YouTuber’s quest to visit Taiwan’s dwindling allies

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This photo taken on February 13, 2019 shows Taiwanese YouTuber Ben Wu talking about his travels while displaying a video during an interview in Taipei. (AFP)
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This picture taken on February 13, 2019 shows Taiwanese YouTuber Ben Wu displaying a cloth showing the portrait of King Mstwati III of eSwatini during an interview in Taipei. (AFP)
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This picture taken on February 13, 2019 shows Taiwanese YouTuber Ben Wu speaking in front of a poster of himself during his travels during an interview in Taipei. (AFP)
Updated 12 March 2019

YouTuber’s quest to visit Taiwan’s dwindling allies

  • Wu’s YouTube videos on his channel “Ben’s Adventures” have racked up tens of thousands of views and turned into a career

TAIPEI: From battling a storm in the Solomon Islands to consulting a witch doctor in eSwatini, Ben Wu has trekked some of the world’s less-trodden paths as he embarks on a quest to visit all of Taiwan’s dwindling diplomatic allies.
The list of countries he must visit is short — just 17 nations still recognize Taiwan over mainland China, a vivid illustration of the democratic island’s international isolation as Beijing uses its clout to woo Taipei’s few remaining friends.
In all practical ways Taiwan is a de facto independent country but both Taipei and Beijing insist they are the one true China and that other nations can recognize only one of them. Most have sided with China as its political and economic might has grown.
Last summer Wu, 25, was having a meeting in Taiwan’s foreign ministry on the day El Salvador just happened to become the latest country to switch its recognition to Beijing.
He watched as the country’s flag was removed from the ministry’s entrance.
“I think most young people only know about our allies when there is a termination of diplomatic relations and this is not good,” Wu told AFP at his home in Taipei. “They should know about the allies in other ways.”
Using YouTube, Wu is trying to change that.
He came up with the idea to visit the remaining allies while riding the Trans-Siberian Railway. Flicking through a news article about Taiwan’s allies he realized he only recognized three — Haiti, Tuvalu and the Vatican.
“I love travel and some of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies are less known and more difficult to reach. I hope to explore these countries that fewer people have traveled to and be a part of ‘people diplomacy’,” he said.
So far Wu has ticked off five allies in the Pacific — Tuvalu, Nauru, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands — as well the only ally in Africa, eSwatini.
This month, he sets out for Latin America and the Caribbean to visit Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Haiti, Belize, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as St. Kitts and Nevis. He will wrap up his quest with the Vatican and Palau in the summer.

Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation was not always the case.
After its split from the mainland in 1949 when the communists defeated Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists, it was the Republic of China that was recognized by the majority, not the People’s Republic of China.
The global reversal began in earnest in 1971 when Taiwan — then in the grip of Chiang’s military dictatorship — was kicked out of the international club by the UN General Assembly, which recognized the PRC as “the only legitimate representative of China.”
Allies began falling like dominoes with Washington switching recognition in 1979 — although it remains a key military backer and supplies Taiwan with most of its weaponry.
Those nations that remained tended to be impoverished, smaller countries in the Pacific, Africa and Latin America who have since become easy pickings as China morphed from dysfunction and poverty into the world’s second largest economy.
After the 2016 election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen — who hails from an independence leaning party — Beijing has launched a campaign to further undermine the island’s sovereignty.
Five allies have been poached, it blocked Taipei from attending major global gatherings and pressured a string of international companies, including airlines and hotels, to list Taiwan as part of China.

J Michael Cole, a Taipei-based expert at the University of Nottingham’s Taiwan Studies Programme, said the remaining allies most at risk of switching are those in the Pacific.
“Beijing is hard at work trying to sway those,” he told AFP, adding China may try to lure further defections as Tsai seeks reelection in 2020.
But he added that Taiwan under Tsai had made “substantial progress strengthening ties with unofficial allies that, in the end, are far more influential, both in terms of their diplomatic weight and size of their economies, than the small states with which it has official diplomatic relations.”
Wu said he wanted greater awareness of the those who have stayed loyal to Taiwan, even if somewhere like Tuvalu only boasts some 12,000 people.
“These countries have a voice in international organizations. They can speak up for Taiwan and let more people know about Taiwan’s difficult diplomatic situation,” he said.
Wu’s YouTube videos on his channel “Ben’s Adventures” have racked up tens of thousands of views and turned into a career.
One shows him bashed by a storm in a rickety boat after seeing human skulls left by headhunters in the Solomon Islands.
Others show him consulting a witch doctor in a dark room filled with bags of herbs in eSwatini, eating betel nuts in Kiribati and finding Taiwanese food in a Marshall Islands supermarket.
Wu says he hopes other young Taiwanese might follow in his footsteps.
“I hope to introduce the culture, tradition, custom and sightseeing of our allies in a relaxing way so people can get to know these countries. I am opening a window, a door and people can explore the rest.”

