Showing posts with label media_bias. Show all posts
Showing posts with label media_bias. 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


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 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

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! 

Friday, May 10, 2019



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


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:

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

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

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

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

Excuse me, ahem.


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

Then there's this, from Channel News Asia:

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

Excuuuuse me. No. 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A little light sado-masochism: my eyes are bleeding

Masochism because I read this despite knowing what was inside, sadism because I'm sharing it with you.

Inside a fairly innocuous article about reducing scooter emissions on a niche website few people read,  among other wonky English ("Taiwan praises itself to have the highest motorcycle density in the world?" Okaay), we get this (emphasis mine):

Different from other countries that plan to introduce a ban, Taiwan that officially belongs to China, does not only intend to block more fossil-fuelled vehicles from taking to its roads but has effectively written the proposal into law already.


Okay. Whew. So.

What's interesting to me about this is that the source material, a thin wisp of an article on Xinhua, doesn't even use this language. Content creator Nora Manthey added it in for literally no reason at all, except to be a jerk to Taiwan I guess.

Also, "officially" according to whom? Who decides what's "official" for the entire world? There's China's claim, but that's limited to China. What is "official" about this, and who are the officials in question who say so? Where are their offices?

That's what worries me: even in these little articles on niche industry websites on totally unrelated topics, even when Chinese state media which is obligated to be anti-Taiwan - as it's controlled by the Communist Party - doesn't put language like that in articles that are used as source material, even when it's just a totally innocuous thing where the content mill worker has no reason at all to include such language and probably has no political position him/herself on the issue, this crap still ends up in articles like this. 

I truly have no idea why. Any thoughts? Anyone?

I don't even have to tell you that Manthey is wrong, if you're reading Lao Ren Cha, you already know that. But just in case you didn't:

The status of Taiwan is undetermined. Under pretty much any interpretation of international law this is the case, and a case can also be made that it is sovereign (it has its own government, military, currency, contiguous territory etc.) The series of treaties and agreements following the end of WWII did not put to rest the status of Taiwan; the only ones that explicitly refer to it as belonging to China (such as the Cairo Declaration) are non-binding. Major powers do not recognize China's claim on Taiwan, they merely acknowledge that the claim exists (this is a common source of confusion). I could go more into the history of this issue - e.g. Taiwan's status 1945-1949, the Japanese colonial era and the treaty that put that into motion, Taiwan's status as a colonial holding of the Qing - but I don't need to.

You know, just in case ya weren't already aware.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Reason number six zillion why international media coverage of Asia sucks

My new queen Joanna Chiu hits the nail so perfectly on the head that the nail goes straight through the wood, through the table and right into the foot of some guy who was probably standing over her explaining how hammers work in this piece about men, journalism and Asia. She also manages to get Foreign Policy to publish the words "fuck", "swinging dick", "dick pic" and "sexpat", which is kind of wonderful.

Chiu firsts outlines some of the horrific, unprofessional, misogynist and also just downright rapey behavior she's experienced while covering Asia:

Once, a fellow journalist exited our shared taxi outside my apartment. I thought we were sharing a cab to our respective homes, but he had other expectations, and suddenly his tongue was in my face. On another evening, another journalist grabbed my wrist and dragged me out of a nightclub without a word....

The incidents aren’t limited by proximity. I have received multiple unsolicited “dick pics” from foreign correspondents — generally on the highly monitored messaging service WeChatI have received multiple unsolicited “dick pics” from foreign correspondents — generally on the highly monitored messaging service WeChat. Somewhere deep in the Chinese surveillance apparatus there is a startling collection of images of journalists’ genitalia....

Most disturbingly, a source tried to rape the correspondent while she was on assignment in China. She never told her bosses for fear that disclosure would hurt her career.

Then she reminds us that these are the exact same men covering sensitive local and regional issues in Asia which include women's issues.

I have seen correspondents I know to be serial offenders in private take the lead role in reporting on the sufferings of Asian women, or boast of their bravery in covering human rights. In too many stories, Asian men are treated as the sole meaningful actors, while Asian women are reduced to sex objects or victims. And this bad behavior — and the bad coverage that follows — is a pattern that repeats across Asia, from Tokyo to Phnom Penh.

