Showing posts with label media. Show all posts
Showing posts with label media. Show all posts

Monday, August 10, 2020

US Official Visits Friendly Democratic Nation, China Escalates Tensions All Alone in Corner By Itself

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I'm still on hiatus but this will be quick. 

And in fact, the bigger story today is the raid of the Next Media/Apple Daily offices and arrest of Jimmy Lai, but I have no specific comment on that, except to say that one way you can show support for freedom of the press in Hong Kong is to subscribe or donate to Next Media and Hong Kong Free Press. They are going to need all the help they can get and we can prove that the CCP's tactics are not supported by the rest of the world. Click on the "About" section on the right on HKFP's Facebook page for an easy link to donate or subscribe. Subscribe to Next Media here -- there is an English edition.

Although the free press is secure in Taiwan and it's not directly related, let me take this opportunity to plug Taiwan Report's Patreon, too. Taiwan Report is a project by a couple of people who just care about Taiwan and are creating content in English on Taiwan simply because they want to, and they deserve your support. I feel this, because I also create content simply because I want to -- but I don't need financial support, all it really takes is my time because Blogger's terrible platform is free -- and because as I've been holed up writing this dissertation, I've had to cut down on my news consumption. Taiwan Report condenses the relevant news into short podcasts that I actually have time to listen to, enabling me to keep up during a very busy time in my life. I am grateful for that. 

These outlets are not just worth supporting because they are some of the last bastions of a free press in Hong Kong, or run by individual people, not companies. They're also worth supporting because the actual global media is doing a pretty terrible job of reporting on things like Alex Azar's visit to Taiwan. 

I don't even mean that they aren't critiquing the fact that he's visiting a country that succeeded in part because it has universal health insurance, without showing any support for the concept in the US even though it works. I mean the headlines themselves are absolutely ridiculous. And I mean that despite respecting some of the people who wrote the articles (I doubt they got to choose the headlines, it's their editors I want to beat with the stupid stick). 

At least the Washington Post did a decent job. This is good work:


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Everyone else, you should be ashamed. But because I don't have a stupid stick to beat you with, I made the bad headlines better. Here you are. Happy holidays. 

Now, back to my dissertation. Because I am ALL IN on corny dissertation titles, I am calling it Voices from a Forbidden Nation, just in case you were wondering if I was going to get political. I look forward to finding out all the universities I now can't apply to for a PhD (if I choose to do one) because the case I build from my research is implicitly critical of China. Yes, even in education.



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Friday, December 27, 2019

Bad backgrounding but good intentions: an eternal problem for Taiwan

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I don't have a related cover photo so please enjoy this rural menagerie


It is so frustrating, honestly, to read a well-intentioned piece that interviews mostly good people (I'm iffy on Jason Hsu) to try to make a point I generally support. Then to open it up and realize it's full of little inaccuracies and bad backgrounding that render it unsharable - and then to see all your friends sharing it, when it's really not that great.

I don't really want to go up against pieces like this as I'd like to see more coverage of what Taiwan and Taiwanese think from the international media. But I can't just blindly support journalism where I think the execution is somewhat poor, either. 


This particular piece by Anna Fifield in the Washington Post gets better towards the end - almost all of my criticisms are aimed at the first half. Let's take a look at a few of these problems, hopefully as an informative tour of how to do a better job writing about Taiwan. 


(I have to run off now - I'll try to populate this with more links to support my points later.)

First, there's the title:

Taiwan’s ‘born independent’ millennials are becoming Xi Jinping’s lost generation

Excuse me, Ms. Fifield.

Taiwan's millenials aren't Xi Jinping's anything.

They are Taiwanese and what they think or do is based on their lives and perspectives, not what Xi Jinping thinks. Xi is irrelevant to their daily existence except as a kind of weird scary dude in the background. Why are we starting this off by framing it through the eyes of China?

But let's not linger on that - often writers don't get to choose the title. This is bad, though, and whoever wrote it should feel bad. 



TAIPEI, Taiwan — The prospect of a “one country, two systems” arrangement for Taiwan — bringing the democratic island under Chinese control while largely preserving its autonomy — has never seemed realistic to lawyer Hsu.

The first issue is fairly minor, but worth noting. "One country, two systems" would not "largely preserve" Taiwan's autonomy. The Chinese Communist Party has already made it clear that to them, "one country, two systems" means Taiwan can keep only the aspects of law and society the CCP deems "legitimate", such as property ownership and personal religious belief (though even the latter is doubtful given how they treat their own people). They have never included "democracy" or "human rights and freedoms" in the model.



With Tsai’s reelection, the divide between millennials who want an independent Taiwan and older generations who have generally been more amenable to Communist-run China will only grow wider. Perhaps irrevocably so.


This isn't wrong on its face - older voters are indeed more likely to vote for pro-China candidates and argue that we need closer ties to "the mainland" (a term that is commonly interchanged with "China" without implying support for unification, but I've noticed has been increasingly aging out of use by younger Taiwanese).

