Thursday, September 28, 2017

Wm Lai speaks ZOMG TENSHUNZ ... in the media

A cat lounges behind old walls in Tainan.

SCMP and SupChina were sexing up the usual exchange of pleasantries between Taiwan and China today. SupChina said:
The South China Morning Post reports that Taiwan’s new premier, William Lai 赖清德, “has openly identified himself as a supporter of independence for the island — a statement certain to incense Beijing.”
  • In his first address to parliament after becoming premier in September 8, Lai answered a question by opposition Kuomintang (KMT) legislators about his views on relations with the People’s Republic of China. Lai said: “I am a political worker who advocates Taiwan independence, but I am also a pragmatic pro-Taiwan independence theorist.”
  • The P.R.C. responded swiftly: Xinhua News Agency says that Ma Xiaoguang 马晓光, the spokesperson for the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, said that “the Chinese mainland resolutely opposes ‘Taiwan independence’ in any form and will never allow the past tragedy of national secession to be repeated.”
  • Taiwan responded to Ma’s comments: Reuters reports that the island’s Mainland Affairs Council “said it did not matter what Beijing said, it was an ‘objective reality’ that the Republic of China was a sovereign state,” and that “Taiwan’s future and the development of relations across the Strait will be jointly decided by Taiwan’s 23 million people.”
What next? As Reuters points out, Beijing has already “suspended a regular dialogue mechanism with Taipei established under the previous, China-friendly government in Taiwan,” and reduced the numbers of mainland tourists visiting Taiwan. We can expect further punishment of some kind, probably economic.
It's really difficult for me to not to mock this. SCMP went to great lengths to sex up this non-story, which is a regular exchange between Taiwan and China. Lawrence Chung, whose name and political biases will be familiar to my readers, wrote:
He is the first Taiwanese premier to openly acknowledge his pro-independence status.
This story is only interesting because of that statement. First premier? LOL. There was Yu Shyi-kun, premier for three years in the Chen Administration, who was a regular maker of such statements. Frank Hsieh, premier in the Chen Administration as well after Yu, published an op-ed on it in the Washington Post larded with pro-independence sentiment, among others. Su Tseng-chang, the premier after Hsieh, made statements similar to Lai's in an interpellation in 2006 (TT report) and in a Feb 2006 report to the LY and other times. In any case, everyone knew what their positions were since they had made many open and public statements. There is nothing new here.

It is puzzling how Chung could not know this, since he has been in Taiwan "reporting" since the fall of the Qing Dynasty, at least. Of course, readers may recall that Chung has already invested in Lai's independence views being a cause of tensions....

It's not like China didn't know Lai's position... he made a pro-independence speech at Fudan U in China in 2014. This is just the usual pavane that we've been dancing for 25 years now....
During the legislators’ queries, Lai, known as a pro-independence fundamentalist, also maintained that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are “independent of each other, with Taiwan being an independent sovereign state carrying the designation the Republic of China”.
These are bog-standard DPP statements, made by many top DPP politicans since the 1990s. In response to China's usual bluster, the mainland affairs council said, as usual, that Taiwan was a sovereign state, as Reuters reported. The Executive Yuan spokesman said that Lai's comments....
Lai’s beliefs are in line with those of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Executive Yuan spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) said.

“We are an independent and sovereign state whose name is the ROC. This is the president’s position, whom, I should add, was elected president of the ROC,” Hsu said.
SCMP actually reported:
Taiwan’s presidential office later issued a statement, saying that the government of President Tsai Ing-wen has never changed its position that “the Republic of China is a sovereign independent country”, nor has it changed its dedication to peace in the region and maintaining stability in the Taiwan Strait.
The DPP US mission, replying to Isaac Stone Fish, reiterated:
DPP U.S. Mission‏ @TaiwanDPP_DC
Replying to @isaacstonefish
Premier Lai's statement is consistent with longstanding DPP position
On Twitter there was quite a bit of silliness. Despite the fact that several news outlets, both pro-Beijing and pro-democracy, had already reported that Lai's position was normal and that the Presidential Office agreed, lots of folks said This Was a Big Deal, tweeting around stuff like:
Hard to imagine Tsai was anything but wrathful upon learning this -- won't make things any easier for her or the DPP
According to all reports, including the already-issued Presidential office statement, she wasn't wroth one bit. Sharp observer Chris Horton dryly observed in response to SCMP's tension-inducing headline:
Chris Horton‏ @heguisen
Taiwan's new premier risks China's wrath w/ provocative statements like: "We are willing to make friends with them."
Indeed -- SCMP could just as well headlined: "Lai sends Beijing olive branch." But that's a common media trope many of us have pointed to for years -- Taiwan politicians are usually depicted as provoking Beijing, because it makes for sexier headlines, rather than what they are actually doing, extending olive branches and asking for talks (MAC list of Olive Branches 2008-2016).