There's a fair bit of intersectional fuck-uppery going on here too, with large numbers of underpaid local staff hired at news bureaus across Asia, the vast majority of them female, treated like errand girls and second-class employees, with little or no recourse or channels for reporting misconduct:

The problems are worsened by the unequal power dynamics in the offices of multinational media that employ “local staff” to provide translation, conduct research, and navigate complex bureaucracies, but pay them a fraction of what their foreign colleagues earn. In China, these “news assistants” are mostly young women. This pattern is mirrored in other countries, where the pool of those with the English-language skills needed for the job often skew female....

“They have no job security — if there is any conflict, they can be fired the next day,” says Yajun Zhang, a former news assistant. As a result, sexual harassment and gender- or race-based discrimination can occur with impunity. Even if they raise concerns, investigation can often prove extremely difficult over distance and cultural barriers.

Considering this, are we still surprised that international media coverage in Asia is so bad (you were aware it is mostly bad, yes, with few gems shining through the murk)?

It ties together a host of issues why the media has, in a lot of cases, failed in giving the world a somewhat accurate picture of what really goes on in media (and expat circles) in Asia. It's not only that men who treat women like garbage then report on women's issues here, but also that the people with real local knowledge who could add detail, nuance and accuracy to their reports are often at best ignored, treated as "less than" and sent on non-work-related errands, and at worst are sexually assaulted.

There are not only so few non-male voices not only in international media in Asia, but in the expat community in East Asia generally (and, frankly, local communities too - from Taiwanese student activists to the CCP and their propaganda machine to Japanese corporate leadership and politics, the voices are still overwhelmingly male). As such, those with the life experience that will help them notice and pick up certain stories are systematically discriminated against (or assaulted) - and those stories get ignored.

And it's not only that so many people who report on Asia - even for highly pretigious media - are "parachuted in" and don't know the issue on a local level at all, which shows in their lackluster coverage. Even these reporters act badly - they are mostly male, because the world runs on penises spouting their penis opinions:

Journalists parachuting in from the home office for one-off trips have also developed a reputation for treating local residents they rely on for their stories badly — especially women.

But it's also that - Imma be honest here - most of these swinging dicks are bad at their jobs. I don't know, in the craptacular coverage of Asia I've read (and there is a LOT of it), how much of it is written by dudes who are decent guys who just aren't very good reporters, and which are sexual assailants or misogynist pricks who will disparage women or troll victims of sexual assault. I just don't know. I'm sure some of the sexual assailants are men who write brilliant copy. But I can say with a fair amount of confidence that the Venn diagram of mediocre (mostly male) reporters doing a bad job in Asia and reporters who sexually harass and assault (or denigrate) women likely has far more overlap than most people care to think about.

Is it such a leap to think that a dude who is so arrogant, entitled and self-absorbed that he thinks he can grab any pussy he likes (not every man who does this is Donald Trump) would also be the sort of dude who thinks he is qualified or able to cover Asia well, when in fact he is stunningly mediocre at it?

A final thought:

This story broke about a week ago. As usual, people climbed out of the primordial Internet soup to find some way, truly any goddamn way, to blame the Asian women who go with these guys for their behavior rather than blaming the assholes themselves, at least when all the sex they're having is consensual. Because why point fingers at a guy who sends unsolicited dick pics and gropes women in taxis when there are women you can blame instead?

There was one stupid comment calling the Asian women who go for these guys (the ones who do so consensually) a "threat to Asian culture": as though it's women's choices which need to be policed and judged, not men's behavior. As though they are responsible for upholding some other person's idea of what their culture should be. As though they aren't making a personal choice. As though they shouldn't be allowed to have any choice at all (if some choices are deemed 'unacceptable', then that simply is not choice.) As though consensual sex - even a lot of it - is necessarily a bad thing.

Some will blame the men too - in true "they're rogering our women!" fashion. Instead of screaming "culture traitor!" at an Asian woman who makes a choice they don't like, they cast her instead as a stupid victim who isn't capable of making the choice. That's just as bad.

