First, Reporters without Borders actually moved Taiwan up in the rankings this year, to 48th. Reporters without Borders had expressed concern over the apparent takeover of Public Television last month, but this did not stop them from moving Taiwan up. Note that under Ma press freedom has tumbled --
2004: 60The big media news, however, was the controversy over AP's reporting of an interview of President Ma Ying-jeou by veteran reporter Peter Enav. The Taipei Times has complete coverage in its excellent article today:
A controversy surrounding an Associated Press (AP) interview with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took a new turn yesterday after Government Information Office (GIO) Minister Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) sent a letter to John Daniszewski, the international editor at AP, requesting that the news agency “investigate the causes of distortions in the interview piece” and make corrections as soon as possible.The Taipei Times has a transcript from the Presidential office, which it compares to the AP interview.
At the heart of the controversy is a section of the interview published by AP on Tuesday where Ma’s remarks are portrayed as suggesting that sensitive political talks with Beijing, including security issues, could start as early as his second four-year term, provided he is re-elected in 2012.
Ma denies providing a timeline or tying such talks to his re-election.
In a press statement, the GIO said AP did not “correctly reflect” the views expressed by Ma during the interview and “misled” readers by printing remarks that Ma did not make, which “runs against the code of ethics universally adopted in international journalism.”
I've had my differences with AP as an organization, most notably over the ridiculously inaccurate and remarkably pro-Beijing "split in 1949" formula. But AP's local reporting is generally sound and sober and Enav is, more importantly, a total professional. The GIO accusations are, in my view, groundless, which should lead the observer to ask why they are being made. The Taipei Times notes in an editorial:
This is really the key point of the whole "controversy" over Ma's remarks: who decides when economic affairs are "satisfactory"? Ma and the KMT. Who decides what constitutes political talks? Ma and the KMT. "Neither the legislature nor Taiwanese voters have authorized Ma to represent the country in moving on to political talks should economic issues be taken care of in his first term," concludes the Taipei Times. Yup.
A closer look at the transcript, however, clearly shows Ma responding to an AP question — “if economic issues are resolved during your second term, during that term, you might move on to political questions?” — by saying: “As I said, it depends on how fast we move, whether these issues are satisfactorily resolved.”
It is therefore reasonable for the AP to quote Ma as having “suggested that those political talks could start as early as a second four-year term if he wins re-election in 2012.”
On Tuesday night, Ma stressed that what he said was that “the government would not start political talks with China before it completed negotiations on economic issues.”
However, that very statement rings a horrifying tune to the ears of many. After all, at what point will the Ma government determine that economic issues have been resolved? Has the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed in June borne fruit for Taiwan or improved Taiwan’s economy? What about the trade imbalance between China and Taiwan?
Note further that the "controversy" obscures these points. By debating the when of political talks we normalize them. It has slowly become perfectly normal in the discourse to speak of a future when we have political talks with China, rather than debating whether we should have
Ma deploys the claim that the voters prefer the status quo in the same way. Ma is careful never to interpret the wishes of the voters as a permanent state, despite the fact that, as poll after poll shows, only something like 8-12% of the electorate wants to become part of China, and only a tiny handful of loons wants to join the PRC immediately. The status quo in Ma's discourse functions to shut off independence as a viable option -- by invoking some unspecified and perhaps democratic future in which Taiwan joins China whenever he mentions the preferences of locals for the status quo, Ma aligns the status quo with a weakly pro-unification position, rather than describing it as it actually is: a powerful signal of the preference of the majority of voters for independence in some form.
It doesn't really matter what Ma says to AP because the KMT will do whatever it wants in Ma's second term, assuming there is one (Ma has in any case said that political talks cannot be ruled out in the Chinese language press) and ignore the public, as they did with ECFA. The KMT is merely concerned that with three weeks to go in an election campaign when the KMT is taking a beating at home for its pro-China positions, the ruling party does not need another indication of Ma's pro-China views. Hence, this bit of political theatre -- a "controversy" -- to blow smoke in front of the local electorate. Note the red meat for the indignant masses: Oh noes! foreignersforeignersforeigners screwing the President.
Of course, the chilling effect of this incident on the potential future toughness of interviewers is an important side benefit. If you thought Ma's interviewers weren't fawning enough..... notable also were the claims from the pro-KMT press that Ma's English wasn't up to snuff. Helpfully, they suggested that he prepare answers beforehand if he is going to speak in English. Meaning that interviewers will have even less ability to get Ma to speak.
The real issue here is that by creating a faux "controversy" over what AP reported, the GIO has managed to divert attention from what President of the ROC and Chairman of the KMT Ma Ying-jeou actually thinks.
Which is what we should really be discussing.
REF: The pro-China Want China Times transcript is here.
UPDATE: I am bringing up Don's comment from below:
One of Ma's tics is talking about "the people of Taiwan" like an external entity that he's not a part of. Like they are children or foreigners. Quite unusual for a modern democratic leader. I also recall him after Morakot and on some other occasion using "them" and "they" to describe Taiwan's people. Very off-putting. I wonder why more voters aren't repelled by this._______________
In the AP interview Ma once again avoids the obvious conclusion that since the public don't want unification (which he freely acknowledges) then it's not his job to promote the diametrically opposite position. It shouldn't be a matter of "when the time is ripe" when the situation you are referring to is one that no-one apart from a sleazy parasitical minority want to see realized.
I think AP are right to stick to their guns and hope they don't backtrack. Ma tried at least twice to waffle away from Mr Enav's question but nevertheless he let the cat out of the bag: political talks with the PRC are coming as soon as he thinks it is possible, maybe even before a "2nd term".
- Dangerous toys out of China make eunuchs out of curious boys.
- China's heir apparent leader has a brother in law in Taiwan.
- Changhua County Chief on junket to India.
- Spanish legacies in Taiwan
- Bill Clinton to visit Taiwan -- in mid-November. Wanna bet some private interest got him here to say something nice about ECFA just before the elections and thus intervene on behalf of the KMT? Let's hope he keeps out of local politics and just praises Taiwan for its great food and good biking. UPDATE: Don't miss J Michael's post explaining what it is all about.
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