Having read through most of the Japanese Defense Ministry’s wide-ranging 2009 White Paper published this month, I can attest to the fact that such documents are no light beach reading. My four years at the Royal Military College of Canada, and nearly three at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, where I worked closely with the Department of National Defense, also imposed upon me countless hours analyzing white papers, aides-memoires, briefings and bulletins that would make anyone yearn for a manual on how to fix your vacuum cleaner. The difficult, and often tedious reading, means that it will be restricted to a small, specializes audience and remain for the most part outside the public sphere.
Perhaps sensing this, communications departments within the Taiwanese government have come up with a solution: cartoons. Sometime in October, the Ministry of National Defense will unleash upon young Taiwanese readers a cartoon version of its most recent White Paper, all part of a plan to attract young minds to the military as it aims to achieve an all-volunteer force by 2015. Taiwanese youth are avid readers of comic books, and the US did something similar by introducing online videogames to boost recruitment, so the idea might not be entirely outlandish. I still think it reflects poorly on a nation’s maturity level and reading abilities (at least in the government’s view), but it’s worth the try.
Where the cartoons lose their humor, however, is when the Ministry of Economic Affairs announces that it will launch a series of four-column cartoons to explain the doctrines of the controversial economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration has proposed signing with China. With the opposition completing the first step in applying to hold a referendum on the matter, the Ma administration appears to have concluded that now is the time to explain the contents of the agreement, which to date have remained obscure. Rather than treat adults like adults, however, or assume that Taiwanese are intelligent enough to seize the complexities of the ECFA (which they most certainly are), the government will hand out brochures, in which we can expect anime-like Hu Jintaos and Chen Yunlins informing readers that they harbor no sinister intentions.
This tactic reminds me of the Chinese government’s introduction, about two years ago, of cute online characters — oversized-eyed male and female police officers — reminding Chinese Internet users to surf the Web “responsibly,” which is Newspeak for avoid accessing information on human rights, Tibet, Taiwan and basically anything that could remotely constitute criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). (Anyone who thought that Beijing’s censoring of the Internet is primarily to protect young minds from the evils of pornography had better think again.) Through cute, friendly looking characters, the CCP sanitized an instrument of repression and banalized what was fundamentally an addition to the state’s multifaceted approach to mind control.
As there are many apprehensions surrounding an ECFA, which ulterior political motives or not will have a substantial impact on the future of Taiwan, cartoons could help the Ma administration ease the introduction of an ECFA and turn something of tremendous contentiousness into a banality that puts critical minds to sleep.
Taiwanese should know better. After all, they live in a country where the more beautiful and colorful an insect, arachnid or reptile is, the deadlier is its venom.