Thursday, July 01, 2010

WaPo *sigh*

This week offered a twofer of my pet peeves. The first was a Washington Post report which, as a veteran journalist here remarked to me, nearly every paragraph contained something to take issue with. Naturally, it is written by the Post's NY bureau chief, Keith Richburg, and John Pomfret, the former Beijing reporter for the Post. Though both have visited our fair island from time to time, they write as if they had difficulty finding it on a map. Comedy Gold: I had to read it twice before I realized that it makes no reference to the political side of the pact: one never learns that the leadership in Beijing has repeatedly said the pact is intended to be the opening step in the annexation of Taiwan to China. From beginning to end the WaPo piece is only about economics. A striking omission, especially since nearly every other media report has mentioned that, and of course, it is a staple of discussion in the local papers.
The free-trade deal is also significant to the United States, which under U.S. law is obligated to provide for Taiwan's defense. U.S. officials have said they view the deal as a sign of improving relations between Beijing and Taipei, and another sign that China appears less likely to use force in an attempt to unite with the island.
This paragraph contains the common erroneous reference to the TRA, claiming that the US is obligated by law to sell weapons to Taiwan. It isn't. That agreement has been known since 1979. Can we stop writing that crap? Further down, after sourcing information from Xinhua -- is there no other news agency they can obtain news from? -- they note:
Analysis by Taiwan's semi-official Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research said the agreement could create 260,000 jobs and add 1.7 percent to Taiwan's economic growth. Other analysts, such as Daniel Rosen and Wang Zhi, writing for the Peterson Institute for International Economics, have estimated that the deal would be even bigger for Taiwan -- adding 5.3 percent to its economy within the decade.
Actually, Rosen and Wang said the deal would add only 4.5% for a net gain of 5.3% if you believe that the economy would have shrunk .08% as they claim. On to FTAs:
Taiwan needed this trade deal far more than China. The mainland has signed similar free-trade agreements with the 10 member-nations of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and Beijing is in talks for similar deals with South Korea and Japan. None of those countries would negotiate similar arrangements with Taiwan -- which is diplomatically isolated in the region -- unless it had first reached its own deal with China.
Here Richburg completely ignores the intense discussion on FTAs, the fact that China has not promised it will permit FTAs, and so on. Other media have managed to note Ma's plummeting popularity, but not this piece. Also missing from the article is any mention of the fact that the President and his party have struggled desperately to keep the ECFA agreement away from democratic oversight, swatting down referendum moves by the opposition. Today, as the Taipei Times reported, President Ma defined ECFA as a treaty and demanded that the Legislature not give it a line-by-line reading and confirmation, in the hope that it would pass a simple up or down vote. Imagine if Chen Shui-bian had announced he'd signed a "treaty" with China!

Moving along, Richburg & Co. veer from mere error and omission into a full blown alternate universe:
Also, Taiwan has been badly battered by the global economic crisis that began in 2008. It was unable to jump-start its export-oriented economy without full and free access to China's massive market.
This paragraph is a complete mess. First, after saying (correctly) above that ECFA protects many sectors of the economy, it then describes the agreement as "full and free access". But worse than that, writing from RichburgPlanet, WaPo says that our economy couldn't be "jump-started" without that "full and free access". Meanwhile, here on planet Earth, exports started rising at the end of 2009. It's been six months of rising exports and falling unemployment -- with GDP reaching record growth it hasn't seen since the 1970s recently, and exports nearly as good as in the late stages of the Chen years (for example). In fact the rising economy has been a potent talking point for the opposition, which has asked, since the economy booms without ECFA, why does Taiwan need it? Do they not have Google there in the WaPo offices? Or what? With so many world class freelancers here in Taiwan, why does WaPo continue to source its Taiwan reporting from out-of-country Beijing correspondents and Xinhua?

The next two paragraphs are classics of their kind. Read them closely:
Still, the pact has generated intense resistance in Taiwan, particularly from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which favors more independence from the mainland and fears that opening Taiwan's markets will lead to the island being economically swamped by China.
Xu Shiquan, former director of Taiwan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the pact represented a "milestone" in relations. He said the pact was good for both sides and was not a matter of China seeking to subsume Taiwan economically.
That's right -- Richburg managed to present the DPP position without mentioning its central thrust -- that ECFA is the first step in annexation and then, in the next paragraph, manages to present Beijing's viewpoint, still without mentioning the political aspects of the issue. Surely that is a record! Instead only economic absorption is mentioned. It's as if Richburg had written a review of Titanic without ever mentioning the ship. For contrast, consider this superb piece from The Diplomat on the same topic. Its final paragraph:
China has been upfront about the fact that it sees the trade deal as a step toward greater political integration. If Ma believes that this is the best path for Taiwan, he should have the courage of his convictions and take a deal that clearly has political implications to the people. In the meantime, though, he should remember that he was elected president of Taiwan, not governor of China’s 23rd province.
Yea verily, rather than give the opposition a chance to speak, or cite any point of view at all from Taiwan, or at least cite an ostensibly nuetral third-party point of view, Richburg et al close with two propaganda quotes from a Chinese "expert" (read political warfare specialist) on Taiwan-China relations. By all means, let's give space in the papers of record of a major democracy to propagandists from China. Next time, why not save the phone call and just crib directly from Mao's little red book?

It's a tribute to the overall excellence of the coverage of ECFA out of Taiwan this time around that I haven't had the opportunity to rip a robustly feckless, mediocre presentation of the topic. Thanks WaPo!

