Showing posts with label new_york_times. Show all posts
Showing posts with label new_york_times. Show all posts

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Pound for pound of what, exactly?

I don’t have a good cover photo so enjoy these amateur door gods. 

I admit I haven’t been blogging as much lately, partly because I’m busy with work, and partly because spending a lot of time with a research topic has made me less inclined to opine on issues I don’t know as well. I’ve been asking myself what value the opinionations of outsiders and non-experts really has, at least after a certain point. (That’s not to say I think there is none; it’s just not where I’ve found the most meaning in my life and Taiwan advocacy recently.) I’ve found more meaning in using all this training and experience I’ve been accruing in the past decades to figure out how to help voices more worth listening to than mine get where they want and need to be to express their ideas in a foreign language. 

With that said, please allow me to opinionate on Ruchir Sharma’s recent op-ed in the New York Times. For a Business Guy, focused entirely on business rather than matters of justice and right and wrong, it was pretty good. That is, if you ignore some of the more questionable assertions about Taiwan lifting itself out of poverty post-WWII. For example, conveniently forgetting that pre-WWII it was one of the most prosperous places in Asia due to a “competent government” (lol) that focused on “small business” (sure, after the US forced them to and then kept Taiwan afloat with aid while the KMT spent almost all the government revenue on the military). And calling Taiwan a “small” island of “just” 24 million— would Sharma call Australia small? Probably not? Well, their populations are similar.

In any case, focusing on how Taiwan — often shunted aside as less important in the face of China’s massive market — is actually far more important due to the vital industries it houses is one way to make the case for caring about this country, in a way that some people will hear. He speaks their language, and that’s great. Those of us who care about Taiwan simply because it’s the right thing to do, don’t speak that language very well, and that case needs to be made to anyone who’ll hear it, in any form they’re likely to buy it. 

But something else was missing from Sharma’s essay that has been nagging at me — what it actually took to get Taiwan to where it is. First and foremost, it’s important to discuss the way foreign workers, who do most of the fab-and-factory-floor level grind work, are treated. Taiwan’s economic miracle is in fact ongoing, although it may not seem that way. Certainly growth seems, and is, slower than those heady days of repressive “competent” leadership. It has grown, however, even in the face of a bully neighbor who has tried to throttle its progress. Not even coronavirus has been able to stop Taiwan. 

But the gains it has made even in the years I’ve lived here have been largely due to a supply of foreign labor that is underpaid, overworked and treated abhorrently. (I’m not the first person to point this out, either.) 

At the other end, while Taiwan does have some very well-paid (and also overworked) engineers and experts, it’s worth pointing out that the majority of Taiwanese workers are underpaid and overworked, though not to the same degree as the foreign blue-collar workers. They also tend to face stifling, bureaucratic work environments, which I can speak to anecdotally after years of focusing on business English.

All that “value” Sharma speaks of has been made possible by these two groups. Profit margins either remain razor thin or don’t trickle down to worker salaries and benefits (such as, say, hiring enough people so that no single worker is doing a job 2-3 people should be doing, and taking real vacations is possible.) If I were into toxic positivity, I’d call them superheroes. 

So while I’m grateful for this Business Guy making the Business Guy case for Taiwan to other Business Guys — a case I cannot personally make — I do feel like the tone of the op-ed places profits above working conditions and human costs. 

In other words, sure, pound for pound Taiwan is the most important place on earth. But pounds of what? Because hearing about factory dorm fires and coronavirus cases and seeing my students looking constantly exhausted, rarely taking vacations and — before the CCP virus — eyeing better-paid jobs abroad with better benefits, I’m starting to think he means pounds of flesh.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Anatomy of a Good Taiwan Article

This isn't new, but you've surely noticed that I've been busy. I don't need to comment on the main points of the article - I have no complaints and it's not current enough. That said, it seems like every time a terrible (or even "okay") piece on Taiwan comes out, it's easy to jump on it and say why it's terrible. 

I thought, why not flip the script and use this very good New York Times article by Edward Wong and break down why it's well-done, as a sort of how-to for people who perhaps don't 'get' Taiwan, but want to. It's not perfect, but the sub-optimal parts can be discussed reasonably. 

Let's start with the title: 

So many great things here: 

1.) The main headline is entirely about Taiwan and the US, prioritizing that relationship over any sort of clown-dancing China is doing on the side

2.) It's positive: there's no fearmongering. One democratic country with a lot of problems but also a lot of power trying to do something positive for a friendly fellow democracy. 

3.) It uses the correct verb: recognize. Taiwan is already sovereign; it is absolutely correct to write about whether other countries recognize that fact or not. The fact itself should not be in question. 

4.) It doesn't mention China in the main headline, and where it does do so, it correctly uses the 'authoritarian' epithet. This is accurate.

5.) There is no language that obfuscates China's choices: no tensions mysteriously raise themselves, China is not passively "angered" by any "moves"

Write more headlines like this when talking about the sovereign democratic nation of Taiwan, please. Write about Taiwan's other key relationships without headlining China or making China look like the victim of others' actions. It's not "a move likely to anger China", China is choosing to be angered by the completely reasonable actions of independent nations. 

Then there's the draw: 

WASHINGTON — A visit to Taiwan by an American cabinet secretary. A sale of advanced torpedoes. Talk of starting negotiations over a potential trade agreement.

All of these are positive things (some may not be a fan of the torpedoes but I implore you to consider the enemy we're fighting - fists alone won't stop them). All of them interesting to readers. There's no need to invoke China in the first sentence to get people to read about Taiwan. 

The Trump administration has taken action in recent weeks to strengthen United States relations with the democratic island of Taiwan and bolster its international standing. The efforts are aimed at highlighting a thriving democracy in Asia and countering China’s attempts to weaken the global diplomatic status of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.

