Unpacking pro-Palestinian activism in Taiwan: Interview with Aurora Chang

Screenshot from the video “Hundreds march in Taipei City streets in support of Palestinians” on the AP Archive YouTube channel. Fair use.

As a society, Taiwan, which relies heavily on the US for its security, often aligns with Washington on foreign policy issues, including its predominantly uncritical support of Israel. This renders any support for Palestine in Taiwanese society a rare occurrence. Yet, since the beginning of the war on Gaza that began on October 7, the island has witnessed a number of initiatives calling for an alternative discourse on Gaza.

Read Global Voices’ Special Coverage: Israel's war on Gaza

Public attention in Taiwan was first heightened after the widely covered return of Hung Shang-kai, a Taiwanese doctor with Doctors without Borders, from Gaza in early November. Demonstrations soon followed: on November 25, 2023 over 500 protestors, both Taiwanese and foreign, gathered in central Taipei in Da'an Park to express support for Palestine and the idea of an immediate ceasefire. Earlier, on November 22, as can be seen in the following video, pro-Palestine protestors also gathered in front to the de facto Israeli Embassy in Taipei (as most countries recognize the People's republic of China but maintain representative offices in Taiwan):

A more recent event, a die-in protest was organized in central Taipei on March 24 on Liberty Plaza, a landmark space for demonstrations and commemorations. The protest featured, among others, Dr. Hazem Almassry, one of the very few Gazans, if not the only Gazan, living in Taipei.

For more about Dr. Almassry, read: Navigating misconceptions and supporting Gaza from Taiwan

To understand what motivates a minority of Taiwanese to speak for Palestine, Global Voices spoke to Aurora Chang, a Taiwanese human rights activist who, among other commitments, is involved in coordinating solidarity movements with Palestine. Chang,  a Taiwanese national, studied history and politics in London, with a focus on Eastern Europe and Russia, and currently works at the International Tibet Network. She is also a member of the Taipei-based New Bloom magazine and has participated in the Taiwan Stands with Ukraine movement. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Aurora Chang. Photo used with permission.

Filip Noubel (FN): As one of the few Taiwan-based coordinators of actions presenting an alternative narrative about Palestine in Taiwan, a society that is largely ignorant of or indifferent to Palestine, how do you assess the developments in the past six months regarding this form of activism and its reception in Taiwan? 

Aurora Chang (AC): In the beginning, it was noticeable how Taiwan-based NGOs were reluctant to react publicly, with the exception of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights. But even for them, while individual members supported the pro-Palestinian movement early on, it took them a few months to think about their own public-facing strategy and activities as an organization.

Overall, it becomes clear, not just in Taiwan, that what Israel is doing is completely disproportionate to the October 7, 2023, attacks. To a lot of people, everything just started in October because they don't have the knowledge of what happened before the attacks. But views are slowly shifting, as the extent of casualties, particularly children,  is revealed.

A few weeks ago, I was on PTT [Professional Technology Temple, a popular social media platform in Taiwan], and saw that people, even if they question the exact figures provided by Hamas, say it is still a lot of dead children. No one who follows the news can justify what Israel is doing at this scale.

FN: What about your own journey in the past six months? What have you learnt since?

AC: I am still learning, this is not my area of expertise. But talking to Gazans in real-life and online and hearing their stories humanizes the history you read about, and gives it a face, and that changes everything. Before October, I didn't known any Palestinian personally. I had a very rudimentary understanding of Palestinian resistance and Israel's apartheid system. I also had made, in the past, a parallel between Palestine and Taiwan: we are both unrecognized states, we are smaller countries, our identity is constantly under threat. Of course our history is very different.

FN: Do you see the Taiwanese government also shifting its position? 

AC: I am extremely ashamed of my government, but also about the Taiwanese media coverage, and the ignorance of our civil society. Regarding our government, I don't think things are going to change. The current Foreign Minister Joseph Wu seems to personally support Israel. In February 2024, that is four months into the war, there was also the confirmation of the establishment of a Taiwan–Israel congressional alliance. No Taiwanese official will say anything supportive of Palestine in a public forum. What is disappointing is that this alliance is of the DPP, and includes people who are indeed progressive.

I am very critical of my government, but also recognize that Taiwan received undue scrutiny in its attitudes towards Palestine, compared to European countries that are also silent on Gaza. Taiwan cannot be held to the same standards as it is an unrecognized state. We have an existential threat, so we can't always choose the powers we are in bed with — the US.

Besides, while official Chinese rhetoric supports Palestinian self-determination, in reality Beijing conducts massive trade with Israel, and shares learning in terms of surveillance technology, which is used against Uyghurs.

FN: Where do you see pro-Palestinian activism most successful in Taiwan? 

AC: This is more related to my personal experience, but the most powerful thing is actually the fact that my father has changed his views. He was always interested in Israeli history. In October 2023, he would say that both sides are wrong but also deserved his sympathy. But after seeing my work and struggle, he once acknowledged it is a genocide. I feel that if I can change the opinion of my parents, I can  change anybody's opinion. In terms of activism, we haven't made much headway with local media. In our events it is usually always the same group of people coming. Our Instagram account promoting pro-Palestinian activism is growing, but numbers remain small.

It is important to note that there are other groups involved in pro-Palestinian activism, and we don't always agree, but it shows this is an organically growing and diverse community.

FN: You also work for a Tibetan NGO on cross-movement coordination. Can you explain what this means and why it matters while also being very challenging?

AC: I work for the International Tibet as a coordinator for East Asia. I liaise with Tibetans in Taiwan, Japan, and Australia on how to build stronger ties with the Uyghur, Southern Mongolian, Chinese dissident movements — they have a common enemy in the current Chinese regime. This work connecting people from different backgrounds is important; only true solidarity can lead to change in the long term. It is challenging; we are fighting authoritarian regimes with immense power and control over the occupied regions, and also global politics. People live in exile and have never set foot in Tibet, so there is a lot of trauma.

Read: ‘New Bloom': A rare leftist media voice in Taiwan 


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