Showing posts with label taiwan_media. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taiwan_media. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

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

I hope you enjoy my terrifying gif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The kids are all right


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.

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. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

At LSE, Taiwan is still Taiwan...for now.

The World Turned Upside Down as of April 6th
(photo from a friend)

I'd actually prefer not to do these sorts of media analyses, because I'd rather that the media got stories right. Sadly, that doesn't seem as though it will be the norm anytime soon.

This time, the dodgy reporting is centered on the new LSE (London School of Economics) sculpture entitled The World Turned Upside Down by artist Mark Wallinger, which is basically a globe turned upside down, at an angle not typically considered by most.

I don't really need to outline the Chinese-student-manufactured "controversy" around the sculpture, you can read about it in a number of places, including The News Lens, the Taipei Times and The Telegraph (which, in my opinion, has the best journalism on the issue).

But what I do want to highlight is how confusing so many other news reports have been, some of which are putting out facts that are simply not correct. I don't mean "up for debate", I mean demonstrably false. So let me state right here: I have a friend in London (more than one actually) who works near the LSE campus. On April 6th, he put up a photo pointing out that Taiwan had not yet been altered to be depicted as a part of China, and the dot representing Taipei had not been downgraded from a red dot representing a capital city.

And yet...

From New Bloom a few days ago: 
In the original version of the sculpture, Taiwan was depicted in a different color from China, as was Tibet. Taipei and Lhasa were also marked as the political capitals of Taiwan and Tibet respectively. However, following protests from Chinese students, Taiwan was repainted to be the same color as China and the red dot that originally marked Taipei was changed to a black dot, downgrading Taipei to the status of a Chinese city rather than a political capital.

From Taiwan News on April 4th (so before the date of my friend's photo), with a headline beginning "LSE forced to change color of Taiwan..."
Huang Lee-an (黃立安), a Taiwanese student at the university, told CNA that after the school convened a meeting with student representatives to discuss the matter, it decided to change Taiwan's color from pink to yellow, to match that of China. The student said they also had the red dot labeled Taipei, changed to black, demoting it from a capital city of a country, to a mere city in a province of China. 
The student said that "REP. of CHINA" was also unceremoniously removed from the artist's work.

I also find this headline odd because nobody "forced" LSE to do anything. LSE made a bad decision on its own, then walked it back.

Thinking, "huh, that's weird! After the Taiwan News report, my friend posted that picture and Taiwan's color and name had not been changed", and then reading New Bloom and reacting with "wait, so, the university said it has not come to a decision yet, but it was changed between when they said that and now?", I rang up my friend again and asked him to pop by the sculpture whenever he was able. He's not in the UK now but reported back the results of someone else's walk past the globe, and... was never changed. 

I have no reason to disbelieve my friend, who provided photographic evidence, so I find it highly unlikely that he is wrong and these news pieces are right.

So why did New Bloom say it was changed, and why did Taiwan News strongly imply it?

Beats me.

But it doesn't help the case for a robust free press in Taiwan when the free press - in English or any language - can't get these things right.

I mean, come on. Beijing and its army of angry Internet commenters and international students already screws Taiwan over so hard. When we've had something like a small victory (very small - who knows whether the sculpture will continue to depict Taiwan accurately?), why are we rushing to pretend as though we've been screwed? It lowers our credibility, makes it harder to report on even these small wins, and makes it harder still to update stories accurately, if the facts in question weren't correctly stated in the first place. 

Screen Shot 2019-04-14 at 7.22.46 PM
From Taiwan News (link below).
The caption is misleading, if not outright wrong: the sculpture still looks like that, and was never changed. 

One more thing before I let this go. (If you don't care about my opinion on LSE's decision, you can stop here.)

I've been wondering for awhile how it is that all those Chinese universities get ranked so highly on global university ranking lists, when one cannot even realistically study History, Political Science or pretty much any of the humanities with any hope of getting an education that reflects international consensus or plain old evidence in whichever non-STEM field you're specializing in.

In a similar vein, I've also been wondering - LSE's a great school, yeah? Ranked something like 26th in the world. So how is it that with all its talk of discussing the world "from a different angle" with this sculpture, and educating the next generation of the world's brightest leaders-to-be with frank discussions of political realities and the history of imperialism and oppression that turned our world upside-down, that they can't even get this right? That they talk big about great minds taking critical approaches to real issues - perhaps critically evaluating Israel's treatment of Palestine, Georgia's claim on Abkhazia (where some of the anti-Abkhazia arguments will sound familiar to Taiwanese used to Chinese distortions of history), frank discussions on Tibet...

...and yet when it comes to Taiwan they suddenly go all stupid?

