Friday, September 26, 2008

Milk Makes a Nation Strong


I have my Google Maps page set to Taichung, and it opened to Taichung yesterday. I had a lot of trouble finding my way home.....

AP reports on the way tainted milk products from China have affected Ma Ying-jeou's plans for putting the island into China's orbit.

Now many Taiwanese are questioning whether Ma was right, amid nonstop media coverage of Chinese products being ordered off store shelves and of anxious parents monitoring their children's health.

High-tech employee Kuo Yu-chun, 34, said the milk scandal has reinforced his negative impression of China.

"We should not allow all things Chinese to come to Taiwan just because the government is opening up to the mainland," he said.

The report also observes:

China policy expert Andrew Yang of Taipei's Council of Advanced Political Studies said that further wavering by the government could undermine popular support for Ma's wide-ranging China initiative.

"If Ma fails to impose strict controls on the import of Chinese goods, people will lose confidence in his cross-strait policy," he said.


The milk scandal is just one of several things that have the locals up in arms over Ma's policy drift in the first few months in office -- it isn't just the economy -- there was the typhoon, our shrinking sovereignty, the tourists who haven't appeared, and the "opening" to China that has local businessmen exasperated. Tainted milk is a metaphor for Taiwan's entire relationship with China that anyone can read -- and the government's decision to raise allowable melamine levels to protect Taiwan's businessmen essentially says that China can poison the milk if it wants. In the Ma administration, service to Beijing is more important than service to the people of Taiwan. Paul Lin noted this in a commentary in the Taipei Times today:

Almost every country in the world has banned existing imports of Chinese milk powder. Last week I wrote that Taiwan’s government should lodge complaints with the WHO and WTO to uphold national sovereignty and dignity and protect Taiwanese interests. But all the government did was inform the WHO that some Taiwanese products made with Chinese milk powder had been sold to Hong Kong. The government put Taiwan in the position of being an accomplice of Beijing, providing the Chinese-controlled WHO with another opportunity to belittle Taiwan’s sovereignty.

MEDIA NOTES: The AP report contains a couple of highly problematic statements. The first is The Formula:

"....In Taiwan, an island of 23 million people that split from China amid civil war in 1949, the stakes are also political."

Three years ago Gerrit van der Wees of FAPA wrote a piece in the Taipei Times pointing out that AP was one of the news services that was especially guilty of perpetuating this historically incorrect description. Nothing has changed since. History still says that in 1949 Taiwan belonged to Japan, and would until 1952 when the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect, and AP is still writing that in 1949 Taiwan was part of China. A gross error.

Further, Taiwan and China did not split "amid civil war" since Taiwan was not part of the war between the KMT and the CCP. The KMT lost the civil war and retreated to Taiwan, which did not see itself as part of China.

Finally, saying that Taiwan split from China is not only perpetuating a historical error but adopting the position of Beijing with respect to the status of Taiwan: it is a piece adrift that needs to be "returned." Why must AP take a position on the status of Taiwan?

Other news services manage to describe Taiwan without falling into historical error or taking a position on where Taiwan belongs. Why can't AP do it?

The second problem is the wording of this paragraph:

Ma cruised to victory in March by convincing a large majority of voters that his predecessor's policy of distancing the island from its communist rival was bad for business and a threat to regional peace.

Ma actually convinced only a small minority of voters to switch -- the 10% or so who swing vote. The vast majority of voters remained with the parties they normally identify with. But more important is AP's ridiculous characterization of the DPP's China policy during the eight years of the Chen Administration as Chen "distancing the island" from China.

It's 2008. There are a million Taiwanese in China, $200 billion in Taiwan investment there, the world's busiest airline route is between a Chinese city and a Taiwanese one, we have direct flights, Chinese tourists, student exchanges, legalized investment, etc, etc, etc. Whatever Chen was doing, it was not "distancing." Taiwan is intimately involved with China. Rather the DPP, which sought to manage the relationship to benefit from China's booming economy and maintain good relations with China, staked out strong limits on sovereignty in negotiations. Ma convinced the locals that if those limits on sovereignty concessions were removed, then the economy would "be saved."

It would be better if the next time this appears, it attributes "distancing the island from China" to Ma as a campaign position, rather than presenting it as a fact in a neutral narrative of the issue.

