Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Financial Times on Chen -- *sigh*

The by-line reads Kathrin Hille again, so we know that FT is about to publish another piece slanted pro-KMT, one of a series of anti-Chen articles that they have been publishing in recent months. Reading articles like this, I always wonder: is the writer too lazy to dig, too stupid to know, or simply malicious? Hard to tell...

In 2000, Mr Chen swept away a ruling party that had held power for more than 50 years, carried by a wave of hope for political and judicial reform and clean government that was backed by 70 per cent of the population.

Hille is a bit confused. Chen's approval ratings early on reached 70%. But he reached office with less than 40% of the vote. Note how she increases the contrast between then and now by using the obviously false verb swept away. The reader needs to be reminded that Chen won with 39% of the vote, and then only because the ruling party was split between the unpopular Lien Chan, and the spin-off PFP candidate James Soong. Had Soong never left the KMT to run against it for President, Chen would not have been President. By heightening the magnitude of the Chen victory (since when is 39% a sweeping victory?), Hille can increase the pathos of the current situation. What a bunch of eff-ups! the opening seems to say. Clever, eh?

Now, according to a recent opinion poll, he is left with 10 per cent of the vote. After a crushing defeat in local elections this month, even his Democratic Progressive party is turning against him.

It is interesting that in the previous statement, Hille has mistaken opinion polls for a vote, and now here, she uses the word "vote" in place of an opinion poll. Does she not know the difference? In any case the
recent opinion poll she refers to is from the anti-Chen TVBS, which Hille either does not know or chose not to reveal. Either way, it doesn't reflect well on her. She appears not to have done much work understanding the local elections either. I like the way no one in the foreign press has bothered to notice that the "crushed" DPP "suffered" a 41% increase in seats in the city and county councils. Certainly it was a defeat, but the underlying trends have been noted by no one. Why?

"We desperately need to reform and the key problem is the president," says Shen Fu-hsiung, an outspoken veteran DPP politician.

First citation is Shen Fu-hsiung, though DPP, has lately been making a career running against Chen and has excellent relations with the Blues. A good choice for anti-Chen puff piece in a foreign rag.

Mr Chen appears to be at a loss as to what happened. His staff have contacted scholars asking for advice about what he is doing wrong. Just about everything, is the answer. "The lethal blow has been the growing impression over the past year that this government is corrupt," says Emile Sheng, a professor at Soochow University in Taipei.

Her next citation is of an apparently pro-KMT academic, Emile Sheng, whose name always appears in such pieces. Hille cites him frequently, as though there are no other political scientists on the island.

"I don't believe that clean government is the most important issue on our reform agenda," says Lin Cho-shui, a veteran DPP lawmaker. "A much bigger problem is that Chen Shui-bian's mysterious leadership style and his short-term opportunistic decision-making don't work any more."

Now another DPP person -- but the article does not make clear that Lin and Shen-Fu-hisung above are longtime associates.

Mr Chen's government has frequently changed policy direction, most obviously in relations with China. After pledging more economic exchanges across the Strait early in his first term, he later turned to aggressive anti-China rhetoric and last year played to pro-independence sentiment in a re-election campaign that provoked the mainland.

"Provoked the mainland" -- a classic KMT complaint -- as is "playing to pro-independence sentiment." Essentially the article's complaint is that Chen was just too democratic, appealing to the overwhelming support for independence among the locals, along with staging a democratic referendum. Shame on him for wanting to live in a free and democratic country like the one Hille is from! I hope next time Hille uses a less loaded presentation, something like........

During the 2004 elections, Chen supported an island-wide referendum and trumpeted the party's pro-independence platform. The referendum drew fire from critics, who accused Chen of "provoking the mainland" which, aside from rhetoric, took no concrete moves against the island. is not difficult to write with an objective view and tone. So why isn't it done here?

The president made his about-turns without consulting his cabinet or going through government channels. Mr Chen has changed premiers four times and the administration has become inefficient. The government's erratic course has also exacerbated its problems with the opposition, which controls parliament.

