By Brian Hioe and Nicholas Haggerty

The murder of eight people, six of whom women of Asian descent, at massage parlors in and around Atlanta, Georgia, were reported on in Taiwan’s media. Mainstays like the Liberty Times, United Daily News, and the government Central News Agency featured articles on the violence, though without the same detail and attention as a chain restaurant’s marketing gimmick. Unlike in South Korea, no government official has issued a statement expressing condolences.

The greater concern evinced in government and mass media in South Korea is almost certainly due to the South Korean heritage of four of the victims. None, so far, have been connected in background with Taiwan. The way Taiwanese media has covered the carnage and government silence indicates that these crimes and the forces that built up to them are seen here in essence as American and foreign, not connected with Taiwan.

This, we believe, is a mistaken assumption.

Some might explain the root causes for the shooting as rooted in particularly American racial politics. It’s common to hear the view expressed that Taiwan is largely an ethnically homogeneous society that lacks the racial tensions in the United States. This came out in comments by Presidential Office spokesperson Joanne Ou, who in 2020 said, “The concept of racism does not exist in Taiwan. We do not have a problem of racism.”

This is, of course, not true. Racial discrimination against Taiwanese Indigenous is a longstanding problem, for one; even just last year, Taiwanese Indigenous were compared to apes by presenters at the Golden Bell Awards, Taiwan’s major awards for television and radio programs.

Otherwise, there have been numerous violent incidents against Southeast Asian migrant workers in Taiwan in past years. Examples include the 2017 shooting death of 27-year-old Vietnamese migrant worker Nguyen Quoc Phi by police. Although police claimed that Nguyen attacked them with rocks, police responded with overwhelming and deadly force. Other examples include violence committed against migrant fishermen on the high seas by their employers, such as is thought to have led to the 2015 death of Indonesian migrant fisherman Supriyanto and the disposal of his body on the high seas.

Racialized violence against women also occurs in Taiwan. As the perpetrators of this violence are primarily Taiwanese men, such violence obviously does not have its roots in anti-Asian sentiment. But when committed against migrants from Southeast Asian countries, one observes the similar phenomenon of men feeling entitled to commit violence against minority women lacking power and privilege in society.

Certainly, while Taiwan has not seen any shooting incident on par with the Atlanta shooting in past years, it does seem to be the case that Taiwanese and foreign men can get away with violence against Southeast Asian women without consequence. In one notable case, in 2017, a well-known leftist academic assaulted a group of Southeast Asian women working in a massage parlor, upset because the massage parlor did not offer sexual services. Though now retired, the academic in question was not pushed out of public life for his actions. Few media outlets besides tabloids like the Apple Daily — which themselves contribute toward social attitudes condoning violence against women with their sensational and highly sexualized coverage of such crimes — covered the incident.

The Tsai administration often cites the statistic that one out of ten elementary or middle school children have a foreign-born parent, usually from Southeast Asia, in order to highlight Taiwan’s increasing diversity. This is emphasized in order to distinguish Taiwan from China. But problems regarding misogyny and xenophobia are, unfortunately, global. In this light, instead of evaluating the Atlanta shootings as an incident with causes rooted in distant American racial politics, we should not overlook the related ideas present in Taiwan.

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)

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