19 comments:

channing said...

There is a potential for Taiwan to work with mainland China to establish a sophisticated quality control system. This is the way Hong Kong SAR works with Guangdong Province (and, ultimately, other provinces + Beijing). A rigorous inspection system and prompt high-level contact infrastructure help minimize the chances of tainted products infiltrating Hong Kong's highly sensitive market.

Sean Reilly said...

This may be the second silver lining to come out of this tainted milk debacle, if indeed the Taiwanese are starting to take a closer look at Ma's (one) China policy and looking beyond his hype.

The first is the possibility that people will start paying closer attention to and questioning the way food is brought to the table.

China is not solely responsible for the tainted baby formula, though they are at the head of the line. We should all be more careful with food that is 'manufactured' or 'processed'.

But it's always just been easier to blame the reds, eh?

Anonymous said...

"Ma cruised to victory in March by convincing a large majority of voters that his predecessor's policy of distancing the island from its communist rival was bad for business and a threat to regional peace."
This is not accurate. The KMT convinced the public rather easily (mostly thanks to the help of the media) that the economy was mismanaged by the DPP and was a disaster causing unnecessary hardships and suffering, and increased suicides because people had no hope and couldn't stand it anymore. Secondly, that Taiwan was totally isolated and not cashing in on the economic boom of China. The first point was pure bullshit and the second only partially true.
Now that the economy is worse off than before it is carefully explained by the media that it's not Ma's fault - he is a victim of the global economy. This is commonsense but the media never gave the same luxury to the DPP. Of course, the suffering/suicide issue evaporated the day after the elections.
As for cashing on on China's 'economic boom' there are benifits to be realized through things such as direct air flights, although this has been made into much more of a miracle cure for the economy than it is in reality.
The main thing driving the KMT is the horrifying realization that after 60 years of seeing themselves as superior and having the preeminent modern Chinese society (sneering whilst conveniently shielded by the Taiwan Strait from such things as the Cultural Revolution, etc..), the Mainland is rising to prominence on a scale they could never hope to match. And it will happen regardless of the role they play or don't play. They think that if Taiwan doesn't get integrated into the rise now - or real soon - it will eventually be relegated to a secondary role as peripheral province, or worse yet - economic zone, or worst possible scenario - a separate country along the lines of Korea, Japan, Philippines, etc. - unable to fully bask in and enjoy the fruits of the glory of China's resurgence.

Richard said...

"or worst possible scenario - a separate country along the lines of Korea, Japan, Philippines, etc. - unable to fully bask in and enjoy the fruits of the glory of China's resurgence."

And exactly how is that the worst possible scenario? You make it seem as if that's the scenario everyone would hate and commit suicide over. But in fact, if there was no threat of total annihilation, I'd bet > 90% of Taiwanese would love to have their own "separate country." And those 10% who don't, are probably communists underneath and whose sole purpose on Taiwan is to undermine "Taiwan."

Anonymous said...

" They think that if Taiwan doesn't get integrated into the rise now - or real soon - it will eventually be relegated to a secondary role as peripheral province, or worse yet - economic zone, or worst possible scenario - a separate country along the lines of Korea, Japan, Philippines, etc. - unable to fully bask in and enjoy the fruits of the glory of China's resurgence."

Long live the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere!
Look how well that turned out.

Tim Maddog said...

What Chen Shui-bian was doing: maintaining Taiwan's sovereignty.

What AP is doing: lying.

What China is doing: bullying.

What Ma Ying-jeou is doing: surrendering.

What the rest of the world is doing: lollygagging.

Tim Maddog

Thomas said...

I kind of take the words of a Buddhist friend of mine who is a fence-sitting Blue supporter who doesn't like politics and would rather ignore political problems to focus on volunteer work (admirable, but not always possible in my opinion).

He often is ambiguous as to what country he belongs to, although I don't think he is being deliberately ambiguous. I think he is generally one of the many Taiwanese who are not really sure about identity.

Therefore, when he makes a comment that is plain anti-China, I take notice. When chatting the other night, out of the blue, he brought up the baby formula and milk problem. His comments:

"Chinese products are so bad! I never buy them. In fact, the moment I see that something is made in China, I don't buy it.[Which is probably true. I have seen him reject made-in-China appliances when he had a choice many times.] I have never had mainland milk. I never will. My sister once gave me some 3-in-1 coffee. That had Nestle milk in it, much of which comes from the mainland. Maybe that was the only time."

