Monday, December 08, 2008

One FEER, Two Taiwans

Sometimes something comes along in the print media that is so awful, so totally unconsidered, so utterly uninformed about reality on The Beautiful Isle, you can hardly believe that a major news magazine printed it. Thus it is with John Copper's priceless discussion of the Ma Administration in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Ma Leads Taiwan's Comeback. No, I'm not making that up, that is an actual title that an editor fully cognizant of reality put into a piece on Ma Ying-jeou. Copper has been pro-KMT for as long as I have been reading his stuff, or going on twenty years now, so it is pretty clear why the divorce from reality is so vast. I can only offer you all a taste:

Not surprisingly given Mr. Chen's pro-independence background, relations with China were tense during his presidency. However, U.S.-Taiwan relations, which many observers said had never been better at the start of the Bush administration, also deteriorated. After the 9/11 attacks, China joined the U.S. in the war on terrorism and U.S.-China relations improved. The Bush administration did not appreciate Mr. Chen provoking conflicts with China when the U.S. was preoccupied with the Middle East. Washington also abhorred Mr. Chen's ethnic politics, which weakened Taiwan's military and intelligence capabilities that the U.S. considered valuable. By the end of Mr. Chen's term, U.S. officials were publicly opposing his efforts to gain representation in the United Nations through referendums.

The crises in Taiwan's relations with both countries presented opportunities for Mr. Ma. Officials in Beijing were willing to deal with him. They were relieved that Mr. Chen was gone, though privately some "appreciated" him for wrecking Taiwan's economy, thus making the island more dependent on China, while creating chaos that sullied Taiwan's democratic model.

You can see that Copper simply regurgitates pro-KMT political claims, including the idea that Chen "provokes" China -- as we all know, China chooses to be provoked in order to influence the way foreigners look at Chen; the idea that Chen was the sole player of ethnic politics -- they are an invention of the KMT, and of course, the idea that Chen "wrecked" an economy that grew at 4.6%, 5.7%, and 6.0% for the last 30 months of his Administration is sheer nonsense. The lack of context is striking as well. This is beyond pathetic; this is a never-never land of KMT fairy tales. It's a shame that FEER choose to publish it. The stream of factual errors is mind-numbing:

All seemed to be going well until October when Chinese envoy Zhang Mingqing was accosted during a visit to Taiwan. A local opposition politician in south Taiwan, where civil behavior is less prevalent and Taiwan's independence feelings are stronger, pushed Mr. Zhang to the ground and jumped on his vehicle in front of television cameras.

It's arguable whether the local DPP politician pushed Zhang to the ground, but there is no question that he didn't jump on his car (that was someone else). Did you catch the quasiethnic slur? " south Taiwan, where civil behavior is less prevalent..." No mention -- it goes without saying -- that Zhang has threatened to murder Taiwanese who don't agree with his politics. But his behavior is "civil." UPDATE: And let's not forget, the riots in the north after the 2000 and 2004 elections, in which a prominent KMT legislator led an assault on a government building. That was an example of northern civility at its best...

One more paragraph ought to suffice:

Despite all this good news, a downturn in the global economy dashed hopes that the new administration could expeditiously set the economy back on a pattern of strong growth. In new democracies like Taiwan, the electorate typically quickly becomes disappointed with new leaders. Mr. Ma's popularity fell for both reasons, prompting the opposition to attack him on the issue of Taiwan's sovereignty.

Reality is the exact opposite: that the economy was doing reasonably well until the KMT took power, though the subsequent collapse of the stock market and other assorted problems were beyond their control. But the public is not unhappy because things are hard. Rather, the people have awarded Ma approval ratings lower than George Bush's because the Ma Administration has failed to show leadership on the urgent issues of the day, instead focusing on China policy to the exclusion of all else. And let's not forget that title: Ma leads Taiwan Comeback -- but as anyone who has read the more informed and balanced discussions of our local politics knows, Ma is not exactly running things. That's the Old Guard of the KMT...

It's one thing when sheer unmitigated you-have-to-read-it-to-believe-it-crap like this appears in the United Daily News; but quite another when it appears in FEER. What on earth were they thinking?

It is interesting to contrast, in both depth of knowledge, attitude, tone, and journalistic stance, the piece that appeared in the same issue of FEER by Julian Baum, reporting on the recent spate of detentions. Baum's article is much too long to discuss here as it deserves, but some highlights:

On the case of Dr. Hsieh and the Tainan Science Park vibration dampening project:

During his detention, meetings with his lawyer were observed by prison guards who took notes, and recorded and videotaped their discussions. If not for some crucial documents that the prosecutors overlooked, Mr. Shieh says he could not have mounted a credible defense, since he had no access to the confiscated materials. Two years later on July 30, 2008, all the defendants were acquitted. In a 148-page verdict, the judge ruled that there was no basis for the charges and Mr. Shieh and the others were completely exonerated.

and this:

While not arguing for Mr. Chen's guilt or innocence, many observers have questioned the necessity of his handcuffing and detention, which publicly signified guilt and humiliation and produced the dramatic images of a fallen leader for the national press. "There clearly exists a contradiction between the presumption of innocence on the one hand and the system of pretrial detention on the other," wrote lawyer Lin Feng-cheng of the Judicial Reform Foundation. Following Mr. Chen's detention, the foundation issued a statement recommending that the pretrial detention practice be curtailed. "This is an issue that can no longer be evaded," the statement said.