How bonobo mothers help their sons find love

In this file photo taken on November 4, 2006 in the "Lola ya bonobo" parc near Kinshasa shows young bonobos, living only in the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC). (AFP)
Updated 18 min 18 sec ago

How bonobo mothers help their sons find love

  • Bonobo mothers did not go the extra mile for their daughters, nor did they help their daughters raise offspring

WASHINGTON: Anyone who’s experienced a mother pushing them to get a move on and produce grandkids might just sympathize with this.
A new study has described the outsized role bonobo moms play in their sons’ sex lives: from pulling rank to ensure their male offspring get to meet attractive ovulating females, to interfering with male rivals’ attempts to mate.
The paper was published Monday in the journal Current Biology and found that bonobo males whose mothers were alive and remained in their group were three times more likely to father children.
And the authors credited the success of the “wingmoms” on the nature of bonobos’ female-dominant societies, which have long been known for their altruistic and peaceful character, in contrast to more violent and patriarchal chimpanzees.
“This is the first time that we can show the impact of the mother’s presence on a very important male fitness trait, which is their fertility,” co-author Martin Surbeck, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany said in a statement.
“We were surprised to see that the mothers have such a strong, direct influence on the number of grandchildren they get.”
For the study, Surbeck and colleagues observed wild bonobo populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as wild populations of chimpanzees in Ivory Coast, Tanzania, and Uganda.
To verify paternity, they collected the primates’ droppings for DNA analysis.

They found that while both bonobo and chimpanzee mothers attempted to assist their sons, bonobos were far more successful because their communities’ highest ranks are dominated by females.
Chimpanzee communities on the other hand are dominated by males who compete for alpha status.
The two species together are humans’ closest relatives in the animal kingdom and share about 99 percent of our DNA.
“The bonobo moms act a bit like social passports,” Surbeck told AFP.
“The sons, in close proximity to their moms, are also very central in the group and access positions in the group that allow them to interact more with other females including copulation.”
“If there’s a female who’s very attractive, you see moms stick around them, and in the shadow of their moms are the males,” he added.
By contrast, they found that if a mother lost her high rank, her son also fell in rank and was subsequently less successful in his mating attempts.
In addition to intervening in their sons’ rivals attempt to mate, bonobo mothers also protected their own sons from the efforts of rivals to disrupt courting and sex.

Interestingly, bonobo mothers did not go the extra mile for their daughters, nor did they help their daughters raise offspring.
Surbeck believes that, since bonobo daughters leave the community and males remain behind, it may simply not be worth the mothers’ time and efforts from an evolutionary perspective.
One thing the team believes they may now have tentative evidence for is the so-called “grandmother hypothesis“: that a post-reproductive female can increase her own lifespan and continue her genes by ensuring her offspring’s reproductive success.
It is an idea that anthropologists have applied to humans and Surbeck believes it could also be the case for bonobo populations.
“The interesting thing now is in bonobos we have such a mechanism, apparently allowing the females to do that, but intriguingly not through their daughters but their sons,” he told AFP.
Moving forward, Surbeck said he would like to confirm through more long-term research the benefits of the behavior on the longevity of mothers, and find out whether mothers exhibit welcoming behavior to new female arrivals in the community who go on to become their sons’ mates.
More broadly, he said, studying the differences between gender egalitarian and largely peaceful bonobo societies, in which members practice both heterosexual and homosexual sex to strengthen social bonds; versus alpha-male led chimpanzee societies, could yield clues about our own evolutionary past.
“One has to be clear — we did not evolve from bonobos or chimpanzees but we share with them a common ancestry,” said Surbeck.
“Comparing us with our closest living relatives might give some idea about traits which could evolve under selective pressures.”