My point is that the milk problem churned these thoughts to the surface, and if one apolitical fence sitter in Taiwan was thinking it enough to clearly voice what he was thinking, others must agree.

This reminds me of a comment I made to someone once. The only ways for Taiwan to unify with China in the medium term is through coercion or conquest (both of which could happen). There are simply too many average Taiwanese who feel too uneasy about China to vote for annexation.

D. Corey Sanderson said...

At least BBC has finally seen (哈哈) that Taiwan is separate in some way from China.

The map at the bottom of their story about White Rabbit doesn't include them.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7637001.stm

Anonymous said...

"saying that Taiwan split from China is ... adopting the position of Beijing with respect to the status of Taiwan:"

Yes, that's true, but it is also the position of Taipei as well. Since the 2 governments who are contesting Taiwan agree on a common interpretation of history, it seem that any argument to the contrary is nothing more than an exericse in determining how many angels can dance on a pin head.

For Taiwan to become politically independent depends on 3 things: (1) majority of Taiwanese citizens want it; (2) Taiwan's military and internal security forces won't oppose it; and (3) the PRC will allow it. Mr. van der Wees' argument, while interesting in an intellectual sense, is totally irrelevant to 1,2,and 3 above.

Anonymous said...

"They think that if Taiwan doesn't get integrated into the rise now - or real soon - it will eventually be relegated to a secondary role as peripheral province, or worse"

Not just the KMT belive this. There are already over a million Taiwanese, mostly professionals and business people (i.e. Taiwan's best and brightest), living in mainland China. Unlike earlier Taiwanese businessmen, these new Taiwanese migrants have brought their families and are there to stay. Whether or not these Taiwanese ever believed in the KMT dream of being on the vanguard of China's resurgence, they have nevertheless moved to the PRC because they now believe China is on the rise and they want to be a part of it.

channing said...

anon, your allegation of KMT "jealousy" is technically valid, but its practical effect is limited.

Most of today's KMT have no emotional attachment to mainland China or the Chinese Civil War. They have never been there, and about the only interest they have in the place is their business friends' factories.

My opinion of the KMT is simply that it can only bank on its "economic liberalization" false platform for a short time. Eventually political dissatisfaction and unrest at home will force them to:

1) Realize long-term economic plans for the ROC government,
2) Improve its domestic governance and establish a more accountable and less bureaucratic infrastructure, and
3) Allow and encourage the resurgence of political competition in the wake of the implosion of the DPP's election machine.

Michael Turton said...

Yes, that's true, but it is also the position of Taipei as well. Since the 2 governments who are contesting Taiwan agree on a common interpretation of history, it seem that any argument to the contrary is nothing more than an exericse in determining how many angels can dance on a pin head.

Right...because everyone knows that determining the correctness of a legal argument over who owns what territory is a useless act, and working for independence is pointless because nobody ever becomes independent of anyone else.

Mr. van der Wees' argument, while interesting in an intellectual sense, is totally irrelevant to 1,2,and 3 above.

Mr van der Wees' argument is the reason that 1 exists, and the threat of murder by 2 and 3 is necessary to counter it. Mr van der Wees' argument is so powerful that the PRC points missiles at Taiwan to suppress it...

Michael

Michael Turton said...

Yes, that's true, but it is also the position of Taipei as well. Since the 2 governments who are contesting Taiwan agree on a common interpretation of history, it seem that any argument to the contrary is nothing more than an exericse in determining how many angels can dance on a pin head.

Also, I should add that AP is a US firm and the US official position is that the status of Taiwan is undecided. There are more than 2 entities contesting the sovereignty over Taiwan... another being, of course, the people of Taiwan.

Michael

Anonymous said...

@Richard and the anonymous poster who comes after him:

I think poster #3's remarks about independence being the worst possible scenario for the KMT are meant to be taken sarcastically.

It's never too late to develop a sense of humor!

Thomas said...