China does make it into the second paragraph, but is properly contextualized: the attempts to harm Taiwan are things China does, they are not actions by Taiwan or the US which cause China to be upset. China's "attempts to weaken the global diplomatic status of Taiwan" (a completely accurate assessment of their actions) compared in the same paragraph agains "highlighting a thriving democracy". This is wonderful - it does away with the charade of 'neutral' reporting in which there are no bad guys, even when there certainly are ("In A Move Likely To Anger The Wolf, Red Riding Hood Arrives At Grandmother's House") and goes with accurate reporting, which at its best is a clear-eyed depiction of a world that certainly has gray areas, but also mostly-bad guys and mostly-good guys, too. 

Wong then points out that Beijing claims Taiwan, which is true. It does away with all the old bombast of "renegade province" which is "to be reunited with the Mainland by force if necessary", wording which is fearmongering -- by force!!! -- and inaccurate (if you call Taiwan a "renegade province" often enough, even if you leave it open to questioning, people will start to think it is in fact a renegade province. It is not.) 

In fact, here's another great thing about this article: 

Check out how many times the word "Mainland" is used - zero! It is entirely possible to write an article all about Taiwan without once implying that Taiwan has some sort of Mainland area which is part of its sense of national identity (it does not). 

I'm not a fan of calling Taiwan an "island" rather than a "country" -- the Sri Lanka rule applies here -- but I'm willing to let it go. 

It gets a little problematic after this: 

That feeds into a bigger campaign by national security officials: to set the United States on a long-term course of competition and confrontation with China that any American president, Democratic or Republican, will find difficult to veer away from in the future.

“Taiwan is the most important thing from a military and credibility point of view,” said Elbridge A. Colby, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development. Mr. Colby wrote the Trump administration’s national defense strategy, which emphasizes competition with China and Russia.

You're not going to win over many New York liberals with this, New York Times. It's fine to talk about Trump's approach, though it's quite hard to say that Trump wants only to confront China (the next paragraph talks about how pro-China so much of Trump's narrative is so this feels a bit contradictory) and I don't particularly like the contextualizing of Taiwan as a chess piece dropped into that game of checkers. This piece sings when it talks about Taiwan as itself, and flounders when it tries to turn the whole thing into a "Taiwan as pawn" narrative. Taiwan is so much more than that, and the people in Taiwan certainly have a lot to say about the two big powers duking it out while they sit in the middle just trying to live peacefully with missiles pointed at them. 

It's so off-kilter with the rest of the piece that I wonder if some zealous BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MOVES LIKELY TO ANGER CHINA AMID RISING TENSIONS editor hurked it in there without Wong's consent. 

This paragraph splits the difference uncomfortably: 

Taiwan has been a fraught issue between Washington and Beijing for seven decades, and it is re-emerging as a potential focal point of tensions, as United States national security officials press their campaign against China. The officials also see bolstering Taiwan in a more urgent light given the crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong by Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party.

There are those mysterious tensions again! Where do they come from? (They come from China. China creates the tensions.) Taiwan again is treated like a barren rock devoid of people with ideas, opinions and desires of their own, being fought over by two foreign bloviators. But it does get better: highlighting Taiwan does indeed help to remind people of what the CCP is doing in China, most visibly in Hong Kong but elsewhere (East Turkestan, Tibet, Inner Mongolia) as well.

It also leaves the reader unclear as to whether Taiwan is a pawn to the US, or a friend. Perhaps by noting this, you can see how unhelpful such "two big guys fighting over a rock in the sea" rhetoric is. It's just not appropriate to the actual situation, and it stands out here among so much other excellent prose. 

I do particularly like this bit: 

President Trump himself admires Mr. Xi and is “particularly dyspeptic about Taiwan,” once comparing it to the tip of a Sharpie marker and China to the Resolute desk, John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, wrote in his new book. And the president is willing to sacrifice U.S. support for the democratic government for trade relations with China, he added. But campaign strategists have told Mr. Trump that he needs to appear tough on China for re-election purposes, giving pro-Taiwan U.S. officials an opening.

It doesn't make the Taiwan squad look bad -- everyone with an agenda does this, it's normal. What it does, however, is swiftly pop the balloon of inflated ideas that people have about Trump as a friend to Taiwan. He is not. Stop thinking of him as one; he is not our way out of this. He never could be. And he's not nearly as anti-China as some people think. 

President Richard M. Nixon began a process of diplomatic opening in 1971 with Communist-ruled China to get Mao Zedong’s help in countering the Soviet Union. The United States established diplomatic ties with China in 1979 and broke off formal relations with Taiwan, which had been a sanctuary for the Kuomintang, or Nationalists, since their loss in the Chinese civil war 30 years earlier. Every U.S. administration has tried to maintain an ambiguous position on Taiwan based on the “One China” policy.

I don't love this paragraph because it glosses over how brutal and basically just murderous the KMT was during those years. Plus, it says the US broke off ties with "Taiwan". No. It broke off ties with "The Republic of China", represented by the KMT, not Taiwan (Taiwan was not a democracy then so the people didn't get a say in how the KMT portrayed them abroad). There would never have been any need to break off ties with "Taiwan" because "Taiwan" does not claim "China". The Republic of China does, but that framework sucks, yet we can only really get rid of it when China backs down. The US could help with that by...perhaps recognizing or strengthening ties with Taiwan, which it has never done. 

The ambiguity has helped maintain stability across the Taiwan Strait, one of the most militarized areas in the world. But as China has grown stronger and more assertive, and as Mr. Trump has begun dismantling international commitments under his “America First” foreign policy, some U.S. officials and Washington policy experts say the United States’s traditional approach to Taiwan helps hard-liners in Beijing and increases China’s threat to the island’s 24 million people.

