Showing posts with label international_media. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international_media. Show all posts

Monday, June 10, 2019

Taiwan's under-appreciated smackdown of the Hong Kong extradition bill, plus huge media fail

It's not a beautiful cover image, but I don't know how to make it clearer, guys. Quit it already. 

You may have noticed in the vicious opposition to the (deeply terrifying) extradition law that Hong Kong looks set to pass by the end of June - yes, despite the massive protest - that one of the reasons the CCP-owned Hong Kong LegCo (the city's legislative body) gives for the urgency in passing this law is directly related to Taiwan.

Hong Kong resident Chan Tong-kai murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan in 2018 before flying back to Hong Kong, and is currently in custody on money laundering charges related to his dead girlfriend's assets there. However, as the murder took place in Taiwan, Hong Kong can't charge him for it. As there is no formal extradition treaty between Taiwan and Hong Kong, he can't be sent back to Taiwan to stand trial, either. Because he's not in jail for murder, he could be free by October. So now, China Hong Kong is insisting that it needs to be passed so that Chan can be sent to Taiwan to face murder charges.

Here's what's interesting to me - I kept seeing this repeated in the media. It appears in almost every Ali Baba Daily South China Morning Post piece on the extradition bill and subsequent protests. It's present in the Reuters article above. Even the New York Times is including that tidbit, and the BBC has been leaning on it for awhile. It also pops up in The Guardian

Here's the thing, though. Taiwan has already said it will not ask for Chan's extradition - which negates the 'we need this bill for Taiwan' argument altogether:

“Without the removal of threats to the personal safety of [Taiwan] nationals going to or living in Hong Kong caused by being extradited to mainland China, we will not agree to the case-by-case transfer proposed by the Hong Kong authorities,” Chiu Chui-cheng, deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, told reporters on Thursday" [last month - this piece is from May].

And yet most media are still pretending that China's Hong Kong's argument is still valid enough to include without comment, without mentioning that the bill is not at all needed for this purpose, because Taiwan's already said it isn't.

It's a wonderful smackdown from Taiwan, making it quite clear that their solidarity with the real will of Hong Kong residents will not be compromised.

Taiwan does not want this bill to be passed despite China Hong Kong using that as an excuse. Yet nobody is reporting it. 

Protests and demonstrations in Taiwan frequently enjoy solidarity from Hong Kong, and Hong Kong democracy and sovereignty movements are strongly supported among social movement activists in Taiwan (and have some level of popularity among everyday people here, too). There's a huge amount of cross-pollination and quite a few friendships that bridge the two groups of activists - a state of affairs which China is unhappy about, but can't really do much to stop (beyond banning Taiwanese activists and certain political figures from visiting Hong Kong). Even outside of social activist circles, Hong Kongers and Taiwanese share a bond stemming from their common threat and common desire to either obtain or uphold democratic norms. The two movements - formal independence for Taiwan and sovereignty for Hong Kong - are quite intertwined.

So, I happen to think this goes beyond trying to convince Hong Kongers of the need for expediency in passing the law. To sow discord between Taiwan and Hong Kong by drawing attention to a murder case in Taiwan that can only be solved by this Trojan Horse extradition law would be a major victory for China - I have to believe this "Taiwan excuse" is a push in that direction.

More people should be appreciating that Taiwan shut it right down over a month ago. At the very least, the media should be including a short acknowledgement of it every time they include China's Hong Kong's "Taiwan excuse", or stop including it altogether.

It makes sense that Taiwan wouldn't buy it (and you shouldn't either) - nobody who is sympathetic to the fight against encroaching Chinese expansionism, who thinks about the issue for more than a few seconds, would think that the extradition of one murder suspect to Taiwan would be enough to merit the passage of a broadly damaging law in Hong Kong. The price is simply too high.

So jeez, guys. Stop recycling stale old garbage. If it smells bad, dump it. 

Of course this isn't the only media fail - in the Chinese-language Taiwanese media...well. They're either not covering the Hong Kong protests at all or put them way at the back:

As my husband pointed out when he fired up the United Daily News app out of curiosity: "UDN does cover it, but to get to a story about it you have to scroll through three pictures of Han Kuo-yu, a picture of Wang Jin-pyng and a picture of Terry Gou."

So while all my green and colorless friends know what's going on, once again all the blue-leaners in Taiwan won't realize the import of these protests and make up their minds accordingly. Thanks, Chinese Taiwanese media, for being so singularly awful! 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Despite some unfortunate headlines, media coverage of Taiwan recognizing same-sex marriage is exactly what we needed


Pro-equality activists have been talking about the tangential benefits of same-sex marriage (or better yet, marriage equality) in Taiwan for years, most notably that it would be a massive boost to Taiwan's international visibility. Just imagine the international media coverage, all focused on Taiwan, especially if we're the first in Asia, we've been saying since...forever.

Last Friday it happened. We laughed, we (happy) cried, it was the feel-good legislation of the year.  And just like we said, the rainbow explosion wasn't limited to Taiwan. Every major media outlet around the world - not just the ones in Western nations - carried the news.

Let's put that into perspective. After 2014, when I mentioned "the Sunflowers" to my friends in the US, I was met with blank stares. I may as well have been talking about actual sunflowers that you can grow in a garden. This time, I don't think I have a friend or relative in the world who hasn't heard the news. Taiwan did something huge, and it mattered to the news cycle that it was the first country in Asia to strike a blow for equality.

Wait, what was that I just said? First country?

Reading most English-language media, unfortunately, that word has been avoided with the most, um, ductile of language choices (please enjoy some links to examples). First place in Asia. The island's parliament. Taiwan's historic first for Asia. First in Asia.

 First what in Asia? It seems nobody is willing to clarify. Or if they are, it's a 'state' (how is that different from a country?) or a 'self-ruled island'.

Of course, a few incompetent dipclowns (like the World Economic Forum) kind of soured it by calling this country "Taiwan, China", The Guardian called Taiwan a country on Instagram then issued a correction that it was a 'state', and now seems to have taken the post down (I can't find it to link it), and of course the Chinese media gonna Chinese media and whatever.

I propose, however, that the good reporting on this issue (and reporting that is good for Taiwan) has far outstripped the few geographically-challenged dumbos.

First, plenty of media did call Taiwan a country. USA Today called Taiwan a "country" via the Associated Press. The Chicago Tribune used it in their headline too, as did QuartzThe New York Times didn't use that word in their title, but they managed to find a quote to help them slip it in, and CNN did too. Bloomberg managed to stick it into three separate quotes the day before the vote (good job!), and a Bloomberg-affiliated video on Youtube uses the word "country" and so did DW. ANI (from South Asia) called Taiwan a "nation", Bustle called it a "country". Here is The Economist using it in their first paragraph and The Washington Post using "nation" towards the top of the article. There are surely more - there are only so many articles on the same topic that I can read.


That's a lot of major media calling Taiwan a 'country' or a 'nation' and a lot of readers who will now understand that Taiwan is indeed a country. Nothing at all to sniff at.

Look beyond the English-language media, and it gets even better. On Twitter, Pierre Baubry noted that most French media called Taiwan a country:

...and that lines up with my admittedly shallow research (the sub-headline in Le Monde called Taiwan a 'country'). It's the same in Spanish. No really. There seem to be very few outliers, and even this one references the word "country" within the first paragraph.

But you know what? That's not even the best part.

The best part is that almost every single one of these stories, whether they called Taiwan a 'country', 'nation', 'place', 'state', 'island' or nothing at all ('first in Asia!'), focused on Taiwan itself. 

Not its relationship to China. Not what China thinks about Taiwan. Not China's reaction. Taiwan. The deliberations of Taiwan's legislature. What Taiwanese voters and demonstrators think. What President Tsai did. Taiwan's domestic political situation. China was a non-entity, as it should be, seeing as it's a totally different country. I mean, our buddy Ralph "I hate Taiwan but still write about it" Jennings framed his piece in relation to China but...well. Who cares - at least this time - if one guy buried the lede?

What I mean is, for once, the international media mostly reported on Taiwan the way they should have been all along.

When China was mentioned, it was either in passing without any of that 1949 claptrap, or it was to compare Taiwan favorably to China. Yay!

