Friday, June 03, 2016

China's soft power in the media, hard at work

Your patronage dollars at work.

Two pieces today in different ways illustrated the workings of China's soft power in the international media. The first was a tawdry Mediafail from Bloomberg entitled  Two Weeks Into Presidency, Taiwan Leader Pushes Away From China. As is usual in the media, the frame of reference for Taiwan is China. J Michael Cole raked this one over the coals at News Lens, observing, as many of us have...
Much of that stems from the notion that “one China” is a principle, a much-used and misused term that suggests a natural state when, in reality, it is very much a political construct used by Beijing to justify its unchanging policy vis-à-vis Taiwan. If the Taiwan-as-part-of-China trope is indeed a principle, then it follows that any position that argues otherwise involves a contradiction of some law.

The image of China as a gravitational force is reinforced whenever analysts and editorial writers describe President Tsai as “pushing away” from China, as Bloomberg did in an editorial published today.

There is flagrant bias in this way of describing the situation, which argues that Taiwan’s efforts to have normal ties with its neighbors—including Japan, which the author seems to regard as a worrying development—is somehow problematic. In reality, establishing constructive relations with other countries is the normal conduct of states and does not necessarily mean that this involves “pulling away” from other relationships. In other words, diplomacy isn’t a zero-sum game: it is perfectly possible for a country to diversify its interactions while simultaneously continuing to engage countries that exert a major influence on it, as no doubt China does with Taiwan.
As my son put it: no shit Bloomberg, Taiwan is acting like a country. Fundamentally, normal countries can move closer or farther from other countries as a matter of course. The frame of reference used is normal country behavior. For Taiwan the frame of reference is always China.

The writer of the Bloomberg piece, Ting shi, is on Twitter as @tshinflux, with a profile that says "In the business of manufacturing news | China and beyond". For once there's truth in advertising....

In addition to the pro-China framing, the Bloomberg piece also offers another common practice in the international media: treating the denizens of Beijing's various "Taiwan Studies Institutes" as if they were scholars and not political warfare specialists. The writer quotes one Xu Shiquan "a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Taiwan Studies" twice, ending:
"It would still be premature for Beijing to take harsh counter-measures because she’s not that provocative," said Xu. "However, the so-called cold peace would not last long and could turn into cold confrontation if this kind of status quo lingers."
Note that Beijing's measures are COUNTER-measures -- the agency is assigned to Tsai, poor put-upon Beijing only reacts with counter-measures. Then the speaker says the situation could "turn into" a colder war, again removing the agency from Beijing -- the situation spontaneously turns, Beijing doesn't make it go in a certain direction. Obviously these people are very well schooled and also, obviously, they should never be quoted in the international media.

The piece cites the TVBS poll and emphasizes how pessimistic it is. Solidarity answered that perfectly in the title for his post on the pollTVBS: Taiwanese pessimistic about rest of year, as usual

Another media problem appears: the piece cites two human beings -- Xu for the China side, and Bonnie Glaser for some more balanced commentary, but, no human from Taiwan is cited. This piece provides only static from the Mainland Affairs Office in Taiwan, and that from an email. Apparently no individual humans in Taiwan have emails. It ends with the quote from Xu, of course.

The Bloomberg piece linked to the company's QuickTake explainer, which is studded with the usual errors and misinterpretations, including a reference to the Gambia. *sigh*. Of course, there are always the causeless tensions, the Aquinian First Cause of China-Taiwan relations...
Tensions erupted into Chinese military action twice — in the 1950s then again around a Taiwan election in the mid-1990s. 
"Tensions" caused Chinese military actions -- not decisions by Chinese leaders. Imagine that world...
PLA General: "Sir! Our missiles are launching into the Taiwan Strait! We didn't even press any buttons!"
Chinese President: "Don't worry about it. It happens whenever tensions wash over them. We don't have any control over it."
PLA General: "Then we need to do something about tensions, sir!"
Chinese President: "Sorry, we don't have any control over those either."
The Explainer also forwarded this tiresome LOL:
China passed a law in 2005 authorizing an attack if the island declares independence.
Whew! I bet the PLA must be relieved. I mean without that law, they wouldn't be able to attack. Imagine that world...
PLA: Taiwan has declared independence! Attack!
CCP: Sorry PLA, we don't have any law allowing an attack. We'll just have to let it go.
PLA: %@^#%$!!!
The second piece showing China's soft power in the media hard at work was this piece from the Christian Science Monitor on transitional justice. At first glance it seems pretty good, talking about the White Terror era and martial law... but then...
By uncovering the truth, she said, social wounds can be healed. Political consensus will be easier. Taiwan will be more united and become an active “communicator for peace” in Asia. To achieve that, she will need to make sure that the commission does not become a political tool to bash the current KMT, which lost power in a recent election.