However, not even older Taiwanese are particularly in favor of unification - they've just been convinced that being "closer" to China isn't a Chinese strategy to render Taiwan so economically dependent on China and devoid of global recognition that they could not possibly remain sovereign forever. The younger generation are smart enough to see through this tactic. Some older voters do favor unification as "the ROC re-taking the Mainland". They are delusional.

This is not "perhaps" irrevocable. It is irrevocable. Once the curtain is drawn back it's impossible to un-see the truth.



“Taiwan has not been ruled by China for one day or for one minute or even for one second in our lifetimes,” said Miao, a 31-year-old pro-independence member of Taipei’s City Council, adding that her conservative father is more bothered by her stance toward China than by the fact she’s lesbian.

I hate to criticize Miao Poya as she's one of my personal heroes, but it would have been more accurate to leave off "...in our lifetimes". Taiwan has never been ruled by China as it exists today, and the "China" that held colonial power in Taiwan just cannot be said to be the "same" China (nor was it outright rule - more like colonial control of part of Taiwan) that exists today. Therefore, Taiwan has never been ruled by China, period. 


Unlike many of their grandparents’ generation, who fled the Communists on the mainland seven decades ago, or their parents, who grew up under authoritarian rule, young Taiwanese have never known anything other than democracy and pluralism.

This is not totally untrue - the parents of the current zeitgeist generation knew dictatorship; the youth never did. But it is misleading - "many" is wrong. In fact, only a small minority of their grandparents' generation fled China after losing to the Communists. A few million KMT diaspora showed up. Taiwan already had a population much larger than that - most of today's generation has much deeper ancestral ties to Taiwan. 

Why do articles like this always assume that hardly anybody lived on Taiwan before the KMT showed up? It's true that that wave of refugees had disproportionate privilege once their government colonized Taiwan, and therefore disproportionate impact on 20th century society, but they were in fact a fairly small minority.
Taiwan has been politically separate from the mainland since the nationalist Kuomintang, or KMT, fled to the island when the Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

This is flat-out wrong.

Taiwan and China were politically unified, officially at least, for a few short years in the 1940s. Within two years of the KMT arriving in Taiwan in 1945, unrest kicked up in both Taiwan and China (228 and its aftermath in Taiwan, the civil war in China). By 1949 - just four years later - the ROC had lost control of China, and still could only said to be 'occupiers' of Taiwan as there was no legal basis for their continued rule (an issue which still has not been solved). They were not invited here by Taiwan; they came from a foreign country and set up a government. In effect, they were just another wave of colonizers.

Before that, Taiwan was a colony of Japan. For 50 years. Why do people always forget that?

And before that, it was a colony of the Qing, who were not considered Chinese at the time. It's hard to say definitively that Taiwan could be considered "a part of China" from that history. As I've written:



Arguably, Qing Dynasty China might be considered a Manchu colonial holding, as was Taiwan. Moreover, the Qing only controlled the western part of the island, which for most of that period was not considered a ‘province’ in its own right. 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.... [note: I've edited this slightly from the original].
It is true that from 1945–1949 the ROC “controlled” both Taiwan and China. Yet China was torn asunder by civil war, and ROC “control” of Taiwan was a postwar occupation conducted at the behest of the wartime allies as their representative....
To boil that complicated history down to “split in 1949” makes it easier to write succinctly, but also implants in readers’ minds the idea that for a significant period of time before 1949, Taiwan and China were part of the same country. That is simply not the case. 

How many times do we have to keep repeating this for well-meaning journalists to get the memo and stop writing about Taiwan as though it had been a part of China before 1949?

Here's my suggestion: "Taiwan, first colonized by the Qing dynasty and later by Japan, was briefly ruled as a part of China from 1945-1949, before the ROC government fled China following their defeat by the Communists."


That's short and accurate, unlike the garbage Washington Post allowed in here.
“This wave of democracy is not stopping,” he [Jason Hsu of the KMT] said. “There is no going back. The KMT is also realizing this. We can have different opinions in how we deal with China, but we all have concerns about democracy.”


Oh, Jason. You are so deluded about your own party and so very, very disappointing. You really don't see how many of them are quiet (or not-so-quiet) annexationists, because they think they would personally benefit? You still don't think Chinese money is pouring in to influence the media and bolster the funding of KMT candidates?

I support the idea that KMTers/pan-blue believers should get a say in pieces like this, so we can juxtapose their views with the pro-Taiwan narrative we know so well as allies. I can see why Hsu is a popular choice - his quotes appeal to moderation and sense, and make the KMT more palatable.

But do the people who quote him realize that his views don't actually represent KMT beliefs more generally, and that he's something of an outsider in his own party? 


Then there's this:
Some 60 percent of Taiwanese ages 20 to 34 now support full independence, up 10 points from a year ago, according to an Academia Sinica poll.