This is fine -- I don't love strategic ambiguity, but I accept that this is how it works right now. What is great about this paragraph is that it again points out the many ways in which Trumpism fails Taiwan. Trump is not good for Taiwan, the people working to bolster Taiwan are doing the work. It helps dismantle the narrative that the only good vote for Taiwan is a vote for Trump, when that is clearly not true. Trump's America is incapable of governing itself, let alone assisting Taiwan. We can't have that. The Democrats may have been cooler on Taiwan all these years, but to start to change that you need a firmer foundation of governance in the US, and Trump can never provide that. Otherwise you are literally building a castle on a sand dune. 

Also, while this is the first mention that Taiwan has people on it -- real people with real thoughts about their own country that the world should listen to -- and it comes rather late in the piece for my liking, it is there. That's more than you can say for most articles. 

Those officials, as well as Republican and Democratic lawmakers, aim to do as much as possible to show explicit U.S. support for Taiwan.

I won't paste the whole paragraph because at some point the New York Times might get salty that I'm basically just commenting word-for-word on their content. I figure I have to leave some out in good faith. But this sentence is fantastic: it highlights that Taiwan is a bipartisan issue, and there are Democrats who support it that we can reach out to. 

For those shrieking that Taiwan should never deign to talk to the right, I'm sorry, but no. 'Bipartisan' is not a dirty word in this context. Think about it: do you really want US support for Taiwan to swing like a pendulum every time a new party gets in power? For all that pro-Taiwan legislation that has passed unanimously to suddenly be a point of contention, with fights to get it through? We know what that's like when Republicans support Taiwan but not Democrats, and it would be utter stupidity to insist that only Democrats are acceptable, not Republicans (not even absolutely shitty Republicans whose domestic policies are horrifying, which pretty much all of them are). For those who think neither is acceptable and only "the left" will, okay, I like the left too (mostly - not all of 'em). But the left doesn't have nearly as much popular support as you think and at some point Taiwan is going to need real assistance. Call me when "the left" is capable of providing essential military aid to Taiwan in the event of an invasion. Until then, bye

There are a few paragraphs after this about things the US has done for Taiwan recently or the ways it's stood up to China, which are all good reading. It points out that some of these efforts have failed, which again shows you that as much as you may want a pro-Taiwan savior, Trump is not your guy. 

A core element of U.S.-Taiwan ties is the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which obligates Washington to provide weapons of a “defensive character” to Taiwan.... 
But some administration officials argue the arms sales, and increased transit by U.S. warships through the Taiwan Strait, fall short of what Washington needs to do. They say Washington must make clear to Beijing and Taipei that it would defend Taiwan if the People’s Liberation Army tried an invasion or a blockade. The Taiwan Relations Act does not address that, and past administrations have left the matter vague.

These snippets are solid -- I would have liked a clarification of what the US's One China Policy actually is in there (it doesn't mean the US believes that Taiwan is certainly part of China, it means the US acknowledges the various claims of the two sides and that the matter should be solved peacefully - that's it). But this does good work: it reminds people that the US's stance has never been close to "Taiwan is a part of China".

No matter the policy options, the United States should “make clear its support for Taiwan,” said Shelley Rigger, a political scientist at Davidson College.

But she cautioned that U.S. officials should formulate Taiwan policy based on strengthening the island rather than striking at China.

“It doesn’t seem to get said enough: There’s a certain sense of conflation or confusion of what it means to be helpful to or supportive of or affirming Taiwan versus taking a position that is more challenging to the P.R.C.,” she said, referring to the People’s Republic of China. “How willing are U.S. officials to pull Taiwan into that deteriorating picture, and how willing are they to be attentive to voices that say, ‘Be careful’? Beijing won’t punish Washington, but it can punish Taipei.”

Many articles like this quote some pro-China think-tank dip (like Evan Medeiros) or some CCP-affiliated "expert" in Beijing. I don't always agree with Shelley Rigger -- I am explicitly pro-independence and pro-US support, and take a fundamentally anti-ROC editorial line, and think most US support for Taiwan is valid and affirmative rather than just anti-China challenges. Also, I do think we should be challenging China, what with them being actual literal 21st century fascists, including all the genocide. But maybe an article about Taiwan is not the place for that. 

However, she is a fundamentally pro-Taiwan voice, which is better than quoting some tankie they could have dredged up from the sewer. And she's not wrong here, or at least not entirely. Some actions do indeed challenge China and use Taiwan as a pawn without actually helping them. Voices from Taiwan itself should certainly be listened to. Beijing can more easily punish Taipei than Washington. 

But - as China is determined to see every action that supports or affirms Taiwan as "challenging to China", making it literally impossible to take a pro-Taiwan position that does not "challenge China". That really needs to be said - there's no way forward to support Taiwan that magically won't piss off a country that's decided it will be pissed off by absolutely everything that doesn't go its way. But, it is good to differentiate between challenges to China which China gets angry about, and support for Taiwan...which China gets angry about. 

More good stuff here: 

Some analysts have criticized Mr. Trump for his apparent lack of knowledge of the nuances in the U.S.-Taiwan relationship. In December 2016, before taking office, he and Ms. Tsai talked by telephone — the first time an American president or president-elect had spoken to a Taiwanese leader since 1979. Though pro-Taiwan policy experts in Washington welcomed it as an overdue move, the action created tensions with Beijing that Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, scrambled to defuse. It was clear Mr. Trump had no idea of the import of the call.