If Taiwan can achieve a measure of reconciliation by this truth-telling process, it may be a model for China in coming to grips with the horrific past of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. In mid-May, the ruling Communist Party barely mentioned the 50th anniversary of the start of that social upheaval, which resulted in the persecution of more than 100 million citizens.
Yep. There's that China framing again: Taiwan could be a model for... the whole world? Countries that have similar dictatorial pasts? Nope, just China. Oh, and don't be too tough on the pro-China party, please, even though its the reason we're talking about transitional justice. CSM then descends into pure fatuousness:
As Tsai said in her speech, taking to heart the mistakes of the past can help propel Taiwan forward. If both nations can admit the errors of their darkest periods, they might be able to someday reconcile. The truth about past wrongs is a first step to restore the bonds that can ensure peace.
It's not their "dark past" that is the cause of the current tension and bringing it to light is not the first step in any path to peace. China and Taiwan are not separated at all and do not need to "reconcile." The truth is they can't "reconcile" because China threatens to maim and murder Taiwanese and annex their land. Until China drops its bogus claim to Taiwan, no "reconciliation" is possible, no matter how many inquiries into the Cultural Revolution Beijing hosts.

SPEECHIFYING: From Sen. McCain's speech in Singapore:
After the Shangri-la Dialogue, our delegation of seven Senators will fly together to Taipei to see President Tsai and her new team. I am encouraged to see yet another peaceful, democratic transition in Taiwan, and a new leader as capable as President Tsai. It was the Congress of the United States that passed the Taiwan Relations Act. And nearly forty years later, we stand firmly behind our commitments to Taiwan, and look forward to this new chapter in our relationship.
Daily Links:
TO REVIEW LIST: Ong Iok-tek (Wang Yu-de) wrote a pioneering history of Taiwan, Taiwan: a history of agonies whose final version came out in Japanese in 1970. This work inspired two generations of Taiwan democracy and independence activists, including myself -- I first read it in Chinese years ago. I am delighted to report that I have a copy of a translation into English of the work, and am honored and deeply touched that it was shipped to me by his daughter. Will be reviewing it soon.

Richard Saunders shipped me copies of his Taiwan 101: Essential sights, hikes, and experiences on Ilha Formosa in two gorgeous volumes. Can't wait to review them.

Finally, I finished Shawna Yang Ryan's Green Island, which is brilliant. I will try to review it here soon, but it is more beautiful and moving than I will ever be able to convey.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Rakuma said...

Although they did frame it in that China-Taiwan dichotomy again AP just did a good piece with some praise for Taiwan.

"Taiwan’s democratic politics and open society have long served as a counterpoint to China’s authoritarian one-party system, which permits no discussion of the crackdown or memorials for the victims."

LG said...

I'm just curious and I'd like to hear the opinion of an educated man here, since this is currently an issues being discussed a lot in the media in Taiwan.

Independence, how is that something the ROC can gain, since the ROC has always been independent as far as I'm aware, since no other government has ever ruled the ROC, or? So how can an independent nation vote on independence, when the nation was never ruled by anyone else?

Maybe my understanding of the word independence is wrong, as I'm not a native English speaker, but the nearest examples to me would be Finland independence from Russian rule, or Norway's independence from Swedish rule. However, with regards to the ROC, my understanding is that they've always ruled themselves... or?

cephaloless said...

Your understanding of independence is correct. Most of the international media seem to be happy to stay unaware that no matter how you look at it, the region governed by ROC is not dependent/ruled by anyone else.

The full story fills many books but this is a good place to get Taiwan's view of the story to counter balance PRC's spiel that's all over the place.

Anonymous said...

Bloomberg is mostly business oriented, so it will cater to those who have more money, and Beijing ( CPC ) is raining money at the moment.....