Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Pandas Attacking Taiwan!

There's been an unusual flow of doubleplusungood stuff in the media recently, unusual for even the US media....

One way to spot a biased piece is by an unseemly focus on Chen Shui-bian. For many foreign writers, Taiwan independence seems to be reducible what is Chen doing? as if it were all his idea. The LA Times, which offered us a terrible piece David DeVoss the other day, LA Times: Taiwan on Brink of Instability, now brings us more Bad Writing, this time a suavely pro-China piece from Mark Magnier: Attack of the Pandas: Will Taiwan's wary, pro-independence government succumb to a pair of China's most adorable ambassadors? History says yes.

China's latest weapon in its increasingly effective charm offensive against Taiwan is an offer of giant pandas. Who would think of turning down two lovable animals that zoos around the world can only dream about, you might ask?

Two problems here: "increasingly effective charm offensive" -- where's that? I used to think that claims had to be supported by actual evidence, but apparently when you are writing on Taiwan, no such support is necessary. Later he will reproduce the charm offensive, again without offering evidence of its success. Who wouldn't want the pandas? Well, as the sturdy AsiaPundit noted last week, US zoos don't want the pandas either (Taipei Times article on same topic):

Zoos in the United States have told China they cannot afford to keep paying $1 million (?580,000) each year for the loan of Giant Pandas. [...] Washington National Zoo spokesman John Gibbons told the BBC: "There is a possibility that there may be a day when there may not be Giant Pandas at the zoo. "We have had informal discussions with the Chinese and told them that we can't sustain the current expenditure and we are waiting for a response."

There are very good reasons not to accept the pandas that have nothing to do with Taiwan independence, as US zoos make clear. Because they are so expensive, they crowd out the ability of zoos to do other, more important things. Wild at Heart has also been discussing Panda Preservation in Taiwan and coming up with many reasons not to accept them. An overdramatized opening that is unworthy of a serious policy issue.

The government of archrival Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, for one, which finds itself tied in knots over the offer. Let one panda's nose in the tent, Chen and his allies fear, and you buy into Beijing's claim that Taiwan is part of China, a notion impossible for the pro-independence government on the island to accept.

"The pandas are a trick, just like the Trojan horse," said lawmaker Huang Shi-cho of the Taiwan Solidarity Union party. "Pandas are cute, but they are meant to destroy Taiwan's psychological defenses."

Note that Magnier does not reproduce the actual arguments of the pro-independence supporters -- he even calls them "the Chen Camp" as if all pro-independence types aligned themselves with Chen Shui-bian and Chen was the alpha and omega of independence. Instead he simply makes fun of people who reject the panda offer, and expects the reader to join his humor. The relentless Chen focus of this article betrays a Chinese source for his information.

Unfortunately for the Chen camp, most Taiwanese appear happy to have their psychological defenses destroyed by an animal that has melted hearts for centuries. One poll found that more than 70% are in favor of accepting the gift.

Another piece of evidence in favor of Chinese bias: the poll in question is from the pro-KMT China Times in Taiwan, and TVBS. It has been widely cited in the Beijing media offensive (Experts begin picking pandas for Taiwan, or Panda pair for Taiwan may be revealed Friday, and of course this one citing the Hong Kong Chinese-owned Taiwan station TVBS: People's Daily Online -- Taiwan sees "panda craze"). Poll data from a less biased sources is needed. Meanwhile Magnier continues:

China has played its hand masterfully, seizing the public relations advantage at every turn with a deftness that would put Madison Avenue to shame. It announced the offer during a visit to China last year by a pro-Beijing Taiwanese opposition leader, a historic rapprochement that already had Chen reeling.

"Chen reeling." Note again the Chen-focus of the article (it is nice that he labels Lien Chan "pro-Beijing"!) Magnier's sources are Chinese or pro-China. After describing how wonderful the Chinese media offensive is, Magnier then cites an anti-Chen headline from China Daily.

"Peaceful pandas vs. bellicose Chen," screamed a headline in the China Daily, the English-language Communist Party newspaper distributed in China.

Chen again! Magnier makes the headline plausible because he does not mention China's military posturing and missiles. Any panda offer has to be seen against the background of China's bloodcurdling threats and military expansion aimed at Taiwan. Because Magnier withholds this background, his readers cannot appreciate why so many of us laughed at the Panda Diplomacy of China. China's framing of the issue -- "bellicose Chen" -- goes completely unchallenged by Magnier, when it is his clear journalistic responsibility to point out that Chen has never threatened China, and that China is the bellicose one.