That's just for the women who go with these guys consensually. For the ones assaulted non-consensually, well, they get this instead:

As the New York Times reported, former club president Jonathan Kaiman, who had resigned in January after being accused of sexual misconduct by Laura Tucker, a former friend of his, was now accused of sexually assaulting a female journalist, Felicia Sonmez. After the second accusation, the Los Angeles Times quickly suspended him from his role as Beijing bureau chief and has begun an investigation. But as the Hong Kong Free Press noted, the original accusation had prompted many male correspondents to launch misogynistic attacks on Tucker in online conversations.

Such actions, and entitlement, reflect a sense of privilege and a penchant for sexual aggression that threatens to distort the stories told about Asia, and that too often leaves the telling in the hands of the same men preying on their colleagues.


These are the guys who write the stories about Asia that you read.

How do you feel about that?

Monday, September 25, 2017

The world is ending because China is upset: Western liberals, the media and Taiwan

Visual Footage of the Tsai-Trump Phone Call

I woke up and it was the Apocalypse.

Children were wrenched from their parents' arms by bleeding reanimated corpses risen from the depths of Hell. Fiery stallions with coal-red eyes carried an army of Grim Reapers on their backs as the innocent shrieked for mercy. Rivers burned and oceans smoldered. Lifeless bodies hung from trees, their souls hanging inside out from their mouths. Wingèd gray-skinned Hellbeasts sliced through the air, the screams emanating from their long, knife-like beaks striking terror into every living creature as the black-clad sentries of Styx stood silent, unmoving, unscathed. The streets were littered with bones and splinters, some still attached to throbbing chunks of bloodied flesh and meat where they were pulled wholesale from human bodies. The sky was black and poisonous with clouds of sulphurous magma overhead as oilslick-black machines outfitted with insect-like exoskeletons impaled, strangled and violated women in front of their husbands and men in front of their wives with their cold mechanical tentacle appendages.

That is to say, American "President" Donald Trump and Taiwanese President Tsai Ying-wen had had a short, uneventful phone call, and the world subsequently burned as everyone tried to figure out what it all meant. 

Apparently, it meant that Everything Was Over, that Donald Trump had irrevocably angered China, which would lead to world war, economic collapse and global catastrophe.

Of course, what it had meant was that the two presidents had had a phone call, acting like presidents of two sovereign countries, which they both are, rather than pretending the truth is somehow not true so as to avoid the breaking of a billion glass hearts. China got annoyed - almost certainly in part because the way the event was reported legitimized their anger - but things continued much as usual. Cargo ships plowed the ocean carrying the weight of global trade on their backs. US-China policy remained unchanged. Taiwan remained a pariah through no fault of its own, its status an accident of history, a free, industrialized democracy with almost no overt support. The rest of the world formulated a huge chunk of its Asia-Pacific policy to mollify China.

Some organizations did report on this honestly. John Bolton noted that it was time to revisit this policy (paywall - ugh), quite rightly pointing out that the current method of "acknowledging" China's position, selling some arms to Taiwan when we feel like it, doing lots of trade with Taiwan but otherwise telling it to bend over and take it whenever China gets angry, is unrealistic and unfair. The Daily Beast told everyone to just calm down everybody. The National Interest did a middling job, but has had some good recent pieces since. The Diplomat, which few people I know outside of Asia read, had a good piece by J. Michael Cole. Fox News' website ran an article whose viewpoint I agree with. 

Generally, if you consider the editorial line of the sample above, the best reporting not only on this issue but on Taiwan in general has come from conservative sites, or at least those that are not explicitly liberal (The Daily Beast seems to be somewhere in the middle to me, The Diplomat neutral).