SupChina said:
What next? As Reuters points out, Beijing has already “suspended a regular dialogue mechanism with Taipei established under the previous, China-friendly government in Taiwan,” and reduced the numbers of mainland tourists visiting Taiwan. We can expect further punishment of some kind, probably economic.
Reducing the number of Chinese tourists to Taiwan was an economic blessing (FYI: China tourists rose slightly in Aug of 2107 (249,999) over Aug of 2016 (248,538) while arrivals from HKK increased by nearly 14,000, from 163K to 177k). But the key issue here is that SupChina expects China will take action on this particular non-event.

Why? We've had myriads of such events and nothing happened to Taiwan (like when Tsai commented on Liu or offered to help China with democracy or when Beijing glowered at Taiwan for its support of pro-democracy types in Hong Kong or a few weeks ago defending Beijing's kidnapping and imprisonment of Li Ming-che). Moreover, recall that China wants to annex Taiwan in part by looting its economy and technology, and disrupting its political and civic organizations. It can't do that if there are no exchanges. This fact seems little appreciated among watchers on the China side of the Strait. Hence, Beijing has small incentive to do more than nibble at the edges (for example, it was recently forced to reverse its decision to punish Taiwan universities by reducing student flows). Tourists are an easy choice, since reducing outbound tourism reduces imports.

I would expect that nothing very important will happen out of this. The problem isn't just that SupChina and others are sexing up this perfectly normal and not very interesting exchange. The problem is that when commentators predict bad things will happen, they signal to China that Beijing should be doing bad things -- that the media thinks bad things by Beijing would be a-ok and will likely carry Beijing's water by scolding Taiwan for "provoking" Beijing. The media plays a powerful role in creating, defining, and encouraging tensions, and is usually out in front of Beijing, often reporting X WILL CREATE TENSHUNZ, then never noting afterwards that nothing happened (like this).

Yeah, remember that phone call from Tsai to Trump that caused rivers to flow backwards and continents to sink into the ocean? Yeah, I had forgotten about it too.

In the meantime, today thousands of people will fly back and forth for business and tourism, never realizing that tensions have suddenly spiked. The students from China in my classes will all be there on time, not knowing they should be in their combat gear. Millions of products will flow across the Strait, unhindered by those out of control tensions. Gangsters will continue to benefit from the Ma-era agreements, unreported in the media. Nowhere will tension manifest itself in the real world as relations flow on, unvexed, across the sea.

Until the next round of ZOMG TENSHUNZ. Well, at least it gives me blogfodder.

MOAR MEDIA FOLLIES: I can't resist raising this Reuters piece from the dead, because its awful badness is a good example of the media creating tensions out of nothing, in this case, within the DPP over China policy. Back in May Reuters yarbled:
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is signalling she needs more give and take from China to rein in hardliners on an island China considers its own, officials say, but Beijing is unlikely to budge months before its five-yearly Communist Party Congress.
Yup, that Tsai Ing-wen was having such horrible trouble reining in the hardliners that she... picked a hardliner to be her new premier.

Think Reuters will issue a correction? Not in my lifetime. The media wouldn't be so bad, if it at least issued mea culpas from time to time.

UPDATE: And Isabella Steger wins the internet today with a perfect summary of Taiwan's situation:
Chris Horton‏ @heguisen
"Cross-strait tensions" suggests bidirectional threats of violence, which is simply untrue. Tbh, it's not-so-subtle victim blaming.

isabella steger‏@stegersaurus
what was taiwan wearing though?

Chris Horton‏ @heguisen
an almost totally transparent multi-party democracy
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!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Does ANYone take ANYthing from SCCPMP seriously anymore?