Finally, a real complaint, although it could be said that overall communication between everyone is terrible, fallout from the DPP's inheritance of the KMT Leninist vision of how political parties should operate, from the problems of the way authority functions in Chinese culture, and from the insanely rickety government structure. It is interesting that Hille a couple of times repeats some variant of the criticism that Chen hasn't "gone through government channels" without mentioning that the DPP seeks to reform government channels precisely because they are so difficult to go through.

Note also how the DPP also gets cleverly blamed for making the legislature "worse." Perhaps in her next article Ms. Hille might mention that the legislature has blocked all the bills the government sends down, and that the Constitution is a mess, and most importantly, that the KMT has tacitly approved of the way the DPP is running the government. Remember, the Blues could at any time pass a no-confidence vote, since they have a majority. That would bring down the government, and then the President would have to dissolve the legislature and hold elections, which the KMT would suffer a serious threat of loss, for the largest single party in the legislature is none other than the DPP. And unlike Ms. Hille, there are those in the KMT who do take note of the fact that the DPP has more local seats than it did before the election. Why is this true, if the public is irked at Chen Shui-bian? Things are a heck of a lot more complex than Ms. Hille's puff piece tries to make out.

The focus on corruption is another problem. If the public was irked about corruption, why did it vote for the even more corrupt KMT? Such claims on the part of commentators leave much to be explained.

"We are left without proper communication between the party and the president, and relations between the president and his cabinet, as well as between the executive and the legislative, are in disarray," complains Kuan Bi-ling, a DPP lawmaker close to Frank Hsieh, the premier.

No shit.

Mr Lin adds that the president's authoritarian style has prevented a debate on the party's stance on national identity and relations with China, which should have taken place long ago.

Can anyone name a local politician who does not have an authoritarian style? Very few -- maybe the DPP's Su, who is extremely popular. What exactly is the problem and how is debate being stopped? President Chen does not have the power to stop a debate on the Party's China stance (he can't even stop debate within the party on whether to marginalize him!). The President makes a nice whipping boy, but....

Presidential aides defend Mr Chen. "He needs to respond to different groups in a society which is deeply split in its view towards national identity and its relations with the mainland," says one of his staff.

You know that the single statement here for "balance," the only one in the whole article, will immediately be followed by a pro-KMT challenge of it...

But with little more than two years until the next presidential election and big city mayoral polls, and legislative elections coming up next year and in 2007, the DPP no longer accepts these arguments.

"We have been in power for almost six years and it's been a complete failure," says Lee Chun-yee, a DPP lawmaker.

One can only laugh. A complete failure? Has the DPP actually been "in power?" I wish these articles offered a richer perspective on such questions. Out here in the real Taiwan I note that paperwork and government efficiency are better than they have ever been. I note the steady stream of new national parks and preserves. I see the wind machines in Hsinchu and the better care of the environment. Perhaps if Lee had worked harder to get more people elected to the legislature in '02....but I digress.

Lee Wen-chung, another heavyweight in the DPP's legislative caucus, blames Mr Chen for the DPP government's weak policy record. "Our party's platform says we want economic liberalisation but at the same time we demand fairness and social security. Since the president has failed to set priorities, nothing gets done at all."

How can it? The Blues are now blocking -- 17, I think -- key bills in the legislature. It is almost too easy to note that amidst this barrage there is not one concrete positive recommendation for the President to follow. Just aimless criticism, of the sort one constantly hears here in Taiwan, where it is not considered only fair to make a positive recommendation when criticizing.

I think this leads to another point. Part of the authority-flavored local political and social culture is the relationship between the Orderers and the Orderees. Many commentators miss the fact that it is part of the role of authority in local political and social culture to be the target of generalized and abstract criticisms ('communication is bad between the government and the legislature') without any specific fault being pointed out. These are typically some version of SNAFU! Anyone with experience will recognize what this is: it is griping, not criticism. In local culture, Authority gives orders and gets griping in return (like the military). When individuals perceive problems, the amount and intensity of the griping rises, but sadly, the level of abstraction does not fall. Authority then takes Measures to ameliorate the griping, which subsides. Since nobody made concrete recommendations the government can act on, the situation soon recurs because the basic problem -- which gripers typically never identify -- is never solved.