I truly cannot stress enough that Donald Trump Is Not Your Friend. He's not a strategic genius who will come bounding in with a sword to defend Taiwan, which he solemnly supports. He gives exactly zero shits about Taiwan, he's not smart enough to be much help, and...he just ain't it. I will say this as many times as Edward Wong's prose allows me to, because he deconstructs the Trump-for-Taiwan mythos so damn well. 

Also great: 

The administration took a restrained approach with Mr. Azar’s visit. Mr. Azar stuck to a carefully calibrated message throughout his three-day trip, referring to Taiwan as a “jurisdiction” and limiting his criticism of the Chinese Communist Party mainly to health-related issues.

U.S. officials said the visit was aimed at highlighting Taiwan’s success in containing the coronavirus outbreak.

China expressed its displeasure by sending two fighter jets across the median line of the Taiwan Strait. On Thursday, China’s military said it had conducted several live combat drills near Taiwan “to safeguard national sovereignty” and implied the exercises were connected to Mr. Azar’s visit.

This sets up Azar's visit for what it was: a totally normal thing for two normal countries to do, that absolutely no reasonable person has any right to be mad about, and China choosing to get mad about it and actively creating tensions over it. 

Ah, so now we know where the tensions come from. 

Let us also now take a moment to close our eyes, breathe in the humid Taipei air - aaaahhh - and note that the phrase "split in 1949" did not appear once in this article. Apparently, you can write an article about Taiwan without it. Wow!

All you have to do is just...not write that. Put your fingers on the keyboard and type literally anything but that, because the ROC and PRC may have split in 1949, but the PRC has never ruled Taiwan, so Taiwan could never have "split" from the China that exists today. (And that's not even getting into how such language obfuscates Taiwan's Japanese colonial past, which didn't officially end until 1952, and which never ended with Japan ceding Taiwan to the ROC. You may have thought that had happened, but I tell you, legit, it did not.)

Who'd have thought it would be so easy?

But something is missing - an actual Taiwanese voice. Most articles like this ignore such voices completely. It's all about what China or the US wants, and nobody who is actually from Taiwan seems to get asked for their thoughts. Fortunately, Wong closes with a powerful one: 

Wang Ting-yu, a legislator from Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party who is on the foreign affairs and national defense committee, said in an interview that Mr. Azar’s trip was “a break for the Taiwan people.” 
He batted away concerns about Taiwan inadvertently getting caught in the crossfire of U.S.-China relations, emphasizing that the island had its own diplomatic and defense strategies. 
“If they want to give us a hand, then we appreciate it,” Mr. Wang said. “But Taiwan won’t be any country’s bargaining chip.”

I wish a Taiwanese voice had been quoted sooner, but it's also a strong choice to end with this, and sums up Taiwan's complicated views on the matter well. Taiwan needs support, Taiwan needs to be heard. Taiwan is capable of governing itself -- and does so fairly well, actually -- and defending itself. Taiwan needs back-up, not a savior. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019


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

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

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

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

Consider this example from a few days ago:

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2019-04-02 at 5.41.40 PM

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

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

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

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

Excuse me, ahem.


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

Then there's this, from Channel News Asia:

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

Excuuuuse me. No. 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 9, 2019

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

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

by Confucius McDoorknob

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Of Funhouse Mirrors and Falling Scales


"I wonder how many other international issues the media does this with, but we're only noticing this time because it's Taiwan and we know enough about it that we know they're wrong," Brendan quipped back when the Tsai-Trump phone call was actually news.

At that time, I wrote a lot about liberal hypocrisy (claiming to be on the side of human rights, freedom and democracy abroad and yet leaving liberal, democratic Taiwan out in the cold in favor of totalitarian, human-rights-abusing China), the "this is so dangerous China's gonna flip oh no oh no you can't do that!" narrative that the media had decided to run with - or as Michael Turton summarizes it when it pops up on all things Taiwan, "ZOMG TENSIONS!" - and that same media pruning the voices of Taiwanese who were not quite so afraid of said phone call to fit their narrative that it was a dangerous and unacceptable move. I know the overwhelming media narrative was wrong, because I live here and follow these things closely, and yet I watched quite a few people I trust, or at least other liberals like me, fall for it because they aren't as well-acquainted.

Even now I come across comments and tweets about how talking to Taiwan was one of Trump's "dangerous" moves that makes him unfit for the presidency. Or more veiled comments about how he's using Twitter to destabilize international diplomacy (hint: yes they are talking about Taiwan). He is unfit, but not for those reasons, yet it still keeps popping up.

I remember distinctly thinking that I finally understood what conservative voices were talking about when they called liberals elitist know-it-alls, accusing them of being snotty and condescending. As a liberal myself I had not experienced that, generally agreeing with other liberal voices. When I disagreed on this issue based on, well, my knowledge of it - which may be imperfect but certainly runs deeper than most journalists and so-called 'experts' not actually based in Taiwan or who are in fact more oriented towards China - I saw the sharp end of that condescension and snottiness in various discussions I engaged in on the issue. "Well, what you have to understand is..." has got to be my most hated phrase of 2016, but not as used by conservatives (I always hated that) but rather by those with whom I ordinarily would agree.

All that arrogance, all that "we are the experts" condescension on an issue they don't understand. Not one iota of owning up to the hypocrisy of the whole thing.