From the Washington Post:

In neighboring China — which asserts sovereignty over Taiwan — popular LGBT microblogs were censored online in the wake of Taiwan’s 2017 high-court ruling. The social media platform Weibo was criticized last month for restricting LGBT hashtags. 
Taiwan has shown that “traditional culture is not against LGBT culture,” said Jennifer Lu, coordinator of the rights group Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan. “That’s the message we want to send to the world.”

Another great thing? All of the amazing soundbites from Taiwan being reported around the world, which focus specifically on the progressive conversation happening here. From the Washington Post:

Tsai, the president, voiced her support of the legislation in a Twitter post, saying that Friday marked “a chance to make history and show the world that progressive values can take root in an Asian society.”

And another one from WaPo correctly pointing out that this has long been an issue in Taiwan, correctly delineating Taiwanese activist history as continuous and robust:

Chi Chia-wei, a gay rights activist for more than 30 years, said he was “very, very happy” to see Taiwan legalize same-sex marriage, calling the process “a strong demonstration of our democratic spirit.” 

From the New York Times:

“Taiwan has become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage,” it said, “successfully striding toward a new page of history!” 
Human rights activists said they hoped Taiwan’s vote could influence other places in Asia to approve same-sex marriage.

From The Guardian:

“What we have achieved is not easy,” said Victoria Hsu, the founder and executive director of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights. “The law will not be 100% perfect, but this is a good start and this is a major step to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. Now the law says everyone should be treated equally no matter who you are, who you love.”

In another Washington Post piece, properly situating Taiwan as a progressive leader in Asia:

The vote in Taiwan helps “signal it’s not an East-West thing or global North global South thing,” Knight said. Officials in Brunei will have a hard time defending such harsh anti-homosexuality legislation, he said, “when the map of the Asian region is moving clearly in the opposite direction."

From The Economist:

In Asia, Taiwan has long stood out as a bastion of gay rights. The annual gay pride parade in Taipei, the capital, draws tens of thousands, many from overseas.

You guys, this is the kind of reporting that gets the world to wake up and notice Taiwan. This is how we show everyone not only that human rights are not an east-west issue (or a Global South/Global North one, though I would not say Taiwan is in the Global South developmentally), but that Taiwan is a bastion and a leader in Asia. This is how we show them how vibrant Taiwan's democracy really is, and that in fact a lot of interesting things take place here that they probably had no idea about, because the media never bothered to report on it.


For that, I'm willing to overlook a few weaklings who wouldn't dare to just write "country" (and a few purposeful jerks like the World Economic Forum).

Overall, this is a win for Taiwan. Taiwan the country, Taiwan the regional leader, Taiwan the bastion of progressivism (at least by Asian standards).

Now, how do we get all those journalists to keep it up?

Sunday, April 14, 2019

At LSE, Taiwan is still Taiwan...for now.

The World Turned Upside Down as of April 6th
(photo from a friend)

I'd actually prefer not to do these sorts of media analyses, because I'd rather that the media got stories right. Sadly, that doesn't seem as though it will be the norm anytime soon.

This time, the dodgy reporting is centered on the new LSE (London School of Economics) sculpture entitled The World Turned Upside Down by artist Mark Wallinger, which is basically a globe turned upside down, at an angle not typically considered by most.

I don't really need to outline the Chinese-student-manufactured "controversy" around the sculpture, you can read about it in a number of places, including The News Lens, the Taipei Times and The Telegraph (which, in my opinion, has the best journalism on the issue).

But what I do want to highlight is how confusing so many other news reports have been, some of which are putting out facts that are simply not correct. I don't mean "up for debate", I mean demonstrably false. So let me state right here: I have a friend in London (more than one actually) who works near the LSE campus. On April 6th, he put up a photo pointing out that Taiwan had not yet been altered to be depicted as a part of China, and the dot representing Taipei had not been downgraded from a red dot representing a capital city.

And yet...

From New Bloom a few days ago: 
In the original version of the sculpture, Taiwan was depicted in a different color from China, as was Tibet. Taipei and Lhasa were also marked as the political capitals of Taiwan and Tibet respectively. However, following protests from Chinese students, Taiwan was repainted to be the same color as China and the red dot that originally marked Taipei was changed to a black dot, downgrading Taipei to the status of a Chinese city rather than a political capital.

From Taiwan News on April 4th (so before the date of my friend's photo), with a headline beginning "LSE forced to change color of Taiwan..."
Huang Lee-an (黃立安), a Taiwanese student at the university, told CNA that after the school convened a meeting with student representatives to discuss the matter, it decided to change Taiwan's color from pink to yellow, to match that of China. The student said they also had the red dot labeled Taipei, changed to black, demoting it from a capital city of a country, to a mere city in a province of China. 
The student said that "REP. of CHINA" was also unceremoniously removed from the artist's work.

I also find this headline odd because nobody "forced" LSE to do anything. LSE made a bad decision on its own, then walked it back.

Thinking, "huh, that's weird! After the Taiwan News report, my friend posted that picture and Taiwan's color and name had not been changed", and then reading New Bloom and reacting with "wait, so, the university said it has not come to a decision yet, but it was changed between when they said that and now?", I rang up my friend again and asked him to pop by the sculpture whenever he was able. He's not in the UK now but reported back the results of someone else's walk past the globe, and... was never changed. 

I have no reason to disbelieve my friend, who provided photographic evidence, so I find it highly unlikely that he is wrong and these news pieces are right.

So why did New Bloom say it was changed, and why did Taiwan News strongly imply it?

Beats me.

But it doesn't help the case for a robust free press in Taiwan when the free press - in English or any language - can't get these things right.

I mean, come on. Beijing and its army of angry Internet commenters and international students already screws Taiwan over so hard. When we've had something like a small victory (very small - who knows whether the sculpture will continue to depict Taiwan accurately?), why are we rushing to pretend as though we've been screwed? It lowers our credibility, makes it harder to report on even these small wins, and makes it harder still to update stories accurately, if the facts in question weren't correctly stated in the first place. 

Screen Shot 2019-04-14 at 7.22.46 PM
From Taiwan News (link below).
The caption is misleading, if not outright wrong: the sculpture still looks like that, and was never changed. 

One more thing before I let this go. (If you don't care about my opinion on LSE's decision, you can stop here.)

I've been wondering for awhile how it is that all those Chinese universities get ranked so highly on global university ranking lists, when one cannot even realistically study History, Political Science or pretty much any of the humanities with any hope of getting an education that reflects international consensus or plain old evidence in whichever non-STEM field you're specializing in.

In a similar vein, I've also been wondering - LSE's a great school, yeah? Ranked something like 26th in the world. So how is it that with all its talk of discussing the world "from a different angle" with this sculpture, and educating the next generation of the world's brightest leaders-to-be with frank discussions of political realities and the history of imperialism and oppression that turned our world upside-down, that they can't even get this right? That they talk big about great minds taking critical approaches to real issues - perhaps critically evaluating Israel's treatment of Palestine, Georgia's claim on Abkhazia (where some of the anti-Abkhazia arguments will sound familiar to Taiwanese used to Chinese distortions of history), frank discussions on Tibet...

...and yet when it comes to Taiwan they suddenly go all stupid?

Seriously, LSE - a bunch of Chinese students told you "Taiwan has been Chinese since antiquity" and you just bought that? Are you joking? Would you like a crash course in Chinese and Taiwanese histories, where even the most neutral reading of the facts of history call these Chinese students' claims into deep question? Because I can give you one, and you seem to need it.

A case was made that these are the UN borders and you didn't even question whether China being on the UN Security Council has anything to do with that, and how that might render UN borders non-neutral?


You couldn't look at the words that were meant to inspire the entire point of the sculpture in the first place and made your decision appropriately: 

The World Turned Upside Down is a famous ballad from the English Revolution. It was used as the title for Christopher Hill’s classic account of radical underground movements from that time, and Leon Rosselson’s song in tribute to Gerrard Winstanley and the ideals of the Digger Community: 
‘When once the earth becomes a common treasury again, as it must ... then this enmity of all lands will cease, and none shall dare to seek dominion over others, neither shall any dare to kill another, nor desire more of the earth than another.’ [Emphasis mine.] 
- Gerrard Winstanley 1649, The True Levellers Standard Advanced.

