Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Australian with Three on Taiwan

The Aussie paper The Australian had three articles in the last couple of days on the island, including two pieces containing an interview with President Ma, and a piece on the upcoming ECFA agreement with China.

The piece on the trade agreement appears to have been compiled largely from Chinese sources. Consider this comment:
"It should be (signed) in the first half of 2010 since later will be the elections for special municipalities heads, and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party will try to draw attention by setting obstacles and repeating its stance that the ECFA hurts Taiwan's 'sovereignty'," Wu Nengyuan, director of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Fujian Academy of Social Sciences, told the China Daily.
A quote of a Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece about a DPP position. Now there's an objective and insightful source. Why not just ask the DPP what it thinks about the pact? I don't see much point in going over the piece; it contains no real discussion of the pact, nothing negative is said about it. More interesting is the last paragraph:
China's official line remains that Taiwan is a renegade province. But since Mr Ma's election last May, the tensions that had raised fears of armed conflict only a few years ago have dissipated. For the first time since Chinese Nationalists took control of the island after losing the civil war with the Communists, direct mail, sea and air links have been opened. Still, many Taiwanese worry that trade and financial deals are just the first step in a process of political integration.
That last sentence is the only negative information given about ECFA in the piece. Note that it is presented in the traditional "balanced" format -- saying many Taiwanese worry and thus reporting the sovereignty problem as if it were a matter of perception.

But the sovereignty issue is not a "perception" of "many Taiwanese" but rather, something that Beijing has said in many different ways -- ECFA is the first step in annexation. That's a fact -- to report it as mere perception is to err.

For an antidote to this piece, see Taiwan News with another epic editorial: Taiwan Citizens are not ECFA Pavlovian Dogs which opens... Faced with declining public support for its blind rush to negotiate and sign an "economic cooperation framework agreement" with the People's Republic of China...

The two Rowan Callick interview articles on Ma are more or less puff pieces. Callick has done good work in the past so I am going to assume that the interview was controlled by Ma as a prerequisite for permitting the reporter to speak to him. Recall that earlier this year the Ma Administration demanded that foreign reporters submit their questions in writing for the post-Morakot press conference, before backing out of that position as a "misunderstanding." The first Callick piece has Ma asking why Australia-Taiwan relations haven't improved. The second is an extensive interview with a number of howlers.
AFTER only 18 months as President of Taiwan, Harvard-educated lawyer Ma Ying-jeou has become a hero figure across Asia, in the wider Chinese world and in Washington and Tokyo, for defusing tensions that for decades threatened war with China across the Taiwan strait.
Damn! Haven't seen that "Harvard-educated lawyer" crap in months. Ma has never passed the bar and was never a lawyer -- when he was selected for the Ministry of Justice position his lack of lawyering was held against him. Can we stop repeating this complete error with its obvious he's-one-of-us class implications? Please?

The "hero figure" is a wild exaggeration -- especially in the same week when the Administration has come under fire for declining press freedom here in Taiwan. There's no need to write such fawning crap. Surely there is a more restrained way of referring to Ma's popularity in the Chinese world.

Savor these two sentences:
For instance, Taiwan is an almost obsessively hygienic society. And almost uniquely in Asia, motorcyclists in Taiwan all wear crash helmets.
I think I am going to laugh for a month at those two lines. Mr. Callick, you need to get out of Taipei. Really.

Callick laudably presents two contrasting views of Ma in quotes from locals. After that the interview then turns into pure unadulterated propaganda shit.

He works in the same airy, cloistered building that he did 25 years ago, as secretary to reformist president Chiang Ching-guo, who succeeded his father Chiang Kai-shek, who had fled to Taiwan following the 1949 defeat of the nationalists by Mao Zedong's communists.

"I was able to participate in the lifting of martial law and parliamentary reforms. It was a rewarding experience, but I didn't expect to come back here as president," Ma says.

First the minor error -- "25 years ago" was 1984 and Ma was not CCK's secretary but had gone on to become Deputy Secretary-General of the KMT after a stint as RDEC head. As I recall he left the secretary position to the dictator in 1981, but don't quote me on that.

