Thursday, October 21, 2010

GIO to AP: 'Sup, Press?

Huge week for press freedom in Taiwan... in a three-steps backward kind of way...

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 -- we were generally ranked in the 30s under the Chen Administration, and third in Asia (we are now seventh). UPDATE: Klaus corrects me:
2004: 60
2005: 51
2006: 43
2007: 32
2008: 36
2009: 59
2010: 48
The 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.

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.”
The Taipei Times has a transcript from the Presidential office, which it compares to the AP interview.

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:

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?

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.

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 surrender negotiations political talks at all. Ma's constant invocation of political talks? not at this time! has subtly shifted the center of gravity of the discourse. Not to mention that the term political talks is itself a euphemism for unification negotiations.

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".
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20 comments:

J. Michael said...

Michael:

On the Clinton visit, here's a bit of background on who's beghind it:

http://fareasternpotato.blogspot.com/2010/10/whos-behind-bill-clintons-nov-14-visit.html

David said...

Michael, I think the Reporters Without Borders ranking is perfectly reasonable. Taiwan's ranking dropped significantly last year because of the violence against journalists during Chen Yunlin's visit and government interference with PTS and RTI. The problem of violence has not been repeated this year while the government interference continues. Hence Taiwan's ranking has improved. It is still below where it was before Ma came to office though.

Michael Turton said...

David, I can see your point.

Don said...

"I think that will help, that will help. In other words, but there’s no guarantee how long it would take for the people of Taiwan to believe it’s time to do so. And opinion polls show that the majority of the people support maintaining the status quo."

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".

Klaus said...

> we were generally ranked in the 30s under the Chen Administration

Taiwan's ranking in the RSF press freedom index:

2004: 60
2005: 51
2006: 43
2007: 32
2008: 36
2009: 59
2010: 48

Before 2004, I do not know.
Taiwan apparently was not listed in 2003 (?): http://tinyurl.com/296donc (PDF)

Klaus said...

Okay, more info: In 2002, Taiwan was ranked 35. That was the first time Reporters Without Borders published such a ranking.
http://en.rsf.org/spip.php?page=classement&id_rubrique=297

Anonymous said...

Michael wrote " we were generally ranked in the 30s under the Chen Administration"

2003~61
2004~60
2005~51

before 2002 reporters with out boarders never did this at all.

Yes 3 years of chen admin, had numbers in the 30's so if you like to use the mode as a statistical measurement that works, bend the numbers why not.

I liked this in particular.

Michael wrote "debating whether we should have surrender negotiations political talks at all"

Stonewalling china! Didnt Frank say he was going to create a "win win situation"

Mick

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that the violence against journalists mostly came from the protesters NOT the government. There was 1 (2?) instance caused by a policeman, 1 by a security guard and 7-8 by the opposition protesters.

Anonymous said...

Are you possibly confusing Johnny Chiang, GIO minister, with John Chiang (ex Chang), former foreign minister and son of Chiang Ching-kuo? They have different surnames, by the way.

SoCalExpat said...

"no-one apart from a sleazy parasitical minority want to see realized"

On the one hand, you say only a tiny minority Taiwanese want to unify iwth the PRC, but on the other hand, you say the KMT, the largest party in Taiwan by membership, has a goal of unifying with the PRC.

Please reconcile.

Michael Turton said...

SoCalExpat, people join the KMT because that's where the money is. Not because they support its policy of annexing Taiwan to China.

Michael Turton said...

@Anon:

Damn! Some stupid errors in that post.

Anonymous said...

It reminds me of when James Soong would retaliate against foreign correspondents and have their visas revoked.

les said...

I think Matong is so used to handling fawning reporters and their softball questions that a real interview like this must come as a real shock. You can bet his press aides are going to be much more careful vetting interview requests going forward.

Don said...

SoCalExpert -- you said "the KMT has the goal of unifying with the PRC," not me. I said "sleazy parasitical minority." Here's why, one word at a time:

1/ Minority

If you live in Taiwan ask around. You'll find that no-one, plus or minus five percent, actually wants Taiwan to be the next HK bullied around from Beijing.

If you don't live in Taiwan then check out the GVSRC and NCCU poll-aggregator websites. Or listen to what the Straits Exchange Foundation told the US-Taiwan Chamber of Commerce, as related to a US Senate Committee earlier this year:

"...it was pointed out that in poll after poll throughout the last decade, over 90% of Taiwan's citizens say that they support the 'status quo', ie de facto independence. The SEF also noted that when Taiwan's people are asked what they would like to see beyond the status quo, they now favor independence by over 70% -- as opposed to indefinite status quo or moving from the status quo to unification. This trend has continued through the Ma government's term."

Taiwan majority opposition to unification is so pronounced these days that even unificator-in-chief Ma YJ has to acknowledge it (as in the AP interview) whenever there's an election in the offing.

2/ Sleazy

Pick your own adjective for the self-seeking coterie in business, media and politics that is trading away Taiwan's future dignity and freedom in return for privilege and favours and cash-in-pocket from the CCP. Read about Vidkun Quisling and Marshall Petain and ask yourself if history views these as men of honour.