Seriously, LSE - a bunch of Chinese students told you "Taiwan has been Chinese since antiquity" and you just bought that? Are you joking? Would you like a crash course in Chinese and Taiwanese histories, where even the most neutral reading of the facts of history call these Chinese students' claims into deep question? Because I can give you one, and you seem to need it.

A case was made that these are the UN borders and you didn't even question whether China being on the UN Security Council has anything to do with that, and how that might render UN borders non-neutral?


You couldn't look at the words that were meant to inspire the entire point of the sculpture in the first place and made your decision appropriately: 

The World Turned Upside Down is a famous ballad from the English Revolution. It was used as the title for Christopher Hill’s classic account of radical underground movements from that time, and Leon Rosselson’s song in tribute to Gerrard Winstanley and the ideals of the Digger Community: 
‘When once the earth becomes a common treasury again, as it must ... then this enmity of all lands will cease, and none shall dare to seek dominion over others, neither shall any dare to kill another, nor desire more of the earth than another.’ [Emphasis mine.] 
- Gerrard Winstanley 1649, The True Levellers Standard Advanced.

And if this is about Chinese student tuition fees - but they'll be so mad if we don't change it! - then how can you say you are one of the best institutions of higher learning in the world, when at the end of the day the most important thing is getting your hands grubby for those sweet, sweet international fees? To be one of the best, shouldn't you aspire to something higher?

There's still time, LSE. Nothing's been changed.

Do better.


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Of peanuts and monkeys

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 11.46.38 AM

This is perhaps the third time I've written about this in a week, but I just have more to say.

I've been thinking about a few issues I'd like to [try to] tie together: reactions to my post about how long-termers in Taiwan aren't here for the money but are aware they're being undervalued, the general state of English-language media in Taiwan, and English as a second official language in Taiwan.

When I wrote about long-termers and low pay here, most reactions were supportive. The negative ones landed into two groups: those who think NT$66,000/month is fair, or even good, pay for a job that requires several years' experience, high level skills and (unfairly) a Master's from abroad, and those who said the pay wasn't important because the job would be good for someone who would be in Taiwan for a few years and would likely just want to beef up their resume.

So, let me toss some word salad about why both groups are wrong before I move on.

In terms of fair pay, the fact that pay is too low in pretty much every other sector doesn't make $66k for this sort of job acceptable. If you can make just as much money (or more) as a Dancing English Clown at a cram school, a job that requires no qualifications, experience, education, training, professional development, skills, talent, work ethic or consistent sobriety, why would you seek to improve yourself so that you might qualify for a higher-level job, especially one that states right in the ad that you'll be doing consistent overtime in a stressful environment?

And why would you want to take all of that education, experience and skill to make just about enough money to drink at Bar 7 and live in a shared flat or rooftop cesspit with paper walls, if you have any hope of saving meaningfully? Because after you pay your student loans on that foreign Master's degree and save NT$30k each month, that's about what you can afford, if you have no dependents. If you've gotten a postgraduate degree, learned Mandarin and acquired translation skills and experience, you are probably not 24 anymore, and would rather live like an adult.

Others say that this job is aimed at young Taiwanese Americans spending some time here but not planning to stay, or for those looking for a springboard to gain experience. This also misses the point: first, this isn't a newbie job. This could have been an excellent post for an early-mid-career bilingual professional writer, editor or translator, who might well have stayed on for years improving not only their own work, but elevating the English-language output of MoFA as a whole. It could have been a boon to both some lucky long-termer and to MoFA, who would get excellent work in turn.

That is, if it had been positioned that way: as a good but demanding job with a great salary, rather than as a short-term lark for an ABC kid with a Master's who's in Taiwan.

This whole idea of getting some experience in Taiwan and then leaving actually bothers me quite a bit: there are those of us who wish to stay, and as I've written three times now, we try to contribute and give back to Taiwan in gratitude for what Taiwan has given us. Although I won't spend paragraphs bashing them, I have less respect for those who come, take what they can get from Taiwan, and then leave. It strikes me as a little selfish. I have a more profound appreciation for those who want a fair shake from Taiwan, but also want to give back to this country in a sustained way. And yet, one of those grab-and-go types will probably get this job. MoFA will have a revolving door of people who never really develop themselves and get merely passable work, and Taiwan won't benefit.

Which leads to my next point - if the national government is serious about sweeping initiatives like making English a second official language in Taiwan, it's going to have to shake up its whole attitude toward a lot of things. It can't have a MoFA attitude towards English education, asking for everything and offering nothing.

