believe that the exchanges between Taiwan and Vancouver have been among the most meaningful partnerships around. 

      These are a great basis for the launch of a community-led Friendship City initiative.

      Thirdly, this program is exactly how diverse residents, including the community of newcomers to Vancouver, can find ways to contribute to this great city of ours.

      When I was a member of the arts and cultural advisory committee and when I have been consulted about a vision for our city, I have always advocated in favour of motivating our diverse and vibrant community of newcomers to bring in new audiences or expand the reach for our extraordinary community of artists. 

      Since I was born in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, I would love to see our Vancouver talents gain steady and regular access to some of the new world-class performing arts venues in the Weiwuying Performing Arts Center or the Kaohsiung Music Center.

      Moreover, I would love to see Vancouver-based artists or bands appear in the Megaport Music Festival in Kaohsiung.

      The possibilities don’t end there as I would also love to see artists from Coast Salish Nations collaborating with many Indigenous artists from Kaohsiung. Imagine introducing the great art collection of Emily Carr to a new audience in Asia. 

      As Taiwan is the first nation in Asia that recognizes same-sex marriages, the exchanges between the two LGBTQ2+ communities would also be very exciting. 

      Lastly, as a democratic island nation with freedom of expression, Taiwan offers an opportunity for many Chinese-speaking artists from Vancouver to share their work and exchange thoughts with their counterparts in Asia without fear.

      When the Friendship City program was approved, I was so ecstatic to see this vision becoming a reality.

      An aerial view of the Kaohsiung Exhibition Center.
      © CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

      Fourthly, Taiwanese love to travel and Taiwanese love to help friends. 

      According to a Taiwanese media report, with a population of only 23 million people, Taiwan ranks number 10 in the world for international travel behind nations with much larger economies and populations. Taiwanese people recorded nearly 17 million outbound travels in 2018 and spent nearly $36 billion abroad. 

      Taiwan also donated the most of any nations around the world to Japan’s 2011 earthquake-relief efforts, with more than $300 million contributed. That was over four times the magnitude of Canadian donations to China during the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. 

      After the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, Taiwan also donated millions of masks around the world to help prevent the spread of the virus.

      Fifthly, I have a family with two children and I work with many young people.  For many years, I have always preached to them to believe in themselves and in the core values that Canada stands for. 

      Taiwan has one of the most robust democracies in Asia and is one of the most important hi-tech economies in the world; however, Taiwan has been under constant military threat from China for years. 

      If countries like Canada don’t want to befriend Taiwan because of pressure from the Chinese government, how can we be taken seriously when we tell the world and our future generations about the values we strive for?

      Vancouver has five sister cities currently in the world including Guangzhou, China, which has 36 of its own sister cities.

      How can you ask your “sister” not to make friends just because she “doesn’t” like it? 

      As the Friendship City program is aimed to address the problems and burdens associated with the Sister City program over the years, I truly believe that the case for Kaohsiung to be considered as a Friendship City for Vancouver has been established beyond any reasonable doubt.

      Canada knew the challenges that would arise from the "two Michaels" intimidation from China. Do we really need to let China decide on who our friends should be in the world?