3/ Parasitical

A little story. Yesterday I had the misfortune to be stuck for 20 mins within earshot of a loud, crass woman who was haranguing an acquaintance about the details of some investment opportunity. She bragged about her properties in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Her most recent purchase was an apartment in an upscale residential complex in Beijing. "100 pings!" she kept shouting, "over 2 million per ping! I tell you, it's THE most 'high-class' [using the English phrase] location in the city!" On and on. But later the clincher: "...And I said to her: 'Don't talk to me about connections, my husband's a National Legislator you know!'"

As she said this I was watching an old lady in the street outside, pushing an enormous mound of recyclable cardboard and plastic on a trolley down the middle of the road in the rain. Thinking about that old lady's lifetime as citizen and taxpayer, funding the gloriously appreciating property portfolios of Taiwan's moneyed elite.

SoCalExpert, I hope you appreciate the time I've put into this reply. I won't be replying to you again. Now...off you go and “reconcile”, because if you’ve read and digested what’s written above you may be experiencing a little cognitive dissonance at this moment.

JMadrigal said...

It sucks defending the KMT, but I have problems with many statements you make here.

First of all, you're quoting the misquote. The transcript is public now. Ma only makes reference to his second administration because it was mentioned in the question. He's not setting a timeline.

"Not to mention that the term political talks is itself a euphemism for unification negotiations"

What's the base for this argument?

"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."

I'd like to see these polls. If you're gonna write a diatribe, at least back your statements with facts.

"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."

A preference for the status quo is a preference for the status quo. Let me put it a different way: A=A, A≠B and A≠C.

At least we agree on one thing, it is monumentally stupid to suggest that Ma prepares responses in advance. Generally you should look for more candor in interviews, not less.

Klaus said...

Reporters Without Borders' take on violence surrounding Chen's visit in November 2008:

http://en.rsf.org/taiwan-more-than-10-journalists-injured-08-11-2008,29232.html

Michael Turton said...

JMadrigal, do you actually follow the news here?

1. The status quo is a form of independence. Status quo means not part of China. People who support the status quo support not being part of China at the time of the poll. If they want to be part of China, they would choose status quo now, annexation later, or the Loon Position: PRC NOW!

2. Global Views Surveys (to give only one example) are collected in a Taiwan matters! post. Add up numbers and you will find, as recent academic polls have found, that independence (status quo forever, status quo then independence, and independence now) far outnumber the other groups. You can also see that only a tiny handful of loons want to join the PRC immediately and annexation is usually supported by 10% or less of the population. See also this Taiwan Thinktank Poll ((poll).

3. The transcript is clear:

"AP: So, do I understand you correctly that, if economic issues are resolved during your second term, during that term, you might move on to political questions?

President Ma: As I said, it depends on how fast we move, whether these issues are satisfactorily resolved, and of course all the policies regarding the mainland are very sensitive, and we certainly will also make decisions on generally whether the decision receives popular support."

AP's interpretation (not other media's mischaracterization of AP's article -- it appears a CNA spew started this "controversy") is that Ma left room for political talks in the second term, which he clearly does in this answer.

Not to mention that Ma's claim of having to receive popular support is utter bullshit. Remember when they said that they would need 60% support to move on ECFA? Hahahahha.

It's also bullshit because as the TT reminded today, the two sides have already discussed political issues, and if you think the negotiations between the CCP and KMT that began in the 1990s when the first envoys were quietly sent to Taipei and continued throughout the Chen Administration weren't about politics, I have a bridge to sell ya.

I'd like to see these polls. If you're gonna write a diatribe, at least back your statements with facts.

If you're going to comment here, at least get familiar with the political situation and the polls. I dislike having to search Google on your behalf.

First of all, you're quoting the misquote. The transcript is public now. Ma only makes reference to his second administration because it was mentioned in the question. He's not setting a timeline.

Where did AP say Ma had a timeline?

"Not to mention that the term political talks is itself a euphemism for unification negotiations"

What's the base for this argument?


Ma's and the KMT's and the CCP's declared agenda of annexing Taiwan to China!

Michael

Michael Turton said...

China Times version of the comment:

Transcript.


32:04]

AP: So, do I understand you correctly that, if economic issues are resolved during your second term, during that term, you might move on to political questions?

[32:17]

President Ma: As I said, it depends on how fast we move, whether these issues are satisfactorily resolved, and of course all the policies regarding the mainland are very sensitive, and we certainly will also make decisions on generally whether the decision receives popular support. So usually when we lay out our general policy, we will say that: first of all, it has to be something needed by the country; secondly, it has to be supported by the people; and thirdly, that it will be supervised by the national parliament to make sure that this is a policy basically meeting the needs of the people.


Once again, it is clear that Ma leaves room for political talks in the second term. As he must, since he can't publicly state with his allies in Beijing listening that he will not engage in political talks!

Anonymous said...

Uh, Bill Clinton will NOT visit Taiwan. you have been duped. The United Daily News group arranged it and it is off. it will not happen. read between the lines. HE. IS. NOT. coming.

- so sayeth ''Taipei Crude''
and Mark Me Words!

re

re First, Bill Clinton is visiting Taiwan next month. Don't miss J Michael's post explaining what it is all about. There's a contest to which questions for Clinton can be submitted, and the "ten most popular" will be chosen. Sure. Anyway, the link is here. Go thou and submit.