This is something that I and others have written about on countless occasions already. But as long as international wire agencies and news outlets continue to misrepresent the facts in Taiwan, I will continue to sound like a broken record and persist in taking them to task.
In its coverage of the May 17 demonstrations against the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration’s pro-China policies, The Associated Press (AP) today recycled many of the falsities, misrepresentations and biases that we have come to expect when it comes to Taiwan. The AP ’s Annie Huang, for example, writes that demonstrators were “underscoring their view that after six decades of separate governance, the democratic island and the communist mainland should never come together.”
“China and Taiwan,” she continues, “split amid civil war in 1949” and Sunday’s protest “may not have come at an opportune time for the [Democratic Progressive Party] to convince the wider population … as the local stock market is soaring amid expanding cross-strait links.” Huang also writes that “China has recently shown a willingness to accommodate [“the Harvard-educated”] Ma’s push for greater international recognition for the island.”
“… after six decades of separate governance.” Huang conveniently forgets the 50 years of Japanese rule on Taiwan, from 1895 until 1945, years that had a formative impact on Taiwanese consciousness and nationalism. At the very least, Taiwan and China have had separate governance for more than 110 years, or 11 decades. Not six.
“… split amid civil war in 1949.” (also used by Agence France-Presse’s Benjamin Yeh, while Reuters’ Ralph Jennings does a far better job.) Taiwan and China did not “split.” The losing side in the war, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), fled to Taiwan and imposed itself on the people there. Taiwan was not a participant in the Chinese civil war (1927-1949); in fact, except for the last four years of the civil war (from the end of World War II until the KMT’s defeat in 1949), Taiwan was part of Japan, so it would have been impossible for it to be part of that war. (One simply cannot split from something it is not a part of to begin with.) Furthermore, the literature clearly shows that Taiwanese after 1945 had no intention whatsoever to be sent to China to fight there, and (despite the KMT) great efforts were made to ensure that Taiwanese would remain on Taiwan to defend its territory.
“… soaring stock market amid expanding cross-strait links.” While the TAIEX has indeed performed quite well in recent weeks, this alone is not sufficient as an indicator that the economy is doing better. In fact, some economists have pointed out that Taiwan’s economic fundamentals remain abysmal and that Taiwan may be a perfect candidate for a stock bubble. It should also be noted that the stock market can easily be manipulated to give the impression that the economy is reviving, or that the upward trend is the result of closer ties with China.
“… China has recently shown a willingness … for greater international recognition for the island.” Huang and AP cannot even be bothered to mention what that “willingness” signifies, which is a single event — Taiwan’s “invitation” to attend, as an observer, the World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva this week, under the title “Chinese Taipei.” To believe that this single instance, which does not depart from Beijing’s “one China” principle, is a sign that China is “willing” to give Taiwan more international space belies tremendous naivety on Huang and AP’s part, or a lack of understanding of China’s approach to diplomacy when it comes to Taiwan (see, for example, my article “On Chinese zero-sum diplomacy,” Taipei Times May 3, 2009).
“… Harvard-educated Ma.” No mention is even made of the DPP leader, Tsai Ying-wen (蔡英文), who consistently is never referred to as “the London School of Economics-educated Tsai.”
As happens far to often in wire copy about politics in Taiwan, important facts are left out that mislead the reader or unconsciously tip the odds in one side’s favor (the KMT). The silence on key determinants in Taiwanese identity — in this case Japanese colonialism — added to the usual “split in 1949” will serve to convince those who do not know better — that is, pretty much everybody outside Taiwan — that Taiwan has always been part of China and therefore that the hundreds of thousands of people who took part in today’s demonstrations in Taipei and Kaohsiung were nothing but disgruntled individuals who “oppose” better relations with China. Troublemakers, irritants, extremists, like former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
If, on important events like today (which newspapers abroad are more likely to pick up), wire agencies cannot even get their basic facts right, what else are they getting wrong on ordinary days?
Thanks to Michael Turton for pointing out that I failed to take AP to account for another glaring mistake in its report: that Sunday’s protests was “the first large protest against Ma’s policies” since Ma come to power on May 20 last year. Large demonstrations were held on Aug. 30, Oct. 25, and throughout Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin’s (陳雲林) visit in early November, culminating with the “siege of Boai” on Nov. 6, all of which attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters. In other words, 517 was the fourth large demonstration against Ma in the past 12 months, not the first, as AP claims.