It is also fairly well understood among circles of people who know Taiwan (as opposed not only to those who don't, but also those who only think they do) that the liberal narrative on Taiwan is straight-up wrong. The assumption that closer ties with China are generally a good thing for everyone, including Taiwan, and talk of independence is therefore bad? Wrong. The refusal to re-examine beliefs formed years ago about how the Taiwanese identify? Wrong. The assumption that whatever is in the Republic of China constitution accurately represents the will of the Taiwanese people? Conflating the will of the Taiwanese people with whatever KMT or CCP talking points the media digs up? The historical untruth, widely reported in even "reliable" media outlets that "China and Taiwan "split in 1949" - thereby erasing a good half-century of Taiwanese history - with some clause as to what China believes without any note as to what Taiwan believes? The assumption that if we don't placate China it could mean war, but if we push Taiwan into China's arms that that won't mean war (oh, but it will)? Aggressively ignoring Taiwan's economic and geopolitical importance - a vibrant democracy with a population rivaling that of Australia which is one of the US's top trading partners in favor of a narrative that casts Taiwan as a small, worthless rock? Filing reports on Taiwan from Beijing and calling them accurate? Wrong, wrong, wrong, fuck you, wrong.

But that one comment has stuck with me. Through it all, I have still generally trusted the established media. Yes, I am a liberal and they often lean liberal, and yes, I have stopped to ponder whether the fact that I tend to agree with them is what causes me to trust them (to some extent, this is probably the case). However, I also do truly believe that in most cases liberalism simply reflects reality: the facts have a liberal bias.

Even in this case, liberalism reflects reality: supporting Taiwan is a true liberal ideal. Something is not liberal or illiberal because of who believes it, it's that way because of its fundamental makeup. Supporting Taiwan means supporting self-determination, nation-building based on common ideals rather than ethnic makeup, supporting freedom, democracy and human rights. Taiwan is also a nation of strong (perhaps too strong in some cases thanks to the construction-industrial state) public infrastructure such as telecom, national healthcare and affordable public education. Their social activists are unapologetic liberals in a truly modern sense. These are liberal ideals.

It's like a world of funhouse mirrors where conservatives support the liberal thing as liberals eschew it. The facts here do have a liberal bias, but the liberal mainstream happens to be illiberal in this case.

So what is sticking with me is this question: how many other cases are there that I am simply not aware of because I don't know as much about the issue?

Just before all of this happened I was openly pondering which newspaper or media source to subscribe to, thereby supporting them through troubled times ahead when we would need reliable media to separate the wheat from the fluffy, combed-over chaff and report accurately in a time of post-truth "news" (or "newsiness").

My candidates included the New York Times, The Guardian and the Washington Post.

So far, I have contributed to none.

After the tragedy they called "reporting" on the phone call, and their continued insistence on being completely wrong on Taiwan - including the headline hullabaloo in WaPo recently, and the fact that to be heard at all, important voices in Taiwan have to reach out because, unlike with so-called "experts" from China, nobody is calling them - I can't find one that I trust enough to give them my money.

Because really. How many other issues are there? If I can so readily side with conservatives on the one international issue I can be said to know quite a bit about, what other turds might I be swallowing without even knowing it? Are there other issues that, like my liberal friends who do not know Taiwan, I come off sounding like a mindless parrot because I was so silly as to trust the narrative sold to me by the New York Times?

It's funny, too, that of all issues that might inflame an American - as much as I can be said to be one anymore in anything but name - Taiwan is the one that caused the scales to drop from my eyes.

IMG_6760Don't worry, I won't be embracing conservative news anytime soon. Just on a grand fact-checking scale, I trust them even less despite their getting one issue right. I am no less liberal than I was, I'm just following my liberal beliefs to their logical conclusion by supporting Taiwan, rather than entering the wonky-mirrored funhouse.

That leaves me with a big fat problem though: in a world of "fake news" (I still hate that term but again, it'll have to do), "post-truth" beliefs, bad reporting, and massive inaccuracy resulting from half-baked stories designed to get readers agreeing - or just clicking - if I can't trust the media bastions otherwise best-known for the closest thing to accuracy there is, who the hell can I trust?

What is left, if I can no longer be sure I am getting accuracy and good reporting on international issues from the only media outlets that have any right to claim accuracy and good reporting on those issues? What is even news? What is even truth? What is even accuracy? Nobody has the time to delve more deeply into every issue, to live in every country, to study every region.

Other than a basic ability to think critically about what I read, when every single source, even the seemingly trustworthy ones, come up short, what is left when my faith in even the "good" media is dead

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Seek out Taiwanese voices, but don't prune them to fit your own narrative

This is interesting read in and of itself, but I have a specific reason for sharing it - and it's not an entirely positive thing.

Quick editor's note: I'm switching around the halves of this post because too much discussion has been happening on my criticism of the over-inclusion and enhanced credibility of Dr. Some White Guy Who Is An Expert On China (a criticism I believe is merited and which I stand by) and not nearly enough on the co-opting of Taiwanese voices to fit Western narratives. I am disappointed to say the least that the wrong point was emphasized. While I have my criticisms of the idolizing of Dr. Some White Guy Who Is An Expert On China, I don't want to be yet another in a list of people using a Taiwanese voice to air a grievance of my own.

So, let's start with the bad of it: this is Lin Fei-fan's reaction to his inclusion. There is also a Facebook post in English, which if I did the link right, you should be able to read here. It is worth your time.

He was a bit disappointed, though he recognized the honor of his words opening and closing an article on Taiwan in the New York Times. He was not misquoted, but the crux of what he was trying to say was that the solution to threats from China over this phone call - and in general - was to work towards normalizing relations between the US and Taiwan, and that current policy on Taiwan is in its own way a selling out of Taiwan already (which is absolutely true). All of that was excised. To wit:

"Lin said he told the paper that while many in Taiwan worry that US president-elect Donald Trump will change policy directions after he assumes office, the best way to handle a potential change in policy would be for Taiwan to seek the development of normal relations with the US.

Lin said the NYT’s reporter emphasized the worry that he mentioned exists in Taiwan over Trump’s intentions, while overlooking the emphasis he placed on the development of normalized relations between the two countries...I did absolutely say this, but they emphasized the wrong point. Of course I am unhappy about seeing Taiwan used as a chess piece,” Lin said."