"There are already over a million Taiwanese, mostly professionals and business people (i.e. Taiwan's best and brightest), living in mainland China. "

Need I note that Taiwan has 23 million citizens? Even if all of your million really believed what you think they do, and I don't recall ever hearing that they all support annexation, that would still be a 22 to 1 ratio.

Anonymous said...

With the discovery that Vegetable Cream Powder F25 is tainted, there are lingering concerns that melamine could be found in Chinese-made casein. Melamine was found in a Chinese-made coffee creamer used to produce an instant coffee mix sold by a famous drink company in Taiwan.

http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/312665.html

channing said...

Although "only" 1 million ROC nationals live and work in mainland China, they represent 1 million of the most powerful and talented of Taiwanese. These people macro-manage various major industries that directly affect Taiwan's economy.

I can wildly guess that many millions more within Taiwan rely on these people (in various ways) for their well-being, and will not support measures that prevent their mainland friends from functioning productively. Their worth to Taiwan is probably far more than their raw population numbers suggest.

I won't say that this 1 million number should determine Taiwan's "doom to be annexed" as some of us like to put it, but the business sector cannot be ignored if Taiwan wishes to remain an internationally relevant economic entity.

Anonymous said...

"And exactly how is that the worst possible scenario? You make it seem as if that's the scenario everyone would hate and commit suicide over. But in fact, if there was no threat of total annihilation, I'd bet > 90% of Taiwanese would love to have their own "separate country." And those 10% who don't, are probably communists underneath and whose sole purpose on Taiwan is to undermine "Taiwan."

Richard, I think you misinterpreted what I said - in fact, I totally agree with you. I meant that it would be the worst possible scenario for the hardercore element of the KMT if Taiwan were a separate country. After living here for 10+ years I'm positive that if Taiwanese were free to decide their own soveignty without coercion from China the vast majority would choose independence. The small majority that would not are the KMT who are still stuck in the 'retake the mainland', 'we are the protectors of true Chinese society' mentality.
However, given that coercion is a reality a lot of people change their thinking to believe the status quo is better than independence, or even go a step further to say it really doesn't matter or it wouldn't be that bad if.....

Anonymous said...

Although "only" 1 million ROC nationals live and work in mainland China, they represent 1 million of the most powerful and talented of Taiwanese.

Okay, let's kill this myth for good. First, there are spectacularly successful Taiwanese in China. I expect continued greater and greater success for those that are able to service the domestic market and establish brands.

Second, there are a shitload of failures doing nothing except getting by with the low cost of standard of living in China. In fact, this is true of probably half the foreigners in China, talking a big talk but in reality doing a whole lot of nothing. Kind of reminds of LA.

Third, a lot of the people that go to China for jobs first lost their job in Taiwan and went to China as a second choice. A large percentage were old factory hands sent to China to be low-level managers. People going over to be paid pretty much the same as local Chinese just to be insurance agents (this actually is a big, growing market) are in the same league. I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty middle-class to me.

Maybe by powerful you meant rich. Well...

Fourth, the past year or so has seen a complete blowup of the export-oriented manufacturing industry in China. It's a perfect storm--China ups labor law regulations, cancels all tax breaks, generally inflation was sky-high to begin with, raw materials (steel, oil, electricity, you know, all the things that matter) are way too expensive, and now, there's a big squeeze from the demand side as Americans don't want to buy anything anymore.

A third to half of the factories in the Pearl River delta are being shuttered. Several news reports document the mass group exodus of Koreans, even leaving everything behind, because it would cost more to have to deal with it and clean it up.

Last, for the past couple of years, the vast fraud and bold outright robbery by Chinese of Taiwanese has come to light. What about Hon Hai, one of the biggest charity givers in China and biggest employers, having its intellectual property stolen and China doing nothing about it? What about Shinkong's department store venture where the Chinese partners simply took over the whole thing? What about those countless stories of just whole factories and equipment and funds being outright stolen by local Chinese partners?

I just want to point out that this whole phenomenon is also a major contributor to AIDS and broken marriages in Taiwan.

If anything, economists have talked of the hollowing out of a middle-class in Taiwan (nothing to do with M-shaped society), that has resulted in depressed consumption in the middle areas of the economy. Notice not at high end level?

The correct metaphor here is that China is the Wild West. You get a better picture than talking up Taiwanese in China as some kind of new nobility.