Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Reuters Continues to Race Ahead of Xinhua

A woman at a traditional noodle factory sets out product to dry.
Lucius: So now, I'm in deep trouble. I mean, one more jolt of this death ray, and I'm an epitaph. Somehow, I manage to find cover, and what does Baron von Ruthless do?
Bob: (chuckles) He starts monologuing?
Lucius: He starts monologuing! He starts, like, this prepared speech about how feeble I am compared to him, how inevitable my defeat is, how the world will soon be his! Yadda yadda yadda.
Reuters in its usual more-Xinhua-than-Xinhua fashion played stenographer for the CCP once again this week. Chris Horton, who writes for a number of media outlets, including the NYTimes, observed on Twitter:
This article features *five* consecutive unchecked paragraphs that are pure Taiwan Affairs Office propaganda. Intentional or not, this erasure of the voice of 23.5 million people is a nice Christmas present from Reuters to the TAO and United Front Work Department.
Reuters forwarded a whole series of propaganda claims from Beijing with no context, challenge, or comment,
China's economic growth means its economy now far surpasses Taiwan's, and the trend would only continue, Liu wrote in the paper, which is published by the Central Party School that trains rising Communist Party officials.

"The swift development and massive changes in the mainland of the motherland are creating an increasingly strong attraction for the people of Taiwan," he said.

"The contrast in power across the Taiwan Strait will become wider and wider, and we will have a full, overwhelming strategic advantage over Taiwan," Liu added.

"The economic, political, social, cultural and military conditions for achieving the complete reunification of the motherland will become even more ample."

The concepts of peaceful reunification and "one country, two systems" would become even more attractive to Taiwan's people and foreign forces will not be able to stop it, Liu said.

"The basic situation of the Taiwan Strait continuing to develop in a direction beneficial to us will not change, and time and momentum are on our side."
Consider if Reuters had provided any context -- experts pointing out that Taiwanese see themselves as Taiwanese and do not want to become part of China, or that one country, two systems has been decisively rejected by the locals since the late 1990s. But Reuters simply plays stenographer. What was the editor doing, again? Just correcting their English?

Reuters also reproduced what has become a staple anti-Taiwan move by the media, one this blog has been noting for years: referring to soured relations in the passive voice to hide agency.
Relations between Beijing and Taipei have soured since Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won presidential elections last year, with China suspecting she wants to push for the island's formal independence.
Relations soured because Beijing chose to sour them. Reuters gives the usual unbalanced, pro-Beijing presentation, in which we get Beijing's opinion of Tsai but not Taipei's opinion about Beijing. Imagine an alternate universe where there was both facticity and better balance:
Relations between Beijing and Taipei have soured since Beijing cut off relations after Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won presidential elections last year. Taipei suspects Xi plans to invade Taiwan and annex the island.
Compare the China orientation of the Reuters piece with this piece from PBS on tiny Estonia, which also faces a giant neighbor hungry to annex it. As I always say, if you are a tiny state facing Russia, you're a plucky democracy under threat, but if you're Taiwan facing China, you're provocative...

The "inevitability" thesis which Reuters forwards here uncritically and uncontextualized has long been recognized as a key piece of propaganda designed to weaken Taiwan's psychological posture and to weaken foreign support of Taiwan, as Ian Easton noted in his recent and excellent book on Taiwan's defense (Amazon) and J Michael Cole in his sturdy Convergence or Conflict. If you as a writer forward that without noting that, then congrats -- you've become part of Beijing's propaganda effort. And you suck as both a reporter and a human being.

Many news organizations over the years have noted how the "inevitability" thesis is part of a propaganda regime. For example, AP in 2016 observed:
China claims Taiwan is its own territory, to be brought under its control by force if necessary. Tsai's election upended Beijing's strategy of using economic inducements to convince Taiwanese that political unification is not only inevitable but also in their best interests.
and it added what Reuters did not:
Although China says Taiwan has been part of its territory since ancient times, the two sides have only been unified for four of the past 120 years, splitting most recently amid the Chinese civil war in 1949. Taiwan does not acknowledge Beijing's claim of authority over it, while surveys show an overwhelming majority of Taiwanese favor maintaining their current state of de-facto independence.
China Digital Times has a whole list of such soft-war actions in a post from last year. It notes:
Controversial policy issues are often the focus of  efforts, and high Party officials occasionally express confidence that foreign opinion will inevitably fall into line with Beijing’s, as a United Front Work Department vice-minister did regarding Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang and Tibet. (Fueling an anti-Dalai Lama narrative has been a consistent goal for English-language state media, and last year Reuters provided evidence of Party efforts to smear the Tibetan spiritual leader by promoting a divisive deity.)
Reuters can easily identify state propaganda if it is about Tibet. But Taiwan... not so much.

I've been complaining about the inevitability bullshit since this blog started (one of my wishes from my 2017 list). Let me just say something I said three years ago:
Taiwan was not part of China in ancient times, a point which bears on the whole "inevitability" thesis: if it was inevitable that Taiwan would be incorporated into a Chinese state, why did it never happen in the whole of Chinese history? (the Manchus were not Chinese). Obviously because it is not inevitable.
Meanwhile, in direct opposition to Reuters, which really ought to be ashamed, Asia Times turned in an excellent piece on Beijing's views, with quotes from experts, from government officials of China and Taiwan, and much background.

All of which was missing from the Reuters piece.

One final point that is almost always missing, even from pieces that give the Taiwan point of view and back it with facts: propaganda pieces like the TAO piece are also aimed at domestic audiences whose nationalism needs to be controlled, channeled, and maintained. "Don't worry, home folks! We're gonna get Taiwan sooner or later!" They are meant to lay the groundwork for public acceptance of military action at some point, and in general, for Beijing's policies.
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Grant said...

Look at the bright side. Without jokes like Reuters you'd have less hilarious blog posts for me to read.

Anonymous said...

Haha, maybe the reporter that used to work for AFP now works for Reuters? Also potentially ideological motivation (or laziness is always a high possibility).

Anonymous said...

Stop your bullshit propaganda too. Manchus are not chinese? Just cause they are not Han doesnt mean they are not chinese. China is not a ethnic or racial state. Where did the name taiwan came from? That's also chinese. All the people in taiwan are Chinese

Michael Turton said...

Stop your bullshit propaganda too. Manchus are not chinese? Just cause they are not Han doesnt mean they are not chinese. China is not a ethnic or racial state.

The Manchus didn't become Chinese until the Han decided they wanted their empire. Then suddenly the outsiders and northern barbarians became Chinese. There were many debates on their status in the early republic. Finally in 1939 CKS simply declared them "Chinese." See Dru Gladney. One thing few Chinese understand is how the idea of "Chineseness" is constructed.

Where did the name taiwan came from? That's also chinese. All the people in taiwan are Chinese

The name "Taiwan" is widely considered to be aboriginal in origin. Your comment is a good way showing ethnic chauvinism, though. Thanks for it.


Anonymous said...

It's disgraceful of Reuters to print something so unbiased. I actually didn't read these articles thoroughly since I don't bother to pay close attention whenever China voices delusional bullshit like this. Keep up the good work in highlighting biased reporting by international media about Taiwan-China relations.