Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Week of Media Fails: FT now

It's been a bad week for the media out here in East Asia. I blogged a couple of days ago, briefly, on the total lack of skepticism in reporting on the KMT Administration's "new questions" in the Chen assassination. Obama's trip to China has also caused Beijing and Washington bureaus to screw up majorly on US policy toward Taiwan. Both Reuters and AP mistakenly insisted that the US thinks China owns Taiwan. It doesn't look like Reuters is going to change its extremely misleading headline. AP, however, did much better, changing "...Washington's "one-China" policy, which views Taiwan as part of China" to "...Washington's "one-China" policy, which acknowledges China's position that Taiwan is part of its territory." A paragraph was also added to the corrected version to explain Washington's position. Excellent work, AP!

Amidst these failures comes a truly shameful ethical lapse on the part of Financial Times in hosting a piece by one Bill Owens. Just a taste:
It is often politically expedient to paint China as an adversary, or worse, a future enemy. Our national security apparatus is aiming to continue the present level of defence spending and emphasising 30-year-old legislation that is doing more harm than good.

The Taiwan Relations Act was passed in 1979 after the establishment of relations with the People’s Republic of China and the breaking of relations with the Republic of China. It is the basis on which we continue to sell arms to Taiwan, an act that is not in our best interest.

A thoughtful review of this outdated legislation is warranted and would be viewed by China as a genuine attempt to set a new course for a relationship that can develop into openness, trust and even friendship.
Who is Bill Owens? FT tells us: Retired Admiral Bill Owens is a former vice-chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. Clearly presented as a disinterested expert who only has the best interests of the US in mind.

I've blogged many times before about how advocates for US China policy positions are presented in the media as experts speaking from lofty perches, when they are actually businessmen involved in the China trade (here, here, and don't miss Ken Silverstein's excellent article on the issue, and Carsten Holz's FEER piece). Former vice-chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Bill Owens is no exception. Let me pass along a friend's comments:
"After leaving the military, Owens served as president, chief operating officer and vice chairman of Science Applications International Corporation ("SAIC"). Recently SAIC provided tsunami warning buoys to China.

On April 28, 2004, Owens became the chief executive officer of Nortel, where he had previously served on the board of directors since February 2002. Owens stepped in to replace Frank Dunn, who was fired following an investigation into financial reporting. Owens served until November 15, 2005. Nortel is HEAVILY onvested in China.

On April 1, 2006, Owens became the Chairman and CEO of AEA Holdings Asia overseeing all Private Equity, and Real Estate investments in Asia.

Admiral Owens is also a chairman of privately held Intelius, an information commerce company based in Bellevue, Washington. Intelius is currently expanding into China.
There is absolutely nothing unethical about a businessman advocating a particular policy position, namely, that Taiwan be sold out to China so that he can make heaping amounts of cash in the China trade. FT would have done nothing wrong had it clearly identified Owens as connected to a number of firms currently expanding in the China trade. The ethical breach occurs when the knowledge of his investments in the region he is advocating policy for is withheld from the reader and instead he is presented as if he were solely an analyst. It is sad that after numerous exposures of this sick practice in both the print and broadcast media (the latest major one that of Peter Galbraith), that this practice continues. Until our media improves, our democracy won't.

UPDATE: Taiwan Link has an awesome piece on Owens, missiles, etc.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Tommy said...

The interesting thing is that recent polls have shown that over 70 percent of Americans view China as an economic threat and 51 percent view the Chinese as a military threat. It is a small group of special interests and academics that are so loudly trumpeting the "China is our friend" line. Sound familiar?

Anonymous said...

Wow, so dirty. I hope US military men have more honor than to surreptitiously lobby for a country that is potentially in conflict with the US. If they are so easily bought off, we are in a lot of trouble.

The Chinese pulled a really ugly one in Shanghai at Obama's speech the other day. Supposedly a Taiwanese businessman in China wanted to ask Obama, "he is very worried about Obama selling weapons to Taiwan". Turns out, that question was supposedly left online by a "Taiwanese internet user" and read aloud to Obama. But the media coverage of that doesn't raise any of the skepticism of the identity of the asker. Can't believe China tried to play Obama like that. I really, really hope his advisors explain to him what happened.

Tim Maddog said...

If, by "Excellent work, AP!" you mean they did a great job of "在大馬路上打人,卻在小巷內道歉" ("Beat someone on a big street, apologize in a back alley"), then I agree wholeheartedly.

I hope you noticed that AP still has the big lie saying that "Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949" as the second sentence of their article. It states it as a fact -- despite the fact that Taiwan wasn't part of China in 1949 -- and that negates any of the goodness with which their update may imbue that particular article.

AP also repeats the claim about "a question submitted on the Internet from a person in Taiwan" when it is rather dubious that a student in Shanghai would be so concerned on behalf of a Taiwanese businessperson. (Actually, the questioner claimed that the person was "on the mainland [sic].")

Apologizing is a good thing, but in consideration of all the harm AP has done (and continues to do) to Taiwan and to the truth, they've got a helluva long way to go before they reach "Excellent."

Tim Maddog

Anonymous said...

Owens also worked closely with a Beijing front organization in Hong Kong, the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, to enlist a handful of prominent retired four star admiral and generals to engage in a dialogue with counterparts from the PLA. Leading the PLA group was Xiong Guangkai, former head of the PLA's intelligence, foreign policy, and propaganda apparatus. This was the so-called "Sanya Initiative." See

Besides Owens, the U.S. side for the Sanya Initiative included Gen. Ronald R. Fogelman (former Chief of Staff of the Air Force), Gen. Charles E. Wilhelm (retired US Marine Corps and former Southern Command commander) and Gen. John M. Keane (former Army Vice Chief of Staff).

Last year at CSIS, this group of influential four stars called for abandoning the restrictions on military-to-military relations between China and the U.S. Owens was at the center of it, and played a role in getting it going.

But Owens' call for abandoning the Taiwan Relations Act transcends his business interests and those of his company, AEA Investors. The possibility of him playing an active role in a Chinese influence campaign directed at the United States deserves close Congressional scrutiny.

As an aside, the Owens op-ed just so happens to coincide with a call from Senator John McCain to examine ethically questionable behavior of retired U.S. general and flag officers. A Senate investigation should should start with the esteemed (not) Admiral Bill Owens.

janice said...

On a related note, be sure to check out Ch. 4, Sec. 2 ("China's External Propaganda and Influence Operations") of the newly released 2009 annual report by the U.S. China Commission, particularly pages 298-300 and accompanying endnotes 205-218, which examines the self-censorship among U.S. academics resulting from China's carrot-and-stick tactics.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks, anon. I've heard similar things about Canada too.