From the moment of my birth
To the instant of my death,
There are patterns I must follow
Just as I must breathe each breath.
Like a rat in a maze
The path before me lies,
And the pattern never alters
Until the rat dies.

There’s a clearly discernible pattern in the way the international media views Taiwan. In the western media, characterized by the major news services like AP, Reuters, AFP, DPA, and BBC, the view is a kind of patronizing contempt for Taiwan’s democracy, in many cases leading to outright regurgitation of Beijing’s viewpoints. In that media President Chen’s pro-independence stance is almost always presented as irrational. He “rages.” Independence supporters are “diehards.” The contrast with Europe reveals a stark double standard — supporters of independence for, say, Estonia, are never presented so negatively — indeed, if you type Estonia diehard into Google, the only references to diehard supporters are to pro-Communists (like here, here, or here). In terms of promoting understanding of Taiwan’s democracy movement as an authoritarian transition as it did with Soviet-occupied Europe or Francoist Spain, the western media have totally failed our island, and in doing so, the worldwide cause of democracy.

The second group consists of the Chinese media outside Taiwan in Hong Kong and Singapore. These commentators appear to passionately hate the idea of an independent and democratic Taiwan. For example, the Singapore reporter Ching Cheong, who was ironically jailed in China on charges of spying for Taiwan, is positively venomous when it comes to the island’s democracy and independence movement. From yesterday’s Straits Times:

Under Mr Ma’s predecessor Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan’s democracy was noted for its shoddiness. As President Ma noted in his inaugural speech, the process of democracy was marred by ‘illegal eavesdropping, arbitrary justice and political interference in the electoral institutions’.

The remainder of the article is a puff piece in a similar vein, that connects Taiwan’s democracy back to Sun Yat-sen instead of back to the Taiwan autonomy movements under the Japanese where it properly belongs. Ching Cheong may hate what the “diehards” wrought, but Taiwan is never going to arrest him no matter he says about it.

The final and I think, most interesting, set of writers on Taiwan are local newspaper commentators. They are almost entirely positive. The latest example is Miro Cernetig’s piece in the Vancouver Sun arguing that British Columbia should engage more with our island:

I had dinner the other night with the forgotten Chinese. You know, the creators of the sort of China our western leaders all say they want to see — namely a democratic, outward-looking society where human rights violations, peasant poverty and purges led by secret police are largely relegated to history.

Well, the Taiwanese, the Chinese who fled Mao’s revolution to a tiny island chain in the South China Sea, have done all of that, all under China’s unhappy gaze: they have held tenaciously onto their independence, built what looks like a stable democracy and created the world’s 18th largest economy.

Not bad. Too bad British Columbia and Canada are largely ignoring Taiwan and the tremendous trade opportunities it now offers. Taiwan is the missing link in our Pacific Gateway strategy.

Cernetig’s geography may be a bit off, but his heart is in the right place. It seems sometimes that there’s a lot more sympathy out there among locals in faraway places for our democracy, than among the media people who benefit from it right at home.