What you need to know
New Bloom interviewed Hsieh Pei-fen (謝佩芬), legislative candidate for the DPP in Taipei City District 6. Hsieh previously worked as a diplomat at the Permanent Mission of Tuvalu to the United Nations and in the National Security Council.
Brian Hioe: Could you introduce yourself to readers who might not know you?
H: I’m 32 years old this year. Age is never a secret in Taiwanese elections, you have to say this right away in an interview. [Laughs]
I’m running for legislator in Da'an. My specialties are in law and diplomacy. I studied in Taiwan up until college, graduating with degrees in law and politics from National Taiwan University. After I graduated, I went to Harvard Law School for an MA.
Later on, I worked at the United Nations as a diplomat for three years, as part of the Permanent Mission of Tuvalu to the UN. Then I went to the Harvard University Kennedy School for an MA in Public Policy. When I returned to Taiwan, I worked as an assistant in the National Security Council.
This is a brief introduction to my life history. What I’ve done or studied in the past primarily has to do with public policy, particularly regarding law and diplomacy.
B: Why did you decide to run for elections?
H: From when I was in college, I was always very interested in public policy. You can see this in my history. I also participated in foreign affairs in student groups in college, which had to do with Taiwanese social, political, and historical issues. I got to know many friends that way.
After I went to America, I studied and then worked in the UN. But when I had free time, I would work on activities to promote outreach for Taiwan, such as talking about Taiwan’s situation to bystanders on the street. I also participated in FAPA’s Young Professional’s Group as a steering committee member and organized some events, including lobbying.
I was a co-founder of Cafe Philo in New York, which was already established in Taiwan then but wasn’t overseas before. Cafe Philo in New York was the first overseas branch. We began by meeting once every few weeks. Later on, we held a lot of events to discuss things, including politics, economics, society, culture, and so on, as related to Taiwan.
After returning to Taiwan, I entered the Presidential Office and began to work at the National Security Council. When I had free time, I would write articles that had to do with policy. I also became part of the New Frontiers Foundation think tank, a think tank close to the DPP, as part of their law and politics working group.
I decided to run this year because 2020 is a very important year. We can see the situation in Hong Kong currently, which shows us what the results of "one country, two systems would be." It was claimed that Hong Kong people would rule Hong Kong and that the system of government in Hong Kong would remain unchanged for 50 years. This is already a broken promise.
The DPP is very focused on young people this time, promoting their Taiwan Faction youth alliance and running young candidates in their twenties and thirties, hoping to resist China and protect Taiwanese freedom and democracy. The DPP party central looked me up, telling me what their thoughts were. Despite having worked in this field for so long, I wasn’t at the frontline. So I decided to run as a legislator for Da'an.
B: What do you think is particularly important about this election? You already raised Hong Kong, but are there key domestic issues as well?
H: This includes the economy, energy, education, and issues regarding space— we can take Da'an as an example. Comparatively speaking, Da'an is a more prosperous area, it’s also residential, and it’s Taipei’s public face. But there are also many older houses in Da'an. How can we renovate them to allow the residents of Da'an to have a safer living environment? This is something I hope to push for. Likewise, I hope to increase social subsidies to allow more people to use them, and to allow for renovations of older, more dangerous houses, and to protect the rights of residents. This is something I believe to be very important not only for Da'an, but domestically as a whole.
B: The DPP has nominated a number of young candidates this time. Do you think this reflects the growing participation of young people in Taiwanese politics?
H: Many young people pay attention to politics in Taiwan, but they are also very concerned with values.
I referred to our generation as a “service generation” when I announced I would be running because the DPP has passed through several generations. The first was marked by the Kaohsiung Incident and those who fought for democratic freedoms, such as Chen Chu and others. The second generation was the “defense lawyer generation,” which consisted of the defense lawyers for those involved in the Kaohsiung Incident, such as Chen Shui-bian, Frank Hsieh, Su Tseng-chang, and others.
After that was the "student movement generation,” consisting of people who entered the DPP after participating in student movements, such as Luo Wen-jia. There were assistants as well, who rose to become politicians after acting as legislative assistants.
The newer wave of political candidates primarily consists of people who identify with Taiwan and see their country as Taiwan: the so-called “natural independence generation.” We grew up here and our sense of belonging here is stronger than with anywhere else.
Even if we have traveled to other places, like how I went to the UN, I couldn’t forget about Taiwan, and I hoped to use my professional expertise as a frontline worker. This is definitely a trend among many Taiwanese young people.
B: What would you have to say, in closing, to both Taiwanese and international readers?
H: After going around the world, I’ve come to feel that Taiwan’s international influence is actually quite strong, that we're not any less than any of these people from internationally prestigious schools.
I believe that we Taiwanese need to be more confident in ourselves. To give an example, when introducing Taiwan to people from other countries, Taiwanese will often say, “I’m from Taiwan. Have you ever heard of Taiwan?” But I believe that many people have already heard of Taiwan. One notes that a Korean person usually won’t say, “I’m from Korea. Have you ever heard of Korea?”
We have to be confident in ourselves first if we want others to believe in us. We are a leader in terms of democracy, in both Asia and the wider world. Our economy is around the 20th largest in the world. The size of our country is similar to many European countries, and our population is around that of Australia. There’s no need for us to feel interior.
At the same time, I can understand why Taiwanese might feel inferior. It’s because we have always been comparing ourselves to China, feeling that our country is not as large as China, whether in terms of size or population. But there's no need for this comparison.
There are many countries smaller than Taiwan, but they’re confident in themselves as part of the international world and they don’t hesitate to speak up for themselves. I hope that Taiwanese can see their strong points, that Taiwan is beautiful, and that we can become brave enough to speak up for ourselves. Only then will the world recognize us, listen to us, and come to know what kind of place Taiwan is.
The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article from New Bloom.
TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)
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