Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Sri Lanka Test, China's Crap-in-a-Box and Other Gentle Tearings Apart

This article appeared in The Guardian today:

China threatens to 'take off the gloves' if Trump rips up the status quo on Taiwan

It's not awful. Seriously, it's okay. But I want to make a point about the form pro-China (or anti-Taiwan) bias takes in the media, so I'm going to tear it apart for you. That, and it is purely entertaining for me.

Let's start with the title.

Forget that it's not made clear whether China is threatening the US or Taiwan; China itself hasn't made this clear. What bugs me is the implication that the status quo in Taiwan is entirely up to the US, that it is the US who decides whether Taiwan will adhere to it or not. Not a lick of agency afforded to Taiwan?

China has stepped up its rhetoric against Donald Trump, with a Communist party-controlled newspaper declaring Beijing will have no choice but to “take off the gloves” if the incoming president insists on tearing open a Pandora’s box over Taiwan

Isn't a Pandora's Box something that you open without thinking your action will cause far-reaching catastrophic consequences (because perhaps you do not know entirely what is inside), but does? Is it really a Pandora's Box if China shits in a box and then hands it to us? Like, we all know what's inside and who put it there. China shat in it; that's what's inside. Now China is threatening that we shouldn't open the box they shat in? That's just China being a jerk, it's not a Pandora's Box. In fact, I'd argue it's something like the opposite of a Pandora's Box because you know what's inside as the giver has taken great pains to tell you that it's full of their stinky turds. If you invent the consequences, that's not the same thing. Calling it anything else than China shitting in a box is removing the active agency of China in handing the US and Taiwan a box full of shit. Like, how about instead of "don't open this box, you have no idea what unnamed entity placed far-reaching consequences inside", let's be all "China, why the fuck did you shit in a box? Not cool."

Side note: "a Communist Party-controlled newspaper" makes it sound like there is a non-government-controlled media source in China. There isn't. Why make it sound as though this particular newspaper can be compared to a freer press that exists in China? As far as I am aware whatever freer press existed no longer does. Best to acknowledge that. 

An editorial said Trump’s repeated threats to abandon the “one China” policy could no longer be dismissed as “bluster or miscalculation” but instead appeared to be a deliberate and intolerable ploy designed to extract concessions from Beijing.

I am very curious what their definition of "One China" policy is or how they understand it vis-a-vis American policy on Taiwan. Because as far as I am aware the US at no point has said that they definitely think Taiwan is a part of China. Everything is very vaguely written (deliberately so), but the "One China" policy has allowed for stopovers before, there is nothing in it that specifically says the US President cannot talk to Taiwan's President, and not even anything in there that says Taiwan is definitely a part of China. US policy on Taiwan-China leaves room for an independent Taiwan. So what are we tearing up exactly? 

Under a nearly four-decade old policy, the United States has acknowledged Beijing’s position that there is only one China. The US has formal ties with China rather than the island of Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland one day.

This is actually pretty good! Most media outlets get this wrong, writing that the US believes there is only on China, and that Taiwan is a part of it, when the truth is that they only go so far as to acknowledge that this is China's stance. So...good job, actually. 


"island of Taiwan": I know not every pro-Taiwan voice agrees with me on this, but I really would like to call for an end to consistently calling Taiwan an "island" rather than a "country" or "nation". It skirts the issue, and skirting the issue is a form of pro-China bias.

Brendan likes to talk about something he calls the "Sri Lanka test", and I tend to agree with him. If you replace "Taiwan" with "Sri Lanka" in any given sentence, and it still feels like you're not stretching yourself around the truth by calling it an "island" - if you'd refer to Sri Lanka the same way in the same context - you are okay. If it seems weird to constantly call Sri Lanka an island rather than a country, you've got a problem. 

"...which Beijing sees as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland one day": 
This only eschews China bias if you put "breakaway province", "reunified" and "mainland" in scare quotes. 

First, I get that there is emphasis on what China says, as this is an article about something China said. Sure. Often there is a problem with writing lots about what China says on articles focused on Taiwan, and comparatively little on what Taiwan says. I can forgive it this time, but remember, my lovelies: be ever vigilant.

That said, this article would have been more accurate, more objective and stronger if they'd added two sentences about how the Taiwanese identify as Taiwanese, are generally against any sort of unification with China ever, and generally favor independence - in fact, most see themselves as independent already.

This is how insidious pro-China bias is in the media: the verb "reunify" (as opposed to "unify" or "be annexed by") is not called out for its obvious nonsense usage. You cannot reunify what was never unified to begin with, and the ROC and the PRC were never unified. (We can get into the details of the Qing Dynasty, or 1945-1949, what it means to control a country or territory or what all those crazy treaties meant, but I'm not sure any of it matters). Yet "reunify" is used without any sort of pretense or sarcasm. It's just taken as word. Does that not invite in the mind of the reader, who likely styles themselves something of an educated person, the idea that it would, in fact, be reunification if The Guardian called it that, and that reunification doesn't sound so bad?

And what is the "mainland" to an island nation that has no territory on the continent? To assume there even is a "mainland" is a form of bias. There is China, and there is Taiwan. Taiwan has no mainland, unless you mean how, say, the Orchid Islanders see Taiwan proper.

However, I do want to say one good thing here. No "split in 1949" nonsense. Yay! We are working tirelessly to get that nonsense phrase banished - not censored, more seen as embarrassingly incorrect - from media around the world. So I'm happy to see it didn't make it in here. 

On Sunday, Tsai was making no apologies as she returned to Taiwan from her trip to the Americas, which included US meetings with Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz and state governor Greg Abbott, as well as a visit to the headquarters of Twitter in San Francisco.
Why should Tsai apologize for doing what the leaders of sovereign states do all the time with their allies, and for doing what previous presidents of Taiwan have done (if I am correct - correct me if I'm not - meeting with American government officials who are not the US president is not exactly a new thing for Taiwanese presidents even post-1979)? Why on earth would you even imply she needed to do such a thing? Would you write "Chancellor Merkel was making no apologies as she met with British members of Parliament?" No? So why the fuck are you writing this?

Tsai said the trip, which took her on to Central America, elevated the island’s international profile.

Does this pass the Sri Lanka test?

I'd say no.

US officials had said Tsai’s transit stops were based on longstanding US practice and Tsai’s office had characterised her meetings there as private and unofficial.

Again this is pretty good. True, accurate as far as I'm aware. Why, however, is it at the very end after a very lengthy explanation of China's side of things (and quite little in the way of Taiwan's other than a few remarks by Tsai?). Why is it saved for the very end when plenty of readers have stopped reading, and given so little space?

* * *

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my little practice exercise, my expression of a part-time hobby. I deliberately chose this article as it's not that bad, and on the surface even seems pretty good. It's easy to tear apart a mishmash of half-baked piss-and-corn-nugget chowder written by a sadfaced hack who just looked up Taiwan and now knows it's not Thailand yet somehow managed to get his sticky inappropriately-used sweatsock of an article published, somehow, by an editor stupid enough to buy it, slap "CHINA!" on it and then write something about 1949 in there.

It's harder to pinpoint pro-China bias in an otherwise okay article, at least one that kinda-sorta stands up to some scrutiny and at least gets a few key facts right (and thankfully leaves the fictitious "facts" out), but we need to keep doing this if we don't want to let merely okay be good enough when it comes to reporting on Taiwan. 

1 comment:

Fearchar said...

Let's face it: "reunification" is bare-faced; "re"unification would be better; but the most appropriate expression (in the context, i.e. to spare imperialist blushes) would be Anschluss. It doesn't even need inverted commas.