Monday, July 12, 2010

China corrupts, wherever it goes

As Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) passed through the Canadian capital late last month ahead of the G20 meeting, there was yet another example of the nefarious influence the Chinese government is having on freedom of expression worldwide. Given Taiwan’s proximity to — and increasingly close ties with — the Asian giant, this latest development should serve as a warning.

While the great majority of state visits with world leaders in Ottawa conclude with a press conference, Hu’s didn’t. In fact, it has since been revealed that the office of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to cancel the joint press conference to prevent critical Chinese journalists from participating. The Chinese embassy in Ottawa was reportedly concerned that the press conference would include reporters from two media organizations reviled by Beijing — the Epoch Times and New Tang Dynasty TV.

A few weeks prior to Hu’s visit, the Chinese embassy had reporters from those two organizations barred from attending the press conference. The request was first turned down by the parliamentary press gallery, on the grounds that the media organizations were full members of the gallery.

Not to be dissuaded, the embassy then went straight to the prime minister’s office. Initially, as the Globe and Mail reported, Harper’s office attempted to strike a compromise with the gallery. Facing principled opposition, Harper’s office decided to cancel the press conference altogether, sparking accusations from Helene Buzzetti, president of the parliamentary press gallery in Ottawa, that Harper had agreed to Chinese censorship.

This op-ed, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.


Brian Schack said...

As a Canadian now back in Canada after 11 years in Taiwan, I thoroughly enjoyed your article on Chinese influence in Canada (in fact, I still continue to read the Taipei Times here in Canada. I find it to be superior to most newspapers in Canada, which is remarkable given the size of the English market in Taiwan).

However, I was disturbed by the failure to name the "former member of parliament" mentioned in the article. I don't know if this was your decision, or that of David Harris, but it dulls the impact of the article, and ironically mirrors the Chinese government practice of dropping broad hints but never naming names. As well, what is the name of the book that was recalled because it made allegations of Chinese espionage in Canada?

MikeinTaipei said...

Hi Brian,

Thank you very much for the kind words on both the article and the Taipei Times. They're much appreciated.

As for not naming the "former member of parliamant," I made the decision based on my assessment of potential libel (as I argue in the article, they're on the offensive). Off the record, though, I could name a few: Former International Trade minister David Emerson, former deputy minister of foreign affairs Peter Harder, former ambassador to Chinia Howard Ballock, and of course former prime minister Jean Chretien. I'm sure CSIS has other names, but I'm not willing to speculate in writing as to who those might be.

Yes, despite my arguments, one still self-censors, sadly.

As for the book, I did not mention the title by omission. Its French title is Ces espions venus d'ailleurs, while the English translation is titled Nest of Spies. One of the co-autors if former CSIS intelligence officer Michel Juneau-Katsuya, who left the service not long before I joined. I have a French version with me here in Taipei, and it's a good read; I'd recommend you grab a copy.

expandingtohigherrealms said...

I just saw the movie Formosa Betrayed, and was inspired to check out what's going on in the Taiwan blogosphere.

I think the article you linked to is a bit overdone. Not wanting New Tang Dynasy or Epoch Times to be around Chinese officials is not about the media or censorship in general. These two organizations are run by the Falun Gong. The CCP is paranoid about the Falun Gong and has repressed it in China.

The article also misrepresents the one-China policy as belonging to the PRC, when in fact it is also the policy of the ROC.

Also, the last article asks a rhetorical question as to whether or not the ROC could exercise the same amount of influence free speech. Likely, there was a time when it could have done so. And doesn't this victim stance suggest a bit of a memory lapse, in regards to the time when Taiwan was considered to the be the legitimate seat of the Chinese government?

MikeinTaipei said...

Thanks for the comments, Expandingtohigherrealms.

I'm afraid I must disagree with your first statement: Pressuring a foreign government, on its soil, to decide which legal media organizations can and cannot attend a press conference is censorship by proxy. Beijing successfully forced Ottawa to break its own laws on its own land. While Falun Gong is perceived as an “evil cult” by the CCP, it isn’t by Ottawa; furthermore, NTD and ET have been doing pretty well in terms of investigative journalism and have very good networks in China, which is also why Beijing does not want their information to be circulated.

