Friday, February 16, 2007

Beijing Correspondent Actually on top of things

I often complain about Beijing correspondents and their utter lack of understanding of Taiwan, but Rowan Callick at The Australian offers an article that is a rare exception to that rule.

The indictment of Taiwan's charismatic opposition leader Ma Ying-jeou for embezzling $420,000 has thrown into further turmoil an already turbulent political scene there.

The wife of President Chen Shui-bian was indicted last year for corruption, and prosecutors said that only the President's immunity prevented him from being charged too.

In both cases, the leaders have fallen foul of funds placed at their personal disposal.

In the President's case, this was a fund intended for secret diplomacy - for courting countries, including Pacific Island nations, to recognise Taipei rather than Beijing.

In Mr Ma's case, it was a fund allocated to him as then mayor of Taipei for discretionary outlays relating to his work, such as contributions for funerals for prominent citizens.

The heads of all government departments are granted similar allowances, and investigations are now likely to multiply.

Commentators in Taiwan are divided as to whether the recent prosecutions illustrate the exemplary independence and toughness of the courts, or their politicisation.

Cahill appears to be aware that Ma has actually taken the money, what the money is for, and the difference between the Chen case and the Ma case. It's unusual to see a Beijing correspondent do so well (compare this awful piece from J. Watts of the Guardian)

One item that is commonly stated about Ma by both local and international media is this:

The prosecutors are alleging that Mr Ma - a Harvard-trained lawyer....

Is Ma a lawyer? Last I heard he never passed Taiwan's tough bar exam.

Unfortunately the article still makes pro forma claims about China and Taiwan:

If Mr Ma beats the charges and goes on to defeat the DPP's candidate - at this stage likely to be hard-working Premier Su Tseng-chang - he would be unlikely to champion what Beijing calls reunification.

But China could at least be confident the status quo will be maintained, whereby Taiwan does not step from de facto independence to claim formal independence.

Mr Chen is edging towards this, with new moves to change the names of government corporations from "China" to "Taiwan". The postage stamps will from February 28 use the name Taiwan, not the Republic of China.

"At least China could be confident..." Isn't it time for correspondents to acknowledge that Taiwan has a point of view too? We only hear about what China thinks....balance, please! Note how the correspondent places the onus on that horrible Chen Shui-bian for changing the status quo by changing the name of the Post Office. Apparently China increasing the missiles facing Taiwan by 100 annually has no effect on the status quo and need not be mentioned in any context where the status quo might be threatened by name changes. I can imagine what conversations must sound like in the offices of pundits around the globe:
SMITH: Did you hear? The Chinese dropped a nuke on Taipei.
JONES: well, just as long as they didn't change the status quo.
Still, despite its adherence to journalistic convention on China, it shows a pretty good knowledge of the issues surrounding Ma Ying-jeou.

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