Friday, March 21, 2008

Pre-mortem: How the International Media have Failed Taiwan

A 3-D presentation at the 2-28 Museum shows the spread of the revolt across Taiwan in early March of 1947.

First, moment of humor, courtesy of my friend Sponge Bear. For some reason raving China apologist Gregory Clark still gets space in the Japan Times, and he has another one of his excuses for murdered Tibetans today:
"As for Tibetan independence, people forget that the strongest opponent was the Western-backed Nationalist Chinese government that ended up in Taiwan. Beijing simply inherited that Western-approved situation."
Yes, it is Taiwan's fault China is murdering Tibetans...speaking of Tibet, there's a petition on AVAAZ that has been passed around the pro-Taiwan community...

...Keith Bradsher had another sturdily sound article in the NYTimes about Taiwan and Tibet, which I understand made the front page, even. Bradsher opens by pointing out that the race has tightened:
China’s suppression of protests in Tibet and missteps by the opposition Nationalist Party have made the Taiwanese presidential election on Saturday an unexpectedly close race. What once seemed to be an insuperable lead for the Nationalist candidate, Ma Ying-jeou, has narrowed considerably, politicians and political analysts said.

A narrow victory for Mr. Ma would give him a weaker mandate for his goal of closer economic relations with mainland China. An actual defeat for Mr. Ma, now a possibility although not yet the most likely outcome, would be a serious setback for Beijing officials, who have cultivated relations with the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, over the past four years.

It must be a jolt for anyone who has read the "Ma will cruise" propaganda that has oozed like black ichor out of the KMT papers and into the international media. Still, at this late date, everyone one both sides is saying the same thing -- Ma in a tight one.

Only one sour note in Bradsher's piece:
President Chen won re-election then partly because of the sympathy he received when he was lightly wounded in a shooting while campaigning on the eve of voting.
As I've pointed out countless times, no credible evidence supports this position -- Chen had already drawn even in the polls by this time. Yet here it is, like gospel, solemnly intoned. What is it about nonsense that gives it such a long half-life?

Speaking of nonsense, a longtime local expat here flipped me his letter to the Canadian writer of the piece I blogged on earlier this week:
As a Canadian who has made his home in Taiwan for the better part of two decades, I must say I was appalled at the lack of knowledge and understanding your article "Scores of Taiwanese-Canadians travel for vote" displayed. Have you ANY idea about what you're writing, or do you make it up as you go along?

  1. You said "Under current law, all Taiwanese citizens must travel to their registered precincts to vote." That is not true. Voting is not mandatory.
  2. You said "The island state is officially administered under the Republic of China but is in practice autonomously governed." Your sentence should read "The Republic of China, better known as Taiwan, is an island state that is autonomously/independently self-governed.
  3. You said "The issue continually at the forefront of domestic debates is whether it should formally declare its independence." That is not true. Declaring formal independence has not been brought up in this year's debates. Where did you get this information?
  4. You parenthetically added to James Chou's quote: "About half of the people support the (People's Republic of China) and the other half has very strong grassroots emotions about the land of their ancestors." Where did you get the impression that ANYONE in Taiwan supported the PRC? Your parenthetical insert should have been the Republic of China, not the People's Republic of China. There's a big difference and while it's understandable for a layperson to be confused, it's unforgivable for a professional journalist to not know the difference.
Please, do your readers the courtesy of due diligence before writing about countries of which you have scant knowledge.
I blogged on that bit about supporting China below, but ignored the rest of that surpassingly stupid article. Good catch, man.

Ma dominates the foreign media. In addition to this short piece this week from Cox News that gives Ma good publicity and blames Chen for cross-strait tension, there was a long, in-depth piece in Time this week that attracted much attention and a large number of emails to my mailbox.

I cannot give details, but the pro-Ma slant of the Time piece was inevitable given the massive DPP fuckup with the Time reporter, who wanted to do a similar piece on Hsieh. It was pure banana republic. In several years of watching the DPP's mishandling of the foreign media, that one really stood out. So don't blame Time, except for the usual nonsense I'll touch on below. Onward to the piece....

First, there are the usual errors: speaking of the half-life of nonsense...
Ma believes the time for change has come. Squished into his train seat, the Harvard-educated lawyer outlined to TIME a detailed program that he hopes will broaden Taiwan's relations with China and eventually lead to real peace.
When will the light dawn? Ma never passed the bar, and never practiced law. He's not a lawyer. Darwin was soooooo right: bad facts never die.

The Time piece also quotes Philip Yang, whom readers will know from long experience is pro-KMT, and is, according to a recent NYTimes piece, acting as advisor to the Ma campaign:
"We tried to help our sense of Taiwan identity, but it resulted in self-marginalization in the region," says Philip Yang, a political scientist at National Taiwan University in Taipei. As a result, "we believe Taiwan is losing its edge, losing its advantages and losing its chance at long-term prosperity."
Note that in the pro-KMT construction of Yang, marginalization of Taiwan is entirely the result of Taiwan's actions. Beijing is not an actor. [Broken record]Observe that Time does not identify the political affiliation of Yang.[/broken record]

The Time piece didn't do too bad a job of handling the economy, pointing out that the massive investments in China render claims that the economy sucks problematic, but all the quotes are pro-KMT. Again, they couldn't help it, the DPP totally fumbled the ball on this opportunity. And remember, this is a piece about Ma; it is inevitably slanted toward his opinions. There is a section on the DPP -- with counterbalancing comments. But the reporter still believes that the "landslide victory" in the legislative elections was due to being fed-up with Chen, though no evidence supports that view. *sigh*

However, all honor to Time for these two paragraphs that show how Ma's slippery claims on sovereignty bump up against China's obdurate insistence on annexing Taiwan:

But there's a catch. Hu insisted that any negotiating party had to accept Beijing's view of "one China," a prerequisite even the KMT might have trouble swallowing. An overtly friendly Taipei will also force Hu to make sensitive decisions on Taiwan policy he has so far been able to avoid, and it is uncertain how far he's willing to go. "Taiwan's leadership will be looking for concessions and will almost certainly be willing to make concessions of its own." says Shelley Rigger, a Taiwan expert at Davidson College in North Carolina. "That will force Beijing to decide: Where do we draw the line?"