The government needs to think about employing the right people (which it can attract with the right offers), taking seriously the idea that teaching, writing, editing and translating in English are professional careers that people do over a lifetime and seeking out those people, and basically getting quality by paying for quality in terms of remuneration, benefits and work environment. There are those of us who want to stay, who can do good work, but who aren't going to be attracted by what's currently on offer. We're here and we don't want to go anywhere - if the government is serious about bilingualism, internationalism and multiculturalism, it needs to provide more enticing reasons to stay, and stop creating jobs aimed at grab-and-goers.

And it needs to take those people seriously when they point out the flaws in the status quo vis-a-vis English education in Taiwan: from a poorly-regulated cram school industry to, as a friend pointed out, the fact that students who only learn English in public schools generally don't come out having learned any English, to the way the exam system, through extreme negative washback, hinders the whole process. It needs to hire people who can then develop something better, and that's where long-termers looking to contribute to Taiwan come in. We - not just me, I'm nobody, but we - can actually do this alongside and in support roles to talented, passionate and qualified locals, but only if the will is there. We can't take a grab-and-go attitude.

This isn't true only for the government, but for the education system as a whole: from buxibans to universities, if you want talented educators who can actually help Taiwan achieve English as a second language, you need to not only give those who are already working toward this end a better environment in which to succeed, but to offer jobs that entice talented professionals, not a revolving door of Chads and Braydens who aren't implementing even so-so curricula well, and will go back to Idaho in a few years anyway without seriously considering whether they actually contributed to Taiwan.

Oh yeah, and if you are serious about multiculturalism, how about treating the many Southeast Asians who come here for work with a little more kindness and respect? Even just better working conditions and pay, not being all racist towards them, and not raping or enslaving them would be a good start.

This bleeds over into English-language media as well. Why is Taiwan News, which is essentially a gossip rag peddling the same sensationalist articles translated over from Chinese-language gossip rags, now the most recognized English "news" source in Taiwan? How'd we hit the bottom of that barrel?

Because there aren't very many jobs for talented journalists in Taiwan, either. By all accounts, the Taipei Times made a go of it once, but are now so under-resourced that even if there were talk of updating its website and media strategy for the 2010s and beyond, the resources just aren't there to make it happen. It was (is?) the English-language paper that both the expats and the Taiwan advocate Beltway crowd read, and probably never would have been a huge money-maker given its smallish target audience, but it could have sopped up the market that Taiwan News is currently engaging.

Great people have worked at the Taipei Times - and some have even worked at the China Post (believe it or not) - but they all leave. Few people build a career and stick with it, because the jobs on offer just aren't that great. We all know about the one guy who wrote a whole book on it (though you'll need a nacho bowl for all the shoulder-chips it comes with), but I've heard this from many sources. Low pay, long hours, hardly any time off (typical Taiwanese annual leave, which means not much at all), difficult environment. No wonder the best journalists they hire, if they can attract them, cut their teeth and then leave. The state of English-language news reporting suffers for it.

A friend pointed out that this has real-world consequences: she was talking about racism in Taiwanese society specifically towards Black foreigners (which is absolutely a thing), but it also has international consequences. If Taiwan News is the best we can are willing to do, and Taipei Times is offering peanuts and putting out thin content, what news about Taiwan from local sources is reaching the pro-Taiwan influencers abroad? What effect does this have on Taiwan advocacy internationally? What effect does it have on reporting on Taiwan from outside sources? Would that improve - because the state of it is pretty damn bad - if local news put out better, thicker, more compelling stories in English (and Chinese, but this post is about the foreign community)?

Could they perhaps accomplish that if they offered better jobs to committed long-termers looking to make a difference?

The long-termers will stick around - most of us, anyway.  We'll continue to fight for Taiwan in whatever way we can, and carve out niches for ourselves. I do the work I do (I have no single employer, by design) because I can get some satisfaction that way, and make sufficient money. If Taiwan wants us to come out of our little self-carved niches and join the fight for real, there have to be opportunities for us to build real careers in important and useful places, which offer adult remuneration and conditions for real skills.

If Taiwan engages the long-termers who are looking to contribute more meaningfully (and the locals too), the country will be better for it. Media, education, the government.

But if this work continues to toss peanuts our way, we aren't going to pick them up.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Strap in kids, we're headed to Jurassic Park

In gratitude to our valued guests for choosing Jurassic Park as your premier vacation destination, please enjoy these select quotes -  with my commentary -  from some sack of fossils which originally published a big ol' heap of garbage in the Liberty Times.

(I actually don't know who wrote it, I don't see a byline. But it just screams "old rich dude" so I'm going with that because I live dangerously.)