Why? Well, I do understand that reporters and editors have to take many interviews and ideas and create a narrative flow, and that means not every idea, as strong as it may be, and not every quote, as pertinent as it may be, is going to make it in. In some ways it's fairly standard.

I have another, less innocent suspicion though: the New York Times, and most Western liberal media - has already created, cultivated and sold the narrative that talking to Taiwan is Bad Bad Bad because China is Scary Scary Scary. Like parents - yes, that means I'm calling the Chinese government a baby, because it is - who don't realize that their spoiling of their kid is a direct cause, if not THE direct cause, of why their kid is an asshole. Who think continuing to spoil said kid is the only solution because it's already too late. "We've tried nothing, and we're all out of ideas!"

My liberal friends, I am sorry to say (and I love you guys, I do! But please!) have bought into this in a scary way. I get it - this isn't InfoWars or whatever, it's not even Addicting Info or other liberal clickbait. It's the New York Times, among others. You want to believe them. They are respected journalistic organizations. They created this narrative, and you bought it. You trust them, with good reason (usually).

Only as the initial furor has abated, when readers may not be reading anymore, are they seeking out Taiwanese voices - and Lin is among the best voices to seek out - and to their credit, they're not making them sound unreasonable or vacuous. They come across as cogent, knowledgeable and and thoughtful.

As I said above, that's an important and laudable step, but note how, in this case, when those Taiwanese voices voiced ideas too far outside the curated-and-sold narrative, they are edited to fit it. You can't broadcast a revolutionary idea - as sad as it is that normalizing relations with Taiwan is "revolutionary", it really shouldn't be - because the media doesn't want its narrative called into question. They just don't publish it. They probably think they are doing the right thing. They may not even be aware of it on a conscious level. We all, consciously and sub-, create, broadcast and defend our narratives. We don't even realize we're doing it.

What concerns me is that this feels a bit like Taiwanese voices being carefully edited to legitimize the pre-existing narrative on Taiwan. By cutting out the rebuttal -  that no, the status quo is not very good for Taiwan, yes, we are hurt that American liberals ignore progressive, liberal Taiwan, and the solution is to stand up to China and normalize relations - and pruning a few quotes regarding Taiwanese sentiment and also suspicion of Trump, the latter thought already resonating with American liberals, are they not co-opting Taiwanese voices to lend credence to the narrative they've already decided to sell regardless of whether those voices actually agree? Is that not just as problematic as quoting Dr. Some White Guy Who Is An Expert on China, if not more so? To make it sound like the Taiwanese more or less endorse this narrative because they, too, are suspicious of Trump (when that support is not necessarily as full-throated as you want to believe)? Is there not something a bit icky about pruning quotes from a local voice to support your Western worldview when the actual local voice is disappointed in how the article ended up including it? How do you feel if you are one of the folks who bought the narrative?

So, here is a confirmed example of how those Taiwanese voices who are interviewed do not always think the main point of what they want to express is included when they are asked at all - and a powerful example of perhaps legitimizing one's pre-existing worldview by including selected quotes from local voices to fit the narrative you want to sell, rather than letting the local voices speak for themselves.

But it's not all bad. Aaaand, here we go.

The good of it is that finally, reporters in the West are seeking out Taiwanese voices on Taiwanese issues. This is a big change from analysis on Taiwan brought to you by Dr. Some White Guy Who Is An Expert on China, no thought paid to the fact that Taiwan is not a part of China. It also finally reports on the Taiwanese reaction to the Phone Call Heard 'Round The World (and I do appreciate more pieces in recent days finally looking at alternative viewpoints to the knee-jerk "China Is Big And Scary And We Have To Placate Their Tantrums!" Western liberal reaction - and again, I say that as a liberal).

This piece on Medium lays it out well:

"As producers and transmitters of knowledge, the media plays an indispensable role in shaping how a society learns about and understands a topic. Individuals’ beliefs are significantly impacted by the voices that are amplified in the media they consume....We can witness the epistemic marginalization by observing who gets quoted in articles about Trump’s Taiwan phone call. While the US and Chinese political actors are given the agency of chess players, Taiwan is represented as merely a pawn. The most basic articles include a quote from an American and a Chinese government official. The more advanced articles add quotes from an expert on China, Taiwan, or Asia — typically a White person working in a Western institution. The very advanced articles add quotes from expats or journalists working in the region — again, typically White and Western. In mainstream publications like The Financial Times, The New Yorker, and The New York Times, there was not a single quote from a Taiwanese perspective. Instead, it is those who already occupy dominant social positions who get to be heard."

The issue is not, of course, that the voices of Western scholars and experts are being included, it's that they are included while Taiwanese ones are not. They supplant Taiwanese voices, when they are not effective substitutes. It's that Dr. Some White Guy Who Is An Expert on China is considered to be all that's needed, rather than just one voice bordered by others. And, of course, that these guys are almost never experts on Taiwan - those who are often have an outdated understanding of Taiwan - and that does hurt the quality of the "journalism" being churned out.

This is especially great because, as a Mandarin-speaking long-term resident of Taiwan with a degree in a closely related subject, I am a bit sick of being told by Western media how I should feel about the Taiwan-US-China relationship, and well-meaning people quoting that media to insist that this is what's best for Taiwan, without ever having heard a Taiwanese perspective. Yes, this has happened. It's condescending - to me, sure, but I don't matter - but mostly to the Taiwanese.

Consider this the next time you swallow an article by the Western media on Asia, as reputable as the source may be.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Thomas Friedman Thinks Taiwan is "a barren rock"...

