Monday, September 27, 2010

The Economist Completely Blows It

No wonder people read blogs.

The Economist, in the midst of an otherwise sturdy Establishment-style article on the entirely artificial spat over the Senkakus, suddenly belched up:
China maintains that the uninhabited islands were seized by Japan when it took over Taiwan at the end of a war between the two countries in 1895. Taiwan was handed back to China at the end of the second world war, but the islands remained under the control of the Americans, who administered them as part of the Okinawa island chain. America handed Okinawa back to Japan in 1972, including the Senkakus. Japan says the islands have always been Japanese. America takes no position on the rival sovereignty claims. But it has said that its defence treaty with Japan applies to the islands.
Wow is this ever awful. I noted some of this in a comment I left there and a complaint on the site, but I am placing it here as well.

1. Taiwan was not "handed back" to China at the end of WWII. The San Francisco Peace Treaty does not name a recipient of Taiwan's sovereignty precisely because the Powers did not want either Chinese government to have the island. To this day it is the policy of the US and Japan that the status of Taiwan is undetermined. In fact a representative of Japan to Taiwan was expelled last year after reminding the KMT government of that fact. This is all available online and should be second nature. As an aside, it is astounding the number of media reps out here who do not bother to look this stuff up.

2. Taiwan was not "handed back" to China because it had never been part of any ethnic Chinese emperor's China, but had only been a colony of the Qing empire (and only part of it, at that). Until the late 1930s Taiwan was generally considered not part of China by the Chinese themselves -- just as the Senkakus were not considered part of China. By writing like this, the media abets China's drive to inflate itself out to the old Qing borders. Imagine how everyone would laugh if Ankara suddenly started to claim Jordan because both belonged to the Ottoman Empire. But that is exactly what is happening here.

3. History: Japan took the Senkakus in January of 1895 after about a decade of considering it. The treaty ending the Sino-Japanese War and conceding Taiwan was not signed until April. The Japanese did not completely occupy Taiwan for many months afterward. The seizure of the Senkakus had nothing to do with the seizure of Taiwan. It is irrelevant "what China maintains" since that is false. The media cannot strike a balance between truth and lies; no such balance exists. By repeating this falsehood without identifying it as such, and presenting it as if readers should consider it seriously, The Economist merely enhances it.

4. History: Japan does not say the islands "have always been Japanese." That is totally wrong. Japan's position is that when they were occupied in 1895, no one claimed them. See their response to Kristof, especially point 1.

5. History: until 1968 both the PRC and ROC considered the Senkakus to be Japanese and all their maps and documents said so. Suddenly, when oil was announced beneath the Senkakus in 1968, both Chinese governments manufactured a claim to them. It would be great if someone somewhere in the media actually mentioned this history aloud.

It is one thing to attempt to find a balance between Tokyo and Beijing, but it is quite another to act as though there is a balance midway between fact and fiction. There isn't one. The Economist owes it to its readers to correct Beijing's false claims, especially those made in the context of its burgeoning expansionism. What a massive fail.

The media presentations, which focus on Beijing's ire, are by default, Beijing-centric -- because Beijing is the actor that is flailing about, making noise and cutting off heads. Japan's quiet, classy response isn't presented as a positive policy, but merely means that Japan's response gets fewer mentions and less emphasis. Worse, the media acts as though "tensions" are like gravity, without human agency behind them.
In recent days tensions have risen to a point where China’s leaders refuse even to meet their Japanese counterparts and are threatening worse to come.
Imagine if The Economist had written the facts instead of giving a "balanced" presentation -- that tension occurs because human beings choose for it to occur:
In recent days Beijing has ramped up tensions a point where China’s leaders refuse even to meet their Japanese counterparts and are threatening worse to come.
...because Japan has done absolutely nothing to increase tensions. Arresting a fishing boat captain for twice ramming Japanese vessels in Japanese waters is perfectly legal.

And recall that Chinese fishing boats have been subjected to far worse by other countries, but Beijing did not put on a show like this. This is all about abusing Japan to test its relationship with the US and to score points with nationalist crowd at home, as well as perfect tactics for use in other disputes.
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Anonymous said...

"Taiwan was not "handed back" to China at the end of WWII."

I absolutely agree with you. I usually respect the views of the Economist, but that's a ridiculous statement.

It may be a warning about the state of the world today, though: the other day I was registering for a website and the closest match on the drop-down list for my country of residence was "Taipei, China". Really?

Anonymous said...

Michael, that's a terrific and reasoned response you provided those wise heads at the Economist. I hope someone there takes the trouble to look up the history. The tendency of even sceptically inclined news organs to regurgitate Beijing's bull points never ceases to amaze.