A truly priceless aspect of the alternate-universe feel of Richburg's story is in that very same edition of WaPo, as a very wise observer pointed out to me, resides this piece by Steve Perlstein on the very issues that Richburg et al should have been reporting on. Perlstein writes:
The essential problem is that China was allowed to gain full membership in the global market system without having in place the fundamentals of a market economy. Its business sector continues to be dominated by state-owned companies financed by state-controlled banks within the context of what remains a largely state-planned economy. Its government strictly controls the flow of capital in and out of the country, while its currency is manipulated to maximize export-driven growth and development. And while exports are subsidized, directly and indirectly, there exists a web of formal regulations and informal prejudices that make it difficult, if not impossible, for many foreign companies to sell profitably into its domestic markets. Those outsiders who manage to break through invariably find that they have few protections from a system that is larded with corruption and largely unconstrained by the rule of law.
That's who Taiwan signed ECFA with, folks.

Also on tap, pet-peevewise, is another mediocrity from Robert Scheer, an example of my other pet peeve of my fellow progressives not caring about, or understanding, Taiwan. Scheer is still using outdated Cold War lenses to view the China-Taiwan-US relationship. He may be right as far as he goes about the military-industrial complex, but he hasn't a clue about what's really going on here. It's sad that it is tripping merrily along the progressive wires, with few calling it out for its vast ignorance.

Finally, don't miss SCMP tomorrow, where a person actually located in Taipei has some interesting things to say about Ma's political capital.
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!


P. Hsu said...

I always enjoy reading your posts, very thorough and insightful, as always. I hope you don't mind I share this on my fb with my family and friends. Your blogs provide an avenue for finding journalism that doesn't gloss over Taiwan's plight.

It seems as though more and more people are becoming enamored and indebted to the economy and political wheel that is China; thus sweeping all wrong doings by the country under a giant rug.

~Writing from Stateside.

Haitien said...

As someone who self-identifies as progressive (in favor of universal healthcare, workers rights, government regulation of business, increased public transportation, clean energy research... etc), I find the comments on the Huffington Post sad, though not terribly surprising. Cognitive dissonance and "truthiness" are most certainly not a monopoly of one particular side of the political aisle, as many of the comments there demonstrated. (China not having waged wars of territorial expansion in 3000 years? WTF?) I wonder what most of those people would be saying in a NAFTA thread?

Many of the commentators already have a preexisting worldview based upon the premise that "US foreign policy is always wrong, defense spending is always wrong when its done by the US or US-friendly nations". The flip side of this is apparently that "any nation at odds with the US or a US-friendly nation must always be right". As you probably noticed, failure to conform to this simplistic worldview makes you a "neocon" (which is probably the left's equivalent of the right's overuse of "socialist" or "commie"). The fact that the people that they are inadvertently helping are anything but progressive, doesn't seem to factor in.

les said...

The cynic in me thinks the Washington Post has a readership largely in or dependent on the State Department. They are just reading back what State wishes the world was like, as if that is the reality.
This theory would explain both why State imagines the world to be flat and why the Washington Post is still in publication.

Anonymous said...

I think that the reason WP can get away with the incompetent reporting on Taiwan that they so consistently do is that the majority of American reads of the WP have no real interests in Taiwan. And those who do have interests are either ignored or take what the WP says as gospel and don't think twice about fact checking their reports. Which is one reason that I have stopped reading the WP. I am curious what do foreign media reporters think of my new home, and I will read up on the different reports by different media outlets, I have even read the Xinhua reports about Taiwan (even though there aren't very many) and even with its complete lack of fact checks, and desire to report honestly, I still find it more credible than things written by Richburg and Pomfret's "reports".

As for the ECFA its self, I was really hoping that Pres. Ma had some kind of logical plan as to why he wants this treaty signed with China. But the more and more I read about how he got to where we are now, the more I am seeing him as a puppet and a traitor to Taiwan. I am not saying that I want this to be true, but I would feel better if it came to light that the Hu Jin-tao or some other high ranked CCP member had kidnapped Ma's American daughter and was blackmailing him into signing this stupid treaty. As apposed to personal greed or pure ignorance to the reality of what this means for the upper ranks in the CCP, and the future of Taiwan as a country, even with Hu Jin-tao's televised speech about how this is the first step in "reclaiming" Taiwan. Not only upper party members, but all the crazy ultra-nationalist are ranting all over the internet about this thing pulling Taiwan back into its "motherland", with just 5 mins on google, or reading any blog or website that talks about Taiwan and its politics he would find 1000's of links to videos, articles, and what not showing it to be a complete trap.

Well all I can say is I hope when he is either thrown out of office or when he is voted out, that he receives no less than the same treatment as Chen. Because in my eye Ma Ying-jeou is more of a traitor to the Taiwanese people and the country than Chen who may or may not have embezzled a few million dollars or may or may not have taken bribes from Haidao bosses.

I got a little off topic with my rant on Ma, but reading WP armchair journalism and reading about the ECFA just makes me want smack the guy to see if he is awake.

Its late I am going to bed.

STOP Ma said...

"It's sad that it is tripping merrily along the progressive wires, with few calling it out for its vast ignorance.

I've put my 2 cents in the comment section to ask people to reflect on the ignorance in that HuffPo article.

It's truly amazing how obtuse the American left are on certain issues.

mike said...

You know what Michael - that article in the Washington Post didn't even properly grasp the ECFA in economic terms since it was referred to as a "free trade deal", which is demonstrable nonsense, whatever the democratic socialists might whine to the contrary.

Yet even that bit you quote from the piece by Perlstein betrays a parallel-universe like naivety - a few grammatical changes here and there and it could well have been a description of Europe or the United States rather than China.

But my two bucks worth freely tossed into your guitar case:

1) The "rule of law" always devolves to the rule of men.

2) Chinese fascism is not going to be stopped by voting - whether on an ECFA referendum or anything else.

Michael Turton said...

P Hsu, thanks very much! Off course past this post around. That's what it is for!

les, that's....scary.