"I always tell my friends in Taiwan: “You’re the luckiest people in the world. How did you get so lucky? You have no oil, no iron ore, no forests..." Say WHAT?!

I posted earlier today with a link to Thomas Friedman's piece on "Taiwan" - of course, it wasn't about Taiwan at all, which I'll address in a minute - and now that I'm done with that thing I had to do today, I'm free to write about it.

I'm not an economist, so I'll just be a 揚聲蟲 (that first character might be wrong, I'm trying to recall the phrase from something someone told me and I did not write down. If I am wrong, please correct me. I can learn from that). I'll echo Michael Turton's assessment that Taiwan's human capital is a great resource that has been used to great benefit and effect, which is about the only thing the article got right (well, it is also correct that Taiwan has few "deposits" - gas, oil or otherwise - and what it did have has long since been dug out by the Japanese during the colonial period).

Turton is absolutely right that Friedman is absolutely wrong - and downright insulting (well, those words are mine) - in characterizing Taiwan as a "barren rock in a typhoon-laden sea with no natural resources to live off": Taiwan has agricultural potential, an abundance of water (although most of it seems to wash out to sea: I always laugh when I see one of those "Water Shortage - Please Conserve Water" signs above a sink as I'm washing my hands while it's pouring outside) and plenty more to recommend it. I do wonder who these "friends in Taiwan" of Friedman's are, and if they're happy to hear that he thinks they're so lucky to live on a "barren rock" with "no natural resources to live off". 

I want to add before I get into the crux of what I want to say that I take issue with both Turton and Friedman's posts regarding education in Taiwan. Yes, students score well. Yes, the populace is highly educated, yes, Turton's right that a lot of that has to do with the private cram school system.

But...I don't have much respect and in fact hold much contempt for both the Taiwanese public school system and the cram school system.

In the former, yes,  they train students very well in math and science and in taking tests well, and in learning under pressure. They  still don't train in critical thinking or creativity and generally speaking, arts, history, social studies and language education in Taiwanese schools is severely lacking, if not pathetic or even non-existent (one of my students claims there is no such thing as "social studies" - something I had to take for all of junior and high school in the New York State system). Students learn to read and to some extent write English, but not to speak it and rarely do they come out of it with any language other than English. French, German, Spanish and other language "majors" from universities rarely graduate at a level of fluency in their language "major" that I'd find acceptable. I've met people with degrees in French whose French is worse than the best French I ever spoke (much of which I've forgotten), and I didn't major in it. And I studied abroad in India, not a French-speaking country. I find the buxiban system sad - some schools teach well, some teach poorly, all overcharge, work the kids too hard when what they need is time to play, and most English cram schools exploit foreign teachers and pay them very little while milking the parents. The only positive thing I can say about it is that yes, those kids do come out of English cram school speaking better English than most Americans could hope to speak Chinese - because there is, as yet, no Chinese cram school system in the USA. I can't speak for cram schools in other subjects.

I do feel that the teachers in these systems (English schools aside) are too focused on outdated and teacher-centered methodologies and do not teach Taiwanese students to engage critically or creatively with topics or knowledge. Some end up doing so anyway, but many become worker drones who are very good at taking tests, being quiet, saying Yes Sir and doing what they're told. While I do find the average Taiwanese person to be more worldly than the average American, that is not because of the education system. Those poor kids are overworked, under-rested and have no time to figure out who they are or how to be creative or thoughtful. Those who naturally are those things will still be, but they are not traits that are prized.

So why all this praise for Taiwanese schools?

As one Taiwanese friend with a teenage daughter put it to me, "you got to go to school in America and then live in Taiwan and get paid more because you are a foreigner. You are truly lucky." So, I'm lucky because I didn't go through the "study 28 hours a day? What do you mean there aren't 28 hours in a day - study that long anyway! NO FREE TIME FOR YOU!" Taiwanese system, and we're sitting here praising it?

No, thanks.

That was a longer aside than I intended, so...

What a barren rock! With no forests! And no resources to live off!
I am sure others will do a fine job of engaging with Friedman's piece in economic terms, so I'll engage with it in social and cultural terms. Before I do, however, I want to share some quotes from my husband to put my own criticisms into perspective.

"Friedman," says Brendan, my ever-brilliant husband who really should be a professor of something, "has an astounding knack for taking taxi cabs with drivers who have strong opinions and are particularly well-spoken that he can reference in his column to give his words blue-collar credibility. I do not believe these drivers are entirely fictional, but I do believe that he borrows heavily on his own experience and weaves it into the things he hears and references in his writing."

I felt bad when I heard that, because I reference a lot of what I hear in Taiwan and talk about with Taiwanese people - but then, I  do try to quote directly and then speak from my experience rather than weaving so much into the narrative of another person, and I do have an extensive network of local friends, students and acquaintances so I don't feel I'm going down the "this half-made-up taxi driver who is totally blue collar said this thing that I want to talk about because I'm so smart" route. Though maybe I am. I'm sure I'd get more nasty comments if I were, though.

He also pointed out, quite astutely, that "Friedman's specialty, if he can be said to have one, is the Middle East although he seems to have interests in every region of the world. Nothing in his career or writing, past or present, has gave any indication that Taiwan is his favorite country. He was using it as an example to make a point about economics, not because it is actually his favorite country." He could have led with any country that is resource poor but doing well because it's rich in well-honed human capital - it didn't have to be Taiwan.

I agree - I'm not even sure Friedman has been to Taiwan, and if he has, he certainly didn't explore it in any depth. From his description, if he's been here at all, he might have seen Taipei and possibly some of the uglier parts of the west coast plain. I'm thinking that industrial bit in Taoyuan County, the one out past Guanyin where the main TECO plant is.

