Thursday, March 20, 2008

The BBC mucks up on Tibet, Taiwan

The following is a letter I sent to the BBC Web site in response to an article published on Thursday, March 20:

Dear BBC,

The following is in response to the article “China's quandary on Tibet's future” by Jill McGivering published on the BBC Web site on March 20, 2008. As is often the case with wire agency reporting or coverage from the outside, pieces on Tibet, Taiwan and China bespeak an unfortunate lack of understanding of the situation and misrepresent the facts. Your piece, sadly, is no exception. At a time when Taiwan seeks, despite oppression by Beijing, to make a place for itself on the international stage, reporting that distorts reality cannot but hurt its chances of getting the support that it needs globally, a support that, I must add, can only come when people are given the facts.

The “one country, two systems” alternative proposed by your author lacks the qualifications and caveats that would allow your readers to fully understand what this means. First, Taiwanese never had a say in the formulation of that system, which furthermore comes amid a buildup of short- and medium-range missiles aimed at Taiwan, now at about 1,300 and growing at a rate of about 100 annually. This model, “devised,” for Taiwan, as the author writes, is actually imposed, with the threat of force.

Secondly, that vaunted system, which your author claims worked well in Hong Kong, fails to mention that it has (a) come at the detriment of universal suffrage, which has been yet again delayed; and (b) resulted in an unprecedented attack on the rights of individuals and freedom of expression in the Special Administrative Region. Laws have been rewritten, critics of the authorities in Beijing have been threatened, silenced, and the powers of the state apparatus have gained in intrusiveness — perhaps not to the same extent as in the rest of China, but nevertheless, to such a degree as to represent an attack on the rights of people in Hong Kong. Beijing’s interference during the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, its blackout on health matters and heavy-handed treatment of medical workers who defied their authorities so that they could do their job serves as a stark reminder that all is not well in that model. In other words, economic performance cannot be used as the sole indicator of success.

The model would also have ramifications for the religious freedoms of the largely Buddhist Tibet. System or not, we can expect that Beijing would continue to meddle in religious affairs by picking and vetoing Lamas, which represents a grave infraction as pertains to ethnic, religious and identity rights.

Yet again, reporting of this type portrays Tibetans and Taiwanese as the irresponsible party, which rejects the sagacious and generous offers of the Beijing authorities, and leave readers with the impression that tensions and conflict, whether it be in the Taiwan Strait or in Tibet, should be blamed on the refusal of the underdogs to play along, to be responsible. This sends the signal that Tibetans and Tibetans are irrational, while Beijing is pragmatic.

Resolving the conflict over Taiwan, in Tibet and in Xinjiang (another repressed minority, this time Muslim Uyghurs) does not mean absence of violence on TV news or on your Web site, but rather respect for the human rights and grievances of the minorities involved. And, above all, justice, which will never happen if the so-called negotiations involve a stronger party that threatens the use of military force.

Let us hope, therefore, that your author’s use of the “one country, two systems” model for Taiwan was, at worst, a false analogy.


Pseudoangela said...

Thank you! The BBC website has changed its article - it now makes no references to Taiwan. Still, it does not in any way approach the level of thought which you have put into this blog entry. I applaud you :)

Milo Thornberry said...

Thanks for your excellent critique of the BBC!

Anna said...

Excellent critique, all said very well. I hope they heed your words.
One thing though, in Tibet are lamas, llamas are in South America.

MikeinTaipei said...

Many thanks to all for the comments, and a nod to Anna for pointing out the one L too many that makes all the difference (not that the Chinese would be incapable of repressing the four-legged type either). Would it matter if I added that as I was making this entry, I happened to be listening to the Argentinian Federico Aubele's "Esta Noche"?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for speaking up for us, Taiwanese. We are lucky to have a friend like you. Thank you so much.