Showing posts with label newspapers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label newspapers. Show all posts

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Light News Petiscos and Wine

Greetings from Coimbra! Their university is great except they have a Confucius Institute. But the building is well-marked and I kind of spat at it, so...that accomplished nothing but felt good. 

Hello from Portugal, where we are traveling for a bit before I take up my 2nd semester at Exeter. Because I’m on the road, I won’t be keeping up much of a regular blogging schedule. But, here are a few takes for you - perhaps a bit behind the news cycle but whatever - I’ll try to keep them quick. I have wine to drink and lots of it. Also, port.

We’re not really getting beyond the tourist hotspots, which a few years ago I’d say was a shame. And, in fact, I’d love to have the time to explore the lesser-known gems of the country. But, as I grow older and travel more, I grow more at peace with staying on something like a tourist circuit while abroad, unless I have good reason to depart from it. I don’t have a special connection to the countries I visit other than (I hope) helping their economies with my well-spent tourist dollars, zero dollars of which go to buying cheap trinkets in souvenir shops, so what connection would I have to a regular neighborhood of no particular interest to travelers? Trying to pretend the local cafe or restaurant, the local park, the local place of worship has any meaning for me as an outsider feels cheap, like a debased way of seeming like I’m better than a regular tourist, which of course I am not. You build connection by returning to places frequently over time, which as a traveler I cannot do.

That’s not to say I never have a reason to go out of my way: in Greece we traveled far beyond the tourist center of Athens, to seek out the church where my great grandfather had worked, and which my grandfather had attended as a child. We had coffee from the local shop and walked around the local streets, and had good reason to: my ancestors had lived in that neighborhood for many years. It goes without saying that a good restaurant recommendation will get me to go anywhere.

And, of course, Taiwan is no longer ‘abroad’, it’s home. That’s different. I have connections there. 

All that to say, yes I’m just going to Lisbon, Sintra, Coimbra and Porto, but I’m okay with that. 

Anyway, there’s a hot take for you. Here’s another - let's talk AIT. 

I don’t know what to say about the new AIT opening - some people say it’s a sign of ‘upgraded relations’. Others write ludicrous headlines (“angering China”? I'd say "eat me" but CNN is clearly chowing down on something way meatier) Still others say it doesn’t mean much, which seems like it could be the case given that the US sent no-one important to attend. Personally? I think it’s just as confused and schizophrenic as US policy on Taiwan has always seemed - even if, officially, it is clearer (and more pro-Taiwan) than people think. We want to build a big office in Taiwan! But we don’t want to draw attention to it! We care about Taiwan relations! But we don’t want to talk about that! It’s the same old dance - he loves me, he loves me not. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Though if you really want to know, at the end of the day, what those who matter in the US think of Taiwan, skip the new AIT opening and look at who makes decisions about arms sales to Taiwan. 

Moving on. Korea. 

The Facebooks are ablaze with WHAT IT ALL MEANS!!! re: the Xi Jinping Marionette Spectacular I mean Trump-Xi oops Trump-Kim meeting. You already know what I think it means. Few, however, seem worried that China would surely seek to fill that void of regional influence - after all, better that the regional power in Asia be Asian, yes? Plenty of people are talking about how anything that gets US and US imperialism out of Asia must be a good thing.

I don’t know if those people like Chinese imperialism, or just aren’t aware it’s a thing (though I would guess it’s the latter). It’s an easy thing to overlook: it’s not fully realized yet and the CCP is trying hard to make sure it stays under everyone’s radar, whereas US imperialism - and all those bombs we drop to advance an agenda mostly beneficial to us - is well-known and more than fully-realized. It’s easy to criticize.

It’s even easier to criticize knowing that you can do so and you won’t get shot. Try criticizing Chinese expansionism in China and see how long you are not ‘disappeared’. That’s the key difference of course - both China and the US are primarily interested in what’s best for them, and despite what they say the US doesn’t really stand for either global democracy or human rights - but at least under a US-led system you can say so.

What worries me is that in the wake of WHAT IT ALL MEANS!!! is that until perhaps just today, not many people seemed to be talking about China at all. Even those otherwise criticizing Trump's performance. I am certain - and anyone else who is watching ought to be as well - that this was all manipulated to benefit China (before you accuse me of ‘anti-China hysteria’, remember that I live in Taiwan, a country China has said obliquely it will annex by force.) Not to sound like a tired cliche-ridden “China expert”, but isn’t the Art of War all about conquering through manipulation or a clever strategem, so that your opponent doesn’t even realize they’re losing, and only if that is impossible to use force? Well…

So who realizes that we’re losing? Not The Atlantic, who mentioned China 7 times in this piece (I counted) but didn't seem to be able to pinpoint who was both manipulating the show and who benefitted from it. Not the BBC, which I had on most of yesterday evening in Sintra. The National Post gets it, but nobody I know reads it. My preferred outlets continue to not understand Asia. South China Morning Post, for the first time since they became a CCP propaganda tool, seems to get it right. But nobody I know in the US regularly reads SCMP.