Nearly 50 percent of the respondents said that the Labor Standards Act (勞基法) is still not flexible enough, and about 90 percent agreed that the terms of the act should be relaxed to allow managers and professionals to work under a responsibility system instead of being restricted by rigid clauses regarding working hours.

Hmm, OK. I am sure that if we implement this guy's idea for "no real labor regulations at all", that things will work perfectly because bosses will totally respect their employees' needs, limits and personal time so that everyone will happily work a reasonable number of hours in a day and be paid generous overtime out of the kindness of the bosses' hearts. If any employee feels they are being required to work overly long hours, are paid insufficiently, are not paid overtime, are pressured not to take vacations, or all three, they will be able to have a civil and forthright discussion with their boss and have the situation resolved to their satisfaction immediately.

That's how it works, right?

Nearly 60 percent said that the government does not pay sufficient attention to the needs of business when setting relevant policies.

Oh, I see. Obviously, when looking at Taiwan's policies, laws and regulations, you can see how heavily skewed they are in favor of labor. I mean it's a regular old Sweden up in here! That's why workers are so highly paid and enjoy generous leave and benefits with a high level of job security and never worry that they are being exploited, overworked or underpaid.

Asked about taxation issues, 56 percent of respondents said that the individual income tax rate is too high, which they say is not favorable to doing business in Taiwan

Oh definitely! A tax rate that is generally lower than most European countries and the United States (with a maximum individual tax rate that is the same or lower than most Western countries) is just too high. I guess to make it lower so Taiwan will be better for business we can spend less on something. Certainly Taiwan doesn't need defense (what threats do we face anyway?) or, like, health care. Countries without national health care systems do JUST GREAT. What's important is that companies make more money. Corporations are people, my friend!

and more than 70 percent said that tax deductions are more important than government subsidies.

I am sure it is a mere coincidence that tax deductions tend to favor the wealthy (data for the US but pertinent to Taiwan), who have things to deduct, whereas subsidies seem better poised to actually help the needy. Certainly that couldn't have anything to do with it, oh no. I just could not imagine that the person who wrote this is rich and wants more for themselves, it couldn't be that, that would be unconscionable and we know the rich are always good. They are the best people with no exceptions.

AmCham’s annual reports nearly always raise questions about Taiwan’s investment environment. Last year’s report drew much attention for its strong criticism of the Labor Standards Act. This year’s report is still critical of the act, but the criticisms are a little milder.

Well I am sure AmCham, which represents business interests and not labor interests, is unbiased and politically neutral and would not promote a conservative, pro-wealth, pro-boss, neoliberal ideology. That would never happen, no sir. So we can totally believe what they say and take their reports at face value.

Of concern are the main reasons for Taiwan’s economic stagnation in recent years: insufficient investment and a lack of confidence, along with a pervasive sentiment that is not supportive of businesses.

This is definitely true, especially as labor doesn't have any needs. Workers in Taiwan sip champagne after swimming in pools of gold coins and any laws pertaining to them (not that there need to be any for these veritable Lord Fauntleroys of the workforce who have been raised up so highly by their good fortune of being employed by overly generous Taiwanese bosses) are swiftly enforced, but those poor companies...

...well, I guess economic stagnation is not related in any way to all those people who say that they are worried about the future because they don't make enough, that the most talented are leaving Taiwan because the salaries here are so low or that they aren't spending because they simply can't afford to. They must be just hoarding their NT$22,000 or whatever garbage scraps you throw at them for their 10-hour workdays rather than spending it on the goods and services they work all the time - literally all the time with no free time at all - to produce like good capitalists the way you want them to.

Other problems include excessively strict environmental protection laws

Oh I see. THAT'S why Taiwan's air is crystal clear and perfectly clean every day and the rivers are so sparkling and clean you can drink from them. I didn't know before. But now I do, thanks to you. Let's celebrate Taiwan's excessively strict environmental protection laws with a brisk dip in the Keelung River! You go first.

and overcautious tax reforms

Hmm, if the tax reforms are overcautious there can't possibly be a problem with wealthy people dodging their tax obligations to the country that helped them become rich, can there?

while a lot of legal regulations do not meet the needs of start-ups

Oh that's too bad, I guess when the Global Entrepreneurship Development Institute ranked Taiwan 18th in the world in 2017 (the top ten slots going to Western countries, and Taiwan ranking first in Asia), that's just another way of saying "Taiwan is crap for start-ups"...or something.

It certainly doesn't translate to "I am rich but I want more money so I'm going to decorate my greed with some sort of fake concern for "startups". NoooooOOOooOoOooo.

There was a time when Taiwan enjoyed double-digit annual growth rates and was No. 1 among the “four Asian Tigers,” but in recent years maintaining just 2 percent growth has become a cause for celebration and a political achievement worth boasting about.