Yet Ma's biggest stumbling block might well be the ambivalent feelings of his own people toward China. Fear of domination by China is still widespread among Taiwan's population and Ma might have to tread carefully or risk a backlash. Even those in favor of closer relations, like Kaohsiung's Wayne Lee, harbor lingering fears of the consequences. "We have to ask ourselves if it is worth making a lot of money for 10 years and trading away our sovereignty," he says.

If only the reporter had caught how sovereignty for Ma really means the Republic of China, not Taiwan.

++++++++++

But that's not the issue of this blog post. No, the topic of this post is the colossal failure of the English-language foreign media to discuss Ma's background. We are 24 hours from the election and not one piece I have seen this year has mentioned Ma's emergence from the KMT security state. In the entire run up to the election over the past seven months there has been only one. The potentially excellent media narrative of Frank Hsieh the democracy activist vs. Ma Ying-jeou the lifelong democracy opponent -- his defense of martial law in public correspondence, including long prison sentences for dissidents, his opposition to democracy, his opposition to the lifting of martial law, his opposition to the repeal of the notorious Article 100 -- was completely blown off by the foreign media. Even when Hsieh is correctly presented Ma is ignored: Caroline Gluck of the BBC had an otherwise nicely balanced piece the other day that mentions Hsieh's background as a democracy activist -- but not Ma's as a democracy opponent.

No excuse exists -- this has been covered in the local media quite extensively -- Gerrit van Der Wees' recent piece in the Taipei Times being only the latest example. It's out there in books and many different documents -- credible allegations that Ma was a student spy, for example, have been circulating in the democracy community for years and in print since Taiwangate in the early 1990s, where current EPA minister Winston Dang [Chen] alluded to them in the introduction. It's been a theme on this blog, which I know is read by working media people.

The international media has comprehensively failed both Taiwan and its own readers.

Why? I think Jim Mann was on to something.....

Consider, for example, this NYT piece on Putin from 2000:
Mr. Putin, who became prime minister of Russia only last August, has suddenly come to power from relative obscurity at the young age of 47. His resume's bare bones -- including his service in the K.G.B.'s foreign intelligence arm and his role as director of its successor, the Federal Security Service -- are known.
Putin's connection to the Russian security forces are forthrightly described. But in case the reader imagines this is because Russia is great and powerful, it is not difficult to find similar pieces for the Baltic states or Poland. When Arnold Ruutel ran for President of Estonia, the media said clearly that he was head of the Estonian Supreme Soviet (where he apparently worked for Estonian independence). Similarly this NYT article on the former Francoist Manuel Fraga Iribane identifies Fraga as a Francoist:
Mr. Fraga, though, is not one to apologize for his Francoist past. ''You can't treat everyone over a 40-year period in the same way,'' he said. ''Everyone knew that I was a reformist. I think few people did more than me to carry out the transition. I have maintained my ideas all along, always looking for agreement.''
The issue is not the current and former stances of politicians -- it is that the past of Ma Ying-jeou has completely vanished from the foreign media, whereas similar anti-democracy pasts of European politicians are generally put on display, whatever their current positions. Yet Ma is treated completely differently....

....I think Mann was on to something when we wrote that dissidence in the Soviet sphere had cachet for westerners, but dissidence in the Chinese sphere does not. And I think the Taiwan election coverage by the foreign media has completely vindicated his position.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

There's another article in the WSJ today - Taiwan Heads for Thaw With China

CNN ran a piece on the Taiwan elections this morning. Ma was in it for a few decent sound bites, but at the end they said "Frank Hsieh refused to comment for this segment".

Also heard on the TV yesterday, not really clearly (blue party rumor?), but something it about Chen may not turn over power if Ma's wins and his green card issue was not resolved.

nanheyangrouchuan said...

Georgey Porgey,
Pudding and pie,
Turned his back on the Tibetans and let them die...

And that goes for wet noodle Brussesl, beer sucking London and passed-out-drunk Oz as well.

Perhaps the first real sign of the The End of Times is that all of mankind's institutions built to promote and protect the preciousness of human life have simultaneously failed. The UN, the IOC, DC, Brussels, the US media as a whole, etc

Peter said...

The Taipei Times reports that Chen has pledged to hand of power to whoever wins the election.

Link to the article below.

President says he is ready to step down

Iceman said...

It always amazes me how some Taiwanese people can deny or ignore KMT's past.
Even though many, most of the people who were involved are still active party members.

Oh wait, these are all KMT supporters. Nevermind.
Ignorant fools.

Anonymous said...

The IHT have this AP story on their website profiling Hsieh. It is a fairly positive picture, although the comment that Hsieh has "little experience in economics" could be taken to imply that Ma somehow does... on what basis I'm not sure.

It does paint him as a, ahem, 'colorful' character, but after all the mentions of Ma's chimeral 'charisma' it is refreshing to see the other side get a guernsey... not sure about the astral traveling though...

Sadly though: no direct contact between reporter and Hsieh. Get your act together DPP!

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/03/21/asia/AS-POL-Taiwan-Hsiehs-Challenge.php

Scott