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

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?


Friday, May 10, 2019

YIKES YIKES YIKES YIKES YIKES YIKES YIKES YIKES YIKES

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I'm not a fan of just translating stuff from the Mandarin-language media and calling it a day, but this one in Liberty Times is worth it

Building on my last post about some media in Taiwan obtaining Beijing's approval before running news, it seems the collaboration is explicit, and includes Want Want Media (yeah, big surprise).

Is this not a smoking gun of sorts?

I'm not as fast or as good a translator as you might think I am, so I've only done some select chunks of text from this article, but it's all you should need to get the point.



The 4th Cross-Strait Media People Beijing Summit, hosted by Beijing Daily Newspaper Group and Want Want Media Group, held its opening ceremony in Beijing today. According to reports, nearly 70 media and related organizations on both sides of the strait and more than 200 representatives gathered in Beijing to discuss "cross-strait exchanges and media responsibility."

Wang Yang, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultation Conference (no idea if that translation of the name is accurate), met with Taiwanese media before the opening ceremony and asked Taiwanese media to promote "one country, two systems." He said, "In the past, cross-strait relations thawed, and friends in the media industry contributed greatly to that. Now, to achieve "peaceful reunification" through "one country, two systems", we still have to rely on the media community to collaborate with us." 

It's interesting to me that China isn't even trying to hide that it's trying to co-opt Taiwanese media, but there are still plenty of people in Taiwan who would deny that this is happening, or that they or Taiwan as a whole are influenced by it, or that the news they consume like candy might be streaming a pro-China view that worms its way into their heads. They'll still insist "there's no proof!" or say "not what I watch!" even as China openly says that this is their strategy.

It's the same with economic warfare - China doesn't even try to hide that it uses economic carrots and sticks to get what it wants. Or expansionism - they don't try to hide their pure greed in expanding into the South China Sea or declaring the Taiwan Strait their territory.

They don't even lie about what they are doing. So why don't people believe the CCP when they tell us who they are?



When Chen Wenfan, deputy director of the National Security Bureau, went to the Legislative Yuan to testify, he confirmed he'd heard of some media "taking China's side" (and seeking Beijing's approval before running stories.) President Tsai Ing-wen also mentioned Chinese interference strategies, including United Front work, Chinese media interference and the media accepting Chinese funding and 'fake news' at a high-level meeting of the National Security Council today. 

That's great, but this information needs to be reported in detail and made public. Which stations? What strategies? Give examples. Be clear. I don't know that it'll convince the die-hards but it probably will at least wake a few people up.

Or do we need to occupy a legislature again to get people to listen?

Wang Yang said in the meeting, "the way things currently work in Taiwan (could also be translated as 'the current Taiwanese mindset' perhaps?) makes the media advocating peaceful reunification very difficult."

He also said here that the hard work of people pushing for unification would be valued in the future when it's achieved (but translating that part was a pain in the butt, so I didn't). 


Wang Yang went on to say, "I think the Taiwan authorities may not be able to guarantee (what things will be like in Taiwan) even two years later. Considering this, we can surely say that the time is now. Of course, there is also some guarantee from the US. The United States passed the "2019 Taiwan Assurance Act," so the Americans currently stand by Taiwan. (But) the Americans regard Taiwan as a pawn. Will the Americans get involved with China over Taiwan? I don't think so."

A pretty oblique reference to the 2020 election, wouldn't you say? They fully expect their campaign of media co-opting and disinformation (as well as fake civil society/astroturfing) will be successful and a unificationist will take the presidency in 2020.

"Does the United States have the courage to fight China today? I'll say that Taiwan independence is not going to work. Taiwan independence is reliant on Americans, which makes it unreliable." 

He's not wrong. Not about it 'not working'. The only way there will be reliable, lasting peace in this part of the world is if Taiwan does get independence. The other choice is war - peaceful unification is never going to happen, and violent annexation might seem like it will be over quickly, but will create conflicts that will continue for generations.

