Figuring out Taiwan: Strait Talk

Figuring out Taiwan: Strait Talk
Photo Credit: Strait Talk website

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By Jeffrey Tsai

Last year I attended Strait Talk at Brown University.  Strait Talk, in simple terms, is a closed-door weeklong session on Taiwan’s future. This session is intended for a citizen-to-citizen dialogue, without political jargon, in an open space. In one week we, a group of fifteen divided into “delegations” of five (China/PRC, Taiwan/ROC and the US), opened up to each other.  As part of the American delegation, I took part with people that are as passionate as I am about Taiwan.  We exposed what we believed to be core issues and tried to make a step forward together through forging a “consensus document” outlining what measures all participants agreed on to be implemented for peace. However, why does Strait Talk need to be conducted in private? This has to do with security.

I realized that Strait Talk is selectively catered to people who cannot openly express themselves and those who care about Taiwan.  Taiwan is a sensitive topic in many circles.  Within such a closed-door session, they benefit greatly from this weeklong conversation since the value lies with understanding one another using honest dialogue.  It allows everyone, as private citizens, to honestly express how they perceive Taiwan.  I personally have met people whose insight could not be made public due to well-founded concerns.  So by having the whole session closed-door, people can freely express themselves and put forward ideas that may be the breakthrough in the Taiwan Strait.  Without a secure framework, nothing of weight would be discussed.

For the people who care about Taiwan, Strait Talk is a great opportunity to have a heartfelt dialogue because any dialogue is better than none.  A good example was the history timeline we talked about.  When we reached the year 1996, I told the group about hearing fighter jets screaming across the sky while another told of air-raid sirens and drills.  We were talking about the Taiwan Missile Crisis, which to my surprise, not everyone knew.   Granted, no one knew everything, but this topic jump-started a deeper discussion about understanding one another.

Facilitator and delegates in deep discussion. Photo Credit: Strait Talk Brown

Facilitator and delegates in deep discussion. Photo Credit: Strait Talk Brown

Making the “consensus document,” despite participants’ personal opinions, impacts policy-making at the highest level because it shows that a consensus can be made. Much like policy-making between governments, it involves private discussions.  People-to-people interactions fundamentally define a relationship.  Combine that with authority and one would get policy, including foreign relations.  But like any enacted policy, agreement through consensus was required.  In the case of the “consensus document,” it required unanimous approval.

The fact that the document required unanimous approval showed the importance of positive relationships. This was why participants had to come in open-minded.  We had to understand each other in order to overcome issues to form the “consensus document.”  The creation of the document had seen flared emotions, arguments, tears and soul-searching.  We came in with good intentions and we did open up to each other to find solace, but the hardened reality of global politics changed what could have been made.  Instead of making a document by consensus, a document by agreement was created; the cold calculus of reality took precedence.

The first few days had us stripping down our defenses to know one another, but when the time came to create the document, we raised up our guards.  By putting our thoughts to paper, we defensively created a document that fell short.  What idealism we had coming in was vastly extinguished by the time we got out.  For security reasons I cannot go further into the document, but I can say that some knew such a document had consequences with their personal lives so they approved anonymously (See one of few public “consensus documents” here). Regardless, the biggest asset was what we, the next generation of peacemakers, walked away with: the connections amongst ourselves.

Related Links:
2013 Strait Talk Berkeley Consensus Document From Japan Policy Research Institute
2014 Strait Talk Berkeley Consensus Document From Japan Policy Research Institute

Hear the findings of the 2016 Brown Strait Talk!

Check out this year’s Strait Talk final presentation:
November 15, 2015 at Harvard’s Harvard Hall 104
November 16, 2015 at NYU School of Law’s Furman Hall 120

You can join Strait Talk, too!

Interested in talking about Taiwan? Check out the websites below for more information and how to apply!
Strait Talk Parent Website
Strait Talk Brown (Taking place now!)
Strait Talk Berkeley (Takes place in March)
Strait Talk Hong Kong
Strait Talk Taipei

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The original text is published on Outreach for Taiwan here: Figuring out Taiwan: Strait Talk

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Lea Yang

Outreach For Taiwan (OFT) strives to educate others about Taiwan by providing information and understanding about the political atmosphere, current events, and historical relevance of Taiwan. Outreach For Taiwan holds workshops and other events to fulfill its mission to educate young proponents and supporters of Taiwan on how to advocate for Taiwan.

OFT is not connected to any political party, nationality, or ethnicity.