Saturday, July 05, 2014

Tropes and Tragedies in the Media

Beetle larvae crowd a leaf in my backyard jungle.

The Economist actually took the Zhang visit as a serious event, and not a PR campaign aimed at the Chinese domestic media and the international media, where it was totally successful. First see this piece (also online here). It apparently hasn't occurred to anyone in the media that the head of the Taiwan Affairs Office is not a ministerial-level official, he's just the government bureaucrat nominally in charge of some affairs of China's drive to annex Taiwan and not what one would normally think of as a "minister" when discussing a government (does anyone imagine that he has some serious administrative clout? Zhang was far more powerful as Fujian Province chief). China can give him any title they like: Duke, Pope, Quarterback, but guess what, it still isn't a ministerial-level visit. The title is just lipstick on a pig....

Banyan at the Economist chimed in with a few comments on the visit. The piece contained a couple of truly nasty tropes that are media commonplaces. Banyan said:
The DPP’s decision to shun protests during Mr Zhang’s visit implies a new pragmatism and less reluctance to engage with China. Even die-hard pro-independence DPP members or activists have held informal meetings with Chinese officials.
This is utter crap. It's as if eight years of DPP negotiations with China have simply vanished (in case you can't remember, here's a 2005 paper). The DPP is quite happy to negotiate with China and wants normal relations with China, it is China that rejects the DPP. Note how in these discussions the "die hard" aspects of Chinese engagement with Taiwan -- the hundreds of missiles, the military build up, the threats to maim and murder Taiwanese -- all disappear. Only independence supporters are die hard; Chinese officialdom never is.

Moreover Banyan's contention is just plain wrong. The DPP is not shunning the protests because it is exhibiting some new pragmatism or because it is "less reluctant" to engage China. The DPP has been keeping its distance from the student movement and protests for reasons that are largely domestic in nature, to prevent them from being discredited as partisan political movements. Because you know what Banyan would have written if the DPP had been involved:
The partisan protests against Mr Zhang led by the DPP show the party's reluctance to engage Beijing as well as that street protests in Taiwan are merely DPP political actions and do not represent the true will of the people. 
In this trope, the DPP is always reluctant to engage Beijing, irrespective of the circumstances. That phrase must be worked in to every piece. It seems to have pained Banyan to be unable to discredit the protests as DPP actions. Ironically, in another paragraph Banyan observes that China won't recognize the DPP. It's hilarious that one side doesn't recognize the other and wants to suppress it, but the other side is invariably described as "reluctant to engage." The cognitive dissonance required to pen this stuff must be astounding...

Accolades must also be handed out. AP seems to have upgraded The Formula. Raph Jennings writing for AP:
China and Taiwan have been separately ruled since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s. China sees the island as part of its territory that eventually must be reunified — by force if necessary — despite a Taiwanese public largely wary of the notion of Chinese rule.
No more of that lying "split in 1949" crap and look, Jennings actually tells us what the Taiwanese think. So rare.

Comedy moment: O yeah, a Thailand sighting in a piece over at Counterpunch where every sentence contains an error:
Not that China has had much luck on the other end. Taiwan’s tremendous Sunflower Movement emerged last year as a direct result of China’s attempts to pull the Kuomintang government of Thailand closer into its orbit through a bilateral trade pact. The resulting protests involved tens of thousands of people in the streets and the cancellation of the agreement. China’s territorial claims over Taiwan include the Senako Islands, which Japan also claims, and China’s Taiwan Affairs Office director, Zhang Zhijun visited last week in a historic show of polity. Although Zhang used the local dialect and came with offerings of peace, his presence was protested throughout the area. At one point, protesters splashed the dignitary with white paint, causing the cancellation of two events.
Brace for Rant! Finally, this post wouldn't be complete without a nod to the Nation. It finally mentioned Taiwan! Yes, in a puff piece on the US Justice Department, it lead off with the sordid tale of Chen Shui-bian's housing purchases in Manhattan as an example of corrupt billionaires stashing their wealth in US real estate. LOL. There's no political context or the biased, politicized trial mentioned in the Chen case, except to disparage it. The article presents the sordid spectacle of the Justice Department colluding with the former authoritarian party of Taiwan to help hound a pro-democracy politician to death in jail. Way to go, team!

The single thread that ties together so many of the cases mentioned in the article is that the individuals pursued by the Justice Department all fell out of favor with governments that had previously supported them, rendering them easy prey. What the article really shows is that "Justice" will only go after you when you're weak, politically marginalized, and there is no political cost. For some reason the article didn't mention Soong Mei-ling, wife of KMT dictator and mass murderer Chiang Kai-shek, who lived placidly in her Manhattan apartment amid the spoils of two countries until she died of old age there. Never mind that corrupt Chinese officials and their princeling children own assets all over the US, never mind that a certain political party I know well is the richest in the world and it and its officials have many assets in the US, never mind that Wall Street remains untouched by justice -- these people are immune. "Justice" will never go after them. As I said when "Justice" made its announcement of this two years ago, if only Chen had run a murderous authoritarian state or blown up the world economy, his assets never would have been touched. Obviously Chen should have jailed his opponents instead of running against them in free elections...