He's right, however, that Taiwanese sovereignty as guaranteed by the USA alone is not a reliable plan for the future. Taiwan needs to convince the rest of the world that this country's continued existence is worth fighting for. Western liberals especially need to wake up and listen - everything they stand for is embodied by Taiwan's tenacious fight for continued democracy, freedom and sovereignty. It's not jingoistic nationalism, it's fighting for ideals that liberal democracie share, for the human rights we know are universal, and to maintain the sovereignty it already has. They need to understand this, and Taiwan needs to figure out how to talk to them.

And, of course, Taiwan needs to figure itself out. I strongly believe, and I think data indicate, that the populace generally favor independence and liberal democracy. That they'd rather be 'Taiwan' than 'a part of China'. That they can't be convinced that unification is a good idea.

But they sure don't show that in their voting habits sometimes, and this is influenced by media interference and disinformation campaigns. Taiwan must push back against this - it's real, literal, actual future depends on it.

And how can Taiwan ask the rest of the world for support when it can't even agree on how to project a coherent vision for its own future?

We need US support for sure, we can't afford to throw that away even if our most vocal allies are often the worst people (though not always - assurances to Taiwan keep passing unanimously!) But we need more than that too - we need to overcome the disinformation campaigns and coherently project to the world that Taiwan does not want to be a part of China. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Some media in Taiwan get Beijing's approval to run stories, and nobody cares?

So, a few days ago the Association of Taiwan Journalists issued a statement that the National Security Bureau has caught wind of some media outlets in Taiwan obtaining pre-approval from Beijing before running stories.

And...nobody seems to care?

I don't know why - that sounds absolutely terrifying to me. We've been hearing a lot of discussion about possible interference by China in the 2018 election, attempts to propagate fake news and influence the media and generally undermine Taiwan's democratic norms. Now we have some concrete evidence, or at least a report, on at least one avenue they are pursuing and...crickets.

I expected to hear more about it in the English-language media and...nothing, except this - a blog I'd never heard of before but might start following. There is coverage in the Chinese media - I don't have a TV so I couldn't tell you about broadcast (and am a bit lazy about finding that stuff on Youtube) but it's in the print news at least.

But not a lot of print news - I found pieces in Liberty Times, UDN and Yahoo! News Taiwan, and not a lot else.

So, I've gone ahead and translated the statement for you. I'm not a great translator but I did my best: 


During a meeting of the Foreign and National Defense Committee of the Legislative Yuan on the morning of the 2nd (of May), Democratic Progressive Party legislator Luo Chi-cheng questioned whether there are some media outlets which inform the "other side" (that is, China) of the contents of any 'breaking news' or 'editorial pieces' and obtain approval from Beijing before running them. Deputy Director of the National Security Bureau Chen Wen-fan replied that he had "heard of this happening recently."
This short question and answer shows that the National Security Agency does not deny certain "news" received by domestic audiences may be reviewed or even edited by the Chinese government. 
In addition to this, the Taiwan Association of Journalists feels it is unfortunate that this is a matter all people should be concerned with; we appeal to audiences to actively shun media which may produce such content. Creating such content does not serve the needs of listeners to obtain news, but rather follows the instructions of Chinese President Xi Jinping that "the media must belong to the party, listen to the party and walk with the party." 
The Taiwan Journalists Association believes that the journalism industry that informs and educates the public will continue its effort to exercise freedom of speech, follow a different path, and will not participate in in China's attempt to interfere with domestic freedom in Taiwan by reviewing pre-publication content from abroad.

And here's the original press release: 

Screen Shot 2019-05-08 at 9.20.28 PM



The statement specifically mentions listening audiences, which points to it being an issue with broadcast media.

This actually doesn't surprise me - I'm sure we've all noticed that the usual craven, half-true sensationalism that characterizes Taiwanese TV news - and especially the sludge they broadcast on blue-leaning stations - has gotten worse recently. I may not have a TV but even I've noticed it, just from the TVs in restaurants. (I used to merely prefer restaurants that didn't put on CTV or TVBS, now I actively avoid them).