Beijing's latest offer of pandas, known as xiongmao or "bearcat" in Chinese, is part of a recent campaign some term "united-front tactics." After years of threatening Taiwan's leadership, lobbing missiles in the island's direction and enshrining into law their willingness to use force against the island to bring it to heel, the Communists made a strategic shift in the spring of 2005 by actively appealing to Taiwanese interest groups and trying to weaken Chen's hand.

Magnier's lack of understanding yawns in this paragraph, as he does not appear to understand what is meant by "United Front tactics." The reference is to cooperation between the KMT and the Communist Party in the 1930s against Japan. The DPPer who called the pandas "United Front pandas" meant to draw attention to cooperation between the KMT and the CCP today, against Taiwan independence. Note the last three words of that sentence, once again focused on Chen.

Since then, Taiwanese farmers, businesspeople, travel agents and students have been offered market access, reduced tuition on the mainland and other perks. Chen, who seems more comfortable staring down missiles than dealing with "acts of kindness," has often waffled, making him appear flat-footed and churlish at times.

A terribly biased remark: "acts of kindness?" How is it kind to attempt to split a nation you want to destroy? Once again, Magnier withholds from the reader the necessary context to understand China's strategy. There's no mention of China's ongoing military build up, and its continued threats to Taiwan. It should be noted that had Magnier done his homework, he might have discovered that the fruit tariff reductions do not apply to fruit that Taiwan actually exports.

In an attempt to counter Beijing's naming contests and catchy sound bites, the Chen administration has trotted out the 1963 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Any transfer, it argues, must comply with the accord on a "nation to nation" basis.

"China should not be so afraid of the word 'international,' " said Cho Jung-tai, Taiwan's Cabinet spokesman. "Pandas deserve human rights too."

Observe that Taiwan's argument is finally given, in the context, which Magnier has prepared the reader carefully for, that it is tiresome and "churlish." The loaded language is clear: Beijing has "catchy sound bites," while the Chen Administration "trotted out" an international agreement. Perhaps a verb that is more nuetral, like "cited," would be more appropriate.

STOP_george, who pointed this article out to me, notes that the LA Times changed the title:

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

Throughout the article the term "Taiwan government" or similar is never used -- instead, it is always the "Chen administration" or similar. Nor is "ROC" mentioned. That connotes a clear pro-Beijing spin. Also missing is any reference to China's military threats and its desire to annex Taiwan and snuff out Taiwan's democracy. Because the threat is missing, Magnier can make a plausible sounding case that the government of Taiwan is paranoid. This masking of China's military threat is becoming increasingly common, and probably betrays a Chinese or pro-Chinese source. Magnier also withholds from the reader the serious financial objections to the deal, which soured many here in Taiwan on it once they became widely known.

Finally -- it must be asked -- the panda purchase is dead in the water. Why is this article even being published? There is another panda article out there today as well. Does the sudden appearance of two panda articles signal a new Chinese offensive on the issue? Can it be a coincidence that the government of Taiwan is due to decide whether to accept the pandas in two weeks (April 3)?

JUST FOR FUN: Check out Johnny Neihu's abuse of this from a while back.

1 comment:

STOP_George said...

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Finally -- it must be asked -- the panda purchase is dead in the water. Why is this article even being published? There is another panda article out there today as well. Does the sudden appearance of two panda articles signal a new Chinese offensive on the issue?

I'm wondering that myself -- I mean, there is really no new news here. This story has been fully covered by the American media weeks ago.

Take a look at this blurb from Slate.com:

Political panda-ring … The LAT has a hilarious "Column One" feature today about China's panda diplomacy. Ever since Richard Nixon went to China and came back with a pair—and, actually, for centuries before—the Chinese have been using the lovable animals to melt the hearts of their enemies. Now the country is engaged in a typically shrill fight with neighbor Taiwan, which won't accept a couple of cuddly creatures. "The pandas are a trick, just like the Trojan horse," anti-panda lawmaker Huang Shi-cho tells the paper, explaining that it's all part of China's plan to gobble up the island. "Pandas are cute, but they are meant to destroy Taiwan's psychological defenses."

Again, the least effective quote, from a TSU candidate is being used in a sarcastic biased non-factual way.

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