In February 2017, the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan invited its partner churches and ecumenical organizations to discern together the signs of the time and to sharpen its missional focus. Forty-five partner churches and ecumenical organizations sent representatives, including the PCC, to take part in the Taiwan Ecumenical Forum. The Rev. Linda Patton-Cowie currently serves as the PCC representative. On May 22–23, 2023, the Taiwan Ecumenical Forum held a two-day webinar under the theme “Light after Darkness—Becoming a community of solidarity and resilience.” The following is an adapted excerpt from the event’s concept paper.
The past few years have not been easy for Taiwan. The island is faced with invisible challenges of the worldwide pandemic and disinformation, coupled with invisible threats from authoritarian countries like China and Russia in the Indo-Pacific region. How has the government of the people of Taiwan faced these ever-changing yet persistent challenges? What was the role of the church and Christians in Taiwan amid these events? How can we, as one body in Christ, support each other—the world in solidarity with Taiwan, and Taiwan as a source of hope and encouragement to the world?
The Russian invasion of Ukraine
The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine shocked a world that was still recovering from the extended worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, when Russian president Putin announced its “special military operation” against Ukraine. To date, tens of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians have died and millions of citizens have been displaced, marking the incident as Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. Since the outbreak of the Ukraine-Russian War, scholars and media have been quick to compare the political situations of Taiwan and Ukraine. As Ukraine is faced with relentless invasion from Russia, Taiwan has also been harassed constantly by military intimidation from China. Evident of the CCP’s (Chinese Communist Party) animosity toward Taiwan: almost daily intrusion into Taiwan’s airspace by Chinese military aircraft or drones. The CCP’s escalation of military threats against Taiwan not only intensifies Taiwanese people’s concerns toward China, but it also destabilizes the Indo- Pacific region, and intimidates all citizens in the area. Furthermore, the CCP threat extends outside the Indo-Pacific area to anyone who stands in solidarity with Taiwan. To the democratic countries around the world that have sent support or diplomatic visits to Taiwan, the Chinese government is swift to react in protests on social media, press conferences, sanctions, and even intensification of military threats in the region. Joseph Wu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan told the US National Public Radio that the “Taiwanese government is taking the war in Ukraine into very serious internal discussion.” In geopolitical common interest, Taiwan plays an outsized role in the Indo-Pacific region toward regional peace and justice. Therefore, if Taiwan is not safe, it is probable that the countries in the Indo-Pacific region will be affected economically and politically. To build Taiwan’s resilience against the Chinese military threats, the Taiwanese government announced in Dec. 2022 the extension of compulsory military service to one year from four months, starting 2024. Moreover, several organizations from civil society have taken up the responsibility to provide training on civil defence to locals. These actions are inspired from Ukraine, where its ability to hold off much larger Russian forces enables the international community time to render assistance; therefore, the move to further defend Taiwan is not to intimidate or threaten, but to be prepared and equipped when adversity comes its way. The PCT urges ecumenical partners to engage in conversation about how national defence policies and resilience can be efficient in countering military threats. In a time of conflict and threats of war, the Taiwanese churches have been prayerful about the escalated military threats in the region and all those living in fear. The church also sends out resources and medical assistance to the war zone, and continues to pray for our siblings in Ukraine who are experiencing pain and suffering, with our faith found in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4, “…the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.”
The invisible warfare of disinformation
Although Taiwan was rather resilient in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020, at the same time Taiwan was facing another underlying battle: continuous attacks of fake news and disinformation. For example, messages were circulating on social media that the Taiwanese government lied about insisting on the COVID-19 virus to be merely a flu. Other examples discredited the government’s measures to contain the pandemic and provoked the public to hoard and stockpile essentials. Disinformation similar to this cultivates a “cognitive warfare” against Taiwan where the invisible weapons are used to confuse, distract and polarize society. Despite different sources of disinformation, all are with the similar malicious intention to destroy the public’s trust and confidence toward policies implemented by the government and to cause division among the public. Nonetheless, the Taiwanese government recently founded the Ministry of Digital Affairs, which strives to address disinformation without censorship or takedown, by building the public’s “immunity” to disinformation, and by using tools to fact-check—a joint effort between civil society and government. The Taiwanese church community has also contributed to educating its members about discerning between facts and lies, and to be wise with the information that they receive, for we are reminded in Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members of one another.” The challenge of countering disinformation in the digital age requires global cooperation; therefore, the PCT hopes that the Taiwan Ecumenical Forum can serve as a platform for discussion on how policies around the world and our faith can be tools to resist lies and deceits in disinformation.
The world and churches united as one body in Christ
Since the beginning of the COVID- 19 pandemic, followed by intensification of disinformation and military intimidation from the CCP, Taiwan has received a surge of international attention. With such attention, Taiwan is grateful that the world has not only taken notice of the happenings in Taiwan, but also to stand in solidarity with Taiwan against the threats and attacks targeted at Taiwan. For example, more than 200 politicians, government officials, as well as members of civil societies from more than 70 countries around the world visited Taiwan during the 2022 World Movement for Democracy, and many more visited from the 2022 Regional Religious Freedom Forum for advocacy of human rights, freedom and democracy. Furthermore, diplomats and parliamentary delegations have also shown their support of Taiwan by visiting the country to discuss topics such as combating disinformation, geopolitical security, trade collaborations and pandemic prevention. As one body in Christ, we as Christians are called by our Lord to be siblings, regardless of nationality, race or background. In this time of trials and difficulties for Taiwan, with both visible and invisible warfare, we as the Taiwanese churches plead with the world to keep Taiwan in your prayers. As Taiwan was the designated country for the World Day of Prayer this year, we sincerely invite fellow Christians and our ecumenical partners to continue to join in prayers for Indo-Pacific peace and regional justice. As our Lord Jesus said, “Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial” (Matthew 26:41). Likewise, with the pandemic and battles still happening in the Indo- Pacific region and in the world, churches in Taiwan will be persistent in our prayers and support for the world. As it is written in the Bible, “Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). The Taiwanese church believes that we are called to be prayerful and helpful to all our siblings, and trust in our Lord for deliverance of all those who suffer. The Taiwanese churches have faith that one day, we, as one body in Christ around the world, will rejoice: “Thanks be to God! He gives us victory through Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).