Saturday, August 29, 2009

AFP in Classic

Reuters reports that President Ma Ying-jeou has no plans to meet with the Dalai Lama. That same article notes that:
On Friday, China gave the green light to 16 airlines to operate regular direct flights to Taiwan in a sign that the Dalai Lama's impending visit would not harm trade ties.
Behind the political theatre of the Dalai Lama's visit, the real politics go on....

Yesterday it was the Economist, today AFP published this brilliant account, so pro-Beijing in its construction that at first glance I thought the Aussie newspaper it appeared in had picked up Xinhua. Its very badness actually highlights some interesting political connections. AFP begins:
RELIGIOUS groups and pro-China activists have criticised the Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan, saying the trip is "inappropriate" as the island reels from a deadly typhoon.
"Religious groups?" Let's see what they mean.
But the trip, during which the Buddhist leader is scheduled to visit typhoon-hit areas, has come under fire, with a pro-China group labelling him a "trouble-maker" while the Taiwan Mazu Association said the visit was "inappropriate."

"We hope Taiwanese people will believe in Taiwanese religions. Religious exchange is good in normal time but it is inappropriate at such a time," said Cheng Ming-kun, chief of the Taiwan Mazu Association.

"We urge politicians to stop taking advantage of religion... and toying with typhoon victims," he told reporters.

The association represents worshippers of the Taoist sea goddess Mazu, who has millions of followers.
"We urge politicians to stop taking advantage of religion," says Cheng Ming-kun.


Sometimes hypocrisy elevates itself beyond being merely blatant, achieving a kind of sublime disconnect with reality that is like a work of art. Such is this lecture from Cheng Ming-kun about separating politics and religion.

Who is Mr. Cheng? Cheng holds a couple of key positions in the Matzu Associations, such as the Deputy Chairman of the Jenlan Temple in Dajia. Ring any bells? That's the name of the island's most important Matzu temple, the subject of one of the world's largest pilgrimages. That's right -- the procession run by the former KMT politician, now "non-partisan", Yen Ching-piao, elected out of jail by his loyal constituents a few years back. That procession is a prime example of how politics exploits religion in Taiwan (anyone know where the zillions in donations go?). Cheng, who was kidnapped for 10 days in 2005 in what was widely rumored to be a shady business deal gone bad, was indicted for forgery and breach of trust in connection with the temple association. Naturally Cheng is close to Yen -- I believe the proper expression is "thick as thieves."

What are Cheng's political affiliations? Well, Cheng was in Beijing in July promoting cross-strait ties through better Matzu connections. Cheng also met with Chen Yun-lin, last seen here in November of 2008 negotiating on Beijing's behalf. Is leveraging Taiwan's most important goddess to annex Taiwan to China apolitical?

AFP's presentation is thus a comical parody of actual news construction. First it mentions the "pro-China" group and then opposes Cheng's comments to it as if he were neutral, not "pro-China." Then, the deputy head of the single most politicized temple on the whole island piously informs us that religion should not be politicized!

This piece should definitely be in the Onion.

How to explain this? A friend of mine pointed out that Pierre Louette, the current CEO of AFP, appears to have personal interests in China. Louette is the former CEO of Havas, the main marketing company for the Beijing Olympics. Since Havas represents some of the biggest corporations in China....

UPDATE: More explanations/clarifications in the comments below

Daily Links:
  • As of ten this morning, the NYTimes had this:
    Another travel marketer offering jobs is the Republic of Taiwan Tourism Bureau, with a contest called the Best Trip in the World ( The offer: “Come up with the best Taiwan tour itinerary, take the tour, write about it online” and win a million Taiwan dollars (about $30,000) for a one-month trip around the island.
  • Taiwan Matters notes that Ma went after Public Television three days after Morakot, apparently hoping to use the hoopla over the typhoon as cover to get his man in the top position.
  • Average real income regresses to 1996 levels. It's a good thing we elected Ma and his economic czar to -- wait, what's that czar's name again?
  • Our new AIT director, William Stanton, has arrived. Godspeed and good luck to the awesome Steve Young, who did a great job here. May his next post be filled with fewer headaches and more margaritas.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Marc said...

