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  • Taiwan's Bilingual Policy:Signaling In/dependence and Settler Coloniality
  • Funie Hsu (bio)

The government of Taiwan (the ROC) recently unveiled an ambitious campaign to establish Mandarin–English bilingualism by 2030. The impetus for the rapid advancement of English has been articulated within the discursive framework of neoliberal competition. The National Development Council (NDC), which heads the campaign, explains that the primary objectives of the "Bilingual Nation" policy are "'elevating national competitiveness' and 'cultivating people's English proficiency.'"1 English is thus positioned as a mechanism by which to strengthen Taiwan's competitive edge in the global marketplace. Since Taiwan has never been a formal colonial territory of an English-speaking empire, its attempt to establish Mandarin– English bilingualism might be read as a purely pragmatic economic maneuver to achieve the "national competitiveness" expressed by the NDC.

A closer examination of the function of English within the broader geopolitical context of Taiwan reveals a political utility that enables Taiwan to assert a de-Sinicized national identity in opposition to China and its claims of "one government, two systems." I explore this primary function of the policy in detail elsewhere.2 Here, I focus on how elevating English to bilingual status alongside Mandarin also serves as a political nod to the US, a country that has attempted to both assuage China through formal recognition and maintain ties with Taiwan through trade and the sale of "arms of a defensive character."3 As an Asia Sentinel article explains, "The turn to English may also be an indication on the state of Taiwan's relations with the US, its sole protector against invasion by China."4 Thus, a move away from Sinicization and China could position Taiwan a step closer to the United States.

English, then, provides a fruitful medium by which to interrogate the relational dynamics between Taiwan, notions of independence, and US Empire. It is an especially interesting heuristic given the history of English in enacting US conquest through continental settler occupation and overseas empire in Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. I argue that the Bilingual Nation policy in Taiwan evidences a coloniality of the rhetoric of English as [End Page 355] an exemplar of American benevolence while exposing the contradictions of American exceptionalism by highlighting the US's ambivalent stance toward acknowledging Taiwan's political status.

The Bilingual Nation Policy and Blueprint

In 2018, former premier William Lai presented a governmental effort to establish English as an official language of Taiwan. The campaign quickly shifted to emphasize the development of Mandarin–English bilingualism in the nation by 2030 as a stepping-stone for the possible future incorporation of English as an official language. The implementation strategies for the Bilingual Nation policy are detailed in the "Blueprint for Developing Taiwan into a Bilingual Nation by 2030," which explains that the overarching objective of the campaign is to strengthen Taiwan's competitive abilities. "'English proficiency' has become an essential ability for opening the gateway to globalization," the "Blueprint" explains. "Therefore, how to raise citizens' English ability to a more internationally competitive level has become a vital issue common to all non-English speaking countries. Taiwan certainly cannot except itself from this."5 The driving focus on competition sets this current attempt at integrating English into Taiwan society apart from previous endeavors established by both the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT) in 2002–2012.6 Upholding English as a commodity for national advancement is a familiar corollary to neoliberal globalization, with several Asian nations such as Japan, South Korea, and Singapore designing language and/or education policies in relation to enhancing English fluency and economic prosperity.7 In the case of Singapore and other former colonies in Asia with histories of English colonial imposition, such as India, Hong Kong, and the Philippines, the continued use of English demonstrates aspects of a linguistic coloniality that both contains the potential for expanding capital accumulation in the global marketplace and articulates various positions of agentic alterity. English bilingualism in Taiwan—a country colonized by Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese forces, including Hokkien and Hakka Han settlers—presents a complex consideration of the ways the celebrated lingua franca is taken up to contest...


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pp. 355-361
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