On your second point: Yes, the “one China” policy stems from the ROC policy, but it’s an antiquated policy that has little, if any, traction in Taiwan today. Look at any poll on the matter, including the most recent by Global Views Magazine. The only party using — and insisting upon — that terminology now is the CCP and the less than 5 percent of mainlanders in Taiwan who would embrace unification. As such, while the term may have been coined by the ROC (or rather, the KMT), its use is now solely that of the CCP.

I’m not sure I get your last question, so I’ll refrain from trying to answer it, but feel free to reformulate if you’d like my thoughts on the matter.

expandingtohigherrealms said...

Hi Mike, I wrote a somewhat different review of Formosa Betrayed ( but I also enjoyed the film.

I guess I was making a small point about the article. You're right that this is an issue of censorship. I just think the idea that China is an international force of corruption does a disservice to Chinese people. As an American, I have a lot of conflicting experiences with my own country being perceived as both worse than it is, and not as bad as it is. This happened a lot when I lived in China.
In regards to the Falun Gong, I sometimes find good articles in the English edition of Epoch times. But what I have read in the Chinese version sounds like anti-Communist rhetoric from the Cold War era. And a couple times, when I was in China, I received automated phone calls, apparently from the Falun Gong, that repeated the same story of infamy about the Communist Party. It's hard for me to trust an organization that is so thoroughly opposed to the Chinese Government, especially as most Falun Gong media I've encountered (including the protesters that are always outside the embassy here in LA) is always focused on the crimes of the CCP, and never on the actual doctrines of the Falun Gong. I have read some of the 'falun zhuan'. It teaches you about clairvoyance, precognition and other supernatural powers. So the combination of bizarre beliefs and a dedication to denouncing the CCP in any way possible makes any Falun Gong outlet not worth reading for me.

My last question was about the tendency to regard China as a bully, when the CCP is merely continuing the US backed policy of "One China". Of course it has low support in Taiwan, since the Taiwanese government lost US backing to reclaim the Mainland.

It seems a bit awkward to support independence from the Mainland when the opposition to this independence is still the political establishment. The fact is that Taiwan has been 'independent' from the Mainland since 1950, but it has been both the CCP and ROC who have denied it.

The CCP is not likely to let go of Taiwan, due to it being a matter of 'national pride' and, more practically, a long time military of the United States.

I'm curious if there are any practical approaches to Taiwanese Independence than trying to prove that Taiwanese people are really different from 'Chinese' people, or trying to get international recognition of Taiwan as a political entity, as was done in Formosa Betrayed.

I don't follow Taiwanese politics much, but am very interested to learn more.

MikeinTaipei said...

Hi Darren,

Ultimately, what the Chinese authorities fear isn’t the beliefs espoused by Falun Gong (however outlandish those might be), but rather the organizational power and the ability to “mass mobilize” that the group represents. That, above all else, is why the CPP represses the Falun Gong.

There have been so many instances in recent years of China bullying countries on freedom of expression issues. Reporters Without Borders, among many other organizations, has documented many of them, in a wide range of countries, big and small, democratic and less so.

On your last question: A precision here — the US does not support Beijing’s “one China” policy; it merely acknowledges it, which means something else altogether. Also, despite recent pronouncements by US officials, Washington’s official policy does not “oppose” Taiwanese independence; it merely opposes unilateral moves by both sides of the Taiwan Strait to change the “status quo.”

Taiwan has not only been independent from the “mainland” since 1949, but it was also independent from it from 1895 until 1945, when it was part of the Japanese empire. And prior to 1895, China’s claims on it were tenuous at best. It should be noted, too, that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) under Lee Teng-hui was the one that came up with the “Two-State Theory” — not the pro-independence DPP. What this means is that even within the KMT, there were (and are) elements that disagree with the notion that Taiwan is, or is part of, the ROC. Efforts were made, both in the later years of the Lee administration and under Chen Shui-bian’s DPP to write a new constitution — a Taiwanese constitution — that would once and for all put to rest the ghost of the ROC, but China threatened force and the US applied great pressure on Taipei not to proceed on the matter. One could also argue that the ROC died when the CCP created its own constitution, a constitution that certainly does not apply to people in Taiwan, as they had no say whatsoever in its drafting.

