Saturday, November 14, 2015

MaXi Mess: Unintended Consequences in the Media

A Taiwan ad on a trolley in San Francisco. Used by permission.

Although the real catalyst for change was the Sunflowers, the change in the media reporting on Taiwan was accelerated, expanded, and deepened by the Ma-Xi meeting. For the first time the media is reporting something like the actual situation on Taiwan, a situation obvious in polls since nearly the turn of the century... consider this from WSJ:
The people of Taiwan, writes the China scholar Donald Rodgers, a professor at Austin College, “have no desire to unify with China—ever.” For them, relations with the mainland have reached a turning point. Increasingly, they reject the assumption that the “Taiwan question” is a family squabble among the Chinese. Instead, they see it as a political tug of war between two sovereign equals.
Unfortunately, this stupid anti-democracy crap continues to appear in the media in various guises. Again from the WSJ piece...
Democracy has handcuffed the ability of any Taiwan leader to bargain with Beijing, although the Taiwanese certainly want friendly relations. If Ms. Tsai refuses to embrace “One China,” it is hard to see any future Kuomintang leader doing so either
You can see that the underlying assumption of this kind of thinking is that democracy prevents leaders from selling out their people for the profit of their leaders. Nothing better illustrates the anti-democracy, elite-driven sociopathology that modern news commentary has become. Democracy in Taiwan ensures that the wishes of the people are included in the political process -- indeed, it ensures that there is a process. [UPDATE: the writer emailed me and said that democracy means the process is handcuffed to the popular will, so I've misread. If so, I apologize]

Even Banyan at the Economist, a longtime fan of the KMT, observes:
Mr Xi and—even more so—Mr Ma emphasised their people’s ethnic and cultural links. “Brothers connected by flesh even if our bones are broken”, as Mr Xi put it; “descendants of the Yellow Emperor”, in Mr Ma’s words. But growing numbers of people in Taiwan see themselves as primarily “Taiwanese”, rather than Chinese. Most people in Taiwan come from families that lived on the island for generations before 1949. A small aboriginal population is not Chinese at all. Apart from during the chaos of the civil war China has not even pretended to rule Taiwan since 1895, when it ceded the island to Japan. China says a declaration of independence could provoke it to use force, so few Taiwanese support formal independence. But even fewer want unification.
Variations in this "growing numbers" trope is gradually supplanting variations of the "wary" trope. Actually, the majority pro-independence position was passed in polls over a decade ago. The media has taken a dozen years to get around to reporting what is going on. It will probably be another decade before "the vast majority of Taiwanese" becomes normalized. Change is slooowwww.....

Mark Harrison makes all this clear responding to the way Ma and Xi distorted history:
There is another way of telling this history however. Taiwan was ceded to Japan by the Qing empire in 1895, years before the founding of the Republic. Taiwan modernised and militarised under the Japanese empire, and also resisted colonial authority. In the 1910s and 1920s, Taiwanese intellectuals and activists at the centre of flows of modern ideas from the Chinese and Japanese worlds turned the disparate political aspirations of the Taiwanese into a unique syncretic liberalism. In 1945, Taiwan became part of the Republic of China under the KMT. But in 1947 the Taiwanese rose up in an anti-Chinese Nationalist uprising that was crushed by the KMT at the cost of tens of thousands of Taiwanese lives. The violence of 1947 forged colonial liberalism into Taiwanese nationalism. Then, in 1949, the national government of the Republic of China relocated to Taiwan. The long and violent struggle for Taiwanese democracy was realised in the 1990s, marking a step forward in the hopes of a century of political struggle. This history is mobilised by the DPP. The principles and practices of Taiwanese liberalism were renewed by the Sunflower activists in 2014, who made their debt to the generations of activists from the 1910s to the 1990s explicitly clear.
This liberalism is reflected in the way Taiwanese have incorporated democracy into their way of life. Kevin Hsu at the always excellent Ketagalan Media observes that Taiwan's democracy is actually quite healthy. And the Taipei Times has a good commentary observing that Ma and Xi's "kinship" arguments are nothing compared to democracy and local identity.
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Anonymous said...

The video interview of Dr. Robert Sutter is interesting. My impression is that US has no clear strategic plan with China. China is no longer following US's plan and US dose not know what do next. TPP is a good response but is it enough?

Conflict of interest between US and Japan was solved by World War II. Will it take another war to change China's path?

Brian Castle said...

WSJ: Democracy has handcuffed the ability of any Taiwan leader to bargain with Beijing, although the Taiwanese certainly want friendly relations.

MT: You can see that the underlying assumption of this kind of thinking is that democracy prevents leaders from selling out their people for the profit of their leaders.

I think both you and WSJ hit it right on the head. I just don't understand why you're upset about WSJ being so accurate. Democracy is indeed making sure that Taiwanese leaders behave themselves when dealing with China, and at least for Ma the metaphor of handcuffs is especially appropriate.

Brian Castle said...

I should have mentioned that way WSJ phrased heavily implies that the government's goals aren't always in sync with what the public wants. That too is very true and needs to be made clear because too many news sources have implied that what the KMT wants (unification with China) is what the Taiwanese want.

frozengarlic said...

Bi-khim leading is a disaster for the DPP (and for Bi-khim herself). If she wins, she will be stuck in the LY. Do you want your best person to be Foreign Minister or Convener of the LY Foreign Affairs Committee two out of eight sessions? Remember,if the DPP wins Hualien, it will win a national landslide, so her seat won't make any real difference. However, precisely because it is typically an easy deep blue seat, she won't be able to resign.

Ben Goren said...

@frozengarlic Tsai seems to have signalled quite clearly that winning the LY is the core objective. A landslide would be preferable but a solid majority may be better for the first term. First of all, a landslide will immediately invoke scare mongering of a potential constitutional revision being slammed through the LY and that in itself could tie Tsai up in repeated assurances of 'non-provocation'. It is my feeling that she wants to win the LY not to force constitutional change (or at least that concerning cross-strait relations or the name and status of the country) but to tackle other institutionalised challenges e.g. reinforce democracy, reform the judicial system, enhance the fairness of the political economy. These involve a complex legislative agenda. Now consider the much smaller KMT caucus - depending on its make up it could well become quite extreme in its reaction to both a DPP majority and super majority. The latter almost invites a physical altercation as the KMT conducts a weekly exercise in existential angst dressed up as a defence of democracy. Even the former might be sufficient reason. It is my belief that Tsai will have learnt from her 2012 defeat and Chen Shui-bian's first term. She will want to avoid another Nuke4 internal rift that divides the Govt & DPP LY caucus. Sadly the DPP are quite capable of winning power and then acrimoniously splitting openly into its factions again as each side sulks about how they want to divide the spoils of the State. Does Tsai need her best people in the LY or the Government then? In this scenario isn't it best for Tsai to have her best people in the LY? That's where the greatest rewards and pitfalls will be gained and faced.