Friday, June 03, 2011

Pay Attention to Tension

Traffic near the train station in Taipei.

Interesting facts: as the KMT papers are crowing, Yu Shen, the firm at the center of the DEHP scandal, is named after the son of the owner of the firm, whose name in Mandarin is Yu Shen. The son himself works as a reporter at the Taipei Times under his name in Taiwanese.

That has nothing to do with this post. But I thought, in case you didn't know, that you'd like to.


You know how the Establishment media has worked hard to put forth the idea that Ma Ying-jeou has "reduced tensions" after the nightmarish Presidency of Chen Shui-bian, in which tensions climbed as Taiwanese investment in China soared, the air route between Hong Kong and Taipei was the busiest in the world, and Taiwanese businessmen moved to China by the thousand. With those nightmare years in mind I was surfing the Net the other day and found this piece from Reuters:
Tensions between China and Taiwan have diminished even as Beijing moves rapidly to modernize its military with ballistic missiles capable of striking U.S. naval forces, U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte said on Thursday.


"(Chinese) leaders continue to emphasize development of friendly relations with the states on China's periphery to assure peaceful borders," Negroponte said in his annual assessment of world threats facing the United States and its allies.
When was that reported? In Jan of 2007. That was an ANNUAL REVIEW of 2006. Now that Eastasia is at war with Oceania, 2006 must surely have been hellish year of rising tension, one of the eight years of tension during the Chen Administration, in which tension rose more often than the Sun.

Another item gone AWOL: an important driver of tension in the 2005 period was China's "Anti-Secession Law" which caused a huge jump in Cross-Strait tensions. It has basically vanished from pithy descriptions of those days in the current media reports. As Mark Harrison noted in Aug of 2005, this jolt in tension was due to Beijing...
The months since the re-election of Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian have seen a rise in tensions across the Taiwan Straits. The softer line which the Chinese government had adopted during Chen’s previous term has been seen to fail with the election result, and there has been a noticible shift in policy and much stronger rhetoric coming out of China.
If you read a bunch of stories on "tension" you'll soon see how much of the perception of "tension" is due to the media's constant insertion of that word into issues or disagreements where it does not belong.

There are (endless) examples of reporters referring to tensions that never occurred, like this piece from June of 2006. The headline refers to "Taiwan Tension" by which it appears to refer the domestic turmoil, but then this paragraph pops up:
Taiwan's stock market dropped more than 3% on Tuesday, before Chen delivered his speech, as investors feared that the president might made some strongly worded statements to provoke mainland China and heighten tensions across the strait.

However, Chen focused on counterattacking the opposition parties' charges against him. Analysts said this suggested that in his remaining two years in office, Chen could no longer rely on manipulating cross-strait ties, as he has done before, to divert public attention from domestic problems. Thus cross-strait relations should remain relatively stable. 
Love the pro-KMT construction in the second paragraph, but note that the "tension" never actually occurred. If the media constant inserts the word "tension" into articles, eventually people start associating it with the China-Taiwan relationship. Remember the savage atmosphere of 2003? CNN reported:

Taiwan Strait tensions on the up

What was really going on? That was when Chen Shui-bian was holding a referendum on the nuke plant, and  Beijing claimed it was a dry run for a referendum on independence. Yes, the purely internal matter of building a power plant was enough for Beijing to pout (it also shows how Beijing gets instant media buy-in whenever it says the pro-Taiwan side is being provocative). But then the piece goes on to report, repeatedly, that China is remaining "restrained"...
Diplomatic analysts in Beijing said the new leadership under President Hu Jintao had responded to these developments in a relative restrained manner.

Apart from fairly routine protests made by the Foreign Ministry and the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), the analysts said senior cadres had refrained from making intimidating statements about the consequences of Chen's pro-independence game-plan.

"Chen is upping the ante in his pro-independence moves to boost his popularity among native-Taiwanese voters in Taiwan," said a Chinese source close to Beijing's Taiwan policy-making establishment.

"The leadership knows it will be playing into Chen's hands if it were to rattle the saber."
So again the headline uses the Awful T-word but then goes on to describe the opposite in reality.