And if this is about Chinese student tuition fees - but they'll be so mad if we don't change it! - then how can you say you are one of the best institutions of higher learning in the world, when at the end of the day the most important thing is getting your hands grubby for those sweet, sweet international fees? To be one of the best, shouldn't you aspire to something higher?

There's still time, LSE. Nothing's been changed.

Do better.


Tuesday, April 2, 2019


At this point, we're all used to the skewed language that English-language media uses to talk about Taiwan. When the CCP does something to exacerbate tensions with Taiwan, or acts extremely offended over something going on here (including actions of individual Taiwanese citizens), the default seems to be that "tensions are rising" - no agent is named as the entity doing the raising. Or it's subtly implied the fault is Taiwan (e.g. "tensions have been rising under Taiwanese President Tsai", as though she's the one doing the escalating. She's not.)

Even when a story should be reported neutrally or with a critical eye to Chinese government's actions - as there is plenty of evidence of ill intent - the language used always exonerates Beijing and invites the reader to imagine that the other side is in the wrong. For example, here, we see language such as "soothe" and "calm" in the face of a "swipe" by a European leader (European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker). To read that, you'd think that the Europeans were hysterical - MEOW! - as cool and collected President Xi sought peace. Criticism of China's actions comes much later and is phrased dismissively ("which some see as" is basically newspaper code for "you can ignore those people"), even when more investigation into the intent and impact of these actions are merited.

Gee, you'd almost think the international media is wary of criticizing China, even when it would be right to do so. Huh!

So what happens, then, when there is absolutely no way to avoid pointing out that the CCP is the one exacerbating tensions? When no accurate language is possible that implies that these tensions just magically rise on their own, or perhaps they are the fault of Taiwan (or some other country "taking a swipe" at China)?

Consider this example from a few days ago:

There's just no way around it: without provocation, the PLAAF made an incursion into...well, I'm not sure if we can call it "Taiwan airspace" exactly (someone with more expert knowledge is welcome to fill me in) but violating an agreement like this - even a tacit one - is in fact intentional, provocative and reckless. MoFA is absolutely right.

And there's no way to write about that which takes the blame off of the CCP...or is there?

Local and regional news is reporting on it, but the top article (in the Japan Times) manages somehow to make Taiwan look like it's overreacting, when it absolutely isn't:

Screen Shot 2019-04-02 at 5.41.40 PM

"Provocative" in quotes can mean that they're just quoting MoFA's words, which is true, but they're called "scare quotes" for a reason: used this way they also imply that the words used don't accurately describe the situation. That's followed by "so-called" and "extremely rare" and a lot of talk about what China thinks, but none at all really about what Taiwan thinks and why it responded as it did. And while I'm happy they asked Bonnie Glaser about this, after some tired faff about the "renegade province" they go on to continue minimizing Beijing's actions as if to say "hey Taiwan, why so serious? It's not a big deal. Don't make this into a whole big thing - you wouldn't want to raise tensions, would you?"

When anybody who is aware of China's actions in the 1990s know that they were meant to scare newly democratic Taiwan into, um...not being democratic. You'll recall that there were also missile tests then, and they were intended as an oblique threat to Taiwan. It was terrifying and kind of a big deal. I remember hearing about it as a teenager in the US who had no relationship to or conception of Taiwan. It was a big deal then and it is a big deal now.

And that's not even getting into SCMP's use of language: "hardline" etc.  - to make Taiwan look like the fire-starter. Plus this steaming turd:

Analysts in Taiwan said, while it remained to be seen how Beijing would react to the order to forcefully disperse any future incursion by PLA jets, Tsai could risk setting off a cross-strait conflict which might drag Washington into the situation [emphasis mine].

Excuse me, ahem.


Seriously, Lawrence Chung and Liu Zhen, what the hell is wrong with you?

Then there's this, from Channel News Asia:

Taipei hit out at China on Sunday (Mar 31) for what it said was a "reckless and provocative" incursion by two fighter jets across a largely respected line dividing the two sides in the Taiwan Strait [emphasis mine].

Excuuuuse me. No. 

China hit out at Taiwan, not the other way around. Why do you lead with an implication that China's the one being provoked, rather than the provocateur? (The rest of the piece is a little bit better, giving some good reasons why Taiwan needs to procure better defensive capabilities and discussing Chinese pressure, though I wonder why they say Tsai will be "fighting" for re-election rather than merely "running").

Outside of Asia, the reporting has been spottier. The Washington Post (via AP), MSN, CNN and ABC News ran stories (mostly copies of each other) which are a bit better than the crap from SCMP and Japan Times. I'm not a fan of the use of "scrambled" (to me it connotes haphazard surprise with a whiff of incompetence) but I'm told it's the correct term. So...okay.

The New York Times ran a Reuters feed which has some of the usual Reuters junk, including this gem:

There was no immediate reaction from Beijing, which views Taiwan as part of its territory.


Didn't Beijing do the action that Taiwan is reacting to? So why are you reporting it as though Beijing is not reacting to Taiwan? Is Beijing's reaction to Taiwan's reaction really so important that it needs its own one-line paragraph? Did I just use up one of my free NYT articles reading this garbage?

To their credit, the Washington Post and ABC News started out with strong reporting on what Taiwan thinks, rather than showing everything the issue through the CCP's preferred lens. Read those to see how it's done right (though WaPo's reporting dives into a little 1949 nonsense toward the end).

But BBC? The Guardian? Anyone else? Anyone home? Hello?


(I Googled and checked the sites of each and found nothing; if I've missed something, let me know.)

Edit: BBC is in the game two days late with a bit more trash for the fire.

How do these growing tensions relate to the deepening differences between Washington and Beijing?

Huh - it's like they don't even care about how this might impact Taiwan or its 23.5 million people.

Taiwan - of course - is seen by Beijing as an inseparable part of China; its separation from the motherland merely a temporary phenomenon.


This weekend's incursion by Chinese warplanes is a reminder of the dangerous Taiwan dimension as well.

There is no "dangerous Taiwan dimension", there is only the "dangerous Chinese expansionism dimension". Why are you making it sound as though this is somehow Taiwan's fault?

For everyone else, why aren't they reporting it?

Maybe they just didn't think it was big enough news, although you'd think an incursion over a tacitly-agreed border which prompted a 10-minute stand-off and a reaction from Taiwan that they will "forcefully expel" any further violations, in one of the biggest the biggest potential flashpoint in East Asia would be, uh, news.

Though I doubt it would be this purposeful, I have to wonder if they shy away from any reporting on China and Taiwan that makes China look bad. Even if the impulse to do so is subconscious, it seems that tensions must always be everyone's fault except China's.

Of course, though most media can't seem to wrap its head around the notion that Taiwan may have an opinion about this and that opinion matters, there seems to always be space to run stories about Beijing lashing out at the US as the reason why it bullies Taiwan (and then denying said bullying).

So we get headlines like "Chinese State Media Blames US For Stirring Trouble in Taiwan", because apparently Chinese propaganda is newsworthy on an international scale, but how Chinese incursions on Taiwan affect Taiwan isn't. 

It's almost certainly not a war-starter, but it is a deliberate instigation. Leading up to the 2020 election we can expect to see more of them, as the CCP attempts to terrify the Taiwanese away from voting for the party that wants to guarantee their sovereignty, and into the arms of a pro-Beijing bloviator that China can manipulate. And, of course, it puts Taiwan in a tough position: respond and risk looking like they are overreacting, or ignore it, which basically gives them the green light to keep ramping up their provocations.

So why is half the world still reporting on it bewildering and frankly disconcerting ways that somehow make it sound as though this - even this! - is either not a big deal, or somehow Taiwan's fault?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

This time, it's Bloomberg choosing its words poorly when discussing Taiwan


Bloomberg just ran a profile article of Han Kuo-yu, and the language choices are...not great. I have it on good authority that the Taipei bureau chief is a good dude, so I'm not sure why, but regardless the language and framing in this piece (which has some strong parts) merit some detailed discussion. Let's have a look. 

For officials in Beijing looking for a Taiwanese presidential candidate who improves the island’s fraught ties with the mainland, Han Kuo-yu is saying all the right things. The question is whether he runs.