Contrast that to the media I, and my liberal friends, generally read. The Washington Post did put out an op-ed dubbing the phone call as "brilliant" (they had other coverage too, which I can't read because I don't subscribe). The New Yorker, however, called it "dangerous" (with a hefty helping of inaccurate "Taiwan and China split in 1949" history thrown in too), acknowledging that there is a case to be made for better Taiwan relations but then capitulating to the same old "China will see this as destabilizing" line. They threw in that "a subset of" conservative analysts felt the call was the right move, a line which, if anything, will turn off liberal readers. The New York Times said he'd hit China's "most sensitive spot", brought up issues of conflicts of interest, and noted that he "antagonized" China. Slate had its usual awful coverage of Taiwan, where it reiterated Beijing talking points with little context and openly calling it "a bad move". The Guardian did cover both sides, but made the anti-Taiwan side sound far scarier - "destabilizing", "didn't understand", "winging it". That's just a sampling - you can read more about this problem here. And here. 

Imagine that you are a typical Western liberal. You skim one or two news sites - in my case, usually The Guardian, but others as well. If something major is happening relating to Taiwan you click, and you are exposed to a litany of phrases like these:

"antagonizing China"
"China and Taiwan split in 1949..."
"has angered China"
"amid tensions with China"
"The Epoch Times / The Global Times / Xinhua said..." (with no similar quotes from the other side)
"President Xi has said..." (with no corresponding quotes from President Tsai)
"The two sides both claim to be the legitimate government of China" (technically correct but problematic)
"tensions mounted/rose/were caused"
"warmer relations under Ma Ying-jiu"
"relations have cooled since Tsai took office"
"Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province"
"not understand...the implications"
"island" (not country)
"eventually reunited with the Mainland"

This is not limited to the Tsai-Trump call - that's merely one example to illustrate a larger point. It's not only no surprise that some people I know - and many Western liberals generally - with no other connection to Taiwan often take the schizophrenic position that China is both not as scary as Taiwan thinks, as well as being scary enough that we must pursue peace in our time at all costs. A return to normalcy, if you will.

More broadly, there is widespread belief that if Taiwan makes any moves at all towards asserting the truth of its status - that is, a sovereign nation - the problem must always be Taiwan. For antagonizing China or destabilizing the situation which is why relations are frozen. 

Why would they think otherwise, though? This is what they read from sources they trust, and therefore this is what they believe.

That is to say, Western education on Taiwan or lack thereof, which I wrote about recently, is not the only problem. Into that void of accurate background knowledge swoops a media all too willing to play up China and dismiss Taiwan, largely unquestioned in part because of that dearth of education on Taiwan. Both of these factors work together to keep the wheels of liberal apathy on Taiwan grinding away.

What I'm trying to say - now in bold! - is that it seems obvious to us that Taiwan is a liberal cause. Democracy, human rights, sovereignty, self-determination, marriage equality, successful industrialization, gains in women's rights, all poised to be destroyed by a hostile, illiberal, undemocratic foreign power. A pro-Taiwan perspective ought to be catnip for Western liberals. 

However, when education on Taiwan is virtually non-existent, and everything above is what Western liberals are reading and generally believing, it is no surprise that we haven't won them over. If we want to win this fight, we have to flip the media script. Right now, we're losing. 

There are so many ways, in fact, that Western, liberal-approved media has failed Taiwan that I'd like to explore as much as I can before we all get bored and go home.

The media mostly presents Taiwan in an unflattering political light

Sometimes, everything is the End of Days. Everything will anger China, everything will set off World War III in the Taiwan Strait. One must ask, by the way, if that is how dire some perceive the cross-Strait situation to be, how is it that they can then turn around and pontificate on how this is the best situation for Taiwan, because it's the only way to ensure peace?

Even when Armageddon is not nigh, there is a clear tendency to be quick to accuse Taiwan of being a "troublemaker", or to imply that this is the case. Any tensions that are raised are the fault of Taiwan for doing exactly what every other sovereign nation does:  trying to sign trade agreements, insisting on its continued freedom, asking that it be allowed to participate - and its own name be used - in international events.

Those "tensions" which are not allegedly raised by Troublemaker Taiwan appear out of thin air, discussed in the passive voice, with no agent. They just are.

Of course, tensions don't appear out of nowhere: the times when they are not assigned to an actor are precisely the times when China is rattling its saber. When China makes destabilizing moves in the region, they are never to blame. 

