June 12, 2023
NEW DELHI – With Presidential elections due in a little more than six months, and with the outcome expected to directly impact ties with Beijing and geostrategic equations in the IndoPacific, Taiwan is being rocked by a succession of allegations of sexual harassment, primarily targeting members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. Already and in the past week, there have been more than two dozen allegations made. Outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen, who is ineligible under Taiwan’s laws to contest in 2024, has been forced to offer public apologies twice in the week. Ms. Tsai and her party have traditionally adopted a robust stance against reunification with China, and have thus been in the cross-hairs of the Communist regime’s propaganda initiatives.
Some observers therefore contend that while the allegations per se are or may be true, their timing is suspicious. What might lend credence to this theory is that the unleashing of so many allegations in such a short time suggests manipulation more than it does the organic growth of a #MeToo movement. Like China, Taiwan too has an entrenched patriarchal society, even if the presence of a woman President may suggest this is not the case. Misogynistic conduct is not unknown, just as it is not across the Taiwan Strait, but is seldom taken seriously. Even as mainland China sees increasing pressure on women to conform to traditional gender roles in boosting the country’s birth rate, President Tsai has sought to project Taiwan as a land where social equality exists. The allegations thus target not just the ruling party, but its leader. It is fairly certain that the discomfiture of the DPP works to the advantage of its main opponent, the Kuomintang, which was founded by Chiang kaishek but is widely perceived as being close to the Communist regime in Beijing. Already, some flash polls suggest a drop in the DPP’s popularity after the allegations surfaced; in other words, and if the airing of the allegations are part of a larger political game, the ploy seems to be working. A close aide of the President, national policy adviser Yan Chih-fa, has resigned after being accused of sexually harassing an employee. He is the most prominent of the several persons who have been forced to put in their papers after being named. But allegations of sexual harassment can cut both ways. A Kuomintang legislator has now been accused of assaulting a journalist, and kissing her without her consent at a work dinner, a charge that forced the party’s presidential candidate, Hou you-ti, to call for an investigation. If indeed Taiwanese women are finding the courage to overcome societal pressures to call out male predators, it is a welcome development. But weaponising sexual harassment allegations is a dangerous game, if only because two can play at it.