There couldn't possibly be any reasons for this OTHER than the fact that companies and bosses are systematically mistreated by the government whilst workers are carried around on gold palanquins by their bosses, enjoying the perfect, unspoilt air and fresh green vistas of Taiwan's landscape due to its excessive environmental regulations. Certainly there are no other political issues and threats both external and internal or global trends that contribute to this in any way. Certainly outdated reliance on certain types of industry or active attempts at interference by some mythical hostile foreign power couldn't POSSIBLY have anything to do with it.

Also, double digit economic growth must continue unabated without stopping or slowing for any reason, forever and in perpetuity, otherwise WE WILL ALL EXPLODE AND DIE. There can be no other considerations at all. Not the environment, not health, not human rights, not any sort of global issues which don't exist anyway because I say so, certainly not the needs of those dirty, dirty (but overpaid and spoiled) workers.

If we don't expand like marshmallows in a microwave, we will perish.

Compared with the flourishing economies of other countries in the region

There are definitely no downsides at all to the economic successes of other countries in Asia. None whatsoever. Not one. None. If you say there is one, you are wrong, because there are none.

Also, it is clearly a sign of Armageddon that a country ranked 23rd in population in Asia has the 7th largest Asian economy (and 15th largest world economy), far outranks its size by global standards in GDP and PPP and is considered a high-income country. 

Taiwan’s economy, regrettably, is declining with each passing day.

I guess "expanding" is a synonym for "declining" now, because some old Brachiosaur wants more fucking money. And I guess "fastest expansion in three years" is now another way of saying "regrettably" and "not flourishing".

When comparing nations, China is no doubt the one that makes Taiwan feel most threatened. Some years ago, China started making counterfeit goods and stealing intellectual property and a lot of those dubious goods were made by little factories scattered nationwide. A good example would be Geely Auto, which, when it started, was widely mocked for copying Mercedes-Benz and Toyota vehicle models.

However, Geely has now grown and developed to the point of acquiring Sweden’s Volvo Cars and has become the biggest shareholder in Mercedes-Benz’s parent company, Daimler AG. 

There could not possibly be any downsides to that at all and there are no reasons whatsoever why China would have other factors going on that Taiwan does not or could not. Certainly they are not pursuing an active strategy of taking advantage of Taiwan's low wages to lure away our talent. They wouldn't do thaaaaaat.

China has formed a “national semiconductor team,” which, backed by state funding, has been hunting the world for companies to take over. Its voracious appetite has caused anxiety in Europe, North America and Japan, which have established strict investment review mechanisms to keep China in check.

...and you are telling us this why? You want Taiwan to emulate that? It sounds terrifying and horrible, much like you.  You don't think having the highest-ranked semiconductor foundry in the industry, with a business ethos set on expansion and continued competitiveness, is good enough for a country a fraction of China's size?

Nonetheless, China is still scoring gains with its strategy of using its market as a lure in exchange for technological know-how.

Again, there are no downsides to this whatsoever. After all, you can't eat democracy.

Aside from China, the economies of Southeast Asia are also on the rise. Singapore joined the ranks of the world’s developed economies long ago. Thailand and Malaysia are catching up with Taiwan. The Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia all have fast-growing economies and could potentially be the stars of tomorrow. Even poor and backward nations such as Cambodia and Myanmar have opened their doors and are working hard to attract foreign investment.

Sooooooo....Taiwan is in such dire straits that we should be afraid of "backward" (your word not mine, racist bro) countries like Myanmar? Ring the bells of terror! If you aren't scared, this dude might make less money!!

Ahem. Anyway. I suppose you haven't heard of the New Southbound Policy. It's fine if you want to critique it but I am reasonably sure you have truly never heard of it. After all, it was conceptualized sometime after the Triassic Era.

These are Taiwan’s strengths, which can help its economy to rise again, so there is no need to put then nation down, but government officials must not allow themselves to be restricted by minority populist voices.

Minority who now?

Who won the election?

You do know how elections work, don't you?

The government needs to thoroughly improve the investment environment

People will invest more if they earn more, but you don't seem to think that's an issue. Or do you mean rich Chinese investors who will then try to make politically-charged demands of the businesses they buy into?

boost public confidence

Making enough money to make it worthwhile to stay in Taiwan would be a damn start.

take the interests of the majority as the foundation of its policies


Translated by Julian Clegg

I am really sorry you had to translate this steaming pile of crap, Mr. Clegg. It makes us all dumber. If I ever meet you I will buy you a beer for having to do this horrible work. Unless you actually agree with this in which case no beer for you.

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.