The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, an influential voice on matters of human rights, has also protested the detention law, calling it a basic violation of due process and the rule of law. And the church called attention to the problem of pretrial publicity and "trial by press" which weakens defendants and violates the rule of presumption of innocence.

Some observers say that this may be the most serious shortcoming of Taiwan's criminal-justice process, since the selective public revelation of information in defendants' case files brings pressure on prosecutors and defames the defendant in ways that acquittal cannot reverse. The rule on public disclosure authorizes limited access during the investigation phase of a case. But a defense attorney in an ongoing investigation said the prosecutor in his case often briefed the press, while he himself was he warned not to disclose information.

Prompt justice may be another casualty in the recent anticorruption campaign. The U.S. State Department's 2007 human rights report on Taiwan noted that the typical delay between indictment and trial is only three months. But former first lady, Ms. Wu, was indicted in November 2006 on charges of document fraud and embezzlement involving the "state affairs fund," a loosely regulated presidential office slush fund. Two years later, her trial had not had yet begun, amid speculation that the prosecutor's case is weak and that other investigations are likely to lead to more serious charges. Her husband's indictment as a co-defendant in the case is expected by the end of 2008. Meanwhile, a number of cases involving senior KMT officials are on hold, some delayed for years.
Well, one piece a one-sided, completely propagandistic view of things; the other a nuanced and informed discussion of recent unhealthy trends on the island. Which one is the real Taiwan?

Also in the news, finally, are the Wild Strawberries. The Wild Strawberries protest against the Assembly and Parade Law and other issues made the international news media with a report from the International Herald Tribune.

About 3,000 Taiwanese college students marched in the capital Sunday to protest a law that they say limits people's constitutional right to demonstrate freely.

The students, many in black shirts symbolizing impaired human rights, shouted slogans as they paraded in a downtown district with police and government buildings.

They protested a law that requires police approval of public gatherings and demanded that demonstrators be allowed to stage protests as they wish. They said the current law gives police too much power to bar protests.

The group ignored police officers who held up signs ordering them to disperse for failing to obtain approval.

I heard from reliable witnesses that about 7-8000 students were there (I was not so don't know), and they had a coffin draped with the ROC flag. Tomorrow, December 9, from 7 to 10:45 there is a Human Rights Day Concert in Taipei at Nameinflux Hall AKA Liberty Square AKA CKS Memorial.


Robert R. said...

Freedom square, supposedly

Anonymous said...

Bejesus! is that the same J. Copper of "Taiwan, Nation State or Province?" - my first introduction to the beautiful isle ...sad sad sad

David said...

The concert on Tuesday night is at Freedom Square.

Unfortunately the FEER articles seem to be only accessible by subscribers, but thanks for pointing them out. I can hunt them down in the library.

skiingkow said...


In that news about the Wild Strawberries were factual errors as well. I'll quote the International Herald Tribune first:

They have agreed to halt the protests after Sunday's demonstration because lawmakers said they would debate the issue in the Legislature.

And now the China Post,

Students end sit-in with demonstration

College students demanding the right to hold public demonstrations without restrictions decided to end their month-long sit-in after staging a march in Taipei yesterday.
They agreed yesterday to halt the sit-in protests at the Liberty Square in the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park.

Student leaders said they will pull out from the square and concentrate on working out new tactics to continue pushing their cause.

This is completely false. The Wild Strawberries did not halt the sit-in on Sunday. So, either someone gave the reporters the wrong information, or they are making things up out of thin air.


Dixteel said...

hmm...i think sometimes it's just can't be helped. a lot of older people have much harder time changing their views. For example two 40-ish friend of mine still call me Chinese sometimes after I told them it's better if he call and consider me Taiwanese. They don't mean ill intention and I can understand when they are little they probably never heard of Taiwan and consider everyone from Taiwan Chinese. Back then even most people in Taiwan think themselves Chinese and think ROC represent China, due to KMT education and policy. Younger people have less problem changing their view and habit of thoughts.

I think Mr. Copper is one of those that has difficulty changing his habit of thoughts, thus the distorted view I think. Hopefully the newer generations can have better understanding.

Anonymous said...

All I have to say to Copper is this.

In case that's not clear or your misled by the caption, see this.

Tim Maddog said...

Michael wrote:
- - -
[...] so awful, so totally unconsidered, so utterly uninformed about reality on The Beautiful Isle, you can hardly believe that a major news magazine printed it.
- - -

It's easy to believe. All you have to do is understand that some people get paid -- by someone with an agenda and a set of talking points -- to write that kind of stuff. That is just about the only thing that would explain the "lack of context," the "stream of factual errors," the "quasiethnic slur," and more.

But you also wrote:
- - -
It's arguable whether the local DPP politician pushed Zhang to the ground [...]
- - -

I don't think it's arguable. Wang Ting-yu helped Zhang up. It's pretty clear he didn't push him.