But, because the average US liberal or moderate doesn't read these outlets, this particular observation seems lost on them. Not a peep. You’d think China wasn't even a player. A lot of my smarter friends hadn’t even seemed to consider that they were (“Why a [fake] Chinese proverb for a Korea summit?” one friend asked. “Because Xi Jinping is running the show,” I replied, to their surprise - they’d been expecting I’d agree that this summit had nothing to do with China, because none of the media they read have mentioned it.)

And Hau “Muppetface” Lung-pin went to China to talk about his hope for "unification" because he’s a massive jerk-off, being all kinds of Mean Girl to Taipei mayoral incumbent Ko "Reminds Me Of My Dad" Wen-je. As in he jerks Chinese authorities off. Fine. What bothers me isn’t this - Hau’s gonna Hau - but that it won’t matter. The vast majority of Taiwanese not only don’t agree with Hau’s far-right jerk-offery, they vehemently disagree with it.

But it doesn’t matter. Those who hate Hau (or even mildly dislike him, or think he looks like a Muppet but isn’t as smart as one - I don’t mean the Muppet characters, I mean the actual cloth Muppets are made of) are gonna find him odious anyway. Blue voters who watch blue media will either not know he said this - because the media they watch won’t report it - or assume he meant something milder, or defend it saying it’s his “personal views” which he is entitled to (and he is, but that doesn’t make him less of a jerk-off who’s dumber than a scrap of fake fur with google-eyes). Why would they assume this? Because if the media they watch does report it, this is the commentary they will offer, which people will swallow.

And nobody who has a message to get out to those who aren't listening is either trying, or able to get their attention, whether that's in Taiwan or the US. And the blue voters will vote blue and the Americans will talk about Korea as though it wasn't a massive back-door win for China, and we're all going to die.

And so it goes.

And if you’re feeling low,
Stuck in some bardo
Why, even I know the solution
Love, music, wine
And revolution!

It’s time for wine. 

Brendan is happier than he looks in this, he just...does this for cameras? I dunno. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Sri Lanka Test, China's Crap-in-a-Box and Other Gentle Tearings Apart

This article appeared in The Guardian today:

China threatens to 'take off the gloves' if Trump rips up the status quo on Taiwan

It's not awful. Seriously, it's okay. But I want to make a point about the form pro-China (or anti-Taiwan) bias takes in the media, so I'm going to tear it apart for you. That, and it is purely entertaining for me.

Let's start with the title.

Forget that it's not made clear whether China is threatening the US or Taiwan; China itself hasn't made this clear. What bugs me is the implication that the status quo in Taiwan is entirely up to the US, that it is the US who decides whether Taiwan will adhere to it or not. Not a lick of agency afforded to Taiwan?

China has stepped up its rhetoric against Donald Trump, with a Communist party-controlled newspaper declaring Beijing will have no choice but to “take off the gloves” if the incoming president insists on tearing open a Pandora’s box over Taiwan

Isn't a Pandora's Box something that you open without thinking your action will cause far-reaching catastrophic consequences (because perhaps you do not know entirely what is inside), but does? Is it really a Pandora's Box if China shits in a box and then hands it to us? Like, we all know what's inside and who put it there. China shat in it; that's what's inside. Now China is threatening that we shouldn't open the box they shat in? That's just China being a jerk, it's not a Pandora's Box. In fact, I'd argue it's something like the opposite of a Pandora's Box because you know what's inside as the giver has taken great pains to tell you that it's full of their stinky turds. If you invent the consequences, that's not the same thing. Calling it anything else than China shitting in a box is removing the active agency of China in handing the US and Taiwan a box full of shit. Like, how about instead of "don't open this box, you have no idea what unnamed entity placed far-reaching consequences inside", let's be all "China, why the fuck did you shit in a box? Not cool."

Side note: "a Communist Party-controlled newspaper" makes it sound like there is a non-government-controlled media source in China. There isn't. Why make it sound as though this particular newspaper can be compared to a freer press that exists in China? As far as I am aware whatever freer press existed no longer does. Best to acknowledge that. 

An editorial said Trump’s repeated threats to abandon the “one China” policy could no longer be dismissed as “bluster or miscalculation” but instead appeared to be a deliberate and intolerable ploy designed to extract concessions from Beijing.

I am very curious what their definition of "One China" policy is or how they understand it vis-a-vis American policy on Taiwan. Because as far as I am aware the US at no point has said that they definitely think Taiwan is a part of China. Everything is very vaguely written (deliberately so), but the "One China" policy has allowed for stopovers before, there is nothing in it that specifically says the US President cannot talk to Taiwan's President, and not even anything in there that says Taiwan is definitely a part of China. US policy on Taiwan-China leaves room for an independent Taiwan. So what are we tearing up exactly? 