What scares me even more? We don't know which stations are doing this - there is no list, according to deputy minister of the Mainland Affairs Council Chiu Chui-cheng.

Though we can guess that most or all blue-leaning ones are involved - and it is nearly impossible to convince the viewers hypnotized by it that they're watching Beijing-approved swill. If they cared about that they wouldn't have tuned in in the first place.

It's going to be a long, painful slog to 2020. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

TENSIONS HAVE BEEN ENRISENED! (Or have they?)

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.

HOW IS TSAI "RISKING SETTING OFF A CROSS-STRAIT CONFLICT" WHEN IT IS CHINESE PLANES STARTING THE CONFLICT??

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.

I...what?

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?

Silence.

(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.

WHY "OF COURSE" AND WHY DID YOU ADD MORE JUNK TO THIS ALREADY JUNKY PREMISE?



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?

Friday, March 22, 2019

You can't force patriotism, so stop blaming Taiwanese for not caring enough about the ROC

Untitled


The National Interest has some of the best journalism on Taiwan out there (among media sources not dedicated to Taiwan, that is). So as expected, this piece on the questionable capabilities of the Taiwanese military to fend off a Chinese invasion was quite strong - mostly.

I absolutely believe Minnick's concerns are founded, even though for my own sanity I must also believe President Tsai when she says that Taiwan can fend off the first wave of attack, a belief which is widely held. I also have to believe that aid would come after this point (though of course I can't say this with confidence) - again for my own sanity. Not just for the country that is my home, but because my own life as I know it would be over. 


But this point struck me, and I can't let it go without saying something: 


Public lethargy and a lack of confidence in the military has drained the armed forces of manpower and morale. And it is this lethargy, along with the unwillingness of Taiwan’s political elites to communicate this imminent threat to the public, that must be addressed.

Taiwan’s military wants to procure big-ticket items from the United States, but at the same time it has been forced to reduce conscription and training due to funding issues and an apathetic civilian population....

Part of the problem is conscription and a decline in patriotism.

This isn't the first time I've heard that Taiwan is facing a military recruitment problem because of a lack of "patriotism." Concerns that neither training nor pay are particularly good, pensions have been cut, that it's widely seen as a difficult working environment and that military service obligations are to be borne with annoyance if they can't be outright avoided are all valid.

But kvetching about a lack of patriotism?

Dudes, you did this to yourselves. 


I don't mean the Taiwanese in general. I don't even necessarily mean the military specifically. I mean all you people who whine about how Taiwan shouldn't change its name unilaterally, and be very cautious about altering or scrapping juridicial documents like the constitution and symbols like its flag and national anthem (both of which are very China/ROC/KMT-oriented). And all of you who say these symbols are "small differences" and to harp on them is "narcissism". You may be Western or Taiwanese, based in Taiwan or abroad, but all of you and the government you have convinced to retain the name and general governmental structure of the "Republic of China" can look squarely at your own damn selves if you want to know why Taiwanese don't feel particularly patriotic.

Those names and symbols do actually matter, and it shows in how little they inspire the Taiwanese populace.

Why should the average Taiwanese person feel great love for the Republic of China? Especially if that person lived through the worst years of the horrors that uninvited colonial government inflicted on Taiwan, how could there be any great welling of pride when seeing that white sun on a blue sky, that party symbol of the KMT on the national flag? How could the eyes of most Taiwanese well up when they hear their national anthem which references their "party" (the KMT) and is therefore an explicit callback to the era of dictatorship and mass murder? And what kind of dummy do you have to be to expect otherwise?

At best, you'll get deep ambivalence - after all, if the ROC flag is the one people know abroad and it differentiates them from the PRC, that's something - and you should be grateful for even that.  It's hardly deserved. F
eeling some form of conflicted happiness to see that flag or the name "Republic of China" used by international organizations is a kindness - a generous offering. Calling it paltry or insufficient is an insult.