Lastly, nationalism is far more than genes, or means of “proving” that Taiwanese are not like the Chinese. Why are Americans not British? After all, they have the same genetic background (minus dilutions) and speak the same language. Heck, they even look alike! Same with Canadians like me. In my case, I could be either French, or British, as I’m from Quebec. But no — I’m Canadian. Same Taiwanese, whose idea of nation comes from more than a century of non-“mainland” rule, with various external influences (European, Japanese, American) and an Austronesian genetic baggage among its Aboriginals that has nothing in common with “Han” Chinese. As I like to tell editors at the Taipei Times who think of the words “country” and “nation” as being interchangeable: countries are within borders, nations are in the head (or in the heart). Borders, constitutions, DNA — all those matter little for the great majority of people in Taiwan who identify themselves as Taiwanese, or the others who call themselves “Taiwanese first, Chinese second.”

Hope this clarifies a few things.

darren taylor said...

How might we determine what the Chinese authorities "ultimately" fear with the Falun Gong? How are we to know what their capacity to mobilize is?

Again, my initial comment was that the article China Corrupts, Wherever it Goes is a bit overdone, considering the main issue referred to in the article is China's pressuring of Canada to block Falun Gong journalists from that press conference. The reporters were not barred, and the press conference was instead canceled. This is corruption and bullying?

To be honest, Michael, what makes me a little uncomfortable is that in reading Taiwanese writers, as well as many people in my own country, and speaking to Taiwanese people, it seems that the anti-Communist carries over to the present, and the CCP is regarded as an evil entity, that can be counted on to act in a 'nefarious' manner. This is not the experience of most Mainland people, who are critical of their government, but do not regard it as just evil . I've also seen a tendency to regard China as communist, and attribute the evils of Chinese society to communism. This is problematic in that there was a lot of progress made during the Communist era, and Deng Xiao Pings market reforms led to massive corruption and exploitation.

And, the flip side of the "we're not Chinese" argument, is one I have heard from taiwanese professors, entrepreneurs, and authors like xin hao nian (shei shi xin zhong guo), which is the argument that Taiwan preserved Chinese culture while the evil CCP destroyed it on the mainland, and brainwashed peasants to go along with it. And, lack of Chinese-ness has not stopped Taiwanese from flooding into the mainland to get rich off of cheap labor and corruptible officials.

The question of what makes a nation is always a crucial question, and I agree with your distinction between countries and nations. I believe in 100% democracy. But even though I would support Texas splitting off from the US, or Taiwan voting to say that it will not be under the authority of Beijing, or everyone in Quebec wanting to break off from the rest of Canada, I do not think separation is much of a solution. You noted the difference between Canadians, Americans, and Britons. But what of the differences between the Welsh and the Irish? Linguistically, at least, the people in Fujian have more in common with speakers of Tawianese than they do with neighboring provinces.

Nationhood arises through accumulated cultural identification and common interests among people, not necessarily all of the people involved. In the case of my own country, I do not believe that it was a question of liberty and justice for all, but, instead, power inequality. The elite among the colonists had an unsatisfactory amount of power in relation to king and parliament. In terms of Taiwan, this is even more so the case. I believe the real motivation for independence is that the ruling class (mostly Han) long ago lost the right to claim China, and instead had to make peace with the Taiwanese. Independence for Taiwan will let ruling class use the hardships incurred by war, blockades, etc, to crack down on democracy and rights, in the name of security.

The real policy, as you mention, is in fact The Status Quo. The US does not want to piss off China, and the strategic value of Taiwan has decreased, since the US has China surrounded with Military bases from the middle east to the pacific. Democracy and its defense will never decide US policy. So the central issue is what Taiwanese people can do to avoid losing the rights that they have gained in recent decades, and avoiding war or forced invasion. I think solidarity with other Chinese people is much more desirable than the paranoia and condescension towards the Mainland I have encountered with many Taiwanese people.