"A Taiwanese presidential candidate who improves the island's fraught ties with the mainland" implies that it is somehow Taiwan's fault that ties with China (not "the mainland" - that's politically charged terminology) are tense.

But it's not. I'm sure Tsai Ing-wen would love better relations with China, if China would accept that Taiwan isn't interested in unification. That's not a position held only by Tsai - she was elected in part because of it, and is the general sentiment in Taiwan.

Tsai has extended olive branches, but they come with the clear indication that Taiwan's sovereignty is not up for debate. China has not accepted them.

It's Beijing's fault, not Taiwan's, that relations are "fraught". So it's not Taiwan's job to "improve" them - it's China's.

Also, why are you starting an article with what China wants and thinks, rather than what Taiwan wants and thinks, Ms. Wang?

"Such blunt talk contrasts with Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen, a cautious critic of China who’s bracing for a tough re-election fight after bruising policy battles and an isolation campaign by Beijing."

So, why is she facing a difficult re-election campaign? Is it really because of her stance on China? Most people seem fine with her approach to China - not budging on Taiwanese sovereignty, but not instigating any tensions, either. Her approach ensures that it is clear to all who care to observe that it is Beijing doing the bullying (something that was true, but not always clear, under former pro-Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian).

The reasons why her approval ratings are flagging have to do with the economy (although it's actually not doing as badly as people think) and some displeasure over her 'cool' technocratic governing style, as well as domestic governance at a local level. It's actually not that closely related to issues regarding China.

The sense that it's all due to her views on China is further implied by Wang omitting what these "bruising policy battles" were over. Mostly, domestic issues: marriage equality, labor laws, pension reform, that sort of thing.

Tsai was elected because of her pro-Taiwan views, not in spite of them.

So why is Bloomberg implying that Taiwanese people are angry with Tsai over this, and not domestic governance issues?

Besides, what exactly are we saying here? That in order to "reduce tensions", Taiwanese people might want to consider voting for a Beijing-approved candidate? Are we not aware that that is exactly what China wants, but might not turn out well for Taiwan?

Han’s shock defeat in November of a candidate from Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party in the ruling bloc’s stronghold catapulted him to the top of the list of possible presidential hopefuls from the China-friendly Kuomintang.

Putting this in the same paragraph as the quote above implies that this victory was due to China policies. It wasn't. There were a number of odd convergences here, between Han's populist appeal and some very weird and questionable sources of funding and support (when people talk about possible Chinese interference in the last election, well...I don't know about Han specifically but it wouldn't surprise me). There was anger over local governance.

But your average Kaohsiunger does not agree with Han's pro-China tendencies. Unlike Tsai, he was elected despite, not because of, these views. Look at any data about the political leanings of Kaohsiung residents, and this will be clear (Wang alludes to this later but treats it as an inconvenient aside that contradicts the "China!" narrative.)

On Friday, he begins a week-long trip to Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland cities of Shenzhen and Xiamen.

How lazy does journalism have to be to point this out but not interrogate it at all? It's presented almost like a good thing - no questioning at all of how and why Han was invited to Hong Kong and Macau, and who could have set that up and authorized it...and why? And how his insistence that this trip is "all business" is at odds with what we actually know about it?

No interrogation of whether the candidate China prefers may pose potential risks to Taiwan, and that "improving fraught tensions" is not necessarily the best outcome?

Why - after a few paragraphs implying that Taiwanese want a more pro-China leader (even though that's not necessarily the case) - is none of this considered?

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who held a historic meeting with Taiwanese counterpart Ma Ying-jeou weeks before the vote, has cut off communications with Tsai’s government and led a campaign isolate her island diplomatically.

The meeting was not particularly historic and didn't have much effect at all on how Taiwanese voted in the 2016 election. It was literally a non-event, a stunt to try to convince Taiwanese to vote for the KMT, and it failed. Most Taiwanese do want a strong economy and can accept economic ties with China if they deliver one. But seeing how Ma's push for closer ties did not result in definitive economic growth, and that Beijing showed its hand in terms of quietly tethering 'economic ties' to an agenda of political integration, Wang is making way too much of China's reaction leading up to and post-2016. 

Tsai now looks vulnerable, receiving the support of less than 20 percent in recent polls, as she grapples with both voters concerned about deteriorating ties with China and those who want a cleaner break. 

Though I don't know the exact numbers, Ma didn't have great approval ratings before his re-election campaign either, and won. It's sort of a thing in Taiwan. A smarter write-up would have compared Tsai's current approval ratings to what they tend to be at this point in their administration for any given Taiwanese president.

And it again places too much emphasis on Tsai's China policy, and not enough on domestic-level grievances (some of which, like air pollution and low wages, are merited - but which are results of decades of poor governance and can't be fixed in 3.5 years).

Even if the issue were Tsai vs. China, again, no questioning of what it would mean for Taiwan to choose a Beijing-approved candidate simply because China wished it so? No delving into alleged Chinese interference in the 2018 election? Nothing?

Tsai has sought to push back against Han’s pro-China remarks, saying there can’t be an arranged marriage with China because Taiwan is sovereign and its people have the freedom to choose. Taiwan’s official Mainland Affairs Council also took a shot at him [emphasis mine], arguing the island “must resolutely refuse China’s terrorizing affection.”  

Great way to use language to cast a negative connotation on the rhetoric of one side! "Took a shot at him"? How about "spoke frankly" or "pointed out" or any other neutral choice?

Besides, Tsai is right. Unification is impossible because Taiwan is sovereign and the people have the right to choose...and aren't interested in dictatorship and loss of rights. They can see the ways in which Hong Kong has failed and know not to go down that road.

A note here that most Taiwanese do, in fact, support the status quo (not unification), that the status quo is sovereignty (because it is), do not support unification or "One Country Two Systems", and that Taiwanese identity remains strong would be apropos, but we get nothing.

Others observing from Beijing argue Han’s candidacy could lead to a breakthrough between the long-time rivals. He supports the idea both sides are part of “one-China” -- a negotiating framework Tsai has refused to endorse.

More poor language choices.

First, why is this still being framed in terms of what Beijing wants, not what Taiwan thinks?

Second, when the intentions of one "rival" is to annex the other "rival", and they will not accept any offer of negotiation that doesn't put this potential outcome on the table (which is, to them, the only acceptable outcome), when there is a "breakthrough" that's not necessarily a good thing.

Third, Taiwanese who identify as Taiwanese don't see their goals as part of a "rivalry". Rivalries are for "two Chinas" - the ROC and the PRC. But those who just want Taiwan to be Taiwan aren't a part of that. There's no rival claim to China coming from pro-independence types. It's not a rivalry - it's a bully and a target who refuses to succumb. It's just the wrong word, period.

So on one hand we have this inaccurate, undeservedly positive phrase "breakthrough between rivals", and on the other we have a subtle denigration of Tsai/pro-independence views with "refused to endorse", as though this makes her the instigator or the intransigent side who won't negotiate - as though negotiations could ever be fair in this situation.

Tsai doesn't endorse "one China" because Taiwanese by and large do not want to be a part of China. Why not say that? Why make it seem so negative? Why leave out important facts like this?

“If he wins in 2020, it is likely that he will reverse Tsai’s cross-strait policies,” said Wang Dong, an international relations professor at Peking University and secretary general of the Pangoal Institution, a Beijing-based research group. “The mainland, of course, would have much more trust in him.”

What's up with the implication that it would be a good thing for China to trust and like a Taiwanese politician? No delving at all into what that could mean for Taiwan, when China's goal is to annex Taiwan?

This is a Taiwanese candidate, not a Chinese one. China's bullying does matter, but Taiwan's views matter more.

The question isn't "will China trust him?" (seriously, quit it with "mainland"), but "should Taiwanese voters trust him?"

Why aren't you asking that question, Ms. Wang? 

Kaohsiung city spokeswoman Anne Wang said Thursday that Han was focused on promoting the local economy and “will not think about other plans for the time being.” This week’s trip was intended to promote economic and cultural exchanges and not touch on politics, she said.

You're just going to take her at her word and not actually question this? Do you honestly think China would allow this trip if there were no political motivations?