Telling Taiwanese that they ought to feel patriotic fervor for the government that once oppressed them, and its symbols, because they can't realistically get rid of them right now? The same symbols that were (and are) used to try to erase their own Taiwanese identity? When members of the party that introduced those symbols (and that oppression) call disagreement "separatism", threaten people who disagree with death, and seem to care more about China than Taiwan? That's messed up.

Even for those who don't hate the ROC and its symbols, it's a confusing message. We have to fight for Taiwan - or, err, the ROC - um, which claims to be China, but we have to fight against China as the ROC for the future of Taiwan...uh, here, look at this flag that has one political party's symbol on it, which is from China and seeks to supplant your sense of Taiwaneseness, which we're preparing for war against...as China...for your country, Taiwan. 

Yeah, okay. That'll win those youth over!


The ROC is a system on life support. It's around because of the threat of war if Taiwan were to dismantle it, and perhaps a small (but rich and influential) class of people who still think it is a government worth keeping around. It's around because the allies Taiwan hopes for in the event of war tell Taiwan it has to be this way so as not to "anger China".

That's a recipe for declining patriotism; who, beyond that core of diehard ROC fans, could summon up much more feeling for it than one feels for their annual gynecological exam? (Or for the guys, whatever it is you get examined every year that is important to do but uncomfortable.) Necessary for continued health, but not exactly inspirational. 


Like an ice-cold speculum, the white sun on a blue field and everything it stands for just does not engender the sort of emotional connection to a place, system governance and set of social values that underlie an urge to join the military.

So for the military to be pushing that same old "ROC! ROC! Let's fight for the ROC!" patriotic blargle...yeah, it's not going to work. They could try harder, they could make it swisher, they could give their recruitment drives higher production values. They could just plain offer better pay, benefits and working conditions. But if the population is not too keen on the ROC, all but the latter is just not going to work.

Or, worse than an ice-cold speculum, it is about as inspirational as this, um, "song" trying appeal to supporters of Wu Dun-yih.

Please don't come in at this point blaming the Taiwan independence activists for this state of affairs. Yes, it's true that in social conditions where most people think of themselves as "Taiwanese" and the country they live in as "Taiwan", to say that "Taiwan can never be 'free' with the ROC around" makes it more difficult for people who love Taiwan to feel great patriotism when Taiwan is called the ROC. 


But...

a.) They're right, even if that truth is neither convenient nor realistic (and deeply confusing to people who don't know Taiwan well, so please stop saying it to them - just stick to the digestible "Taiwan is already independent and they just want to stay that way" and let's not air our dirty laundry in front of the white people, 'kay?)

b.) The average Taiwanese person thinks the hardcore independence activists are a bit nutty, even if they fundamentally agree with the message. From my experience, your average person who doesn't follow politics too deeply does want Taiwan to maintain its autonomy but they think the folks to take to the streets all the time are...going overboard. So their message probably isn't the reason for the greater societal apathy.

c.) This outcome was inevitable. Anyone with eyes and ears can see that the ROC is waning, it's propped-up, it's nothing to feel great emotion for (and was frankly never that great, even when it was the government of China). It's just natural not to feel particularly moved by symbols that are pushed on you and disconnected with how you actually feel about your country and society. 


If the Taiwanese military wants to build a sense of patriotism that will lead to wider recruitment, Minnick is right that it first needs to communicate the true depth and nature of the threat to the public. Folks calling for better careers in the military are likewise correct.

But they also have to quit pretending that the old ROC rah-rah can work. It can't. It's dead.

I know most of the military leans blue and that the ROC's name can't be safely officially changed right now, but the youth are Taiwanese, not Republic of Chinese. Naturally independent. They'd probably fight for that, but you have to couch the message in terms of the country and society they know, not what the government is forced to say at the higher levels.

That is, appeal to the desire to fight for Taiwan, and stop leaning on symbols that, if they don't inspire bitterness and emnity over the ROC's dictatorial and murderous past, are simply dead.