Finally, "you do realize, Jenna, that by 'Taiwan has no forests' he was actually saying 'Taiwan does not export lumber', right? He did not mean 'forests' in terms of 'has lots of trees'."

Right. But that still kind of bothers and even slightly offends me. I can't believe that anyone who has seen enough of Taiwan to call it their "favorite" country would use the adjective "barren" to describe it.

Poor, barren Taiwan. These must be Fake Plastic Trees because Taiwan has no forests.
I mean, I am sure that my in-laws, who visited very recently, did not think of Taiwan as a "barren rock in a typhoon-laden sea". I'm sure they saw it for what it was: a somewhat polluted country that is nevertheless beautiful and brimming with culture, life, agriculture, good food and friendly people.

Taiwan is one of the best countries in Asia in terms of national parks, protected areas and forest recreation areas for protecting its forests - oh yeah, it doesn't have forests - even though there are environmental issues that need to be addressed otherwise (the forests in the mountains are reasonably well protected, but I am concerned about environmental degradation in the plains) - how could anyone who claims Taiwan is their "favorite country" have not seen this?

Yes, I realize that different people like different things and a bookish economist with blue-collar-cred delusions might genuinely pick a "favorite country" based on economic indicators, not on the cultural framework and natural beauty of the country itself, but another part of me says - how sad is that?

It offends me as someone who genuinely, truly would say that Taiwan is her favorite country. I mean, I have some affection (more like tough love and "I love my difficult child but at times don't like her very much") for the country of my birth and I also love India and have an abiding affection for Bangladesh and an ancestral-ties sort of love for Armenia and Hatay (in Turkey), but if asked for just one country to name as my favorite I think I would pick Taiwan. I have stayed for over five years, after all. I don't particularly like some pompous teller of stories who thinks in commodities and not people, who trades in globalization and not beauty, coming in and saying "Taiwan is my favorite country" for the purposes of making a point in his widely read column, when many other countries could have filled that space. After all, he didn't give any heartfelt reasons for loving Taiwan. Does "very interesting economic paradigm" = love? I don't think so.

So, my advice is, go take a hike, Thomas. I mean that seriously. Not being sarcastic. Fly your statistics-spouting ass to Taiwan and take a hike. I'll be your guide.

I'll take you hiking around Lishan, I'll take you to Hehuan Mountain and I'll take you to Yilan. Maybe I'll hire a guide to haul your butt up Jade Mountain (which I haven't done yet, am supposed to climb in two weeks but probably won't be able to as Paiyun Lodge appears to be closed). We'll hike up to the Japanese temple ruins above Jinguashi and maybe do the easy walk around Bitou cape. I'll definitely take you to Yuemeikeng:

...and then you tell me if Taiwan is a "barren rock" with "no forests".

Because Taiwan is my favorite country too, but I don't love it because it's a good economic example of resourcefulness and well-honed human capital. In fact, Friedman glosses over how many mind-numbing hours those well-educated folks have to work in Taiwan to earn a living. I'm not sure I'd paint such a rosy picture if I were him, because the Taiwanese workforce is a soul-killing thing, no matter how "innovative" it might look to Friedman.  While I am happy to praise the high education and resourcefulness of the Taiwanese people generally, are we really praising a system in which "work yourself to death" is not the joke it is in America, but an idiom that describes a real problem?

I love it because:

- Well, the people. I've written before about friendship in Taiwan but underneath all that, I do find it easier to make genuine friends and true connections with locals than I did in China or than my friends report about Japan. Etiquette differs from back home and I do get annoyed on occasion, but more generally I find people friendly, easy to talk to, and easier to befriend than I believe I'd find elsewhere in Asia. I also find them to mostly be hospitable and kind (although there are jerks around the world) and more progressive than the rest of East Asia.

- The food. I know a lot of foreigners aren't impressed (both Michael Turton and Ralph Jennings have said as much) but I love it. The seafood, the deep fried snacks, the stinky tofu, the pickled bamboo, the preserved tofu, the mountain pig. You haven't lived until you've eaten your fill at Raohe or Miaokou Night Markets, Donggang Harbor or Auntie Xie's on Bo'ai Road or at one of the aboriginal restaurants in the mountains. My in-laws, after a week of eating the best Taipei has to offer (in my eyes - no Ding Tai Fung), praised the simple home-style Taiwanese meal at Auntie Xie's the most. Cold chicken in a sour oily sauce, a steamed red fish, some peppered pork and fried-potato like niu bang, taro congee and a few other simple but delicious dishes seemed to be one of the highlights of their culinary experience.

- The scenery. NO FORESTS MY BIG WHITE ASS. I love hiking and I love that generally I don't need to drive to get to many fantastic hikes.

- The convenience. The other day, I was thinking of going out for Sam Adams. I thought, "The 7-11 across the lane has it, oh, but that means I'd have to cross the street. I could also go to the Wellcome or the other 7-11 and not have to cross the street." Then I realized how freaking ridiculous I sounded. Also, National Health Insurance.

- The relatively clean environment - sure, there's pollution, but I've lived in India and China, so shut up.

...and other reasons, but I think I've made my point.

This is one thing that was missing from Friedman's piece, and sadly, also missing from Turton's analysis (though I don't want to criticize too much, otherwise I agree) - no actual, visceral caring for Taiwan. Nothing about the charms of the country that make it a place worth living and a country worth loving. Nothing to make you believe there's any real emotion or attachment there.

While I understand on some level that Thomas Friedman doesn't actually care about Taiwan all that much, I do hope someday he'll shut his blowhole, put down his textbooks, turn away from the charts and graphs, stop pretending he's a blue collar Everyman and come to Taiwan to see why it's worthy of being his favorite country for real.