Louette of the AFP was Havas Media's former CEO--that's correct. One correction -- Havas currently represents several mega-multinational corporations in China.

Among them are Coca-Cola, Carrefour, BP, Société Génerale, Bank of China, and Goodyear.

Havas is also the marketing/ advertising agency for the Shanghai Expo.

The current CEO of Havas Media is Vincent Bolloré, a comrade of Louette’s (same university, too).

Bolloré, like Louette, is another French media mogul who, in addition to his post at Havas, owns several French media outlets. Bolloré is very cozy with Sarkozy.

I've found an online interview with Louette from Chinese TV, and Xinhua has a couple of articles on his ascension to the AFP position -noteworthy only that no other western media moguls seem to warrant Xinhua news attention.

Louette started his political career under the conservative government of Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, and also apparently did some work for his government in China.

Anonymous said...

With articles like these, along with the obviously orchestrated protests of local political and religious organization it's clear that the lines are now clearly being drawn in the sand.

Time to circle the wagons, boys!

Anonymous said...

According to the website for "Taiwan Best Trip" contest, the contestants are more or less required to pay for everything themselves - from airfare to food to accomodation.

In the first leg of the contest the KMTourism Bureau will reimburse your daily travel expenses by giving you NT$35,000 less 20% taxes to spend on videotaping your trip for four days.

If you're the winning team, you'll pay for your own arifare, food and accomdation for one month, and receive NT$1 million less 20% in taxes.

And presumably you're required to use your own video equipment, which must produce high-quality uploads on your blog.

ANd if you don't win, and you don't live in Taiwan, you've just spent all your own money doing the KMT's work.

Now this is chutzpah!

M Chen said...

I never understand why the international media picked those pro-Ma/China professors/analysts to interview. I also don't understand why they (CNN, AP, AFP, Bloomberg, Reuters) tend to write something at the end about China. I suspect by doing so, they can tag the article with china, and taiwan. Unfortunately, even though I am not happy with the international media, I think Taiwan needs them to stop Ma moving too fast to China. It looks like Ma is more concerned about his PR image than anything else. So, we have to work with the 2nd enemy to fight the major enemy.

Anonymous said...

The Mazu festival is one of the biggest, home-grown Taiwanese events in existence. The pro-greens should be throwing all their support behind it but no, it's a KMT/China conspiracy.

I guess the greens are too busy beating up protesters in the south to engage their brains.

Marc said...

I need to amend my references on Louette. Louette was CEO of Connect World, a division of Havas. Havas is one of the top media agencies in the world, with its fingers in a lot of pies including China.

Louette spent a year in Jakarta and in Tokyo as a student, and from 1989 to 1993 worked in the French General Accounting Office, and in that position he acted as "rapporteur" for the committee that oversees the finances of AFP and also as an auditor in Germany and in Hong Kong.

Anonymous said...

I have interviewed the organizers of the Mazu pilgrimage and they will be the first to tell you that the event has been taken over by "non-religious interests" to drive the tourism industry. Much of the pageantry and pomp is to ensure revenue flow into the politicians pockets who control which groups gets to have a financial piece of the festival. The potential for profits is so great that the politicians and their behind the scenes "brothers" use their positions, not as religious leaders and devotees, but as gatekeepers to a stream of revenue to wield influence and manipulate people/power. The temple and festivities is then used to launder illicit profits and conceal wealth from the tax man. Many of the local KMT bigs use this structure to maintain their fiefdoms and manipulate limited markets for personal, financial gain at the expense of others to maintain an unfair system.

Marc said...

More on Louette and AFP.

AFP grew out of the Havas empire. Charles Havas founded a news agency in France in 1835. The agency AFP appeared starting from the WWII era.

Editorially, AFP is governed by a network of senior journalists. By statute, AFP’s mission is to report events, free of “all influences or considerations likely to impair the exactitude” of its news. And “under no circumstances to pass under the legal or actual control of an ideological, political or economic group.”

Interesting, eh?