Under a nearly four-decade old policy, the United States has acknowledged Beijing’s position that there is only one China. The US has formal ties with China rather than the island of Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland one day.

This is actually pretty good! Most media outlets get this wrong, writing that the US believes there is only on China, and that Taiwan is a part of it, when the truth is that they only go so far as to acknowledge that this is China's stance. So...good job, actually. 


"island of Taiwan": I know not every pro-Taiwan voice agrees with me on this, but I really would like to call for an end to consistently calling Taiwan an "island" rather than a "country" or "nation". It skirts the issue, and skirting the issue is a form of pro-China bias.

Brendan likes to talk about something he calls the "Sri Lanka test", and I tend to agree with him. If you replace "Taiwan" with "Sri Lanka" in any given sentence, and it still feels like you're not stretching yourself around the truth by calling it an "island" - if you'd refer to Sri Lanka the same way in the same context - you are okay. If it seems weird to constantly call Sri Lanka an island rather than a country, you've got a problem. 

"...which Beijing sees as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland one day": 
This only eschews China bias if you put "breakaway province", "reunified" and "mainland" in scare quotes. 

First, I get that there is emphasis on what China says, as this is an article about something China said. Sure. Often there is a problem with writing lots about what China says on articles focused on Taiwan, and comparatively little on what Taiwan says. I can forgive it this time, but remember, my lovelies: be ever vigilant.

That said, this article would have been more accurate, more objective and stronger if they'd added two sentences about how the Taiwanese identify as Taiwanese, are generally against any sort of unification with China ever, and generally favor independence - in fact, most see themselves as independent already.

This is how insidious pro-China bias is in the media: the verb "reunify" (as opposed to "unify" or "be annexed by") is not called out for its obvious nonsense usage. You cannot reunify what was never unified to begin with, and the ROC and the PRC were never unified. (We can get into the details of the Qing Dynasty, or 1945-1949, what it means to control a country or territory or what all those crazy treaties meant, but I'm not sure any of it matters). Yet "reunify" is used without any sort of pretense or sarcasm. It's just taken as word. Does that not invite in the mind of the reader, who likely styles themselves something of an educated person, the idea that it would, in fact, be reunification if The Guardian called it that, and that reunification doesn't sound so bad?

And what is the "mainland" to an island nation that has no territory on the continent? To assume there even is a "mainland" is a form of bias. There is China, and there is Taiwan. Taiwan has no mainland, unless you mean how, say, the Orchid Islanders see Taiwan proper.

However, I do want to say one good thing here. No "split in 1949" nonsense. Yay! We are working tirelessly to get that nonsense phrase banished - not censored, more seen as embarrassingly incorrect - from media around the world. So I'm happy to see it didn't make it in here. 

On Sunday, Tsai was making no apologies as she returned to Taiwan from her trip to the Americas, which included US meetings with Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz and state governor Greg Abbott, as well as a visit to the headquarters of Twitter in San Francisco.
Why should Tsai apologize for doing what the leaders of sovereign states do all the time with their allies, and for doing what previous presidents of Taiwan have done (if I am correct - correct me if I'm not - meeting with American government officials who are not the US president is not exactly a new thing for Taiwanese presidents even post-1979)? Why on earth would you even imply she needed to do such a thing? Would you write "Chancellor Merkel was making no apologies as she met with British members of Parliament?" No? So why the fuck are you writing this?

Tsai said the trip, which took her on to Central America, elevated the island’s international profile.

Does this pass the Sri Lanka test?

I'd say no.

US officials had said Tsai’s transit stops were based on longstanding US practice and Tsai’s office had characterised her meetings there as private and unofficial.

Again this is pretty good. True, accurate as far as I'm aware. Why, however, is it at the very end after a very lengthy explanation of China's side of things (and quite little in the way of Taiwan's other than a few remarks by Tsai?). Why is it saved for the very end when plenty of readers have stopped reading, and given so little space?

* * *

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my little practice exercise, my expression of a part-time hobby. I deliberately chose this article as it's not that bad, and on the surface even seems pretty good. It's easy to tear apart a mishmash of half-baked piss-and-corn-nugget chowder written by a sadfaced hack who just looked up Taiwan and now knows it's not Thailand yet somehow managed to get his sticky inappropriately-used sweatsock of an article published, somehow, by an editor stupid enough to buy it, slap "CHINA!" on it and then write something about 1949 in there.

It's harder to pinpoint pro-China bias in an otherwise okay article, at least one that kinda-sorta stands up to some scrutiny and at least gets a few key facts right (and thankfully leaves the fictitious "facts" out), but we need to keep doing this if we don't want to let merely okay be good enough when it comes to reporting on Taiwan.