One thing that's really great about the recent student protest is that it is being covered in the international media. For example, the WSJ had an article on the student leaders' rejection of Ma's offer for talks this week. Yet.... and one thing that's really terrible is the coverage in the international media. Well, actually, that's not true. When you flip through lefty media sites, this protest against a neoliberal trade pact by students and the common people, against a pact opposed by the majority of the people, including occupation of the legislature and massive international coverage, what sound do you hear?
Way to go, fierce defenders of the people!
Today I read Banyan at The Economist. You can't expect too much from The Economist of course, since it is basically a helpless prisoner of its pro-corporate ideologies. But the interesting thing to me about the Banyan piece is how much the positioning of Ma and the students in the discourses swirling around the occupation of the legislature is guided by Establishment economic and social tropes and above all, by outright concealment of Ma's actual position. This has two complementary results: it makes Ma look more middle of the road than he really is, and it makes the students look more radical than they are. The reality is that the middle of the road democrats are the students, and the right-wing radical is Ma Ying-jeou. One way the Economist accomplishes this is by framing:
Mr Ma sees the pact as a reward for the more conciliatory approach to China that he has adopted since he became president. The students occupying the legislature, as well as opposition parties who back them, claim that the trade deal....Ms "sees" but the students "claim". No bias there! Think of all the other words that could be used: Ma argues and the students contend. Etc. Uncorrected is Ma's error that the police don't think it worthwhile to clear out the legislature. They don't have the authority to do that, only the Speaker of the legislature can.
Naturally Banyan (and other mainstream media writers) will never make clear that Ma is a right-wing Chinese nationalist expansionist who did his thesis on how China owns the Senkakus and appears to believe China owns Okinawa -- note that the underlying issue of the political-annexation aspects of the treaty, so important in many discussions of it, doesn't appear in this article, which presents the whole affair from his position and treats him as a sympathetic character, while focusing solely on economics. The students understand this political context, but Banyan removes it from the reader's purview. This helps make the students appear more radical than they are. In fact in another piece sympathetic to poor put-upon Mr Ma, Banyan argues that Ma is -- no, really -- defending Taiwan:
But as Mr Ma sees it, cross-strait “rapprochement” is a first line of defence against Chinese aggression, since “a unilateral move by the mainland to change the status quo by non-peaceful means would come at a dear price”.In a way that piece is even worse...awesomely, it accuses the students of resorting to undemocratic means (because protests are undemocratic?) but fails to take note of the KMT's behavior. Space is lacking. Anyway...
The Economist piece also unloads all the neoliberal tropes that are taken up in a piece by J Spangler over at The Diplomat. First, Banyan describes:
Three days after the students began their occupation, Mr Ma argued that failure by the legislature to approve the agreement “could have serious consequences” (see Banyan). Going back on the deal, he said, could result in Taiwan being “regarded as an unreliable trade partner” by China as well other countries with which the island wants to negotiate free-trade pacts.This trope is really common, I've been hearing it from people who both support and oppose that dog of a services pact. It's the kind of zombie insight people come out with when their brains are on media autopilot. Jonathon Spangler over at The Diplomat today squeezed a whole piece out of it. Judging from the contents of my inbox, many who read it assumed that Spangler was a pro-KMT foreigner. So did I, the first time I read it.
But on second reading I realized that Spangler's alignment with the KMT's position on the treaty, right down to repeating its rhetoric, isn't the result of him cheerleading for the KMT (it's unlikely that someone who obviously cares so much about ordinary people could be pro-KMT) but rather, is a consequence of the way Ma and the KMT have deployed neoliberal trade rhetoric as a front for their annexation of Taiwan to China by slow economic strangulation. Spangler writes:
Yet the deleterious effects of failure to implement the CSSTA would not only be domestic or bilateral; the international implications would be equally grave. Taiwanese history over the past decades has represented an arduous struggle for diplomatic recognition. Indeed, it is the foundation upon which almost all of the island’s foreign policy depends. Reneging on a bilateral agreement, such as the CSSTA, would serve as a clear indication to the international community that the local government lacks the capacity to effectively engage in international relations. The logic runs like this: If Taipei cannot succeed in fulfilling an already signed trade agreement with its closest neighbor and most significant trading partner, the risks involved for other countries in deepening economic ties with Taiwan may outweigh the potential benefits. For better or worse, international image and reputation are key to diplomatic relations. Should Taiwanese lawmakers fail to push through the agreement at this late a stage in negotiations, they are shooting themselves in the foot.Three issues here. First, Ma and the KMT have cloaked their sellout in neoliberal trade and political science rhetoric. By doing so, they can get others to forward their propaganda for them, since these ideas are widely subscribed to in the media and academia. Second, has anyone ever examined this idea to see whether it is in fact true by looking at the way countries behave in the real world? Finally, the logic of this argument runs like this: let's f@ck the 99% so that Taiwan can look "credible" when its 1% sits down and makes big business sellout trade deals with the 1% of other countries. That's neoliberal logic at its finest: the world's nations are so many game preserves and ATMs for the 1%... Aware of this, Spangler argues that Taiwan's ordinary people can and should be protected. Good luck getting any of that done....