It's not wrong. But more could be said here - the other 40% don't support unification, they support "the status quo". Most people who support that are aware it can't last forever, and some even understand that the longer we continue it, the more time we give China to quietly (or not-so-quietly) attempt to interfere in Taiwan's economic and political systems. Of those, most lean towards eventual independence, not unification.

For almost all Taiwanese, the status quo is independence as Taiwan is sovereign in its current state. The goal for the vast majority has always been independence, with the only question being "what form should it take" and "how long should we wait". It's misleading to imply that support for independence stops at 60%, even though the statement itself is not wrong.

It would also have been smart to note that an even larger number of people identify as only Taiwanese, or as primarily Taiwanese. Those poll numbers exist.


The rest of the article is better - at least, it's good enough that I don't need to pull quotes and tear them down.

But man, in an attempt to clarify for the world that Taiwanese do not see themselves as Chinese and almost certainly never will, they sure got the background on this one wrong. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

No, Chinese don't "like their government" because of economic, historical and cultural reasons: a media analysis/rant

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Some sort of "analysis" popped up recently on SupChina which I ardently disagree with. I normally wouldn't bother about writing a whole reaction post for something that's not entirely awful, in a media outlet that's not mainstream. But, I feel like addressing this time as doing so will hit on a few areas of China media literacy and criticality where we all need to stay sharp.

Let me first say that the piece, which talks about why so many Chinese seem to actually like, or even love, their absolutely awful government, isn't wrong per se (though some areas could use a bit more complexity). It's that it doesn't quite draw a clear cause-and-effect line the way it purports to.

In short, the reasons they give in the piece - "the economy! Chinese history! Cultural reasons!" - are all talking points for those who defend the CCP. There's nothing new - it's the same litany you'll hear from one of the more loquacious fifty-cent trolls. By repeating these excuses uncritically, SupChina is legitimizing them - but they are not legitimate.

Think about it this way: how do you get from "China is a country that has a literal gulag archipelago and comparisons to Nazism are not unwarranted" to "but many Chinese citizens like and will defend their government"? 


How could it be as simple as "the economy - and also, culture"? How could we possibly take such an answer on its face, either from SupChina or any given Chinese citizen spouting such excuses? I'll come back to these questions later.

Before I start in on how foolish it would be to do so - and I will start in at length, believe me - let me say two things. 


First, I really appreciate is the emphasis on the lack of political data for China. A lot of "Chinese people think...." analyses lack this crucial detail, making it sound like the writer actually knows what common sentiments are. Even if polling existed, it's doubtful that the people polled would feel comfortable being honest.

Second, I'm going to talk a lot about Chinese people often believing certain things because they're educated to do so, and that education is reinforced by Chinese media. I want to say now that this is not a simple "they're brainwashed!" or racist "they just can't think critically!" diatribe. People in China, as anywhere, are just as capable of critical thought as anyone else and many can and do form the ability. My point is only that institutional barriers to doing so are both intentional, and higher than in many other places.



It's not the economy, stupid - it's what people are primed to think about the economy

The piece expends a huge percentage of its word count on how improving the Chinese economy caused a lot of people in China to look favorably on their government, and almost none on education and media censorship. 

But those who have been positively affected by the economy - which I admit is a massive number - are taught at school that this miracle which has helped them and so much is entirely thanks to their government, whether or not that's true. This message is reinforced by the media. Sure, they can look around them and see that things have gotten a lot better economically (and they have, even since I lived there in the early 2000s). But when no competing stories are allowed regarding why that is, and no stories about those still living in poverty make it into the news, the real point here is that the economy improved stupendously and the CCP gets sole credit for it by taking that sole credit - by force. 

Does the Chinese government really deserve such kudos? I'm no economist, but one thing I've noticed in my adult life is that while economic policies have an impact, generally speaking economic ups and downs can be bolstered or mitigated with such policies but the actual waves can't be changed much. And when an economy has all the factors in place and the market is open enough to give it the necessary space to happen, it's going to happen no matter who's in charge.

It doesn't matter though, because that's not the story. I can't repeat this enough: many Chinese citizens will say "but the CCP lifted millions out of poverty!" not because the CCP itself necessarily did so, but because that's the only narrative they render possible in China.

There's also an implication here that all of the awful things the CCP have done - the genocides, the mass famine, the cultural destruction, the near-total lack of freedom - are not only justified by "the economy", but are necessary components to bolstering it. And that's just nonsense. 

But if you're not taught about all of the atrocities and so are only vaguely aware of them if at all, you don't hear about massive wealth inequality outside of your east coast Chinese bubble, you grow up with a lack of freedom being normal, and you're consistently fed the line that only the CCP could engineer such stunning growth and anything you hear about the horrors they've inflicted on the country are either justified, necessary or simply non-existent, and you are encouraged by both school and society not to think too deeply about it, only then could you ever use "it's the economy!" as a reason for supporting the CCP.


What about the people the economy left behind?