Take my usual complaint about Taiwan being ignored by the Left as read. Maybe someday the Nation will write on our democracy, or our health system, or our China dilemmas... but don't hold your breath. Instead we will only get a steady stream of this ungodly stupid Cold War lensed crap.
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Mac said...

'China and Taiwan have been separately ruled since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s. China sees the island as part of its territory that eventually must be reunified — by force if necessary — despite a Taiwanese public largely wary of the notion of Chinese rule.'

'Largely wary'? It looks like he's trying to radically downplay the extent of Taiwanese opposition to Chinese control.

'They're only wary. That's no impediment at all. My buddy was wary about getting married but he took the plunge and has never looked back. Yeah, they'll come around in no time.'

Michael Turton said...

Considering the shit they used to print, that's a great improvement. AP isn't going to let him print the truth.


Anonymous said...

Of the whole world, the Nation used Chen's case as example for "How New York Real Estate Became a Dumping Ground for the World’s Dirty Money"???

WTF! The NY/US housing bubbled before 2006-7 and crashed in 2006-7 due to subprime lending and ponzi-schemed "creative derivatives," not due to Chen. If only Chen could've staged such a spectacle!

Chen has been put under detention and later in prison since 2008. The NY (and London) housing has not turned around and staged a raging come-back until 2011. The "dirty money dumping" effect did not start to show until 2012. So, WTF!

The real biggest "dirty money dumping ground" of the recent 2-3 years is London, not New York.

I'd think that Ukrainian, Russian, Turkey or Chinese oligarchs would be the most convincing examples for "dirty money".

Scroll down to the middle of the Nation's article, one sees their one-line ad:

"Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!"

Yes, they call their non-sense "journalism". They beg for $9.50, they know they don't worth much. Still, $9.50? I'd sooner throw my $9.50 to a street violin performer.

Phant said...

Fair enough on the implicit anti-DPP bias, but you and others aren't right when you say the trip was only for PRC media (with international media following along with the story).

The logic of the visit is exactly the same as for China's recent maritime adventurism -- you take small steps and let people get used to it. This won't be the only visit. The protests will get smaller as the visits multiply, and China can accept them as an extreme minority opinion.

The other piece is that China sees if not a constituency here then at least some parts of society that it can work with, or exercise leverage over. So the visit is part of building that relationship between the Chinese government and sectors of Taiwanese society.

So no, not that big an event, but not a mere "PR campaign" either. It's part of a slow and steady (10 year? 20 year?) strategy.

And I would say the "minister level" aspect does have its symbolic importance.

Michael Turton said...

Phant, all of those things the Chinese already knew and already have people working on. Contacts occur every day in many different entities and environments. This visit was purely about the PR which the international media swooned for. Fortunately there are more thoughtful and analytical alternatives to the international media.


Michael Turton said...

f the whole world, the Nation used Chen's case as example for "How New York Real Estate Became a Dumping Ground for the World’s Dirty Money"???

Yep. What a bunch of assholes. But you know why -- because like the Justice Department, the Nation knew that Chen was sick and dying in jail and wouldn't cause them any trouble. Russian oligarchs, on the other hand, can be troublesome and violent. Thus, there is no question who they fuck on -- the former democracy fighter or the anti-democracy oligarchs, the mafia, etc.


Tim Maddog said...

Ralph Jennings/AP wrote:
- - -
China and Taiwan have been separately ruled since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s.
- - -

They are still wrong as fuck all. In the 1940s, Taiwan had been ruled by Japan for half a century, and prior to that, about half of Taiwan was nominally ruled by the Manchus (as a "province" for only a decade), who were considered by Han Chinese of the time to be "foreign invaders." But you knew that already.

Jennings/AP falsely imply with this formulation that Taiwan had been part of China before the 1940s. I rate it "still a lie."

Anyway, the rest of this post is excellent. I hope most of your readers understand why all those things in Counterpunch are mistakes.

Tim Maddog

Phant said...

I don't know if you got my point or not. Yes, there are domestic propaganda uses to that trip. The CCP doesn't do anything without domestic propaganda coordination. But people in Taiwan were also an intended audience for the trip.

My sense (do you agree?) was that a lot of people here found that visit unsettling. What the hell was he doing in those meetings? China won't ever win over the people who were out there throwing paint on him, or you, but by regular interaction they can desensitize a whole swath of the population who now feel uneasy about China. The message this time was "hey you're upset, but look, nothing came of it". Next time it will be "relax, we're back". Then eventually "hi!" The wolf will look like a sheep. Or at least a dog.

In some ways this will be a good thing. In some ways, not.

Michael Turton said...

I get your point. Thanks!

Michael Turton said...

Anyway, the rest of this post is excellent. I hope most of your readers understand why all those things in Counterpunch are mistakes.

Thanks Tim. I'd love to put in a piece at Counterpunch, and I was encouraged by that one, which at least pointed out the problems of China.