Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Taiwan the Toddler

One of the most important media tropes that governs presentations of Taiwan in the international media is that of Taiwan as an obstreperous child, in need of discipline. This Beijing-centric rhetorical convention thus implicitly presents China's annexation of the island as an act of discipline for a child unable to control itself, a wise and statesmanlike move by a responsible adult....

The latest regurgitation of this trope is an article in Time on the recent referendum and the problems it has caused in US-Taiwan relations. The article skillfully deploys negative constructions....

And Taipei-based observers say that the referendum is less a declaration of independence than a political ploy by Chen to bolster his own legacy, as well as voter turnout in March for Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). "The ruling party doesn't have much to campaign about," says Chao Chien-min, a political science professor at Taiwan's National Chengchi University. "The only thing they can do is portray the opposition as Beijing's collaborator."

....without any balance from opposing views to counter the hack on the DPP. Professor Chao appears to be pro-KMT -- he believes that the assassination attempt on Chen by a Blue supporter in 2004 resulted in sympathy votes for the DPP, although no evidence supports that view. But it is not just Chao -- here is every quote of a source in the article:

In late August, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte declared Chen's proposal "a mistake."

Negroponte called the vote a step towards "a declaration of independence," urging Taiwan's leaders to "behave in a responsible manner."

In July, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang warned the proposed vote could "have a grave impact on cross-Straits relations and seriously endanger peace and stability across the Straits and Asia-Pacific region."

China condemned this weekend's demonstrations, warning Sunday that Beijing was now preparing for a "serious situation."

"The ruling party doesn't have much to campaign about," says Chao Chien-min, a political science professor at Taiwan's National Chengchi University. "The only thing they can do is portray the opposition as Beijing's collaborator."

"We do not like having to express publicly our disagreement with the Chen Administration on this or any other policy," Christensen said.

"We have to acknowledge a tough truth," Christensen said. "Most countries in the world accept Beijing's characterization of Taiwan, and, when energized, the PRC can call in overwhelming support to marginalize Taipei."

"Beijing now realizes the shortest route to Taipei is through Washington," says former diplomat Loh I-cheng. "They are telling the U.S., 'It was you who spoiled this child, you should spank him.'"

Read them all -- without exception, every single quote in the article offers a negative view of Taipei. The article is completely slanted. The Taiwan-as-child trope haunts the citations: Taiwan must be responsible (like an adult), it must acknowledge tough truths (adults face the truth), the US doesn't like expressing disagreement publicly (this hurts me more than you), and of course, Taipei is a child to be spanked. Not only are there no positive views, nowhere is Taipei or the DPP permitted to speak for itself. That too, is a subtle manifestation of the toddler treatment: children must have adults to interpret their actions and to speak for them. In the rhetorical framing of the article, the reporter's descriptions of the actions of the government thus too become the adult speaking and interpreting for the toddler.

Along with that negative portrayal is loaded language...

Chen has denied the referendum has anything to do with politics. The president also stridently insists the vote will occur no matter what the circumstances. That said, he has tried to temper U.S. resistance by making assurances to American officials that the naming controversy will go away after the elections.

...note that Chen is "strident." By contrast, KMT presidential candidate "attracts" people to protest in Taichung:

KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou held his own pro-U.N. membership rally on Saturday, attracting about 50,000 supporters to the central city of Taichung.

Ma "attracts" -- even though the reality is that the KMT supporters were bused in -- while for the DPP protest more cautious language is used -- it has "seeming" support....

But neither Chinese nor American opposition has done much to dampen Taiwanese enthusiasm for the referendum. On Saturday, more than 100,000 people took to the streets in the southern port city of Kaohsiung to rally in favor of the referendum and seemingly in support of Chen's vision of a sovereign Taiwan.

...observe also that the movement is Chen-driven -- it is "Chen's vision" that dominates, although the DPP and the tangwai were independence-oriented from the get-go, and polls now show that the majority supports independence for Taiwan. We all know which side assigns the driving agency to the Diabolical Chen Shui-bian.

