Monday, March 01, 2010

Overinterpreting signals

In an entry on Feb. 26 I speculated on the possibilities behind a decision by an international wire agency to hold, for about three weeks, a story with implications for the Taiwan Strait. Based on the information that I had received at the time, I listed some possibilities based on the assumption that the news would be political in nature.

As it turns out, my assumptions were flawed, likely influenced by the fact that local by-elections would be held in Taiwan the following day. This was a classic case of looking at an object from too narrow a focus, or of looking at everything from a very specific lens, which in some cases will either mislead the observer or constrain his ability to explore other possibilities (I should have known better, as this though-mode is something that I criticized in my book about Canadian security intelligence and is proof that no one is immune from that intellectual trap).

This said, the “big news” were not as “big” as I believed they would be, nor will its implications for Taiwan be as ominous as I led readers to believe. Last night, The Associated Press’ Peter Enav and Debby Wu filed a story about the role of a Taiwanese firm, as well as possible shortcomings by Taiwanese authorities in matters related to nonproliferation, in the transshipment of transducers to Iran, a story that AP broke back in January. This time around, however, the story provides far more specifics, including the names of the firms involved. It’s a good read and an important story.

I still haven’t been able to determine why AP chose to hold the story for that long, however, or to release it a mere 24 hours after the election (this could be a pure coincidence).

A lesson learned, and my apologies to my readers for the alarmism.


Carlos said...

That's a relief! This isn't an unimportant case, of course... but new details about news we already knew isn't as bad as all the stories we were making up in our heads!

Jonathan Benda said...

I thought this was an interesting angle on the whole affair:
"For more than 30 years, the island has been the orphan of the international community, denied membership in organizations like the United Nations because of China's insistence that it has no sovereign status of its own. The result has been a gaping lack of familiarity with push-button issues for the West — Iran among them — and a strong interest in building up the trade links that define its place in the world."

David said...

I think the reason for the delay in releasing the story is most likely to be a practical one. Perhaps they were waiting for additional information or some kind of verification of facts.

Tim Maddog said...

Michael, in the earlier post, you wrote:
- - -
The reasons for the delay, I was told, were “a request from China” as well as fears that making it public now would have an impact on this weekend’s by-elections in Taiwan.
- - -

Do you think that applies to this story? If released earlier, could it have changed the outcome of the election at all?

Anyway, I don't doubt that China pulls AP's strings.

Tim Maddog

FOARP said...

"I don't doubt that China pulls AP's strings."

Errr . . . Yeah, because the CCP loves AP and all the rest of the 'western media'. Dude, yet another example of the paranoia of the Taiwan expat blogs.

J. Michael said...

FOARP: It's not that simple, and I disagree with Tim that China "pulls AP's strings." This said, there is ample evidence - especially involving Agence France Presse - that it uses contracts and access to certain venues (e.g., the Olympic Games) to pressure wire agencies into self-censoring. This does not mean that someone in Beijing picks up the phone, calls the bureau chief and tells him what to write or what not to write.

It's more like Google operating in China: If it wants to be allowed in, it must abide by local rules. When such rules treat environmental disasters, dissent, epidemics and national security writ large, as "state secrets," it's easy to hint - again via other financial interest on the part of the news agency - that transgressing them would have unfortunate repercussions.

Claiming that China seeks to control its image abroad and uses intimidation to do so is not paranoia. It's a documented fact. Just ask the Hong Kong, Japanese and German reporters who've been beaten up, have had their cameras smashed or been confined to a hotel room for days for trying to cover demonstrations, reconstruction in Xinjiang, and so on.

FOARP said...

When someone is talking about 'pulling strings', they are not talking about mere attempts at intimidation. The fact that, in apparent ignorance of all the so-called 'anti-China' (i.e., critical of the CCP) stories carried by these news agencies, people accuse them of being CCP puppets simply beggars belief.

Most of what is objected to on Taiwan blogs of wire-service coverage of Taiwan is either explainable simply through the laziness of Beijing-based journalists, the ignorance of foreign-based editors, or just sheer exaggeration and over-sensitivity.

Michael Turton said...

The fact that, in apparent ignorance of all the so-called 'anti-China' (i.e., critical of the CCP) stories carried by these news agencies, people accuse them of being CCP puppets simply beggars belief.

One great thing about ignorance is the comforting certainty it gives. And the simple-mindedness of concluding that because reporters are critical of Beijing they do not also buy into its propaganda claims simply beggars belief. If only the world sorted into such simple dichotomies.


Tim Maddog said...

When AP writes something FOARP might think I like (for example, reviewing the film "Formosa Betrayed"), they begin a six-word lie:
- - -
When China and Taiwan split in 1949 [...]
- - -

That's how it starts. Do you really think nobody is pulling their strings and that "laziness" results in the precise repetition of lies which favor China?

Tim Maddog