|Gay Rights as a Weapon of Soft Power|
|方佳妮 Fanni Maraczi|
East Asian Studies, Pallas Athene Geopolitical Research Institute, Hungary
匈牙利Pallas Athene 地理政治研究所東亞研究
Taiwan has had a clear strategy in place since the 1980s that aims to compensate for its limited diplomatic influence by increasing its soft power, gradually building up an image of an Asian democracy that is open to social changes and – especially compared to Mainland China – respects human rights. In addition to the continuous efforts of emphasizing the island’s quality institutions of education and developed art scene – just to name a few aspects, it seems like the treatment of LGBTQ individuals has been added to their arsenal in the fight for a leading position in the South East Asian Region.
With the ruling of Taiwan's Constitutional Court in favor of marriage equality, Taiwan's Legislative Yuan has two years to change its laws, otherwise same sex marriage will automatically become legal on the island. That would make it a first in the region, no doubt resulting in increased media attention in the West just as well as in Asia.
Taiwan is already considered a sort of haven for LGBTQ individuals, with its yearly gay-parade attracting tens of thousands of participants and the accepting attitude of the general population. The tolerant social climate is even more apparent in comparison with that of Mainland China, where still only 5.5% percent of gay people affirm their sexual orientation openly. The treatment of gay rights in Taiwan serves as another way for the island to distance itself from the values of the Communist Party while in the same time asserting its close connection with the US, not only in the form of a military partnership but also by possessing a shared set of liberal values.
It is however up for debate whether the general population of Taiwan is ready for embracing this role of becoming a beacon of LGBTQ acceptance in the South East Asian region. Even though marriage equality was an important part of Tsai Ing-wen’s election campaign, now in the president’s first year in power it seems like the issue is being pushed back on the agenda, with some commentators speculating of it having been only a way of gaining the favor of young voters – the leadership is supposedly unsure of the support of the population.
The question is, to what extent is the growing acceptance part of a premeditated attempt of boosting Taiwan’s image or how much of it is rooted in the changing attitudes of its population. To answer this question the paper compares recent surveys conducted on both Taiwan and Mainland China to look at the general public’s opinion and also the apparent attitudes of their leaders.
If Taiwan’s changing climate towards LGBTQ individuals is a conscious move aimed at increasing their soft power, is it indeed intended to set an example to other Asian countries or is it more about asserting its connections to the United States? In the case of the first scenario, Beijing’s reaction also needs to be taken into consideration and the paper will attempt to assess the possible outcomes with regard to cross-Strait relations.