My sense of what's been going on with this flare-up falls back on that old cliche for "understanding" China: face. Firstly, it's unlikely the whole incident was a CCP-manufactured charade. Anyone could have foreseen that both sides would be losers in the conflict, and as you and others have pointed out it is possible that China has turned out the bigger loser in the long run. Once events started to unfold in the media eye, Zhongnanhai must have spotted the risk of a serious outbreak of national cognitive dissonance: The world bows to us, but in our own front yard the dwarf pirates have the nerve to try and prosecute one of our brave seafarers. Does not compute! Does not compute! Either the dwarves have made a serious mistake which they will be forced to grovellingly account for, or our Alpha-Male Communist Party has been lying to us -- about the Diaoyu Islands being part of China and who knows what else.

The Politburo, no doubt egged on by increasingly untameable forces in the PLA, was bounced into its hysterical reaction by fear that "the people" were about to see through the Party's lies. The CCP was petrified of losing face in front of the home audience.

That Party has a fragile ego. My guess is that it also has a weaker grip on power than most suppose.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks Don. I think the Party deeply feels its lack of legitimacy, and Japan makes a nice diversion from rising income inequality, etc.

Okami said...

Michael Turton going on about the inaccuracy of the news media in such a way that you'd almost think he was a Tea Party member. Welcome to my world.

I tired of The Economist after the John Kerry endorsement. I've refused to buy an issue since.

Michael Turton said...

Yeah, but Okami the Economist was right. Bush was an eight year long disaster which the US will be a generation recovering from.

Greg said...

Michael, I am puzzled as to why you make the distinction that Taiwan had "never been part of any --ethnic-- Chinese emperor's China ... " (emphasis mine); my puzzlement is around the fact that the Qings were not Han Chinese ini the context of today's debate. Are you trying to imply that this somehow reduces the legitimacy of the current ruling regime in China's claim on Taiwan? Because Han Chinese just happened to not have been in power at that time?

Michael Turton said...

Firstly, it's unlikely the whole incident was a CCP-manufactured charade.

Hmmm.... I'm thinking maybe the fishing boat captain wanted to be a hero, and will receive some private correction from the China government once this blows over.

Michael Turton said...

Because there wasn't any China, it was the Manchu Empire, run by Manchus, whom the Chinese treated as usurpers and outsiders, as did the Manchus themselves. Until 1911. When the Manchus suddenly became Chinese so that the modern state could grab their domain.

Tim Maddog said...

Michael, you wrote a couple of variations on this theme:
- - -
What a massive fail.
- - -

If you see all the promulgators of such nonsense as paid propagandists instead, they are actually rather successful. (The PRC government are masters of mendacious media manipulation!)

It's certainly not that they don't know this stuff. People like you and I have written directly to editors on countless occasions (and I hope the 5:10 PM anonymous did so regarding that "Taipei, China" crap), yet the carefully-formulated drivel continues to appear unabated.

As for your clarification of the facts which provide the background to this story, you've done a superb job, Michael!

Tim Maddog

Michael Turton said...

Thanks Tim!

Greg said...

I guess I would ask "so what?" ... transitions of power happen all the time throughout history and often times, changes in sovereign boundaries accompany these transitions. The Manchu ethnicity of the Qing - and specifically the fact that it is not Han - is not a factor, IMO, in arguing against legitimacy claims by its predecessors.

Michael Turton said...

I disagree, so I'll continue to use it. It's a component of a counter to the Qing=China argument.

Anonymous said...

For all intents and purposes, the Qing was China. The real situation as far as the majority of the world (including govts of the world) is concerned is that they were one and the same. You're not going to get far arguing otherwise.

It's like socialists arguing that real socialism has never been tried on a national scale. Technically they're correct, it hasn't, but it's not an argument they'll ever win.

Michael Turton said...

Minds can be changed. It's one quiver in my bow. There are many.

jerome in vals said...

@ anon 11:46
Right, the Powers treated with (Man)Qing as China. Qing was their China. That does not mean your China.

Yours was born in reaction to the ailing Manchu colonizer. Your han forefathers were a colonized breed under a mellowing Manchu oligarchy living the grand life in Beijing.

From now on you will go by the handle name a-9 (a-kew). And grow that queue that I have a better hold when I need to shake reason in your blighted minkuk mind.

Anonymous said...

"It's one quiver in my bow."

Dude, you won't be shooting well then. One ARROW in my QUIVER.

LOL. I know it was just a mistake...but I can't resist.

Michael Turton said...

Haha to quivers. Oy ve.

Anonymous said...

