In the run-up to the 2000 Taiwan election, the Washington Post featured a short piece by a reporter named John Pomfret, an interview with then-presidential candidate James Soong. Pomfret presented Soong, at that time a lifelong opponent of democracy, as a democratic reformer. I responded with a short letter protesting this mischaracterization of Soong’s political career, which the Post duly printed.

Fast-forward to 2008, and Pomfret has established himself as a major Beijing correspondent. There is no question of his abilities or wisdom in interpreting China. Yet as his recent blog post in the Washington Post blog section shows, Pomfret is like almost every other Beijing correspondent when it comes to writing on Taiwan, displaying an unerring ability to reflect Beijing’s propaganda themes rather than develop a rich and independent perspective on the island’s politics. This problem will only worsen as Taiwan is re-subsumed into the idea of “China” as KMT-CCP links grow over time and the island’s identity is smothered….

Pomfret’s main idea is that Taiwan offers a democratic model that can change China, and that the meeting between Vice-president Elect Vincent Siew and China’s leader, Hu Jin-tao, is A Really Good Thing. As he says:

This is good news, but not just for the economy of the region. It’s also good news for those who care about the preservation of the world’s only majority-Chinese democracy (Taiwan) and the prospect of political change in China.

Why? The reasons will be drearily familiar to readers who have come to know and love the media bogeyman Mad Chen©, the Wrecker of Worlds. Pomfret’s accusations are basically a run-down of Beijing/KMT talking points:

….So Chen resorted to a policy of what the Chinese liked to call “creeping independence” which basically meant seizing every opportunity to enrage Beijing….

…The keys to Taiwan’s security and - critically - to the preservation of its full-throated democracy, [Ma] argued, are good relations with Beijing, not the constant tension Chen seemed to crave…

….means that after eight years of failed leadership by President Chen Shui-bian, who bungled the island’s security and its economy….

We’ve beaten to death here Beijing’s successful isolation of corporate lawyer and democracy supporter Chen as a “radical’ for using referendums and democracy, while the media refrains from similar criticism of Beijing for its missile build-up and threats to plunge the region into war over Taiwan’s democracy. I’ll skip the economic lecture about the ‘bungled’ economy; readers will know what the more complex reality is.

This brings up the real question. Is the “warming” a good thing for Taiwan and for democratic prospects in China. Pomfret argues “yes.” It almost makes a kind of sense, but that is only because everything important to assessing the answer to that question is missing from the Pomfret’s discussion, as it generally is from media presentations on the Taiwan-China relationship.

Pomfret’s presentation omits a number of key facts. For example, Pomfret never tells the reader that the KMT and Beijing have been coordinating policy to suppress the island’s democratic development for the last few years. For example, after the most recent KMT Chairmanship election, the new Chairman, Wu Po-hsiung, immediately announced a visit to Beijing. Pomfret also leaves out Ma Ying-jeou’s long career as a anti-democracy stalwart, and his ideological beliefs about China. Also missing are the chilling invocations of Singapore’s one-party state as a model for Taiwan by a number of major KMT politicos, including future President Ma.

What happened in Hainan Island was a bit of political theatre aimed at the global media — Vincent Siew was seated with the satraps of Hong Kong and Macao, a clear indicator there! The real negotiations are ongoing between the two parties behind the scenes, and have been for many years.

When representatives from two parties that share a pro-China ideology and despise democracy meet, the long-term prospects for democracy dim, not brighten. Neither the Chinese Nationalist Party in Taiwan nor the Chinese Communist Party in China has any interest in deepening or broadening democratic development in Taiwan. On the contrary, both have powerful vested interests in a hollowing out of democracy on Taiwan. If Taiwan’s democracy really does have the potential to effect positive political change in China, you can be sure that it will be a priority of Beijing’s leaders have that democracy neutered.

What does that suggest? The sad fact is that as long as the KMT is running Taiwan, China is far more likely to change Taiwan than Taiwan is to change China.