Monday, March 20, 2006

LA Times: Taiwan on Brink of Instability.

There's so much bad about this article from David DeVoss at the LA Times (hat tip to STOP_george) that one hardly knows where to start. Parts of it read as if they were written prior to the events actually having taken place. Some parts are almost right, as if CORRECT were an asymptote the article approaches but never quite reaches. Taking it apart is more akin to mercy killing than media analysis. Yet, when the dog is rabid, it must be shot.....

DeVoss begins with an overdramatization worthy of Apple Daily.

EXILED FROM THE United Nations and estranged from most of its neighbors, the Republic of China on the island of Taiwan is a bit off Asia's beaten track. But last week, the often-overlooked country once again became a major concern in Washington, as two huge rallies brought the nation to the brink of political impasse and raised the specter of regional instability.
Let's look at this construction phrase by phrase:

"a bit off Asia's beaten track" On my planet the Taipei-Hong Kong airline route is one of the busiest in the world, and most competitive. The main international air route between Tokyo, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, the A1 route, is the busiest in Asia. There are 270 flights a week between Taipei and the US. In case DeVoss has missed it, Taiwan is also the engine of Chinese economic growth (UPDATE: he notes it below!).

"estranged from most of its neighbors" Last I checked, Taiwan had good relations with every nation around it except China. Not being recognized is not the same as being estranged. Duh.

"as two huge rallies brought the nation to the brink of political impasse and raised the specter of regional instability" This is so clearly wrong that I suspect it was written prior to events. The political rallies are done and over, and no one paid the slightest attention. As for "huge", something like 45,000 turned out for the KMT rally (DeVoss says 36,000), and 100,000 for the DPP one a week later. Neither was large. Think DeVoss will offer any concrete evidence of instability? Naw.

..... As years passed and the fiction of "one China" became a fantasy, the Nationalist Party, or Koumintang, gave up the idea of returning to the mainland and began building a democratic China on Taiwan

"and began building a democratic China on Taiwan" Guffaw. That has to be among the funniest one-liners a major newspaper ever wrote with a straight face. It is simply a waste of space to go over the long years of martial law, the opposition to democracy that continues even today, the various national security laws passed to keep the opposition from asserting itself even after the end of martial law, the killings and imprisonments....

What makes this more than a political sideshow is the fact that President Carter obligated the U.S. to support the one-China principle when he broke diplomatic ties to Taipei in 1978 and recognized the People's Republic. To prevent Taiwan from becoming another Tibet, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act the following year. It requires the U.S. to defend Taiwan if the island is ever attacked by China.
"Taiwan Relations Act the following year. It requires the U.S. to defend Taiwan if the island is ever attacked by China." I think I'll send a circular round to all the reporters who write on Taiwan, asking them to sit down and read the Taiwan Relations Act some time. Nowhere does it require the US to defend Taiwan. It merely defines a set of consultations between the President and Congress, and asks the President to determine whether Taiwan is adequately defended. No defense of Taiwan is mandated. It is high time this claim died a short, painless death.

The problem for Washington, which can ill afford any more strategic complications given its problems in Iraq, is that Taiwan is becoming dangerously polarized. The Nationalist Party, which opposes any outright declaration of independence, represents the affluent urban areas where Taiwanese companies have grown prosperous off cheap manufacturing plants on the mainland. Indeed, Taiwan controls more than 50% of total foreign investment in China. Mindful of this, the party hopes to unite with Beijing once it becomes democratic. Until that day arrives, however, it does not want nationalism interfering with business.

This looks balanced, but it is actually one-sided. Note first how DeVoss makes one side's nationalism disappear. He refers to the KMT as "the Nationalists" without really reminding the reader that there are two nationalisms in play here, one Chinese and one Taiwanese. Not once does DeVoss ever use the phrase "Chinese Nationalists." Hence the last phrase "does not want nationalism intefering with business" is grossly biased -- the Chinese Nationalists do not want Taiwanese nationalism to interfere with business. The US media typically either distorts or misunderstands contexts when it presents foreign affairs, and there is no better example than the Beautiful Island.

Observe also how the paragraph appears to characterize the polarizing force as (Taiwanese) nationalism, when in fact it is Chinese nationalism. It is the KMT that has paralyzed the island's governance, not the DPP, and it was the KMT that erected the system of party rule along ethnic lines. It is China's desire to annex Taiwan that is the problem, not the island's desire to be free and independent.