The true threats are ignored

The thing is, there are serious, extant threats to Taiwan's existence and sovereignty. Thousands of missiles are pointed at us. The United Front is highly active, and the CCP is waging a war of disinformation (that is, "fake news", a concept Western liberals are all too familiar with) on Taiwan, and is quite open about its economic and cultural cooperation initiatives being about the greater goal of political unification. They support "fake civil society" in Taiwan. China routinely ignores previous agreements and treaties in both Taiwan and Hong Kong, engages in military exercises aimed specifically at threatening Taiwan, detains foreign nationals both within and outside its borders for crimes not committed in China, supports gangsters using violence against demonstrators with whom they disagree, and has never renounced the possibility of using force to annex Taiwan. 

These threats are real, and they are terrifying.

And yet, every time there are "tensions" in the Taiwan Strait, the issue is always something Taiwan has done to anger China. None of the real threats above get much airtime, if they get any. As for the real threats, how can one, for example, point to something as United Front work if one doesn't know the United Front exists, because nobody is reporting on it? How can one criticize the war of disinformation, fake civil society or even the missiles if they don't read about them in their favored publications?

No wonder readers think that China treats Taiwan relatively benignly, and therefore when Taiwan "antagonizes" China or does something "destabilizing", or causes relations to be "frozen", the problem might well seem to be Taiwan.

China's perspective gets prime real estate

In many cases, you'd think the media were just regurgitating CCP talking points (and in some cases, I am pretty sure they are doing exactly that). In this case, China's viewpoint is reported but unexamined (calling the Global Times what it is - a state-run tabloid - is insufficient). Here, it is reported in a larger context but yet again unexamined. 

If you were thinking critically, you would wonder why it is that everything the Taiwanese side says is picked apart - if it is reported at all - and yet Beijing gets free quotes without criticism. That is not journalism. It is not neutrality. That is regurgitation.

That nobody questions this is its own problem - why would they, though, when they lack the education on Taiwan to do so, and when the sources they read and other liberals they know are likely to be well-disposed to China, and when they haven't even necessarily come to understand the depths of China's propaganda machine?

The perspective of Taiwan is not included

The same courtesy is not given to Taiwan: the desires of or even known political data about Taiwan are routinely ignored.

It's as though the Taiwanese have no opinion - but of course they do. It's just not included. You might think, from reading the slapdash summaries of Taiwanese history, that the Taiwanese had no will for independence before the 21st century. But of course they did, as far back as the 19th. In one sincere but misleading and poorly-researched example, you might come to the conclusion that, as one friend put it, the Taiwanese had no opinion on anything before pop star Chou Tzu-yu was forced to apologize to China for the stupidest of reasons.

When Taiwan's perspective is included, the talking points covered generally reflect those of the KMT: that Taiwan is the Republic of China and should remain so, that Taiwanese are ultimately Chinese, and that there is "one China" with "different interpretations". When pro-independence sentiments are included, they are attributed solely to the DPP, and not to any portion of the population - as though it is an unpopular platform of a party that managed to win the presidency and legislature regardless.

With many Taiwanese considering Taiwan to already be independent, and even those who express support for the status quo ultimately favoring a solution that leads to independence - with pro-unification beliefs having only single-digit popularity - this is very misleading. The lay reader would be expected to think that the Taiwanese are far more divided on the independence issue than they actually are.

Only recently has this changed in a few places. Note here the language: "proudly democratic Taiwan has shown no interest in being governed by the Communist Party rulers in Beijing." An improvement to be sure, but the article itself, and so many like it, exist to report the views of China with very little space given to the Taiwanese rebuttal beyond this one sentence.

Information on Taiwan is inaccurate or misleading

I'll stick to one example here - the most common one.

The blurb about "Taiwan and China separating in 1949" is common, yet wrong. While the ROC fled to Taiwan in 1949, Taiwan could not have "split" from China in that time, as before 1945 it was a colony of Japan, and was not formally ceded by Japan until the early 1950s. You could make a case that the ROC controlled both Taiwan and China between 1945 and 1949, but even there it gets murky. Japan had not formally ceded Taiwan to the ROC, and in fact under international law the situation is still "unresolved". In terms of de facto control, they started losing it in China as they were consolidating it in Taiwan.