The trip will test Han’s ability to navigate sticky issues on the mainland and in the fractious former British colony of Hong Kong. His past forays into the public eye have been rocky.

Again with the "mainland". Ugh.

Anyway, again, you should be questioning whether China cooperating with a Taiwanese politician is actually a good thing for Taiwan, but that's either ignored, or you take it as a given. I'm truly not sure which.

When he was a legislator in 1993, Han punched future DPP President Chen Shui-bian, putting him in the hospital. As president of the Taipei Agricultural Products Marketing Co. in 2016, he dared a city councilor to swallow a hockey puck during a dispute. 
During his run for mayor, he told a gathering of female supporters that anyone who created 1,000 jobs in Kaohsiung would get a kiss. Earlier this month, he was forced to apologize after dismissing the idea of attracting white-collar workers from the Philippines since it was hard to believe maids could become English teachers.

Lest you think I just want to hate on this article, I am quoting this here to point out that it's pretty good coverage of his past controversies. Nice work. 

Han successfully cast himself as the “CEO mayor” during the campaign, propelled in part by a social media campaign led by his Canadian-educated daughter, Coco Han. His focus on economics on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook helped garner robust support from younger voters looking for higher wages. 
One of his slogans was: “With goods sold and talent flowing in, Kaohsiung’s people will make a fortune.”

Sure, okay. Not untrue. But it would be smart to question whether his outlandish and oversize promises had a chance of holding up. If you actually look at his focus on the economy, you'll see that he's unlikely to actually be able to deliver on his promises. Kaohsiung will never be Shanghai. It will probably never even be Taipei. We do need to improve the economy across Taiwan, including in industrial centers like Kaohsiung. But...this seems a bit vague and impossible to deliver on.

And at no point do you question this, or ask whether or not it's prudent to run a guy for president who hasn't even proven he can run Kaohsiung, whose promises seem so pie-in-the-sky that any rational person can see that they just aren't credible, and what it means that the KMT is willing to run him anyway, and China is on board.

Why not, Bloomberg? Why not, Cindy Wang?

Monday, March 11, 2019

Even policy wonks legitimize China and delegitimize Taiwan


Something very specific has been bothering me about this policy paper on "Taiwan's Democracy and the China Challenge", published in 2018 by Richard Bush and Ryan Hass.

For awhile, I couldn't pinpoint what didn't sit right, but despite seeming like a wonkish paper that ostensibly made recommendations in Taiwan's best interest, it somehow seemed to do the opposite.

After some thought, I've isolated what's wrong. Take a look at some of the language from the very end of the paper, quoted below.

To China, they say:

Take seriously the views of the Taiwan public (however discordant they may sometimes seem) and the centrality of the democratic system through which those views are expressed (despite its weaknesses). If China is ultimately to achieve its objectives concerning Taiwan, that will require fundamental changes, which in some cases will require amendments to the ROC constitution, which in turn can only occur if there is a very broad public consensus that those changes are in their interests. (Emphasis mine).

To Taiwan, among other more reasonable things, they say:
Maintain a consistent declaratory policy of not supporting Taiwan independence and opposing efforts by either side of the Taiwan Strait to alter the status quo.

The problem is that these two pieces of advice take for granted that China "ultimately achiev[ing] its objectives” is seen as a possible fair outcome, but in which the objective of Taiwan must be opposed.

This is a clear double standard, treating Beijing’s goals as acceptable and Taiwan’s as mere provocation, and reframes Taiwanese de jure independence as a goal of the government, not the will of the people.

And it is the will of the people. Data consistently shows support for Taiwan maintaining its sovereignty. This is expressed as "support for the status quo", but everyone knows that the status quo not a permanent solution and cannot hold forever, as China has made it clear that it will invade Taiwan if it must (or if Taiwan takes too long in surrendering everything it has fought for - freedom, democracy, human rights, gender equality, same-sex marriage, all of it).

The status quo also describes a state in which Taiwan is already sovereign. In other words, what these polls show is that Taiwanese want to keep the sovereignty they already enjoy and already see themselves as independent.

Consider this alongside consistent lack of support for unification with China, and this survey showing that a majority of Taiwanese would fight in the event of a Chinese invasion (I don't know how sound or flawed the survey was, but my anecdotal experience supports the results). Consider as well the fact that Taiwanese people are still not given a way to express their desire for independence, as changing the name of their country from "the Republic of China" to "Taiwan" could well precipitate a war with China: an outcome nobody (except possibly China) wants. As I've said before: to tell Taiwan that it cannot change its status due to threat of war, and then to say that their current status as the "ROC" means they must want to be "a part of China" is an insidious and unfair Catch-22.

Put another way:

The ROC provides protective (if misleading) cover, staving off invasion by maintaining the polite political fiction that the Taiwanese have not already declared their wish to be recognized as separate and independent.

How can a policy paper that claims to address challenges to Taiwan's democracy be taken seriously, when China's goals are given legitimacy as something that may be achieved, but Taiwan's are dismissed as hogwash, not even acknowledged to be the will of the people? The CCP's goals are ultimately the will of the party as the Chinese people don't get a say, and yet they are treated as the goals of China. The public will of the Taiwanese people is, in fact, the will of the country (messy and divided as it may seem, on this point things are pretty clear), and yet it is treated as simply the messaging of a few wayward politicians.

This is deeply unfair, if not deliberately misguided. It is not the position of a true friend of Taiwan, and not even reflective of the truth of Taiwan's position.

I can only think that Bush and Hass, despite claiming to care about the future of Taiwan, see the best or only possible outcome to be some sort of integration with China - they are quite willing to ignore what the Taiwanese themselves actually want. Perhaps this is because Bush and Hass don't have to live in the simmering mess of this unresolved conflict, a situation which they and people like them helped create. In any case, they aren't considering the feelings of the Taiwanese themselves.

Further to this, the notion that the necessary "amendments to the ROC constitution" for China to win this cold war require a "very broad public consensus that those changes are in their interests" is a garbage barge of poorly-considered perspectives. I would have expected better from two respected experts.

I cannot imagine any situation - short of the unlikely fall of the People's Republic of China - in which these necessary changes could ever be in the interests of the people of Taiwan, nor any future in which the Taiwanese would agree to them freely. Look at how China is treating Hong Kong: do Bush and Hass honestly think that Taiwan could ever trust China to safeguard their best interests? If so, what rock are they living under? 

Finally, here is what bothers me the most: experts like Bush go off on a writing bender whenever Taiwan so much as pipes up that it would like independence, thank you very much, which isn't even a controversial position in Taiwan (and shouldn't be on a global scale, either, seeing as they already have it). And yet, whenever China starts frothing at the mouth about Taiwan, talking about how it "cannot renounce the use of force" or that "Taiwan and China must and will be reunited", these same people who claim to care about Taiwan are silent. 


Saturday, March 9, 2019

With doing lots of genocide, Xi Jinping of China keeps with tradition

Photos from the province full where Xi Jinping is committing genocide RIGHT NOW, not that the
New York Times thinks that's important, after all...his hair is graying, so...that's a story, right?

by Confucius McDoorknob

HONG KONG (because we can't report freely in China) — President Xi Jinping is known for keeping the rules of Chinese politics, amassing more power than any leader since Mao, and doing almost as much genocide. 

His latest attempt to shake things up may be one of his boldest moves yet: Mr. Xi is going slightly — though unabashedly — anti-Uighur, in total lockstep with longstanding Communist Party tradition.

For decades, Chinese leaders have attempted to show unnatural 'togetherness' between the various cultural and religious groups of China, a look that symbolized unity and gave the party a not-genocidey veneer.

But Mr. Xi, 65, appears to be dispensing with vanity as he presents himself as a relatable and avuncular mass murderer, part of his efforts to soften his hard-line policies.

As Mr. Xi takes part in the annual meeting of China’s legislature this week, the concentration camps he's set up to systematically wipe out the people of East Turkestan through re-settling the area with Chinese, a heavy-handed surveillance state, "re-education" and straight-up murder have been a hit with delegates and the public.

“He’s very humble,” said Gu Yan, 47, an employee at a technology firm in the eastern city of Xiamen. “He’s not afraid to be himself.”