On Saturday, the Democrats went to the streets, with its speakers questioning the Kuomintang's patriotism. At issue are U.S.-made submarines and defensive radars that Chen wants to buy but can't because the Nationalist Party is blocking appropriations for the weapons out of a fear of antagonizing China.

This paragraph is almost right! Except it is the DPP, not the Democrats. At least DeVoss realizes that it is the KMT blocking the arms bill. Although his reason, fear of antagonizing China, is not correct. The KMT has been coordinating policy with China since prior to the 2004 elections. As Jerome Keating points out, KMT reps met secretly with CCP reps in Thailand in 2003:

It all began in 2003, the year preceding the March 2004 presidential elections. At that time it is known that members of the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held secret meetings in Thailand.

What they discussed in these meetings supposedly were the ways that they could cooperate in future moneyed deals including cross-strait flights, business, agriculture, tourism etc. Since their common goal was unification (note I said their common goal was unification not democracy), they had to work out how they would all share the power and the wealth.

The KMT felt assured they could win the 2004 elections. They were combining the voting bases of Lien Chan and James Soong. Together these two had captured some 60 percent of the vote in 2000, so even if Chen would gain three or four more percentage points the blues would still have a comfortable edge. For that reason, their meetings with the CCP focused on what to do with the spoils of their victory. After that, the only thing remaining would be to wait for the election results to collect.


Meanwhile, waist-deep in the Big Muddy, DeVoss soldiers on:

In the U.S., the political dispute has pitted the State Department against the Pentagon, which would be happy to broker an arms deal. Last week, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage visited Taipei with the message that Taiwan should take its defenses more seriously and quickly approve the purchase of U.S. weaponry. How Taipei can do that without upsetting the status quo is anybody's guess.

"How Taipei can do that without upsetting the status quo is anybody's guess." Do Chinese missiles upset the status quo? Well, the US media is still a bit behind the curve on that one -- apparently no amount of military accumulation by China will ever upset the status quo. Let Taipei acquire weapons to defend itself, though, and we threaten to upset the status quo. DeVoss creates this effect by failing to mention the Chinese military build up or the missiles facing Taiwan -- thus we do not know why Taiwan wants to acquire weapons, making them appear to be the bad guys. DeVoss closes on the false "stability" concern:

For the U.S., Taiwan's stability is a paramount concern. Taipei monitors weapons shipments to North Korea and reports on the movements of China's growing military forces. Its national bank alerts Washington when it suspects terrorist funds are shuttling through Asia. With more than $100 billion invested on the mainland, it also is the driving force behind China's modernization — an irony not lost on Beijing or Washington.

The only instability I can see is in the US media's reporting on Taiwan, which has a definite and pronounced tilt.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

It kills me too Michael that people can write such garbage, but the fact of the matter is, people can get away with it because relatively few people in the States really understand Taiwan. It's difficult to change, but I'm sure the expat-in-Taiwan English language blogosphere, especially a fine site like yours, is slowly and surely changing things.

I don't know if blogs overall beat maintream media in the US, but on Taiwan, you guys do a ton better, and I gotta think it's helping to inform more and more Americans on Taiwan's history and current political situation.

STOP_George said...

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It seems a Reuters report is so "balanced" that the China Daily picked it up ("Connecting China, Connecting the World").

Well, they published it all, with the exception of 4 sentences at the end of the report (perhaps they forgot to "update" the report):>)

The censored part was:

China views Taiwan as a breakaway province and has threatened to attack if it pushes for formal statehood.

"Mainland China is not particularly noted for its rule of law. They don't need a piece of law in order to invade Taiwan," Ma said.

The KMT, or Nationalists, once ruled all of China and fled to Taiwan after losing the Chinese civil war in 1949. The party enjoyed uninterrupted rule of the island until 2000, when it lost to Chen's DPP.


I found Ma's line about the lack of China following it's laws interesting, since he seems to wants meaningful negotiations with them. I also thoroughly enjoyed the last line.

"uninterupted rule of the island until 2000". LOL!! And Saddam Hussein's rule of his state was "interrupted" in March, 2003.
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Michael Turton said...

Thanks for the kind comments, anon. I wrote the LA Times a letter about this one. If they respond, I'll let everyone know.

Michael

STOP_George said...

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The L.A. Times is on a roll.

Here's their pro-China take on the Panda ploy.