And, of course, the sentence itself is misleading.

Reading these articles, the typical engaged liberal who has no connection to Taiwan nor any need for a deep knowledge of Taiwanese history could not be blamed for thinking that the Japanese colonial era had never happened at all, and that Taiwan has always been Chinese in some way or another. I have met people who believe exactly this, and are surprised to learn otherwise.

This problem can be extended to include all manner of slipshod reporting, from the "1992 Consensus" (those who know what the term means often have no idea that it doesn't actually exist) to pro-Taiwan activists being labeled "anti-China".

In one memorable example, when questioned on word choice, one reporter allegedly said it was due to the "character limit" on his submissions. Of course, if you count the characters in "pro-Taiwan" and compare them to "anti-China", you'll find...


When you add that the incorrect assumptions readers often make about Taiwan - e.g. that it had previously been a part of China for some time - to the language employed refusing to recognize Taiwan as a country but rather an "island", using terms such as "reunify" and even "Mainland" (I do think "Mainland" is a term we need to consign to history), it's no wonder that the average reader of liberal-leaning news publications likely doesn't think that "reunification" is such a big deal, or is hesitant to confidently call it a sovereign nation, even though it is one. Doubling down with talk of "one country two systems" - until recently not a proposition whose viability was questioned in any depth, it was just taken as a potential solution - and the "consensus" on "One China", your average reader could easily be led to believe that there is no reason to believe Taiwan is not ultimately Chinese. 

Good writers on Taiwan aren't writing for the mainstream publications liberals read, and the best news on Taiwan is disseminated only in a small echo chamber

As a prolific writer on Taiwan affairs, I am partly to blame here.

I know Lao Ren Cha only reaches a small audience which mostly already knows Taiwan. Others have their blogs or publications, but let's be honest, as useful as Ketagalan Media, New Bloom, the Taipei TimesThe News Lens International and Taiwan Sentinel (and more) can be, these are not what mainstream liberals are reading. They are great places to write about domestic affairs and local issues. Sometimes, however, I wonder if we - myself included - write in these places to make ourselves feel better, rather than to actually reach that audience in the West.

Yet this is where we are writing, as we watch the Party apparatchiks, Fifty Cent trolls, well-meaning people who don't know what they're talking about, non-specialists who don't actually know Taiwan and various aspects of the United Front churn out piece after piece of drivel which is often accepted for publication.

Even when we branch out to The Diplomat, The Nation and The National Interest, again, this is not where the mainstream is.

How are we going to get our message out if we're not writing in where the people we want to reach are reading?

That's on us and it's time we did something about it.

Journalists and editors don't know what they're talking about

The first is that the reporters are often not experts: it creates a feedback loop of non-experts fact-checking against other media in which reports are filed by other non-experts, edited by editors who are not experts either, so nobody catches the inaccuracies. Major media outlets employ fact-checkers, but they're not particularly useful when they, too, are not experts and therefore are willing to default to the norm. When inaccuracies are pointed out, if anyone cares to make changes, a truly accurate picture of Taiwanese issues still seems to elude the media: they present China as more sympathetic than its aggression merits out of a desire to be "even-handed", not realizing that purported objectivity means nothing if it leads to incorrect narratives.

Then the readers read it, and believe it because the media source itself is reputable, without considering that maybe a part of why they are willing to believe what they read has a lot to do with the Gell-Mann Effect. To them, the journalist writing knows more - perhaps not considering that the journalist in question is still not an ideal source. 

There have been quite a few casualties of this approach: nobody in the media questioned "one country two systems" as a viable framework until recently because nobody else in the industry did, either. Claims that Taiwan-China cooperation was merely economic, or that it was unquestionably a good thing for both sides were taken at face value, because nobody else was reporting on China's very open statements about how every agreement they sign with Taiwan is meant to further an agenda of annexation. The term "reunification" is still not questioned.

Reporters who do know quite a bit about China are often assigned articles on Taiwan, as though their expertise covers both countries (it doesn't). These reporters tend to be stationed in China - if they fly in from Beijing or Shanghai at all, they are here briefly, and never fully capture what's going on. 