Consider this headline from Reuters:

Tension rises as China-Taiwan flight pact hits bumps

Oh noes! What happened? Is the bombing to start immediately? Do I have time to get my bicycle to a safe place? The paper describes the descent into the maelstrom:
China and Taiwan face a widening dispute over scheduling of direct flights, an important factor behind $100 billion in two-way trade, raising tension between old foes just weeks after they signed a massive trade pact.
But what really happened? Inside the report is this:
The flap could cool a climate of goodwill associated with most China-Taiwan deals including a free trade-style pact signed in June, the biggest tie-up ever between economic powerhouse China and tech-reliant Taiwan.
It....COULD cool the goodwill. It....COULD cause my nostrils to emit large furry fictional horned equines as well. Reuters is reporting "news" before it happens, and using the word "tension" where it is totally unjustified. Indeed, "tension" did not occur. When does this report date from?

July, 2010.

Yeah, remember that awful July of 2010, where we were constantly running off to bomb shelters as tensions rose between Beijing and its ally Ma Ying-jeou? Funny, because the 2010 I remember was filled with praise for Ma Ying-jeou for "lowering tensions" across the Taiwan Strait.

"Tension" in the Strait is in large part a media trope. It gets trundled out whether the story deserves it or not. It is such a reflex that, as the story above shows, the media inserts it zombie-style even into Ma Administration stories.

It should also be noted that Ma inherited a situation of "lowered" tension. Anyone recall the terrible Cross-Strait tension of 2007 and 2008 (2008 US NIE assessment)? Like so many other things, Mr Ma is just taking credit for low hanging fruit that had already been set out for him to pluck.
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Jenna said...

were you in Taipei Main MRT today? I thought I saw you or a guy who looked a lot like you. I was all "is that Michael Turton?" but by then it was too late.

Hopenchange said...

"(Historically, China has only exercised brief control over the island.)"

Looks like someone finally did their homework.

Okami said...

Reporters are lazy and a leftist bunch. The same arguments you make about tensions can be made about *Israel needs to make peace with people who openly call for their genocide and destruction, any problem must have a solution provided for and handled by the govt,
*Europeans are cultured and open minded just ignore those nationalist anti-immigrant parties because only Americans are that ignorant,
*Muslims are misunderstood and not the root of Islamic terrorism because Islam is a religion of peace,
*All economic news that is unfavorable under a democratic president is "unexpected",
*4-6% unemployment and normal growth under a republican president is the coming of the next depression and represents people afraid to switch jobs, *Invading Iraq and Afghanistan needlessly pissed off the Muslim world but bombing Libya and sending in attack helicopters is perfectly ok and nary a peep is made,
*The UN is great and any problems are conveniently ignored like trading food aid for sexual favors/ the pedophile ring/ largest financial scam in world history: Oil-for-food are not even worth mentioning.

I'm sure I forgot a couple. Michael Crichton had a very good line about reading something you know is false in the newspaper, yet buying the rest of it without question. I prefer the "I wonder if that is true" style that Rush Limbaugh.

Anonymous said...

Not a specific comment but just posting a thank you for your daily thoughts and updates on life in Taiwan. I'm originally from Taiwan having immigrated as a child, but I've just begun to rediscover my roots. It's difficult since I'm illiterate in Chinese (but fluent in Taiwanese and Mandarin), so your blog is of great value to me.

BTW, I agree with the contention that Taiwan is a separate entity from Taiwanese extended family in Taiwan are all of the same mindset. LOL, don't get some of the older ones started on the "ah-gheong" taking over.
Thanks again,

Michael Turton said...

Jenna, it wasn't me.

Waltzin' Jaloma said...

雲程has an interesting take on rising tensions. In his 「美軍繼續走,同盟更深化」
( post of 2011/05/30, analyzing two Kyodo News reports of the tightening of the US-Japan defense alliance, 雲程 sums up, writing, “The wind direction is clear. No wonder MYJ claimed that he was not in a hurry to finalize the cross-strait relationship with Beijing after his adopting vast China-friendly policies in a rush. He must have sensed what's in the wind.” That post also links to this LT piece of the same day.「馬︰兩岸關係不急確立」(, where Mr. Ma is reported telling his audience, 「兩岸維持現狀對大家都有利,目前台灣沒有條件,也沒有必要急著確立兩岸關係。」

Lately, Mr. Ma’s mien strikes me as that of a pretty harried man.

FOARP said...

Of course, if we cast our eyes back to the year of 2009 we'll find people making predictions that Ma's KMT was planning to sell out Taiwan in an undemocratic Anschluss with the mainland for 2012. This is not to excuse the "Taiwan strait tensions" rhetoric this post rightfully criticises, this is just to wonder why people who pointed out that there was no evidence of a CCP/KMT hook-up for a 2012 takeover were labelled "pro-China trolls".