I also noticed that the L.A. Times changed the tagline -- producing two different caches of the same article on Google.

Original version:

Can the island’s pro-independence government resist China’s offer of two adorable ambassadors? History says no. By Mark Magnier, Times Staff Writer. ...

The second version:

Will Taiwan's wary, pro-independence government succumb to a pair of China's most adorable ambassadors? History says yes. By Mark Magnier, Times Staff Writer.

The second version seems to have more of a political spin on it.

The title has also changed to reflect the spin:

Original version:

Pandas Tempt Taiwan

Second version:

Attack of the Pandas

In the (propaganda?)piece, Mark Magnier tries to paint Taiwan in a ridiculous light.

In the opening he states:

Who would think of turning down two lovable animals that zoos around the world can only dream about, you might ask?

Damn you, Chen!!
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STOP_George said...

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(drumroll, please)

And for the most eggregiously asinine comment of the day, the award goes to...

The Australian -- for a report on the decision to remove the CKS statues from the military bases.

Mr Chen's decision has angered nationalist politicians in Taiwan and is likely to cause annoyance in Beijing, which condemns any attempt to perpetuate the separation of Taiwan from mainland China..

Immediately following this paragraph, they proceed to tell its readers that CKS was involved in a civil war with the party that governs China today.

(applause)
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STOP_George said...

Link for the above award-winning article.

STOP_George said...

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Michael:

DeVoss is at it again. This time he's being picked up by the Dallas Morning News.

David DeVoss: Keeping Taiwan on track
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Anonymous said...

Moderator, sir: you must be clear when you criticize media, however and know the rules. This DeVoss piece was not reporting by the LA TImes, it was an oped commentary by DeVoss on the LAT editorial page, an opinion piece by an outside obsverver, not on the LAT staff, and all newspaper try to have balanced opinion pages, some pro this and some con that, and you cannot say this was an LA TIMES reporting piece. It was not. Just like if you write a letter to the China Post in your country of Taiwan, and they publish your letter, that does not mean that letter was supported by the China Post. They just give people a forum to say things, and DEVoss said his thing. Don't blame the US media, blame Devoss only. Get your terms right, puhlease.

Anonymous said...

EastWestNewsServ@aol.com


better to write EMAIL to Devoss himself, not the independetn papers he sells his articles too. yes, they pay him for that stuff. freelance oped stuff.

Anonymous said...

STOP GEROGE

RE:
Michael:

DeVoss is at it again. This time he's being picked up by the Dallas Morning News.

GET IT RIGHT: he is not being PICKED UP BY THE DALLAS MORN NEWS< he submitted a freelance oped piece and they published it. that is not the same as PICKED UP.

You guys don't know how to read newspapers and that is sad.

BTW, from DEVOss articles in LAT and DMN, he is probably a CIA plant, maybe even a CIA disinformation spy kind of guy. read between the lines, you dimwits.

I am in DC, I know how it works. get wise

Anonymous said...

DAVID DEVOSS, East-West News Service editor, spent nine years in Asia as a Time magazine correspondent and bureau chief.


email him at EastWestNewsServ@aol.com

Look, if this Devoss fella published his oped stories in both the LAT and the DMN on March 19 and March 21, diffrernt pieces but all on Tiawan, you can bet your bottom dollars that he is winking as a disinformatuion paid writer for the CIA. Find out what that EastWest News service is all about. it is probably a CIA front. we are in a new cold war, you know!

back to work on Capital Hill now, gbye!

Michael Turton said...

Anon:

We are all wise here. In fact, we are wise enough to know that you can't accuse a person of being a CIA disinformation source without some kind of evidence -- merely disagreeing with his position, and showing that he is grossly ignorant and slanted, isn't enough to convict a man of being a plant as well. Never attribute to maliciousness what can be explained by stupidity. And what we have here is a large dose of the latter.

The article is not written as an OP-ED but takes a journalistic tone. The author does not identify himself as having a specific position, but instead pretends that he is a disinterested party, writing from a journalistic stance. The paper presents his credentials not as "DeVoss is a consultant to the People's Republic of China" or "DeVoss spent many years at KMT HQ in Taiwan" but "DeVoss spent nine years in Asia" implying that we are receiving the fruits of his wisdom rather than an uninformed and polemical bit of nonsense.

Being wise is not the same as being paranoid, though these days I admit there's considerable overlap.

BTW, at least three of the major commenters here, and myself, have all worked on the Hill.

Michael