The real problem here is that second paragraph. As everyone who knows anything about Taiwan politics knows, Ma "participated" in democratic reform by opposing it -- opposing the lifting of martial law, opposing the repeal of the notorious Article 100 used against dissidents, and in general, in both public and private interactions, claiming that the Taiwanese were not ready for democracy (a trivial example). Basically Ma just stands reality on its head, and Callick doesn't call him on it. I'm hoping this is because Callick had no choice.

UPDATE: Corrected paper from The Age to the Australian.

UPDATE II: Gerrit van der Wees wrote on Ma's commitment to the security state in the 1980s just before the 2008 election.
Let us examine what his position was during the crucial moments in Taiwan's transition to democracy: In 1985-1986, when Taiwan was still under martial law, he was an ardent defender of martial law, arguing that it enhanced "stability" on the island. He also defended the long prison sentences given to proponents of democracy and human rights.

In lengthy letters to foreign governments and political parties which expressed concern about the lack of democracy in Taiwan, Ma waxed eloquently in defense of the indefensible.

Finally, after many hearings and resolutions in the US Congress by senators such as Ted Kennedy and Claiborne Pell and representatives Jim Leach and Steven Solarz, and after increasing pressure from the bottom up in Taiwan, Chiang Ching-kuo relented and lifted martial law in 1987. Ma had been on the wrong side of history.

Almost the same thing happened in 1991 and 1992, when the democratic movement started to push for abolishment of the "eternal" legislators who had been elected in China in 1947, and who were in their 80s and 90s still representing "China" in the legislature and National Assembly. Again, Ma came out against such changes and wanted to maintain a semblance of "China" representation in the legislature.

Fortunately, Lee Teng-hui had vision and pushed through the legislative reforms. Again, Ma was on the wrong side of history.

Fascinatingly, three years later, the same pattern occurred: Lee started to push for direct presidential elections -- to replace the anachronistic system in which the KMT-controlled National Assembly had rubberstamped the KMT choice for president.

Ma was one of the KMT opponents of this move toward full-fledged democracy. Again, his instincts had been to preserve an outdated status quo, and oppose democratic change.
Daily Links
  • Pashan with awesome hike report of hiking among the 3000 meter peaks of central Taiwan with stunning pics (including one cute weasel): one, two, three. Read every one, the hike is amazing.
  • No really: another KMT legislator's election annulled for bribery, in Taoyuan.
  • Michael Cannon's blog post on the bike ride up Taroko Gorge and over Hehuan Shan (I went down to Lishan, Hehuan Shan was beyond my abilities). Many lovely pictures.
  • AsiaPacific Films website has 00s of films from around the region.
  • Nathan Novak's wonderful commentary in the Taipei Times on the CCP's rejection of a DPP comeback.
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!


Feiren said...

It's really unfortunate that there is no online sources for Ma's anti-democracy positions in the 1980s and 1990s. Does FAPA have references to sources?

Michael Turton said...

Feiren, they do but some of them are private correspondence and not publishable.

Anonymous said...

There are some cases of other KMT leaders speaking out against democracy on the public record (Soong Chu-yu), but it might take a bit of a search to find Ma. You could easily build a case of secondary evidence against him through his positions held at various times and the decisions or actions promulgated by Ma as opposed to other, pro-democratic actions.

dennis said...

as a taiwanese living in australia im absolutely disgusted at The Australian publication of these articles. The Australian, one of the major newspapers, in a country that boasts about its democracy; it's an absolute disgrace, shame on you!

Max said...

Are you sure it's not a paid KMT propaganda? -): It smells fishy. Given the latest US beef import incident, I think, the world leaders will legitimately question Ma's competence to run his administration.

Anonymous said...

The latest "health scare" in the media is a fine example of how the news media in Taiwan often operates as the propaganda branch of the KMT.It appears that Ma's government is trying to demonstrate to China that there is no love between the USA and Taiwan. The beef scare looks like it was cooked up to effectively maintain a moratorium on US beef while appearing to make a deal with the US.