Notice, too, that the IHT piece is really an AP piece (which the Taiwan News also carried). Since it has no byline, we can only wonder who wrote it.

Regarding the supposed halting of the sit-in, Talking Show (大話新聞) host Cheng Hung-yi (鄭弘儀) said on Saturday night that he got a text message from somebody in the blue media (he didn't name the person) making that claim and that a spokesperson for the Wild StrawBerries denied it. (I'll post another comment if I can narrow down where in the show he talked about it.)

As far as the number of protesters, check out this video/slideshow and see what fraction of the crowd "3,000" is. There's a nice shot of the crowd at the 4:35 mark if you don't want to watch the whole thing.

Tim Maddog

Anonymous said...

If you look in John Copper's references, you'll notice the majority of his citation are either from the various publications from the GIO... or himself.

Anonymous said...

The China Post seems to have a different opinion re the Presbyterian Church than Julian Baum:

"The Presbyterian Church on Taiwan has been meddling in China’s domestic politics for nearly a century. It has driven a wedge between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan by instilling hatred for mainland Chinese in the hearts and minds of Chinese on Taiwan. In their fanatical quest to divide China, pastors of the Presbyterian Church have even advocated violating the Ninth Commandment, which states: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.""

You can read the whole hate-filled editorial here (including references to the KKK and Nazis):

Tommy said...

"I think Mr. Copper is one of those that has difficulty changing his habit of thoughts, thus the distorted view I think."

Hmm... I don't think that describes it. It is one thing to let fall a "Chinese" here or there, but it is quite another to promote the KMT myths that the DPP wrecked the economy, was nightmarish in terms of ethnic politics, and provoked China and to imply that people in southern Taiwan are simply less civilised. This guy's writing reads like something out of the China Post. Then again, it pains me to note that many still think that the China Post is a reliable source. For example, Realclearpolitics and Realclearworld both regularly add China Post articles and editorials to their headline lists.

Anonymous said...

"It has driven a wedge between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan by instilling hatred for mainland Chinese in the hearts and minds of Chinese on Taiwan."
OMG, this sounds like it was taken straight out of the People's Daily.
That's exactly why I hate that stupid blue rag the China Post. Not only are all their wire reports full of spelling and grammar errors for some bizarre reason, but they always take petty swipes at A-bian or his family, which gets really tiresome. Take this recent article for an example. They go out of their way to insinuate that Chen was elected by a fluke - even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the article.
After Chen was elected as Taipei mayor, helped by the splitting of votes for two candidates in the Kuomintang camp, Ma successively held the positions as director of the Mayor's office, chief of the Department of Information, and deputy secretary general of the Taipei City Government.
After Chen won the presidential election in 2000 again due to the division of the KMT, Ma became director of the president's office and was later promoted to deputy presidential secretary general.

As the China Times was the only newspaper to exist through the Martial Law era there's not much doubt about which color Kool Aid they constantly spew.

Anonymous said...

This is why the China Times group can't make money. The bother putting out this kind of garbage. The good news is they lose so much money each year that it is becoming unsustainable...

Anonymous said...

Stop Ma said: either someone gave the reporters the wrong information, or they are making things up out of thin air.

Or, their all about to be arrested for illegal assembly...

Tim Maddog said...

A follow-up to my earlier comment...

The thing I mentioned about Talking Show (大話新聞) starts at the 7:52 mark in this part. And to correct what I said earlier, it wasn't from a text message to Cheng Hung-yi, but rather many blue media sources quoting a single blue media source which is, according to Cheng, "very loyal to the Ma government" (效忠馬英九的政府).

Just like with the Copper piece, that's the way they do it.

Tim Maddog

Anonymous said...

Something to watch for... I have noticed a few news outlets reported that the people attacking Zhang were from the "opposition DPP".

Journalists need to be sure to avoid equating any anti-KMT or anti China action as being DPP. I don't think there was any evidence which linked the protesters directly to the party.

Anonymous said...

KMT was a separate organism in 1949 but as we all know is now organically connected to the Han body that is a part of the ethnic Taiwanese population.

In that light, we must accept the fact that those 'by products' or intermingled Taiwanese offspring are going to have mixed feelings about all things Taiwanese.

To berate the KMT is understandable. To see the activities of old soldier's offspring in the true light of their criminal activities is also understandable.

Chiang was a dope dealer. That legacy continues and Taiwan is a major transit for the dope from the golden triangle where the KMT generated much of their operating capital.

All of that is a part of Taiwan.

Anonymous said...

Michael wrote:
- - -
[...] so awful, so totally unconsidered, so utterly uninformed about reality on The Beautiful Isle, you can hardly believe that a major news magazine printed it.
- - -

If he were a conservative he would be completely unsurprised. Major news magazines regularly right articles that are awful, unconsidered, and uninformed. It's just what they do.

Anonymous said...

Anyone can understand that--every nation has to look after its interests. But Arias couldn't help knocking Taiwan, as the International Business Times explained in an article titled "Costa Rica criticizes Taiwan as stingy.