Does having to renegotiate treaties and other treaty issues make one less credible on the international scene? Hmmm... how many times in your life have you ever heard anyone say "China tore up the 17 point agreement with Tibet! I'm not doing a trade agreement with them!" Or how about the SALT/START talks. Salt II never ratified by US, which withdrew in 1986 (wiki). Nevertheless, Russia and the US went on to negotiate the START pacts. In fact US non-ratification of treaties is normal, other countries still seek it out to do business with. If you think renegotiating, withdrawing, and unilaterally tearing up treaties and agreements means that other countries will stop negotiating pacts with you, I suggest you type the phrase "withdrew from the pact" in Google, or a similar phrase, and start reading. It's totally normal for nations to engage in such behavior and then to move on to cut deals in the future. Either humans have the memories of pocket calculators or maybe, just maybe, nations make deals with other nations based on current and future expected issues, and not on what such and such a state did with some other state at some time in the past. Can you imagine:
AIDE: Mr President, Chile promised Peru to hold a plebiscite in 1893, but failed to do so.Reality? Everyone knows that Taiwan's relations with China are special and no one is going to say: "Wow! Taiwan renegotiated a pact with China! OMG WE CAN'T DEAL WITH THEM!" The US isn't going to stop trying to include Taiwan in the TPP. N Zealand and Singapore aren't going to tear up their trade pacts. Other nations aren't going to stop sitting down to talk with Taiwan, unless Beijing puts pressure on them (did we get a promise in this pact for Beijing to stop that? Hahaha).
PRESIDENT: Scratch Chile. We obviously can't do business with them. What about Italy?
AIDE: Sir, after they changed governments in WWII, they left the Axis.
PRESIDENT: Who can trust them now? What about Thailand?
AIDE: It took them twenty years to negotiate a mere extradition treaty with India.
PRESIDENT: Is there anyone we can do business with?
So, to cut to the chase because I know you are tired of reading, what is the function of the "sign the pact or else no credibility?" It's mere rhetoric to bully small nations into signing those unequal pacts with larger states. It's a form of shock doctrine designed to get the population to go along with a sell out by creating fear of being weeded out (another favorite trope of Ma's). It's a club wielded by Ma Ying-jeou to bash Taiwan's people into submission.
It's not inevitable that China will swallow Taiwan (in fact I am coming to the conclusion that China's rising power is making that ever less probable), but it will certainly become inevitable if academics keep forwarding these zombie insights exploited by the KMT that are completely untrue yet cannot be killed.
- RALLY ON SUNDAY on Ketegalen Blvd
- LiveStream from Inside the Legislature: thanks, Sean Su. You're awesome.
- Wen Chi-yu on Ma Ying-jeou's communications problem. At CFR no less, usually a bastion of anti-Taiwan Establishment writing, they've had a couple of really good pieces on the rallies.
- Fumao Today: vids of the protest
- NYTimes: China reacts to the protests
- Tea Leaf Nation: social media and the student protests
- Why did the rally happen? Academic/Activist explains.
- NPR blog: why they stormed the legislature
- Water rationing in Tainan
- Haha. KMT plans counterrallies on Saturday.
Ma Ying-jeouDPP ad from a previous election gets an update.
- Hundreds of Hong Kongers publish ad in Liberty Times warning Taiwan to avoid dangers of Sinicization.
- Taiwan specialist Chris Hughes responds to a misleading article about him.
- CDC warns of scrub typhus among ticks while tomb sweeping.
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