Mr. Xi has a history of making genocide choices that underscore his image as a man of the Han people. He is often pictured in China wearing a navy blue, zippered windbreaker which doesn't have any blood on it because he doesn't personally do all the genocide, a symbol of humility as he leads a campaign against corruption and also anyone who criticizes him or the CCP, anyone who is not Han unless they are an obedient "ethnic" minority that will dance for Han tourists and also wear colorful costumes but never actually question their (subordinate) place in Chinese society.

His lots-and-lots-of-murdering further reinforces that image, as well as Mr. Xi’s desire to be seen as a paternal figure - I mean like if your dad was a murderer - and live up to the nickname by which he is popularly known, “Murderin' Uncle Xi,” China apologists and flunkies say.

“It’s not this image of the stodgy cadre who must be exactly dyed and dressed in the right mold,” said Western Guy O'Whiteass, a useful idiot who studies Chinese history and politics at Prestige Academy, whom we asked to make it look as though we did any real research into what's actually going on in China. “It’s an image of the party that is more relatable and less apparatchik-like in its aesthetics, but definitely not in its murdering of people who look, act and believe differently."

Going full-on Hitler was not always such a big deal in China — both Mao and Deng Xiaoping, China’s paramount leaders, embraced spilling blood on Chinese soil for infractions such as asking for freedom and human rights. The former was thought to have caused the deaths of millions during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, and the latter, of course, gunned down protesters (or just ran over them with tanks) during the Tiananmen Square protests, which the world seems to have forgotten about and we definitely don't want to remind you about with this article because, you know, profit.

But more recently, as the party promoted a “collective leadership” model to spread power more evenly after the strongman days of Mao so that the blame for disappearing thousands if not more of their own citizens would be more difficult to pin on a single person, and any given person would be able to deny knowledge or complicity, genocide was not as widely practiced, although murder and disappearance definitely still happened.

In the past, how much genocide one does has often been seen as a symbol of status within the party. In 2015, for example, Zhou Yongkang, China’s former chief of domestic security, was shown confessing to crimes during a sentencing hearing, his formerly jet-black hair having turned into a shock of white while he was in detention. Of course, that was probably because he was tortured and forced to admit to whatever the party wanted. 

Zhang Jiehai, a sociologist at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said that in the past Chinese officials embarked on genocide in secret so as not to raise eyebrows both in China and abroad. But now, he said, Chinese officials are younger and society has grown more open. 

“It has become more natural,” he said. “The leaders no longer need to cover up their actual literal real-life concentration camps.”

How exactly Chinese officials maintain the "I didn't mass murder anyone oh actually haha I did"  look is something of a state secret, though copious amounts of money are probably involved.

Mr. Xi’s murder record was mostly unknown when he rose to power in 2012. But as he has grappled with a slowing economy, diplomatic tussles in the South China Sea and a trade war with the United States, he has turned to taking the lives of anyone who opposes him in thought, deed or creed or just looks like someone who might, so as to scare people away from assailing his position of power.

His really-serious-genocide-committing look has not gone unnoticed in the party.

In 2016, a delegate at the National People’s Congress said she had noticed during a meeting with Mr. Xi that he had "done a lot of genocide, I mean, I'm not criticizing him or anything, please don't drag me away and torture me."

“Our country is so big,” the delegate, Zhu Xueqin, speculated at the time. “He needs to manage all sorts of things and it’s very hard.”

Mr. Xi’s example seems to be catching on: many members of the Politburo, an elite 25-member council at the highest levels of the Communist Party, also are surely complicit in some genocide. 

While genocide might be seen as undesirable elsewhere in the world (President Trump proudly declared on Saturday, “I have not committed genocide, at least not yet”), in China some view it as a sign of wisdom.

At barbershops in China, stylists said they applauded Mr. Xi’s decision to kill lots of non-Han people who are viewed as a disobedient threat to CCP control. 

“It makes him look like he works harder — that he’s laboring day and night,” said Liu Ke, a stylist at a salon in the central city of Xi’an.

Jiang Zhirong, the co-owner of a barbershop in a Beijing alleyway, said Mr. Xi couldn’t go wrong.

“Whether he mass murders lots of people I don't know and don't care about or not,” she said, “the president has great style.”

Friday, March 1, 2019

Deliberately Lost in Translation: How Language Is Used to Obfuscate Taiwan's Reality


Consume any mainstream English-language media about Taiwan, and you'll come across an abundant lexicon of terms that sound as though they help define the Taiwan-China situation: "renegade province", "split in 1949", "dialect", "Mainland", "reunification", Chinese", "One China Policy" and "status quo" are probably the most common. More recently, there's also the term "one family", though that doesn't seem to have made the leap to English quite yet, and there's the perennial "tensions", a term which has already been covered extensively for its problematic usage.

These terms are readily employed by writers wanting to appear knowledgeable about the region  - especially non-specialist journalists, though some specialists do it too.

The problem?

Many of these words phrases don't translate well into English, and the ambiguity created by imperfect translations is, in my opinion, being intentionally used to imprint an inaccurate narrative of Taiwan in the international media.

In other cases, the meanings of the terms are clear, but the most common translation is simply wrong, yet encouraged - by China that is - because it promotes their preferred perspective.

And in still others, the implications of the terms call to mind a state of affairs that simply does not exist.

All of these are invisible hurdles that Taiwan advocates must vault in order to make Taiwan's case to the world - every minute we spend arguing over the meaning or use of a term, we waste precious time of other people's attention span to actually make the arguments we want to make in the first place. We are literally held back by language. And I daresay this is not an accident. It is entirely deliberate.

There doesn't seem to be a comprehensive breakdown of this strategic use of language anywhere else and why it's a problem for Taiwan, so I've created one here. Let's have a look - starting with the biggest headache of them all.


The Mandarin term for Taiwan and China (ostensibly peacefully) uniting is 統一 (tǒng yī). It means "unify" or "unification". If you wanted to add the meaning of the "re-" prefix in English to that, it would be something like 再統一 (zài tǒng yī). I've also recently heard the term "回歸" (huíguī), and there's 光復 (guāngfù), which means 'retrocession' or 'recovery', but is rarely used outside of formal speech.

So here's the thing - nobody actually says these in Mandarin. They always use "tǒng yī". The Mandarin term for this concept is "unification". It doesn't mean -  and has never meant - "reunification", though I suspect many in China view it that way, because they've been taught to.

It's not a natural perspective arising from history: the Qing era - an imperial era, really - and the brief interlude between 1945-1949 are the only times in the history of both China and Taiwan that one could argue that the two were united. Both are open to interpretation, however. During their reign, the Qing were not considered Chinese (they were Manchu, which was considered a different group of people). Qing Dynasty China was arguably a Manchu colonial holding; Taiwan was too. And not even all of Taiwan - for most of their time 'claiming' Taiwan, the Qing only controlled the western part of the island, and for most of their reign it was not considered a 'province' in its own right. Before that, Taiwan was not considered 'Chinese', as the people living there were indigenous, and China's borders were considered to end at the sea

So was there one China under the Qing Empire or were there two colonial holdings - Taiwan and China? That's a discussion worth having for a clear historical perspective (though as far as I'm concerned it changes nothing about Taiwan's right to sovereignty now). The government which accepted Japan's surrender on behalf of the allies was not the same government that ceded Taiwan to Japan. Likewise, the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China were never united.

The problem with "reunification", then, is not only that it's not an accurate translation of the Chinese. It also assumes a particular historical interpretation - that Taiwan and China were once clearly unified and that the change in government from 'empire' to 'republic' doesn't matter. "Unification" is a less politically marked word; regardless of one's interpretation of history, it provides the linguistic room the conversation to happen. For that reason alone, it is the more appropriate term when discussing peaceful integration (non-peaceful integration would be "annexation").

So what to make of news outlets using "reunification" as though it's the correct term? I can only assume the editors don't know what they're talking about. Reuters, especially, has just put out some hilarious junk on this point:

China translates the word “tong yi” as “reunification”, but it can also be translated as “unification”, a term in English preferred by supporters of Taiwan independence who point out that Beijing’s Communist government has never ruled Taiwan and so it cannot be “reunified”.

