"[They] danced, and, then, … it was our turn to dance": Performative cultural diplomacy between Tuvalu and Taiwan
Taiwan (the Republic of China, ROC) contains vibrant communities of Pacific diplomats and students from Taiwan’s allies—as of August 2019, this included Tuvalu, Nauru, Solomon Islands, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, and Palau—and sometimes non-allies like Papua New Guinea. These communities are overlooked in both Pacific Studies and International Relations (IR) research. While working as an interpreter for the Tuvalu Embassy in Taiwan, I interacted with Pacific and Taiwanese diplomatic communities and witnessed how the Tuvalu and Taiwan governments attempted to communicate culture through performative/dance projects (i.e., performative cultural diplomacy). These performative engagements challenge IR analysis of Asia in the Pacific, which sees Pacific-Taiwan diplomacy as primarily determined by competition between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Instead, these engagements demonstrate how participants in Tuvalu-Taiwan performative cultural diplomacy, the majority of whom are not diplomats, carry with them multiple ideas and identities; consider their actions based on diverse contexts; and assign varying levels of importance to diplomacy, Tuvalu, and Taiwan. Consequently, in this thesis, I adopt a Pacific Studies research framework that emphasizes indigenous epistemologies, comparativity, interdisciplinarity, and a critical empowerment rationale to examine three topics: (1) Tuvaluan, Pacific, and Taiwanese conceptions of diplomacy; (2) the Tuvalu-Taiwan diplomatic relationship and its underlying assumptions; and (3) how Tuvalu-Taiwan performative cultural diplomacy both reflects and complicates diplomatic conceptions and assumptions. After introducing my research questions and structure in Chapter 1, in Chapter 2, I outline conceptions of diplomacy explicated by Pacific diplomats in Taiwan; Tuvaluan diplomats, officials, and traditional leaders in Tuvalu and Taiwan; and Taiwanese diplomats/officials in the same locations. I demonstrate how Tuvaluan/Pacific ideas of diplomacy often diverge from those held by Taiwanese diplomats/officials while also highlighting disparities among Tuvaluan and other Pacific views. In Chapter 3, I sketch discursive histories of Tuvalu-Taiwan diplomacy. I map how Tuvalu and Taiwan have characterized each other since establishing relations and trace the complex routes that structure how they currently imagine their diplomatic partner. Chapter 3 also shows how discursive histories both dovetail with and challenge diplomatic conceptions outlined in Chapter 2. Subsequently, in Chapters 4 to 6, I bring three Tuvalu-Taiwan performative cultural diplomacy projects into conversation with conceptual and discursive trends from Chapters 2 and 3. Here, I emphasize the voices of diplomats, officials, planners, performers, and audience members who engage with projects and underscore tensions that arise among participants and between participants and diplomats, officials, and audience members from their diplomatic partner. I also consider diplomatic conceptions, discourses, and assumptions discussed earlier in the thesis from the perspectives of project participants and observers to show how performative cultural diplomacy influences and illuminates diplomatic relationships. In the Conclusion, I explore the theoretical and practical applications of this research. For theoretical applications, I discuss how a Pacific Studies research framework and Performance/Dance Studies create new possibilities for IR research. I also show how this thesis provides an interface for rethinking Taiwan’s positionality, especially Taiwan’s connections to and distance from the Pacific. For practical applications, I make recommendations for the future implementation of diplomacy and performative cultural diplomacy.