The conclusion of this article contains an overt expression of the Taiwan-as-child trope:

In recent years, however, Taiwan has seen diplomatic support for its existence ebb, especially as China has grown as an economic superpower. In the 1970s, Taiwan was recognized by 65 nations. Today, only 24 mostly impoverished countries consider Taiwan independent. "We have to acknowledge a tough truth," Christensen said. "Most countries in the world accept Beijing's characterization of Taiwan, and, when energized, the PRC can call in overwhelming support to marginalize Taipei." Indeed, the U.S.'s vocal opposition to the referendum is being seen in Taiwan as more evidence of the influence China now wields. "Beijing now realizes the shortest route to Taipei is through Washington," says former diplomat Loh I-cheng. "They are telling the U.S., 'It was you who spoiled this child, you should spank him.'"

Remember -- a newspaper article is a construction, and the reporter has many possible quotes to choose from. The editor could have simply ended the quote with the first half, the comment on the "shortest route to Taipei is through Washington." But instead, they chose to end by portraying Taiwan as the toddler in need of discipline. UPDATE: Loh I-cheng, the diplomat cited, is an old KMT hand (don't miss the comment below on him).

One could also fault the writer for saying that the 24 countries "consider Taiwan independent" instead of taking a moment to explain the Taiwan-ROC issue -- space that later went to include the portrayal of Taiwan as a child. The fact is that formally they do not consider Taiwan independent; they consider the Republic of China to be the sole government of China. That position implicitly recognizes that Taiwan is part of China. By why waste space explaining complex diplomatic topics, when you can use a couple of lines on a juicy pro-Beijing quote?

UPDATE II: I wrote a long letter to Time about this article, using most of the detail from this post.



21 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you could put together a good little letter to TIME from your thoughts in this post.
If you point out how all of the quotes/opinions only come from one side of the argument, that's a pretty powerful point.

Wulingren said...

Interesting how the very same media establishment treats progressive bloggers, anti-(Iraq and Iran) war activists, and the liberal wing of the Democratic party in the US in very similar terms (as children, loonies, idealists, naive, hippies etc), while overlooking the foibles and accepting the frames of the Republican Party and their Democratic enablers (search Bush Dogs). The media establishment is simply a representation of the cultural hegemony of our times.

Robo said...

I agree. Michael, who better than you to write a letter to the editor?

Though.....it probably won't change anything....sadly.

HeiShouDang 黑手黨 said...

Agreed.
How can such a shockingly biased piece appear in a supposedly reputable magazine?
Mind you, Time has always been a cheerleader for China.

昆蟲 said...

Judging from the history of the Time magazine, it was blindly slanted to KMT during WW II, and now it is still blindly slanted --- this time the *real* China.

Just as blind as Ma !

Feiren said...

陸以正 is more than just an old KMT hand. He's a blue dinosaur and trusted ideological henchman of CCK. He writes regularly in the China Time and the United Daily news advocating that Taiwan end its security relationship with the US and cozy up to Beijing is still in a good mood. He was strongly in favor of the KMT rapprochement with the CCP and an apologist for the Anti-Secession Law.

What's more, he is almost unbelievably out of touch with contemporary Taiwan. It would be hard to have picked someone more blue to the bone then old Loh.

I seem to remember having dug up an incriminating interview with Chao, but he is indeed a slippery fish to pin down.

Jeff said...

Hi Michael,

I share the same of others that you should write to TIME about fallacies of this slanted article.

Tim Maddog said...

Michael, according to that article you linked, the now-83-year-old Loh I-cheng was having memory lapses 5 years ago. Time reporters will go to him even now to get "good quote"? That's absolute insanity!

As for letters to Time's editors, I think 1,000 people should write to them (which anyone can do by clicking the author's name at the top of that article) telling them that they (Time's editors, that is) need to be spanked. As Robo says, don't expect any change to come about from it, but they must at least be mocked -- especially by bloggers who have the background to easily spot the taint in that article.

Tim Maddog

Mark said...

I'll be the first to admit that I don't follow politics here that closely, but I thought the Time article hit the nail on the head.

What will the referendum on whether to use the name "Taiwan" in the next failed bid to enter the UN do? The DPP has already decided to use the name "Taiwan" without holding a referendum. As such, the referendum is meaningless. More significantly, it ticks off the closest thing to a good friend that Taiwan has- the US.