The CCP does promote the use of "reunification" over "unification" to describe 統一, but the rest of this is laughable. It subtly gives credence to the CCP's preferred term by referring to it as "China's" choice of translation, not that of a political party with a particular objective regarding Taiwan, and marks the less problematic and more accurate/directly translated term as political by saying that it is used by "supporters of Taiwan independence" - as though to use it is to make a political statement. When, in fact, the opposite is true: "reunification" is an inherently more politicized word, as it is promoted by a particular political group (pro-China/CCP supporters) and is not a direct translation of the Mandarin term.

"Renegade Province"

This one is interesting, because it doesn't seem to appear in Mandarin-language media regarding Taiwan. A friend of mine asked about this recently, and the answer he got was that media from China discussing Taiwan never use "renegade province", because that would imply that the majority of the people in that province wanted to be "renegades", and that they'd elected a government that represented that wish. China can never admit to its own people that this is in fact the case (and it is!) - it has to refer to those who support Taiwanese independence as "splittists" and make them seem like a loud minority.

This view that Taiwanese national identity is a minority separatist movement is underlined by the recent comments of a Chinese general, who warned that "Taiwanese independence supporters" would be considered "war criminals" if China "were forced" to invade. That would only be possible to carry out if it were a minority of Taiwanese - otherwise, the implication of that statement is that the majority of Taiwanese (so, somewhere between 11 and 23 million people) would be war criminals. But that's exactly what would happen! This general - and China as a whole - cannot admit openly that the majority of Taiwanese favor independence (more on that under "status quo").

The phrase "renegade province" in Mandarin would - to the best of my knowledge - be 叛變的省份 (pànbiàn de shěngfèn). That phrase pops up in Internet searches, but doesn't seem to make any appearances in any major Chinese-language media.

So where did "renegade province" come from?

The best I can puzzle out is that it was picked up by foreign-language media, first appearing in 1982. Prior to that, China had used it to describe northern Vietnam, and the foreign-language media started using it to describe Taiwan out of a desire to summarize the CCP position succinctly (apparently Lee Teng-hui used it too? I have no evidence for this but someone I trust said he did).

The unfortunate side effect is that it gives the international media an easy way to avoid clarifying that China calls pro-independence support in Taiwan the work of "splittists", but that in fact, such a category would include most Taiwanese.

I assume some good faith from the international media - I don't believe they are intentionally trying to distort the narrative. They just don't know better. The CCP, on the other hand, tacitly encourages it, as it keeps Taiwan's perspective from being fully included. It frames the Taiwan issue as being similar to 'separatist movements' that Westerners, at least, seem to think of as destabilizing, overly ethno-nationalist or not their business (how many Westerners do you know who actively support a Kurdish state?), rather than accurately portraying the desire of most Taiwanese to merely maintain the sovereignty they already enjoy.


In Mandarin, there are two ways to refer to a person as "Chinese". The hypernym for this is "華人" (huá rén), and it means a person of Chinese ethnic heritage - whatever that means. Not everyone from China is similar genetically - the Uighurs and Tibetans certainly aren't - and plenty of people who are certainly not from China are Chinese, and not all Chinese speak the same language or are Han, so it's really a reified sociopolitical construct rather than a real definable thing.

But, anyway, let's say you had ancestors from China whom most people would consider "Chinese". It is quite possible in Mandarin to call oneself huá rén the same way I call myself "Armenian" even though I'm a US citizen: without making any statement about one's nationality. You can be Singaporean, Malaysian, Taiwanese, American, Australian or whatever and also huá rén. 

The other term is more of a hyponym: 中國人 (Zhōngguórén), and it specifically means "from China, the country" - as in, a citizen of the People's Republic of China.

Taiwanese who also claim Chinese ethnic identity overwhelmingly refer to themselves as huá rén - only a unificationist or someone actually born in China would call themselves Zhōngguórén.

And yet, in English, both of these terms are translated as "Chinese". It's very confusing, and the Chinese government benefits from the ambiguity - and wants to keep it that way. So much so that it considers all Chinese regardless of citizenship to be primarily Chinese.

This bleeds over into another confusing term: "overseas Chinese". "Overseas Chinese" can be citizens of China who happen to live abroad, or citizens of other countries who emigrated from China, or from other countries with ancestral heritage from China. The Chinese government also benefits from this ambiguity because it makes it easier to defend not only their harassment of Chinese citizens abroad, but their interference in the actions of citizens of other countries (many members of the Chinese Australian community referenced in the pieces above are citizens of Australia, not China).

So, when some know-it-all Dunning-Kruger type says "but the Taiwanese are Chinese!" as though that is a good argument for Taiwan being part of China, he's confusing huá rén (a person of Chinese ancestry, the same way most Americans have ancestry outside the US) and Zhōngguórén (a person from China). Or he's deliberately equivocating: deliberately using the 
huá rén meaning of "Chinese" to convince listeners that Taiwanese are the Zhōngguórén kind of Chinese.

If you're wondering whether this quirk of English translation is intentionally exploited by the Chinese government, well, they equivocate in the exact same way. So yes, it is.

Bring this up, and you might well get some version of "yeah but to be Chinese is a different notion, because of...uh, cultural differences, so the two terms connote more closeness than when Westerners talk about their ethnic backgrounds!"

Except it's not and never has been. First, if it were, there wouldn't be two clearly separate terms for it. Second, ask any Taiwanese what they think of the term 
huá rén and you won't hear that it's similar in meaning to Zhōngguórén. If anything, they'll tell you the opposite. And in order for this "but they are the same" nonsense to have any purchase, the Taiwanese would have to agree with it - and most don't. Otherwise you're just telling people what they should think of their own language and identity. Don't be that person. 

This makes it difficult not only to talk about the parts of Taiwan's cultural heritage which come from China, but for Taiwanese to talk about their ancestry without it being politicized. I'm sympathetic to Taiwanese who don't want to cut off their connection to their Chinese ancestral heritage, and how difficult it is to express that clearly in English without implying that one wants to be a citizen of China, when the two words are the same in English.

And if you're wondering why Singaporeans, Malaysians, Americans and others of Chinese heritage refer to themselves as "Chinese" without hesitation, it's because China's not trying to take over Singapore, Malaysia or the US. They are trying to take over Taiwan. The political implications are simply more dire, and that is not an accident.


As someone who studies Applied Linguistics, this one has me clawing at the air with rage.

First, forget the stupid adage that a language is a dialect with an army and a navy, or however it goes. That was an off-the-cuff joke by a non-linguist. It explains the political reasons why we have separate "language" names for dialects (e.g. Hindi and Urdu), but linguistically it means nothing.

The labels "language" and "dialect" can only be applied in relation to other languages/dialects. In relation to Urdu, Hindi is a dialect, but in relation to Tamil (which is entirely unrelated), it's a language. American English and Australian English are dialects in relation to each other; in relation to German, each is a language.

Languages are mutually unintelligible. Dialects may sound different and have some different features, but are mutually intelligible.

By that rubric, Minnan (Southern Fujianese) and Taiwanese are dialects of each other. In relation to Mandarin, they are languages. Cantonese is a language in relation to Mandarin. Taiwanese, Mandarin and Cantonese are not mutually intelligible.

But oh look, here comes Dunning-Kruger Guy again, and he took Chinese 101 as an elective in college. "But the Chinese [he means Mandarin] word for them translates to 'dialect'! Hah! I explained it!" 

That's true - in Mandarin, the word 方言 (fāngyán) - as in 地方的語言 or "language of a place" - is translated to “dialect", but the underlying implication is more like 'tongue spoken by people of a nearby [in China] place'. This is entirely a sociopolitical construct: in defining what "is" and "is not" China, the tongues spoken "in" China are more conveniently referred to as "dialects" so as to promote a sense of political unity that helps the leaders of China to maintain control and discourages the formation of unique cultural/national identities within China.

It is very convenient for the Chinese government to refer to Taiwanese, which is intelligible by people from southern Fujian, but nowhere else in China - as a "dialect". It implies that Mandarin speakers can understand Taiwanese...but they can't. It promotes a sense of unity where there is otherwise none. It makes it more difficult to talk about this aspect of Taiwanese identity in English, especially as Mandarin was essentially forced on Taiwan by the KMT's language policies, so that the vast majority of Taiwanese now speak it.

