Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Reuters is... still Reuters

Rivers in full bore this week.

Salieri: How... Did my work please you?
Mozart: I never knew that music like that was possible!
Salieri: You flatter me.
Mozart: No, no! One hears such sounds, and what can one say but... Salieri!

The strongest spring rains in decades have caused agricultural losses over $2 million US, with thousands of households affected by flooding and water shortages. Unfortunately that is not enough, human scum are preying on the unsuspecting with a new variation on an old scam. Scammers are calling people, telling them their houses have been destroyed in a flood, and then demanding they deposit money in a certain account. My family members and friends have been trawled for cash this way. The scammers are hoping that they can take advantage of panic to extract some cash. These people are vermin. I hope they all end up doing time in Chinese jails...

The mention of scams, of course, leads me to contemplate the beauty of Reuters this week. As usual, Reuters inserts anti-Taiwan editorializing into its "reporting", and then appears to deliberately mistranslate China's response to President Tsai this week, so that the reader misses its import, and omits the amused reaction in Taiwan which properly contextualized the Chinese spokesman's remarks.

First, the Reuters "report" of Tsai's remarks:
Tsai said that the biggest gap between Taiwan and China was democracy and freedom, needling Beijing at a time when relations between China and the self-ruled island are at a low point.

"For democracy: some are early, others are late, but we all get there in the end," Tsai said, writing in Chinese on her Facebook page and tweeting some of her comments in English on Twitter.

"Borrowing on Taiwan's experience, I believe that China can shorten the pain of democratic reform."
Reuters childishly characterized Tsai's remarks as "needling" Beijing and then added a particular context: relations are "at a low point".

This structure is built out of three common media tropes: (1) that Taiwan "provokes" Beijing; (2) that tensions occur mysteriously for no reason, and are never assigned an identifiable cause; and (3) Taiwan's pro-democracy side is always interrogated, deconstructed, and negatively presented.

First, let's reimagine Reuters' editorializing as an actual, neutral news report:
Tsai said that the biggest gap between Taiwan and China was democracy and freedom, an argument made by many analysts of the differing cultures of the two sides. Since Tsai became president, Beijing has chilled relations between China and Taiwan.
The failure of the western establishment media to simply report, never mind resolutely protect democratic values and democratic governance, is one of the great failures of our age.

The next paragraph then gives the Beijing-centric view of things:
Beijing distrusts Tsai and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party because it traditionally advocates independence for Taiwan. Beijing says the island is part of China and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control.
Another common trope, in which Beijing's expansionist POV is presented with no mention of what Taiwan thinks. Why not add that polls show the majority of Taiwanese do not want to be part of China? Why not say, equally truthfully, that based on history, the majority of Taiwanese "distrust" Beijing?

Note that the word "distrust" is used to characterize Beijing. Seriously: is there anything that Beijing trusts? The word is simply an editorial insertion intended to create more negativity around the idea of independence and the DPP.

But that was only the beginning for Reuters this week. It then (apparently deliberately) mistranslated the response of China's Taiwan Affairs Office to Tsai...
China's Taiwan Affairs Office said only mainland Chinese had the right to speak on mainland affairs, while suggesting Tsai could better spend her time reflecting on "the widespread discontent" in Taiwan and the "reasons behind why cross-strait relations had reached an impasse".
However, "only Mainland Chinese" was not what the TAO official actually said, and Reuters must know this, which is why they have paraphrased, and not directly quoted that particular section of the officials remarks. The original remarks caused hilarity in Taiwan....
The bolded part is the actual remark: "only Chinese people have the right to speak". The term "mainland" was nowhere used. Taiwanese were ROFL when they heard these remarks, reading them to unconsciously reveal the feeling that Tsai herself pointed to in her speech the previous day: that Taiwanese are different from Chinese. A connection Reuters could have made...

Speaking of revealing, how about yet another hidden slant? Chinese officials are quoted in the two Reuters reports:
On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had long ago reached a conclusion about June 4.

"I hope you can pay more attention to the positive changes happening in all levels of Chinese society," she said without elaborating.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office said only mainland Chinese had the right to speak on mainland affairs, while suggesting Tsai could better spend her time reflecting on "the widespread discontent" in Taiwan and the "reasons behind why cross-strait relations had reached an impasse".

"We are closer than any other point in history to the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people," office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang said in a statement sent to Reuters.

"(Taiwan authorities) should not divert attention and shirk responsibility while further inflaming cross-strait antagonism."
Note that while Tsai is described as "needling" Beijing, no Beijing official is described in a similar way. The TAO official "suggests" even though he is obviously abusing Tsai. Neutral language such as the word said is used to describe statements by Beijing's blowhards, which are not contextualized in any negative way -- they are not said to occur during a period of low relations between the two sides.