Oh yes, and the fact that you can only use this "but the economic growth! They lifted so many people out of poverty!" story if you are talking about (or to) the people that actually got lifted out of poverty. Of course they'll defend the current system - they benefit from it! And, to quote Upton Sinclair but with less sexism, it's difficult to get someone to understand something when their salary depends on their not understanding it. 

Ask any one of the millions of people in towns and villages that are not on the east coast, which benefited less (if at all) from the economic boom. Rather like Trump voters who really believe that their man is gonna make everything "great" "again" but just needs more time, you might meet a few who think they are temporarily displaced middle class that the CCP is coming to help any day now, but I wonder how many would just look at you like "whatever dude". Ask a Tibetan. Ask an Uighur. Ask a person of Hmong (Miao) or Dong or Li heritage.

But you didn't ask them, did you? You asked some rando on the street in Shanghai with a fashionable bag (real or not). The students who could afford to take your English class. Maybe you talked to Chinese wealthy enough to travel abroad. Or you didn't ask anyone personally and just read the online opinions of Han Chinese wealthy enough to have an Internet connection. 

You asked privileged voices, and so of course you'll get privileged answers.

Wanna know how I know? Here's how:


In the 1990s, the word for tourism (旅游 lǚyóu) was novel for most of China’s population; today, there’s not a single country in the world that Chinese tourists do not visit.

Great, but what you mean is that there's not a single country in the world that Han Chinese tourists do not visit - because good luck getting a passport if you're Uighur.

Again, the article itself isn't wrong per se, a lot of people of this class and background do support the government because they have benefited from the economic gains China has made. But I'm really curious what people who haven't benefited think, and there are still huge numbers of those thanks to that wealth inequality problem (though I concede that we don't really know what the true statistics are, they're probably worse than imagined.)


Can we please leave Confucius out of this?

This is where I think the article in question, and most commentary on China (and Taiwan, and most of East Asia...) goes off the rails and right into a ditch:


Confucian thought is of course an important part of China’s cultural fabric, and if there’s one thing that Confucius was very clear about, it was the need to respect authority.  
Many Chinese people argue that theirs is a more collectivist society, which means that they’re willing to give up some individual rights in exchange for prosperity and the greater good. This argument suits the Chinese government just fine.

No. I have no time for the excuse that "Chinese culture" provides less fertile soil for democracy to take root.

The article name-checks Taiwan, which is also "more collectivist" than the West, and which has Confucius temples and a few people who will tell you the old guy matters (though most people don't think about it much in their daily lives), and yet still has a pretty successful democracy. But Hong Kong is an important example too - it's quite clear that "Chinese culture" is not holding them back. Tiananmen Square happened, and "culture" didn't hold the demonstrators back - tanks and bullets did. So why do people keep saying this?

Again, it's not exactly wrong: the writers were quite right to point out that this line of thinking benefits the CCP and it's not as though Confucius is entirely unimportant. It's not that Chinese society isn't collective at all.

But it's a bit like arguing that "Aristotelian thought is of course an important part of Europe's cultural fabric, and if there's one thing Aristotle was very clear about, it was that a wise monarch would be better than a democracy. That's why European nations often still have royalty."

Besides, it also ignores the similar importance of Lao Tzu and other thinkers to Chinese cultural fabric, and (to oversimplify by a lot), that dude was all about how we should all do what you feel and just chill, okay? Of course, you don't hear as much about him because it benefits the CCP to elevate Confucius.

And, of course, it oversimplifies Confucius. Confucius was all about the need to respect competent authority, but he was just as critical of tyrannical authority. Didn't he say that a tyrannical government was worse than a ferocious tiger (苛政猛於虎)? That was my buddy C-dog, right? I don't have my Chinese proverbs mixed up?

Plus, he was very much a proponent of critical thinking, if you read him right. Confucian education was more than memorization - it was about applying everything you'd learned to real situations. Honestly - do you think some people (not me though) think Koxinga was a legendary general because of how much stuff he memorized? No - it was how well he applied what he'd learned to real battle situations.

So where's all this "Confucian thought is so important" and "we are a collectivist society" and "Confucius said respect authority" coming from? From the very last line quoted above.

These things are oft-quoted as "important" because the CCP has engineered them to be so. It's in the education system, the media, everywhere.

Todd, who lives in China: "But Chinese education is based on Confucianism! So if Confucianism encourages critical thinking, doesn't that mean that Chinese education teaches it?"

Nope. Chinese education isn't Confucian, it's authoritarian. They are very different things. Confucian education did involve a lot of memorization and strong respect for authority, but authoritarian education specifically seeks to instill in you exactly what the people in charge want you to believe. Confucian education was only available to a select wealthy few who could afford it. Authoritarian education seeks to be more universal - not for the noble reasons you might concoct (though good reasons for universal public education exist, and I support it more generally), but to make sure the Party's values are inculcated into as many minds as possible. They even build whole camps where they force it on you! And it definitely does not promote critical thought.

