Global Neighbours hosted a fascinating discussion on February 8, 2023, at Hotel Adlon Kempinski in Berlin with Dr. Joanna Lei, Chairwoman of the National Women’s League in Taiwan, who discussed recent geostrategic developments in the West Pacific.
Dr. Lei’s unique personal background constitutes her views on these developments and dynamics regarding the cross-strait relations and the roles of Japan and the USA in recent years. Dr. Lei’s family history has been shaped by war and displacement. She grew up in Taiwan as the daughter of a naval officer who left home during the Sino-Japanese war. He ascended to the position of a vice-admiral, where he oversaw the construction of modern military ships and, as Dr. Lei stated, “[…] was widely regarded as the father of modern Taiwan navy.” However, people in her father’s generation had to pay a big toll: Not only were they exposed to the horrifying threats of war, they also often did not get to see their families again, since the cross-strait travel ban was only lifted in 1987. Dr. Lei emphasized, “We understand the cruelty of war.”
She received her education in Taiwan, where she graduated with a B.A., and then obtained her M.A. and PhD at UPenn in the US. Her academic work focused on poverty and development issues in underdeveloped countries, an experience that she carries with her to this day. Early in her career, Dr. Lei worked as a communication and development scholar at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, upon which she joined the media and entertainment giant Capital Cities/ABC, Inc. in New York, where she held the position of Deputy CEO.
Back to the present, Dr. Lei holds the position of the third Chairwoman of the National Women’s League in Taiwan which was initially founded by Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Prior to this role, she held a series of public sector positions in Taiwan, including elected Legislator (Senator), Chairperson of a government owned enterprise, and a political delegate of the historic icebreaking meeting between KMT and CCP in 2005, among others.
Against the backdrop of her personal experiences, Dr. Lei elaborated her perspectives on the cross-strait relationship and Taiwan’s situation in the global context. The region’s history was marked by wars and turning points, which she nicely summed up in the following:
“Your friend is not always your friend, and your foes are not always your foes. It always changes with your individual interests, and it changes when the world and the collective balance between the powers and the parties change.”
She advocated for a peaceful approach and considerate navigation of existing conflicts, as it was already pursued in the past, especially between 2005 and 2016. She underscored the greater good of the people as the ultimate goal and called for a peaceful path to avoid suffering that she herself experienced and witnessed throughout her life. In her view, a war, in any scenario, would lead to Taiwan losing and only serve as a proxy war, at the expense of Taiwanese people. As she exclaimed, what also makes Taiwan’s situation worse from other flashpoints, such as the Ukraine, is that there is no way to retreat since “Taiwan is simply too small”. Her closing statement clearly illustrated her prioritisation of peace:
“So, liberty, democracy and human rights were touted as the most important values. But what about life? Without life, there would not be any of those three. So why don’t we also mainstream the peace agenda? Let us also talk about peace when we talk about all the other important values. If not before, at least at the same time.”
Dr. Lei’s lively discussion was moderated by Stefan Aust, one of the most renowned German journalists, former Editor-in-Chief of “Der Spiegel” and current publisher of the “Welt N24” group, and by Adrian Geiges, who is a German journalist, former Asia correspondent for “Stern” in Beijing, author, and filmmaker. Together, they recently published the book “Xi Jinping: The Most Powerful Man in the World”.
Here, we invite you to listen to Dr. Lei’s talk:
Organizer: Global Neighbours GmbH/e.V.
Guest Speaker: Dr. Joanna Lei
Date & Location: 8 Feb 2023 at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski in Berlin