A second issue that needs to be pointed out here is that everyone looks for a top down solution to all problems. The hoi polloi do not bootstrap themselves out of their problems. Whatever the DPP failure is, it is a collective failure, something that the Party won't face. Whipping Chen is a convenient way to avoid introspection. It needs to stop. The DPP needs to focus on 2006, where it can win big if it plays its cards properly.

For more on the shifting factions within the DPP, Wandering to Tamshiu summarizes an excellent article. One might ponder the wise observation of the Fulda article there:

The accusation that the DPP is an ideological and inflexible party full of fundamentalists stems from the fact that the party has been mainly perceived in its rampant factionalism and its explicit advocacy of Taiwan Independence (TI) in 1991. At the same time, neither factionalism nor the party's controversial party platform prevented the DPP from adopting pragmatic and flexible policies throughout the 1990s. This is the paradox at the heart of the DPP's existence.

This is the paradox that too many inside and outside the DPP are unwilling to live with.


Tim Maddog said...

She appears not to have done much work...

Right on the money, Michael. As Hille's "reporting" in this piece mirrors that of Mike Chinoy (which usually mirrors the memes of the pan-blues), all that disinformation could very well have been handed to her. (Oops! Did I say that out loud?) As I recall, even the recent China Post and UDN surveys gave Chen a much higher rating than TVBS' (members only?) survey did -- doubly high, as I recall!

First citation is Shen Fu-hsiung...

Taiwan's "Joe Lieberman." I say kick that mofo out of the DPP lickety split!

Her next citation is of an apparently pro-KMT academic [Lin Cho-shui] whose name always appears in such pieces.

My wife is under the impression that Lin is Sisy Chen's ex(-husband? -boyfriend?). Go figure! is not difficult to write with an objective view and tone. So why isn't it done here?

Probably 'cuz it would've gone against her agenda and that of the pan-blues.

Great takedown, Michael. I wonder if TOS will do anything about this "bias in the English-speaking media." Will he ask Hille "to learn and think about what is really happening here"?

Anonymous said...


Lin Cho-Shui is a "pro-KMT academic"? That's news to me. Ok, perhaps Lin is far more level-headed than some of his party colleagues and often lambasts his own party as well as the opposition. Just because he isn't afraid to criticize the party and the president doesn't mean he can be labeled like that!

Short resume:

Michael Turton said...

I think I effed up there. I meant Sheng was the pro-KMT academic. I need to clarify that. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Fact: Chen's popularity is fading, as shown by cited opinion polls.

Perhaps opinion polls are a better measure of the people's values, as Chen only throws his inflammatory rhetoric around during elections. In the calm between the storm, clearer heads tend to prevail.

Fact: The DPP was elected on a platform of clean government, human rights, and improving the system.

They were supposed to clean out authoritarianism, and now you defend their failure by saying that 'everyone is authoritarian'? Spurious at best.

It's sad that the best you can do to defend Chen is to mimic him and insinuate plots and conspiracies by a de-fanged KMT.

Witold Kozlowski said...

Having been following different media sources recently, I would have difficulty in not noticing the dissimilarity of the stories presented in the recent news coverage on Google in China.

On the one hand, Wong's et al article 'China Paints Google Issue as Not Political" seems fairly nuanced and restrained in its message. On the other hand, Kathrin Hille article "Chinese papers: U.S. agenda behind Google row" seems quite damning of the Chinese government.

I would assume that the dissimilarity between the stories stems from either differences in journalistic research (methods or standards) or plain honesty (at the individual or organisational level).

Either way, I am finding the power of the media in influencing opinion extremely disturbing.