I see. So Qing was not China according to Michael Turton and his loony followers. I wonder why the British handed Hong Kong back to PRC and why the Portuguese government handed Macau back to PRC. Did the British and Portuguese governments know less you, Michael Turton, know.

mike said...

"The tendency of even sceptically inclined news organs to regurgitate Beijing's bull points never ceases to amaze."

That's presumably because you don't understand where such septically lined news organs wrapped as "newspapers" have come from.

"Bush was an eight year long disaster which the US will be a generation recovering from."

There's no reason for you to confuse your own personal recovery from Bush with that of the U.S. Turton, and besides, Bush's very worst policies have not merely been continued under the present administration, but accelerated to the point of hyperbole, the consequences of which will have the likes of Krugman and those underfed overgrades at the Economist licking their lips with words like "unfortunate" in the months and years to come.

Dixteel said...

Nicely done, Mr. Turton. is the "Economists." They should leave their nose out of the history and stay within their circle of competence so they don't make themselves look like a bunch of fools. Or at least they should do their "due diligence," as they like to call it, on some factual history.

anonymous no. 2 or 3 said...

Is it really so important, whether Qing was China or not and whether Taiwan ever belonged to China or not? Isn't it sufficient first, that Japan didn't hand back to Taiwan to anyone in particular and second, that a huge majority of Taiwanese doesn't want unification with China?

D said...

Thanks for the cheat-sheet on the Senkakus. That will come in handy.

I think the heart of the PRC claim for the Senkakus is really the same as their claim for Taiwan. There are two important elements. The first is "grievance": that is, the idea that China has been abused by the world powers for the last 150 years, and especially Japan in the early 20th century. To someone in that mindset, Taiwan and the Senkakus have been "stolen" and both must be returned in order for the national dignity to be assuaged.

The second is geopolitics. China, and the PLA especially, wants direct access to the Pacific and that really can only be had by taking Taiwan (and/or the Senkakus as an intermediate step; of course they want the South China sea for the same reason, hence the recent expansion of "core interests"). Economic considerations exist, but I think those are relatively easy to work out.


D said...

The first reason will be dismissed by the green-shirt fascists as "simply wrong". But I think it's wrong to do so. The PRC should stop playing up nationalist sentiments, but there are nationalist sentiments there for them to work with and they are not going to go away just because they are "wrong". It is going to take a lot of dialog to lead them, or at least some prominent voices, down a path of forward-looking responsibility. They are not madmen. They are trauma patients.

The second reason is easily dismissed if you don't want to see the PRC (or rather the CCP) hold more power in the world than it currently does. If you're anti-American hegemony, maybe you should consider that alternative. But from the PRC perspective, it might be rational to want to be in control. I say "might" because one could argue that actually it's more in their interest to just let the US continue playing referee, even if it means being unable to take over Taiwan. Still, the desire for Taiwan is not insane, or even greedy. It is a matter of "national interest" for them. It's just that a) we don't agree with their national interests, and b) we don't think their national interests should trump the interests of the people of Taiwan. The second point might have some traction as an argument with PRC supporters.

As for the Senkakus, they'll just have to accept that by "international law" (not exactly an infallible standard) they probably belong to Japan. But Michael, is there really much difference between the current China claiming things that were conquered by the Qing and the current Japan claiming acquisitions of their imperial former self? The difference seems to be what the people in those areas want/need (there being no people in the Senkakus...); the history is not insignificant, but it is tangential.

mike said...

"They should leave their nose out of the history and stay within their circle of competence..."

You don't understand Dixteel - distortion, sleight of hand and even outright political propagandizing is within the Economists' "circle of competence". It is the first order of business they attend to and they have been doing it for well over a decade at least.

mike said...

"They are not madmen. They are trauma patients."

That may be true of the Chinese people generally, but whether it is true of the CCP is debatable, since it was very largely the CCP itself which inflicted the trauma upon the Chinese people.

cephaloless said...

"Arresting a fishing boat captain for twice ramming Japanese vessels in Japanese waters is perfectly legal."

Just out of curiosity and because I'm too lazy to poke around the internet myself, wouldn't a chinese (or any other nationality) fishing boat captain be subject to arrest and prosecution in japan if it rams a japanese coast guard vessel regardless of whose water they may be floating through at the time?

Anonymous said...

The Economist is a Rothschild rag. They're happy to gin up any trifle that might lead to the family bidness making a few NT of war profiteering goodness. If the world lived on facts Iraq would still be under Saddam's boot, and Archduke Ferdinand would be just another dead nobleman. It's only the propagandists who deride bloggers. Love the site, I've spent hours here so far.