It also seems very disingenuous for Chen to deny that the meaningless referendum to be held at the same time as presidential elections "has anything to do with politics". To this outside observer, it looks like he's trying to mobilize his base.

MikeinTaipei said...

Michael,

A most excellent skewering of what could only be characterized as journalistic rubbish. Some parts of the article gave me the shakes. The manner in which you pick it apart and analyze the subtle use of language (subtle to the uninformed who don’t know better, that is — and that would be most readers, unfortunately) is in the great tradition of Robert Fisk, Richard Falk and Howard Friel’s work on media reporting on the Middle East.

I also like the part where the author says that “Taiwan has tried — and failed — to regain membership,” by which the oblivious reporter is saying that (a) at one point in the past Taiwan (emphasis) was a member of the UN; and (b) that given (a), Taiwan (emphasis) must be a country, as membership is contingent on that precondition being met. Obviously this isn’t what Kathleen Kingsbury wanted to convey, but I found that amusing nonetheless.

I had intended to write to Time, but now I know that effort is in good hands already.

Michael Turton said...

Mark --

Look at your language -- which is reasonable and nuetral -- compared to the reporter's. Don't you think it is possible to talk about Taiwan without portraying the island as a metaphorical toddler in a world of adults? You managed it, why couldn't TIME?

The referendum has no meaning, but it is not useless. Of course the DPP is mobilizing the DPP base. It is also dominating the discourse here, raising the island's profile, and forcing the KMT into a reactive rather than proactive mode. These are all good things.

Pissing off the US is not a good thing, but I think they'll throttle back now that they have made their point and move on to other mobilization activities.

Michael

Marc Anthony said...

Everyone should write to Time. Don't think that it won't make any difference. Editors notice these things;

letters@time.com

And what do we know about Natalie Tso, the journalist who wrote this nonsense?

Anonymous said...

When the DPP buses in people to attend rallies it is portrayed as 'mobilizing its supporters', but when the KMT buses in people it is referred to as 'attracting supporters'.............
I was at the Taichung High Speed Rail Station Saturday morning - there was an army of media vans with cameras ready apparently waiting the arrival of Ma and company in their blue sandals and straw hats.

Runsun said...

mark:I'll be the first to admit that I don't follow politics here that closely ...
... As such, the referendum is meaningless.


After seeing how big storm this referendum idea has stirred, you still think that it's meaningless? Maybe you are really too far away from Taiwan politics.

More significantly, it ticks off the closest thing to a good friend that Taiwan has- the US.

Can't you tell that it might be intended?

It also seems very disingenuous for Chen to deny that the meaningless referendum to be held at the same time as presidential elections "has anything to do with politics". To this outside observer, it looks like he's trying to mobilize his base.

You are contradicting yourself. If in your mind the referendum can mobilize Chen's base, how can you describe it as "meaningless"?

Talking about "disingenuous" ...

Anonymous said...

Anon--and we all know that blue sandals and straw hats is the ordinary attire of people taking the high speed rail, which is the equivalent of buying an airplane ticket,

Mark said...

Rusun said:
You are contradicting yourself. If in your mind the referendum can mobilize Chen's base, how can you describe it as "meaningless"?

Talking about "disingenuous" ...


Runsun, don't call me disingenuous. I have no ulterior motives, and I find your response offensive.

You missed what I was saying. I didn't contradict myself at all.

The referendum is meaningless in a policy sense-- regardless of the vote, the administration plans to use the name "Taiwan".

However, the referendum is something that will whip up the green base, especially since it's going to be held at the same time as the presidential elections.

Is that clear enough for you?

Runsun said...

mark,

I'm sorry that you find my comment offensive. But I do feel that your comment of "meaningless referendum", like:

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
The referendum is meaningless in a policy sense-- regardless of the vote, the administration plans to use the name "Taiwan".
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

is baseless. The main purpose of referendum is to let the international community know that "Entering the UN in the name of Taiwan" is supported by the majority of Taiwanese. You are right that Chen's government is gonna use "Taiwan" anyway. But, the fact that "Chen Administration uses Taiwan" doesn't tell the world anything about how the majority of Taiwanese think. Only a referendum can achieve that goal. This is also a way to show the world that Chen is doing what people want, but not just what he or DPP want.

