Saturday, October 13, 2007

AP. Again. And Again. And Again.

AP strikes again with another warning that Chen Shui-bian is the cause of all problems in the world, from milk chocolate melting in the hand, to the Sun burning up its store of hydrogen someday. The article addresses the living nightmare that is Chen heading up the horrible DPP, which, as everyone knows, provokes China, causes economic decline, and doesn't wash behind the ears. Let's start with that title:

Chen Could Strain Taiwan-China Ties

An insightful beginning! Yes, it's true! Chen could strain Taiwan-China ties. He could also have no real effect on them, since he only has a few more months in office and the DPP regularly changes Chairmen. He could also flap his arms and fly to Tokyo, or angels could fly out of his ass. You can just never tell what will happen.... So our "news" is actually speculative analysis: it's possible that Chen could strain China ties -- yet by constructing the sentence that way, the reporter leaves the impression in the mind that Chen will do so.... which appears to be his/her goal.

Ties as AP constructs them, are passive things -- strained by Chen, but never manipulated by China, whose position is the default position. That China's complaints that "ties are threatened!" might be a bit of policy aimed at shaping media reporting of the Taiwan-China situation is a thought that apparently never crossed our reporter's mind. The article, it should be noted, has no byline.

Now, I will happily concede that Chen is a problem, if the AP reporter also concedes that "strained ties" is a policy of Beijing's and that ties are created equally and jointly between the two parties, in a living and dynamic interaction. But the position taken by this "analysis" is essentially that China's position is nuetral and passive -- poor China is Chen's victim. And as I am wont to observe -- amidst all the "tensions" and "provocation" and "strained ties" the world's busiest air route is between a city in China and a city in Taiwan, and the money flows continue. AP moves on:

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, who favors independence from China, said Thursday that he would become chairman of the island's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, a move expected to strain ties with Beijing even further ahead of next year's elections.


The chairmanship, which became vacant following the resignation last month of Yu Shyi-kun, who was indicted on graft charges, puts Mr. Chen in a position to influence election strategy.

A dazzling observation: the Party Chairman can influence election strategy. No shit, really? Because what, as President and party heavyweight, he had no influence over election strategy?

It's easy to hack on writing like this, whose observations limp home like an elephant with three spears in its flank. But then AP regurgitates that famous theme [cue tap dancers]:

Taiwan and China split in 1949 after Nationalist forces lost the mainland to Mao Zedong's Communists and fled to the island.

I've written AP several times to point out that in 1949 Taiwan was owned by Japan, and what split were the two Leninist parties, the Communists and Nationalists, not "Taiwan" and "China." Max Hirsch over at Kyodo has already demonstrated that an intelligent summary is possible. Can someone else write in to AP, please?

AP then announces:

The Nationalists governed the island for more than five decades until losing power to the DPP in 2000. Beijing, which claims the island, has threatened to attack if Taiwan declares formal independence.

Mr. Chen favors formal independence and rejects calls for direct trade and transportation links with the mainland, fearing they could lead to political integration.

Look at that last clause: fearing they could lead to political integration. Orwell once noted how, in Establishment writing, Latinisms like political integration function as euphemisms for things that cannot be made plain. What Chen fears is not political integration but annexation followed by the destruction of Taiwan's identity and democracy, and the hollowing out of its economy. These are things well worth fearing, but AP cannot name that fear without making Chen's behavior look rational -- which in turn would render nonsense the position of this "analysis" that Chen strains China ties. In other words, to name what Chen fears, AP would have to describe China as a problem -- hence the term political integration, which neatly avoids that.

Note also how the standard presentation Beijing has threatened to attack Taiwan if it declares formal independence functions as an interesting bit of propaganda as well: it describes Beijing's threats in terms of Taiwan's actions -- if Taiwan does A, Beijing will have no choice but to do B. Further, it also limits that threat -- if Taiwan does not do A, Beijing will not have to do B. So as long as Taiwan is not declaring independence, there's no threat. Ergo, we can wave our magic AP wand, and 1,000 missiles, the military buildup, the suppression of Taiwan's international space, and years of threats just disappear. In the world of AP, all is driven by the actions of Taiwan -- China is merely the passive recipient of the decisions of Taiwan's actors. Poor helpless China.....

His pro-independence stance has antagonized China. As DPP chairman, Mr. Chen could toughen the softer approach party presidential candidate Frank Hsieh has adopted.

Mr. Hsieh is promoting closer trade ties with China in hopes of winning over the island's swathe of moderate voters. His main opposition is the Nationalists' Ma Ying-jeou, who advocates direct trade and transportation links and eventual unification with China.

One nice thing about this presentation: the article does not euphemistically say that Ma advocates closer ties with China. It forthrightly states that Ma wants to annex Taiwan to Beijing. Note that unlike Chen's position, Ma's goes uncriticized.

As foreign correspondents have told me, Beijing-centric articles are natural, of course, in an age when China is rising and people are naturally interested in China. However, it's one thing to focus on what's happening in the Middle Kingdom, it's quite another to adopt Beijing's representations of the world as one's own. Shame on AP for not having a more balanced approach.


Anonymous said...

Parallel to your discussion, I thought you'd enjoy reading this article from HK: "Too much democracy is dangerous." I choked on my morning coffee reading it.

Anonymous said...

and again....

the article wasn't too bad until you got to the last 3 sentences - the 'taiwan and china split' meme and the 'rebel province' meme.

I think i will be sending AFP an email.

with regards to the article marc anthony mentioned - i was appalled to read Donald Tsang's views that it was 'democracy' in communist china that led to the cultural revolution.....does this guy have any idea what democracy is?

on the other hand...he was handpicked by communist china to lead HK.

Anonymous said...

going off topic here...but has anyone noticed that the china post website has been attacked by hackers?

go to the home page and you'll see f***ed everywhere...

John Naruwan said...

Mashhood - I must have missed that because all seems normal on teh China Post home page now. Did you get any screenshots?

channing said...

It's always amusing to watch Taiwan fighters bash HK--all of its colonial governors were hand-picked from a country thousands of miles away, and today's CE is elected by 800 local committee members (also elected) that are sympathetic to Beijing just as most upper-society conservatives would naturally be.

Even an angry Jiang Zemin lashed out at reporters for implying that he appointed the CE.

"Sir" Tsang should have a slight idea of democracy--as any educated person and any British Knight should. If Beijing is as influential in HK as people believe, then in Tsang's case it is also more pragmatic than ideological in its choices.

Despite all that, Tsang's comment was highly irrational and unbecoming of his education, experience and status. Nobody even in mainland China would make this kind of comparison when debating democracy--Tsang's apology came none too soon amid a city-wide uproar.