The Christian Science Monitor, which sometimes does good work on Taiwan, published absolute dreck the other day on the Olympic Torch refusal by Taiwan. The writer, Peter Ford, has clearly spent too much time hanging out with people who support Beijing, resulting in a one-sided and viciously slanted piece on Taiwan and the Torch. The lowlights.

Beijing Olympic officials were shocked, two hours after they announced the torch’s 85,000 mile route last April, when Taiwan said it refused to be a part of it.

Chinese and International Olympic Committee officials had thought Taiwan was agreeable to a diplomatic fudge, under which the torch would travel from Vietnam to Taiwan to Hong Kong, which has been part of China for ten years.

Shocked I tell you shocked to find gambling here! Hard to see how Beijing could have been “shocked” by Taiwan’s decision to refuse the Torch, since the media had been reporting for weeks before that Taiwan would refuse the route if Beijing politicized it. Beijing had defined Taiwan as a “domestic route” which of course the Taiwanese refused to accept. Note how the anti-Taiwan frame is established in the opening paragraph:

An awkward hiccup has interrupted Beijing’s otherwise smooth preparations for next year’s Olympic Games: Taiwan has upset its plans for the Olympic torch’s worldwide “journey of harmony” by refusing to host the flame.

A neutral position would have mentioned Beijing’s politicization of the Torch route, and Taiwan’s refusal together. But the opening frame makes it clear that poor China is just a victim of Taiwan’s irrational opposition to rationality and order.

Note also that the Torch began as a Nazi idea (’36 Olympics) to display Gemany’s intention to grab the nations to the south and east of it, where it sent the Torch on its last leg. The Torch is inherently political. Nor was much attention paid to the fact that the last two non-China legs were Vietnam and Korea, two traditional vassal states of China. The foreign media has really missed the boat on the import of the Torch route….

On the next page Ford blathers:

“The government has also sought to foster a Taiwanese identity separate from its citizens’ Chinese identity, defying the “one China” policy on which US policy towards the region is based and prompting repeated diplomatic warnings from Washington not to provoke Beijing.”

Since when does the CS Monitor correspondent determine what the political identity of the people of Taiwan is? All Ford had to do was note that identity is a hotly disputed topic here. Instead, he adopts Beijing’s position that the separate Taiwan identity is merely the artificial development of the current government, not a social evolution dating back to the 19th century. Observe also that Ford argues that this identity is defiance of Washington, not Beijing. Yet US policy has always been that the status of Taiwan is undetermined — meaning that Ford’s interpretation of “One China” is the same as Beijing’s.

In point of fact, the majority of people here identity themselves as Taiwanese, a point made again and again in major polls. By contrast, the “Chinese” identity of the locals here is purely an idealized political construction of the KMT government (does Ford honestly think our local aborigines are Chinese?)

Ford should simply note that there are two or more opinions on the identity issue, instead of declaring one right and all others wrong.

And, as always, two other points should also be made. Taiwan does not “provoke” Beijing — that is a pro-Beijing construction. Beijing chooses to be provoked, since ‘being provoked’ brings Beijing leverage over US policy. Finally, let us recall that the Shanghai Communique, that brilliant act of Realpolitik that originated the “One China” policy, was constructed without consulting the people of Taiwan. If you decide someone’s fate without consulting them, you can hardly blame them when they laugh at you and reject your position.

Ford goes on:

That decision was consistent with President Chen’s efforts over the past seven years to distance Taiwan from mainland China in symbolic ways, most recently by changing the name of the island’s postal service from “China Post” to “Taiwan Post.” Now Chen is promoting a referendum on whether the government should seek United Nations membership as Taiwan, having lost its seat to the People’s Republic in 1971.

Again the lack of understanding. The “China Post” postal service was the “Taiwan Post” well into the KMT era, and throughout the Japanese era. In fact, by the time the Qing Dynasty established its first modern post office in 1896, Taiwan had already hosted two governments issuing stamps, Liu Ming-chuan’s, and the 1895 Taiwan Republic. Ford has the facts correct, but the lack of context and the dim understanding of the history suggest that he has spent too much time listening to Beijing-centered discussions of Taiwan. Chen’s move was not to “change the names” but to “restore” them. No correspondents complained when the KMT eliminated all the “Taiwan” from the Taiwan Telecommunications (in 1996!), Taiwan Shipbuilding, etc. The entire nature of this complaint is pro-China. As I have noted before, it is perfectly normal for nations, especially in democracies, to assert their identity by removing markers of the previous colonial regimes – actions the CS Monitor has not criticized when taken by E. European nations with respect to Russia, or African and Indian subcontinent nations with respect to the UK. Jim Mann has noted in his recent work The China Fantasy how dissidence and democracy in the Chinese context are downplayed and patronized in the western media. Here is an excellent example….

UPDATE: I should add that “Taiwan” didn’t lose its UN seat. That was the Republic of China, and it did not “lose” the seat, but voluntarily gave it up when the PRC entered the UN.

Ford then repeats Beijing’s critique of Chen’s behavior:

It also matches a pattern whereby Chen has sought to ratchet up tensions with the mainland, rallying his political supporters, whenever he has found himself in domestic difficulties. Currently his wife is under indictment for corruption, as are two top aides and two cabinet ministers. Prosecutors say they have enough evidence to indict the president, too, but that he is protected from charges by presidential immunity.

Note again how China is presented as the helpless victim of Chen’s actions. China has no agency of its own — it must respond to Chen and it can’t stop itself. The reality is that building the Taiwan identity is an ongoing political process of the DPP that extends back thirty years and has no relationship to the current corruption investigation. Never mind, of course, for diverting attention from an indictment, nothing beats Ma Ying-jeou’s shameless announcement of his presidential candidacy on the day he was indicted…..

….The reader might argue with me and say that no mention of Ma is necessary here, but then…Ford gives us four paragraphs of Ma Ying-jeou:

With the stakes so high, “Taiwan should become a responsible stakeholder in this part of the world, and should not provoke mainland China,” argues Ma Ying-jeou, candidate in next year’s presidential elections for the opposition Kuomingtang (KMT) party, which favors eventual reunification with the mainland.

Mr. Ma is promising closer ties with Beijing and holding out the prospect of a peace treaty, ending the technical state of war that has persisted since Chinese Nationalist forces retreated to Taiwan in 1949 in the face of the victorious Communist army.

He advocates sidestepping the contentious issue of sovereignty, which is “a problem we may not be able to solve in our lifetimes.” But he argues that “we can manage it in such a way that it does not disrupt more urgent questions” such as economic ties.

Ma thinks this can be done by simply agreeing with Beijing’s insistence that there is only one China, but leaving unsaid exactly what that means, without specifying which of the two entities that call themselves “China” is part of the other.

That’s right. Chen’s corruption investigation receives prominent mention, but there is no mention of the investigation into and actual indictment of Ma for doing the same thing Chen did. No mention is made of Ma’s own corruption investigation. No mention is made of his Party’s close ties to the government of China. Instead, Ma is presented solely in a positive light, and his position is given in detail, at least as much as can be given with a position as vapid as Ma’s.

The entire article is Beijing-centric, poorly contextualized, and shows little sympathy toward our democracy here. I hope that in the future the CS monitor will source its reports from journalists whose understanding of the Taiwan issue is not so heavily colored by the authoritarian yearnings of China.