Dunning-Kruger Guy: "But they can understand each other through writing because the writing systems are the same! Nyah!"

Sort of, but no. It's more that Taiwanese doesn't have its own writing system, so Chinese ideographs were adopted in order to write it. In that sense, someone who can read Mandarin can puzzle out some Taiwanese writing, but that doesn't mean they are mutually intelligible, any more than Japanese and Mandarin (two different language families) are mutually intelligible just because one can write Japanese in Chinese ideographs (kanji). What's more, with underlying differences in how the characters are used and how the grammar works, it's not as intelligible as you think.

Don't believe me? Ask a Mandarin-speaking/reading friend who is not from Taiwan and doesn't speak Taiwanese or Minnan what this says:

哩講三小! 恁祖媽係大員郎。

Go ahead, I'll wait.

"...split in 1949"

I'll try to keep this one short - the issue here isn't that it's completely wrong, it's that it leaves out key details that change the entire story.

First, I'm not so sure that the ROC (Republic of China) and the PRC (People's Republic of China) "split" in 1949 so much as the ROC fought a civil war with the Communists; the Communists won, drove out the Nationalists and their ROC government, and formed the PRC. To split, two sides must have once been united, and the ROC and PRC were never united.

It also implies, through omitting the history immediately prior to 1949, that before that date Taiwan and China had been united. For how long? Who knows! The media never says!

It's true that from 1945-1949 the ROC controlled both Taiwan and China after a fashion (I mean for most of that they were in the process of taking over for the Japanese on Taiwan while fighting a progressively more dire civil war in China so they would not have actually controlled both places at the same time for even that long, but let's not nitpick).

But before that, Taiwan was a colony of Japan, and before that, a colonial holding of the Qing. To boil that complicated history down to "split in 1949" makes it easier to write succinctly, but also implants in readers' minds this idea that for a significant period of time before 1949, Taiwan and China were part of the same country. And that is simply not the case. To the point that many people who consider themselves well-versed in international affairs likely don't even know that Taiwan was Japanese, not Chinese, before it became part of the ROC. Why? Because the media rarely mentions it!

And why doesn't the media mention it? In part because it takes up valuable word count, but in part because the "China experts" that the media talk to never bother to emphasize this point. And why would they? It helps China's case that Taiwan is Chinese if the rest of the world conveniently forgets that Taiwan used to be Japanese. 


I hate to be one of those people, but let's take a quick look at the first dictionary results for the term "mainland":

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Screen Shot 2019-03-01 at 2.46.01 AM

The clear connotation of "mainland" just going by these definitions is that it is the main/continental part of a territory, and that outlying islands which are referred to in relation to it are also part of said territory.

By that metric, the only reason to use the phrase "Mainland China" in relation to Taiwan is if you want to imply that China and Taiwan have some sort of territorial relationship, or that Taiwan is a part of China. If you believe they are two sovereign or at least self-ruled entities, it makes no sense at all. In that sense, Taiwan doesn't have a mainland, unless you want to refer to "mainland Asia" (as Taiwan is a part of Asia, but not a part of China - you can also refer to "mainland Asia" in relation to, say, Japan).

So why do people keep saying it? I think partly force of habit - because former president and slightly deformed voodoo doll Ma Ying-jeou was pro-unification (yes he was, and is) and his administration used it, or if one is a journalist, perhaps because everybody else still does for some reason. I'm not sure how people came to believe the word was neutral or apolitical. It's not.

If you are wondering just how political "mainland" is, remember that it is required as a corresponding term to "Taiwan" in Xinhua's style guide, which is a reflection of Chinese government policy (seeing as Xinhua is state-run news, as basically all news in China is).

And yet it's become so ingrained in English discussions about Taiwan that people I know have asked what other option there is to refer to China (like, oh, "China"), and then resist, saying that just calling it "China" is political, but "Mainland" is not, when the opposite is true. That's frankly tiring. 

So if you want to talk about Taiwan exactly the way the Chinese government prefers, by all means use "mainland". I don't know about you, though, but I prefer not to be a useful idiot.

"Status Quo"

The thing about the term "status quo" is that it's not wrong - it describes the situation of Taiwan being de facto independent but not de jure independent.

That said, the status quo as it exists today does allow Taiwan to rule itself. It has sovereignty. From the Taiwanese perspective, it may be said that Taiwan is already independent (if we leave aside the compelling argument that the ROC is a colonial entity and true independence will come the day we formally change to a government of Taiwan).

Yet, when people who don't know Taiwan that well refer to the "status quo", they seem to think it means that Taiwan is in a much more precarious state of limbo - I've met people who genuinely think that Taiwan's current status is "a part of China but wanting independence" (like Xinjiang), or that China has some official say in how things are run here (they don't), or that Taiwan simply doesn't have a government (how would that even work on an island of 23.5 million people?). In any case they don't realize that the 'status quo' effectively renders Taiwan as de facto sovereign.

So if you are wondering why I would say that the Taiwanese favor independence when polls show they favor the status quo, it's because the status quo basically is independence. Considered alongside the fact that there is almost no support for unification, the public will is clear.

I do believe this is somewhat purposeful: while the Chinese media refer to Taiwan as a part of China in their own media, internationally they are quite happy to encourage the misconception that "status quo" means Taiwan does not currently have sovereignty in any form, when in fact it does. 

"One China Policy" 

Last but not least, we have the most misunderstood policy in...quite possibly the history of modern international relations.

A frightening number of laypeople and writers confuse the US's "One China Policy" with China's "One China Principle".

The American "One China policy" (which is not so much a single, formal policy as a set of confusing and ambiguous policy decisions, acts, communiques and official documents) stipulates that there is one government of China. Somewhere in this dizzying array of papers, there's an acknowledgement that people on "both sides" agree that there is "one China" and Taiwan is a part of it (wording that was penned back when the government of Taiwan felt that way, but was a military dictatorship and therefore not representative of the will of the people).

These documents, however, are more of a recognition or acknowledgement of the situation rather than a formal statement about what the US believes vis-a-vis China. That is to say, the US government acknowledges China's position that their territory includes Taiwan, but does not say that the US necessarily agrees (or disagrees) - only that the issue should be settled bilaterally.

Leaving aside the fact that a bilateral solution is not possible, the clearest interpretation of the "One China policy" is that the US takes no formal stance other than that there should be no unilateral moves. That means Taiwan can't unilaterally declare independence, but also that China can't take Taiwan by force.

So why do so many people seem to think that it means "the US believes Taiwan is a part of China"?

First, because China's own "One China Principle" (which does say that Taiwan is Chinese) sounds so similar to the "One China policy" - and there's no way that's unintentional. Of course they want it to be confusing.

Second, because every time someone points out that Taiwan is already self-ruled, and that the US maintains close (unofficial) ties with Taiwan which include arms sales and trade as well as unofficial consulates, a bunch of yahoos butt into the conversation with "but One China Policy! The US says Taiwan is Chinese!"

Some of these are surely Dunning-Kruger Guys, but I suspect a fair number of them are PRC trolls who deliberately muddy the issue and crap all over these conversations, so that we Taiwan advocates spend time fighting with them rather than getting our message out to people who might listen.

Let me repeat: China wants you to think that the US agrees that Taiwan is a part of China, and so it (probably) deliberately gave its own policy a similar name in the hope of confusing you, and is all too happy to let Internet trolls (who may be on its payroll) further obfuscate the truth. 

* * *

It's quite late now and I've just spent my whole evening writing about the deliberate use of language to confuse non-experts into believing half-truths and untruths about Taiwan. Sometimes this is done through exploiting ambiguous translations into English, sometimes through promoting certain word choices and unhitching them, through repeated use, from their political origins. And sometimes through deliberate style choices and other means.

I can only hope the international media will wise up and start reporting on Taiwan and China with more accurate terminology and clearer explanations, but I've got to be honest. Most of the folks writing for said media don't know the region well enough, and I'm not holding my breath.

In the meantime, everyone reading this should take a long look at the language they use to talk about these issues, and start using accurate terms that make Taiwan's case to the world, rather than holding ourselves back with terminology deliberately put in place to make it more difficult for us to do so.