Tsai is thus a victim of a third common media trope, in which statements from Taiwan (run by a pro-democracy party allied to the west!) are constantly interrogated, deconstructed, and negatively contextualized, while statements from Beijing are presented without comment.

The anti-Taiwan slant is painfully obvious. And painfully sad.

Meanwhile, with lips firmly curled in a patronizing upper class sneer, the Economist discussed Tsai's economic policies this week.
...Less noticed is that Ms Tsai has, for now, won over one important group: investors. Cash inflows from abroad have made Taiwan’s stockmarket and currency among Asia’s best performers. Foreign direct investment in the electronics industry has also surged.
The Economist was obviously hoping to gleefully report that Tsai had ruined the economy, since it had spent so many years cheerleading for Ma Ying-jeou (who did vast harm to the economy and Taiwan, all unreported by the Economist). It must have been painful to them to contemplate LSE graduate and neoliberal Tsai doing well, so they hurriedly added:
The government, to be sure, cannot take too much credit...
But then, with patrician fairness, they conceded...
Nevertheless, without a deft touch from Ms Tsai, things could have been worse. It is easy to forget that, a year ago, the odds seemed stacked against Taiwan’s economy. Falling exports had tipped it into a recession. Slowing smartphone sales pointed to little relief ahead. Most worrying was the political backdrop, with Ms Tsai caught between her supporters, many of whom crave independence, and China, which demands that she acknowledge Taiwan to be part of “one China”.

Ms Tsai has, so far at least, steered a middle course, neither ceding ground to China nor taking actions that might provoke a harsh response. Investors, judging that cross-strait relations are frosty but generally stable, have felt confident enough to scoop up Taiwanese assets. The $8.3bn in foreign direct investment in Taiwan last year was more than triple the 2015 amount and the highest on record. If exports remain strong, the economy has a good chance of beating the government’s forecast of 2% growth this year.
They then discuss the good news from the economy, and close with editorializing reporting:
Ms Tsai’s economic strategy has three main prongs. First is an NT$882.4bn ($29.3bn) infrastructure stimulus, covering projects from the railways to renewable energy. Second, she wants to lessen Taiwan’s reliance on China with a “New Southbound Policy”, of closer ties with countries in South-East and South Asia. Finally, Ms Tsai is crafting an industrial policy to promote innovation, talking, for instance, about creating an “Asian Silicon Valley”.

All sensible enough, but each prong, on closer inspection, looks flimsy. The stimulus will be spread over eight years, providing a smaller boost than advertised. Variations of the southbound policy have been tried for decades: the smaller economies of South-East Asia are no substitute for the Chinese giant next door. And just about every country aspires to foster innovation; few succeed.
Note that none of the second paragraph is supported by any evidence, fact, or argument. It is pure negativity. One could just as well as have editorialized:
All sensible enough, and each prong, on closer inspection, looks intelligent. The stimulus will be spread over eight years, offering a steady boost to local governments and local economies, as well as re-orienting local patronage networks on the DPP. Variations of the southbound policy have been tried for decades: the smaller economies of South-East Asia have in recent years been better trade partners for Taiwan than the Chinese giant next door, And just about every country aspires to foster innovation; yet Taiwan has a track record of successful innovation in firms of all sizes.
But just to be certain that the reader is left with a negative feeling, the Economist concludes with a decontextualized negative quote from Gordon Sun, and then negatively again, with the worry that things might not work out. Because god forbid the western media say something positive about hoi polloi from the democracy side in Taiwan's politics. My god, do those people even know how to use a salad fork?

Oh yeah, about that Southbound policy? Taiwan News reported on the flimsy-looking Southbound policy this week:
Citing statistics compiled by the Ministry of Finance, the DGBAS said exports to the regions totaled US$21.14 billion between January and April for a gain of 15.6 percent, compared to the 13.6-percent increase in the nation’s global exports over the same period.
It's too early to say anything for certain, and the Economist could have taken that uncertain, more neutral position.

But didn't.
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Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

Any news or gossip about Mattis’ Shangri-La Dialogue Speech? Thediplomat.com reported that it generated a lot of buzzes.


stephen zimmer said...

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Anonymous said...

It is a further slight that the Economist referred to the president as "Ms Tsai" rather than "Dr Tsai".

Anonymous said...

Why do they do it? Laziness or something more sinister?? Is it only a coincidence that both publications are an integral part of the City, which stands to profit most from Chinese hegemony over the UK?