This is easy for me to say, but the China experts the media often assumes can write about Taiwan choke on the words.

Reading these reports, someone without background knowledge would not realize that China is threatening Taiwan militarily, that it actively interferes in Taiwan's attempts to form relationships with other countries, or that it is quite open about its "economic cooperation" initiatives having the ultimate goal of annexation. They would see China as an ever-patient world power, indulging troublemaker Taiwan because it can afford to do so.

Journalists and editors are too kind to China

Many of the reporters I criticize above seem predisposed to China - they often choose to live there, and have their own reasons for being interested in the country. Some might be "Old China Hands". They perhaps portray it overly sympathetically for the same reasons why we are more forgiving of our friends' flaws than those of strangers, or perhaps defensively, not wanting to criticize a place they care about. It's a human trait. Then they defend their kind-to-a-dictatorship portrayals as "evenhanded", because they're not rushing to denounce the regime. This is seen as taking a multi-faceted view of a "complex" country.

China is indeed complex, and its issues multi-facted, but when it comes to Taiwan, the story is quite simple: Taiwan is a currently sovereign democracy and wishes to remain that way. China is a dictatorship that insists this not be allowed, yet the current government of China has never controlled Taiwan. Period.

As for editors, despite foreign media banned from publishing in China, many are afraid to anger Beijing for fear of their reporters losing their press credentials, being deported or even detained. And they, too, seem well-disposed to China. Perhaps to many of them, in their offices in the West, China is a "fascinating" foreign country, with an unfortunate government perhaps but ultimately reducible to panda bears, pagodas, temples and qipao dresses. I get it - we liberals love the idea of "respecting foreign cultures", and that is usually a noble and meaningful goal. However, when that idealism interferes with reporting on facts because it's discomfiting to publish pointed criticisms at a foreign culture, we have a problem.

It's difficult to criticize reputable media

Everything else here is fixable, although it will be difficult. I want to end, however, with the one thing I don't know how to fix: the way one comes across to liberals when one criticizes mainstream media, especially media that they personally trust.

In the aftermath of the American election, a huge chunk of our discourse in the West turned its head down and looked right into its own navel.

In the ensuing discussion of Fake News and what it means to trust reputable sources rather than, well, any old website that lacks credibility, proven fact-checking or clear sourcing, all of the liberal favorites I mentioned above came out on top among that particular cohort. It was cool again to trust the New York Times or the Washington Post. You could put your faith in The Guardian or even the BBC.

Of course, the right-wing shot back, calling these sites the "true" Fake News.

I would generally agree with all of this, and I, too, like reputable news sites that have built up credibility and employ known fact-checking and journalistic ethics. I read these sources as well.

However, one casualty of this narrative is that pointed criticism of these mainstream liberal favorites make one sound exactly like the "New York Times is FaKe nEwZ!"-screaming zombies we deplore. Of course I am not trying to say the whole paper is "fake news", just that their reporting on Taiwan is misleading, incomplete or inaccurate. But that's how it reads, especially when we point to a larger problem rather than a single article (and even pointing to a single article is hard, because every other problematic article agrees with it, meaning you can't win).

Even pointing out, to end this at the Tsai-Trump phone call where we began, that perhaps in this one particular case Trump's action was - gasp! - not so bad, perhaps even something that a Western leader should have done a long time ago, makes one sound like a Trump apologist, if not a Trump supporter or someone who thinks Trump can be trusted. Of course I'm not - we're not - but it feels as though the bar for being accepted as a Good Liberal is set at hating every single thing Trump does.

I do hate every single other thing he does, but I simply cannot let go of the fact that on Taiwan, when he picked up that phone, he was doing exactly what I had been wanting a Western leader to do for some time. Did I trust the person doing it to be him? No. Absolutely not, never, forevermore my answer is no. I cannot ignore, however, that no other Western leader would have done it, including the ones I would have trusted to take that phone call.

We can try to correct the media. We can try to get our own work out there. We can write in. We can rebut. We can try to make the media better, and we can try to improve education on Taiwan in the West with what little class time we have.

But this? I don't know how to fix this.