Of course, the CCP wants you to believe this is "Confucian". It sounds better, it comes across as culturally respectful, and provides a handy excuse for why it is so memorization-and-testing-heavy that doesn't sound so...well, authoritarian.

Todd: "But Taiwan's education is like that too!"

Me: "Yes, because Taiwan is in the unfortunate position of being a democracy with a holdover authoritarian education system created by the Japanese and continued by the KMT, which desperately needs to be updated to reflect contemporary Taiwanese society if its democracy is going to weather the coming storms."


If you still want to believe that the reason here is "culture", not "education and media working together as engineered by the CCP", I can't help you, but I also can't stop a Hong Kong protester from jump-kicking your wrong assumptions in the face.



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Actual Hong Kong protester who has no time for your bullshit

No, it's not about history either

I mean, everything SupChina said about Chinese history is true. The century of humiliation was a thing - for centuries, Western countries were all about being absolute titclowns to everyone else in the world, including that 1850-1950-or-so century. Of course they were jerks to China too.
This is what the Chinese call the century of humiliation (百年国耻 bǎinián guóchǐ), and every child learns about it at school [emphasis mine]. The Qing dynasty began in 1644. At the height of its powers, it expanded China’s territory to include Taiwan, Tibet, and what is now called Xinjiang. 

But what Chinese schoolchildren don't learn about is how incompetent or outright colonial their own governments used to be in imperial times. I'm sure Chinese history textbooks spend lots of time on the imperialism of Western powers, but very little (if any?) on how the Qing weren't considered Chinese at the time and were also therefore a kind of colonial power in China as well. They probably don't learn as much about how badly Qing forces obliterated the countryside during their conquest and how much poverty this wrought. (If you're curious about some of the cultural products spurred by this devastation, read up on the history of the green lion.)



Let's not forget straight-up racism!
Han chauvinism - that is, supremacist and racist sentiment against non-Han people by Han people in China - is a real thing. In part, it's just a tendency you see across humanity; the racism you see by Han Chinese against, say, Tibetans or Uighurs isn't that different in terms of attitude than what you see in other countries against marginalized groups there. But in part, it's encouraged by the CCP,  because it fits into their narrative of a 'superior Chinese race' and 'all Chinese people owe loyalty to China' to promote Han chauvinism. Plus, it's a handy excuse for the (almost entirely Han) elite to ignore the atrocities happening out west, if they hear about them. "But they're Uighurs. They're terrorists!" is an easy go-to if you want to pretend concentration camps aren't a problem. Same for "but China helped develop Tibet so much. It's good for those backward Tibetans that so many charitable Han Chinese have moved there."

Some of this is implicit in CCP messaging, both in school and the media - portraying ethnic minorities as just Chinese in different colorful costumes and funny hats, which makes it easy to accuse members of those groups that don't want to be "Chinese" of being "separatists". Some of it is more explicit (ever hear that song about being 'the same blood'?) All of it still goes right back to CCP social engineering.

But it's a lot harder to write honestly about the explicit use of racism in China by the CCP as a tool to stay in power than to just throw your hands up and say "Confucius! Century of humiliation! Wealthy east coast!"


What you're told, and what you need to tell yourself

So, of course, this all comes down to the same thing in the end: it's not about "the economy" or "Confucius" or "culture" or "history". It comes down to the CCP engineering what you learn, what you see on TV and online, what you read, what people are willing to say to you, and what you should be afraid of saying.

Why, then, does SupChina spend so much time on tangential issues but just 9½ lines (I counted) on education and the media, when that is literally the entire story and should be the main focus? Everything else branches off of that core, like spokes on a wheel, but this story is written as though the spokes make the wheel. 


This is an excellent time to bring up the way that the United States also has a string of concentration camps, many of which house families and children seeking a better life, or to escape near-certain death, and how many Trumpists will either ignore or defend this, despite having access to a freer media environment and better education than in China.

Yup, because they benefit from the system staying the way it is and are hostile to any changes that endanger their position, if not economic, then race-wise (and often both). They were always pre-disposed to turning a blind eye or making excuses. This hostility and reactionary fear has been harnessed intentionally under Trumpism. You see some of the undercurrents of it in China regarding 'fear' of Uighurs and general Han chauvinism.

In both cases, there's an element of Stockholm syndrome, too. If you see no way to speak out, and no way to escape the system, you find ways to live within the system. You rationalize. It's what human brains do to cope. You were handed all these excuses in school, after all, and it's easy to use them (I mean this for both the United States and China - after all, I grew up learning about so-called "American exceptionalism". Yikes.) You might not even be fully aware of the government's worst atrocities (again, I mean this for both countries, though it's a more intentional ignorance in the US).

The key differences are, first, that in China it's centrally-planned and intentional - most US educational policies vary by state. And, of course, that in the US we can talk about these issues freely. That alone causes so many of those barriers I mentioned in the beginning to come crashing down.

