Reporting by international wire agencies on Taiwan is often nuanced in a way that backs Beijing’s claims, even if inadvertently. This can mislead readers about everything from the reasons for tension between Taiwan and China to basic facts about Taiwanese and Chinese history — and there are no signs that sloppy reporting will end any time soon.I have no idea why people continue to use the "split after a civil war in 1949" formulation. Consider -- if you read "Vulgaria and Narnia split in the tenth year of Caspian's reign after a civil war" the plain language meaning of that text is that the war was fought between what is now Vulgaria and what is now Narnia. But if you know Taiwan history, you know that Taiwan and China never fought a "civil" war, hence the claim is false -- doubly so because it was the KMT and CCP which split, not Taiwan and China. In other words, if you know enough history to understand it, you know it isn't true, and if you understand it in the plain language sense, you learn false history. No one could read that and learn anything. So why continue to use it?
Careless wording in wire reports can lend credence to Beijing’s portrayal of Taiwan as a “renegade province.” Although a reporter may sidestep the word “country” to avoid taking a stance on Taiwan’s status, alternative phrasing may instead suggest that Taiwan is part of China. Frequent references in wire articles to China as “the mainland” and Taiwan simply as “the island” do just that.
An Associated Press (AP) report on Monday offers an example that is hardly limited to that agency. The report on the Strait Forum in Xiamen, China, said “mainland purchasing groups” would travel to Taiwan to buy agricultural products and mentioned “President Ma Ying-jeou’s [馬英九] policy of allowing more investment by mainland Chinese in the island.”
That wording suits Beijing. While the term “mainland” is appropriate to denote China in the context of Hong Kong and Macau, in an article on cross-strait relations it is misleading. More than geographical proximity, it implies a political link similar to that between China and its two former European colonies.
Wire reports also often contain straightforward and recurring factual errors. The same AP report recycles the claim that “China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949,” which also appears in an Agence France-Presse (AFP) article that same day. Read in combination with the terms “mainland” and “island,” the risk of misleading readers is considerable.
This error reduces the historical gap between Taiwan and China, suggesting the two were unified until 1949. That is a version of events that Beijing and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have both insisted on and that can be dismissed as propaganda. Coming from international media, however, the effect is disconcerting. Independent media enjoy added credibility by virtue of their neutrality on cross-strait developments, but unfortunately what they are reporting in these instances is wrong in fact.
As news agencies often reuse these snippets as inserts, their inaccuracy is all the more unacceptable. Agencies need only get the background information right once, then draw upon it as needed.
Just as disturbing in the AFP report is its unqualified citation of a poll conducted by the KMT-friendly, Chinese-language China Times as showing that “a record number of Taiwanese believe traditional rival China is friendly.”
As a backdrop to this, AFP explains: “Relations between Taiwan and China, which split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, hit rock bottom due to the pro-independence rhetoric of Ma’s DPP predecessor [former president] Chen Shui-bian [陳水扁].”
This has the effect of sweeping under the carpet decades of aggression during which the KMT’s goal was to “retake the mainland” and Beijing’s was to “liberate” Taiwan through force. The blame for cross-strait tension is placed squarely on the shoulders of a president who never advocated aggression. This suits Beijing, which branded Chen a provocateur.
Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) may have claimed to rule all of China for decades at the UN, and China may have bombarded Kinmen in 1954, but AFP suggests Chen’s presidency was the nadir of cross-strait relations. Such reports may be laughable to informed readers but others have no cause to doubt them. Professional journalists are obliged to avoid such nonsense.
Speaking of channeling me, this blog carefully calculates the crowd on Sunday must have been around 450,000. Interesting! The 100,000 police estimate is an absurdity.
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