Therefore, a UN referendum does have its meaning, and a very significant one.

In fact, Chen are not stupid or mad as many people would like to believe. He won't do things that he has no confidence on, and his confidence is built not on his emotion or greed or ambition, but on internal polls conducted by DPP frequently. This is his style of administrating a government, started even since he was Taipei Mayor.

We saw him swing back and forth and back and forth, seems like he was snaky and don't know where to go. In fact it's his response to DPP's internal polls when the polls were unable to show a definite majority. When he sees that a majority is shown, he will go straight to that direction -- even spanking USA on the face -- like we all are seeing now.

So thinking he simply acts on emotion or rushes to do things that is meaningless is really ignorant to the way he operates.

Don't forget that Chen and his party are experts in fighting political combats. They certainly know what is meaningful and what is not better than we do.

This is just about the original meaning of the referendum. I haven't talked about the impact the referendum actually stirred yet.

If you try to put your own idea aside to consider the possibility that these might all be Chen's strategy, you might be able to see its meaning.

If you still find this post offensive, let me know. I'll stop talking.

Mark said...

Nope, that one was fine.

Now that it's clear that I consider it a meaningless poll (in terms of policy), and that you consider it meaningful (in terms of sending a message), lets talk about what I labeled "disingenuous".

According to the article, Chen said that the referendum didn't have anything to do with politics. Do you think this is true? Do you think he thinks it's true?

Runsun said...

Mark,

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
According to the article, Chen said that the referendum didn't have anything to do with politics. Do you think this is true? Do you think he thinks it's true?
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

I don't really care about that. What I care is if he did what his supporters want him to do.

His power came from pan-green supports, as such he is obligatory to carry out pan-green's expectations.

In his first term he didn't do that. Instead it seemed that he listened more to the pan-blue. It made pan-green go crazy -- He is not supposed to take power from pan-green with one hand, and use that power to help pan-blue carry out their missions with the other hand.

We later came to realize that, Chen was in the center of crashes -- domestically pan-green, pan-blue and pan-nothing all want to force him to go their sides (some followed no rule at all), and internationally China and USA are playing him like a chess piece. He has been in the center of all hurricanes and if he wasn't so snaky he would have been broken long time ago. If that happened, the emotional responses of his supporters and the looting nature of never-admit-loss pan-blue will come to a crash point and Taiwan will not be as stable as it is now.

In that sense he did what is needed in the situation he is in. As I mentioned in previous comment, when the situation is clear and one side of the tugging forces emerges, he will not play snaky anymore. He is probably the only person in Taiwan politics who is smart enough and "personality-fit" enough to deal with this situation. Any one else would probably stand strong with one tugging force and steer Taiwan into diasters.

So, what's wrong with the policy making of "using Taiwan" without referendum? It's what pan-green -- the people who gave him power -- always wanted, and in pan-green's eyes he should have done it years ago.

Understand what situation he has been enduring, it really makes no sense to judge him on his personality. If I were to vote for a President, I vote for a candidate who can carry out my idea, but not for a candidate who is a nice person.

>>>>>>>>>>>>
it's clear that I consider it a meaningless poll (in terms of policy)
<<<<<<<<<<<<

I already mentioned that the referendum will tell people his policy is not just what he or DPP want but is the majority of Taiwanese want. It gives him a solid support for his policy. In that sense I wouldn't say it's meaningless in terms of policy.

Corey/可瑞 said...

So, did you ever hear back from them? If not, make sure you let us know if you do.

poi said...

First,the tone in this article was clearly unfair and it would be a only right to call the writer to account but the referendum is dangerously foolish.The world doesn't need to be told that the majority of people on the island want international recognition.Anyone who cares already knows and most of the world doesn't care.Taiwan's very survival as a defacto independent state is at risk and the referendum simply increases that risk.There are possible solutions to the PRC threat but none as simple,cheap and easy as this DPP idea.Taiwan can't afford the luxury of foolishness.