To end with the key question I posed in the beginning - how do you you rationalize or ignore literal gulags and mass murder and defend the regime perpetrating them?

Because it either benefits you to do so, you are taught to do so, or you've created a coping mechanism because you know you can't change it. Or - as I suppose is often true - some combination of the three. It's never actually because "the economy improved" or "it's our culture" or "the century of humiliation" (which ended almost a century ago). Never, ever, not ever.

So why, oh why, would you take the litany of Chinese excuses on their stupid, CCP-engineered faces, as SupChina wants to do?

Look instead at where every one of these excuses originated, and therein lies the answer. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Are things getting better, or worse? - Hong Kong, Taiwan and the world

I hope you enjoy my terrifying gif

At a wedding this past weekend, some friends and I were discussing anxiety, perception and the state of the world. Someone pointed out that most global indicators (except climate change) have in fact been improving: crime rates in previously high-crime areas, global extreme poverty, overall rates of conflict, child labor, child mortality and global income inequality - these are all on the downswing. Life expectancy, productivity (and even leisure time, though it doesn't seem like it), access to electricity and clean water, percentage of people living in democratic nations) are all on the rise.

In short, we didn't know that things were much worse back then, because we didn't have access to the kind of news coverage we do now: so much so that what we are able to know about current affairs far outstrips our ability to take any meaningful action regarding it. (Well, hello Xanax. How are you today?)

Okay, great. But then why do things still feel like they're getting worse? It's not that the argument above is too abstract - I'm quite capable of hearing that overall crime rates are lower than when I was young and the world seemed safe and taking it into account, even feeling a little soothed by it.

It's that the specific situation we're actually living through in Taiwan and Hong Kong is in fact getting worse.

In other words, it's not that the livestreams from Hong Kong I was glued to last night, in which white-shirted gangsters thought to be in collusion with the Beijing government attacked protesters, made me think that the whole world was spiraling toward Hell and none of those positive indicators above mattered. It's that in the specific part of the world where I live, this is the new reality, and it's not looking good.

In Hong Kong and Taiwan in 2014, while gangsters caused trouble for the Occupy Central protesters in Hong Kong and attempted to do the same in Taiwan to the Sunflower Movement and other protests, at least in Taiwan there was a modicum of police response. Though even that seems to be growing more rare: in early 2017 the police protected Hong Kong activists who'd come to Taiwan for a form hosted by the New Power Party, but by late 2017, they didn't seem to be responding much at all to random gangsters beating up protesters. By 2018, there were questions about how close the gang-affiliated associations thought to be sending these thugs really were with the Taiwanese police, and it's already well-documented that they have ties to Beijing and pay protesters (and presumably thugs) to create nuisances that they themselves don't want to seem directly involved in. The whole "China hires gangsters to do their dirty work" is not at all new.

Beijing's actions - and attempts at forcing both Hong Kong and Taiwan into submission - are also getting more obvious. Just a few years ago, it felt as though Beijing was still making a serious yet flawed attempt to at least present a veneer of a workable "one country two systems" framework. It was always a bad deal and nobody bought it, but it had a vintage sheen of politesse. It was ultimately meaningless but at least provided Taiwan and Hong Kong with some maneuvering room to provide some meaningless verbiage of their own as their way of saying "no thanks". Yes, they kidnapped and attacked booksellers in Hong Kong, they erected an entire tourism industry and tried to make us believe it was vital to the economy (it wasn't) only to take it away the moment Taiwan elected someone they didn't like. They've always had ties to certain gangs and alliances in Taiwan and tried to push through their agenda via a Ma administration amenable to their demands.

But Ma was a pro-China president, not a president maneuvered into place by China (though certainly they supported those who supported his candidacy). China attempted a stronger media presence as well, and were rebuffed. If things seemed critical before the Sunflower Movement - and they also seemed critical for a period in 1996, but China was a lot less powerful then - there were inspiring anthems and 2014 and 2016 elections to look forward to. In 2014 there was still a shred of belief that Hong Kong police served and protected Hong Kong citizens, and their presence was not a reason to feel unsafe per se.

Now, in Hong Kong the government just outright calls protesters "rioters" (for a little spray paint and broken glass, and breaking an approved protest route but attacking no one unprovoked) while not mentioning thugs committing actual violence that seem increasingly likely to have been hired by Beijing or pro-Beijing proxies. They attack protesters as though they are criminals. Chinese officials call pro-independence supporters in Taiwan "war criminals" - as though that is even possible. When a majority of a population believe something, that's not a "war crime", it's public consensus.

One candidate for president in Taiwan is a straight-up literal Manchurian candidate, and he's freakishly popular in that weird brainwashy way that Trump seems to be - people loving him for his rhetorical style and not caring that there's no substance behind it. You know how in Snow Crash, people would start randomly uttering syllables that were presumably ancient Sumerian, and follow directives based on them, due to some sort of neuro-linguistic virus? Well. (I suspect pro-China types are simply paid). Even scarier? He might actually win.

And now, in Taiwan, years after the anti-media monopoly movement, few imagined that pro-China forces would stop attempting to openly buy Taiwanese media outlets, but rather that Beijing would simply infiltrate the ones that already exist and give direct orders to their editors. That they'd have them publish pro-China garbage directly from the Taiwan Affairs Office without even bothering to change the characters from Simplified to Traditional Chinese:






You could say the bad guys are getting sloppy, not things getting worse, but I read it as the CCP just not caring anymore - they've realized that with all of the tools used to foment instability in the US (fake news, rallies at which speakers spout meaningless but exciting populist garbage that stokes discontent and chauvinism, trolling, both-sidesism and using the fourth estate's commitment to freedom of speech against itself) and with a particularly Chinese element of paid thugs + plausible deniability, that they don't need to be sneaky or clever about it anymore. They can just be aggressive dicks.

How can I look at all that and say "things are getting better"? Sitting in my Taipei city apartment and knowing that what's happening in Hong Kong is China's plan for my own city in just a few short years, the two ideas simply do not reconcile.

The obvious answer is that things are getting better with the exception of this regional strife - that the world is a better place, there are fewer conflicts overall, and this one is relatively contained: it only dominates my thinking because it's happening in my part of the world.

But that doesn't square either. In fact, a lot of things are getting better in Taiwan - just not the China issue. Taiwanese identity and independence remains higher than it had been in previous decades despite some fluctuation. Transitional justice is finally a thing that's really happening. I would argue that Tsai, while imperfect as all leaders are, is the best president Taiwan has ever had (and might write an independent post to that effect). While progress is slow, indigenous issues are gaining traction. The economy is actually pretty strong, considering the global economic situation. The state of journalism is a perpetual concern in Taiwan (when it's not straight-up fabrication or editorializing, or disproportionate coverage with an agenda, it's trash like "Ko-P farted in public! News at 11!"), but there is still robust public discourse to be found.

No, what worries me more is that, both globally and regionally, whenever a bunch of statistics are put together to show us how much better things actually are now, they always seem to come with caveats, and those particular caveats are exactly the deeply serious threats that can sink everything else. Even looking at the two articles I linked to in the beginning, they mention the squeezing of the middle class  (even alongside the other benefits of more porous borders) and the decline of liberal democracy as two things that are going in the wrong direction (and the latter, as I hope I've shown here, is entirely intentional). I'll go ahead and add climate change to that list because...duh. There's also an argument to be made for free markets - by which I do not mean capitalism as it currently exists - but I won't go into that here.

But aren't all of those other improvements we've seen in the world attributable in part to the rise of robust middle classes in developed and near-developed countries, the beneficial effects of liberal democracy which ostensibly aims to benefit all people rather than enrich a few, and stable climate patterns around which economics, human health and agriculture can be planned? Aren't these three things - income equality and upward mobility, liberal democracy and the natural surroundings we build societies in - not so much just three more indicators in a sea of indicators, as the platforms on which all the other indicators rest, and on which they are contingent?

Taiwan and Hong Kong are perhaps particularly threatened by all three. Income inequality in Hong Kong is a major issue; it's not nearly as bad in Taiwan but still a problem, mostly due to low wages. Even so, the KMT has done a fantastic job of convincing Taiwanese that it's a massive issue unique to Taiwan that only they can fix, rather than a global trend we can only hope to mitigate, not obliterate, even when economic indicators are strong. Climate change? Well, both places are island/coastal, in tropical and subtropical typhoon-prone, so of course that's an issue.

Most importantly, however, it can be argued that no other places are threatened as deeply by the undermining of liberal democracy as Taiwan and Hong Kong. Yes, foreign interference in the US political system is an issue, but the perpetrators - China, Russia, home-grown fascists, whomever - aren't actually trying to take over the US or wipe it out as an independent entity (they just want to destabilize and supplant it, or render it irrelevant). China is trying to annex Taiwan and has the legal means to wipe out any vestige of freedom or liberalism in Hong Kong already. The US can probably survive attacks against it (though I'm less sure about the rot from within), though potentially weakened. Taiwan and Hong Kong may not survive at all - not as themselves, anyway. The intent isn't to destabilize Hong Kong or Taiwan, that's just a rest stop on the highway straight to takeover - a takeover that they are no longer as concerned with being non-violent. They want what they want by the end of the 2040s and our lives don't matter.

It's serious enough that you can consider such a statement not as random spitballing, but rather the gray area between speculation and prediction.

The gangs they've hired before? A few stabbings and kidnappings? An attempt to purchase major media outlets? Those were just test runs. Perhaps seeing if they could get Hong Kong and Taiwan to give in peacefully, not put up so much of a fight. Lie back and pretend to enjoy it. That hasn't happened and won't happen. Now we're in the real war, and it's going to get worse.

And if Taiwan and Hong Kong stand on the front line between democracy and authoritarianism, then this is not a unique or regionally specific situation. It's a harbinger for the world. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The kids are all right

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Yes, it's been almost two weeks since I've updated, and no, it wasn't planned. I just really had to get my dissertation proposal in. I was going to jump back into blogging with a few restaurant reviews, a few long-overdue trip reports, a book review...you know, the sorts of things that a person who's just spent the past two weeks deeply stressed out might post. But no, some kids in Kaohsiung decided to be awesome, and now that has to come first.

I have a jumble of thoughts about these kids - who are old enough to have been my kids in a very different timeline, which is super weird because I totally want to buy each of them a Taiwan Beer like an old friend or Cool Aunt. I love how creative they are, how willing they are to take public risks to say what they think, and how thoughtful and full of integrity they are at that age. How civil the points they are making are - there is nothing uncivil about telling the mayor to finish his term, or pointing out that he lies. He does lie. It's speaking truth to power at an admirably young age.

I mean, damn - I was a total dipshit at 17. To be honest, I'm jealous. If these are our future leaders, we're going to be okay.

My first thought is that if we can keep Taiwan safe - as in, still a functioning democracy and not sold out to China - long enough for this generation and their immediate elders (think Millenial Taiwanese) to be the most influential voting block, then Taiwan will be just fine. A large enough percentage of them are smart enough to see Chinese media infiltration and other nefarious tricks for what they are, and showed up in droves (tens of thousands, not thousands) to protest it. They understand what equal rights really means and are willing to put in the time to physically show up and voice their discontent.

In fact, their way of protesting Mayor Han was creative and ballsy enough, clear and concise yet civilized, that Taiwanese civil life will be made better as more of them grow up to be activists and public figures, or start otherwise contributing to the discourse here. They are quite literally doing what their parents and grandparents won't, seeing things their ancestors are too naive (or wrongheaded, or brainwashed) to see, and noticing that if a public protest against Han is going to be lodged, they're the ones who have to do it. They're doing what their elders should be doing - but aren't - as it becomes clearer that Han is a Manchurian candidate, with a whole host of undesirable puppet masters.

They know the pro-Han, pro-China, pro-KMT media won't report on their rebellion, but they also know their parents and grandparents will be in the audience or see those photos. They're aiming their protest not just at the media, at Han, and Taiwan at large, but at their own elders, in such a way that they can't look away or ignore it. That's just smart.

That's the thing, though - China knows this. The KMT knows this. The unholy China-KMT Union (yes, it is a thing, don't pretend you don't know) knows this. They are perfectly well aware that they will never, ever win the hearts and minds of the youth, so the plan is to rip the carpet out from under the youth before they gain enough political power to stop it. The war (yes, it is a war - yet again, don't pretend you don't know) is escalating because they know their window of potential victory narrows every time an easily-manipulated older person dies, and a more attuned one gets the right to vote. They need to destroy Taiwan's democratic norms and will to resist before that happens, and frankly, we're not fighting back fast enough.

That's not to say every older person is 'easily manipulated', but enough of them are that it's a real problem, and China is absolutely seizing on it.

My next thought concerns this response from Han, from the Taipei Times link above:

“I think it is a great thing when young people speak their mind,” Han said yesterday in response to media queries. 
He has always encouraged young people to express their opinions and will support them under any circumstances, but it is “inappropriate” to tie political issues to an educational event, he said. 
“If students have opinions, they can express them off-stage,” he added. 
Taking a photo on stage with the mayor after receiving an award for graduating with top grades is the “most honorable moment of [a student’s] life” and he hopes such educational events can remain pure, Han said.

First, Mr. Han, if you really thought it was a 'great thing for young people to speak their mind', you wouldn't say that they should do it offstage - in the least effective way, where it won't hurt you at all. You're fine with them saying what they want as long as nobody listens.

Secondly, this whole thing is a massive concern troll - "inappropriate", "it's an honorable event, keep it pure"? Yeah, okay, and I bet you're just "worried about their health" or "don't want them to have any trouble later", too. Whatever buddy.

And, of course, it's absolutely laughable that a politician showing up at an event would say that event should be free of politics. If you want a politics-free event, politicians should not be invited. They are public figures and must accept that they are fair game at any public event. They make it political by being there. Otherwise Han's just saying that his politics - photo-ops with award winning students are inherently a political activity undertaken to make a politician look good - are apolitical, but everyone else's politics 'impure'.

A lot of people are saying that these kids are the brightest, the award-winners, the smart ones - they're not representative of Taiwanese youth as a whole. And yes, they do stand out. But every generational shift and successful social movement has the people at the tip of the spear. That doesn't mean the rest of the spear isn't there, or isn't important.

If anyone knows where I can formally offer to buy every last one of them a beer - yes, even the underage ones though they can have bubble tea if they'd prefer - I'd love to hear it. And I'm not sure I'm joking.

Monday, June 10, 2019

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

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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

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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 parliament...in 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.

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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.



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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?