China Taiwan Relations: Through the News Media Lens

By | December 17, 2013

The election is now over for Taiwan for the presidential election. The outgoing president, Chen Shui-Bien is now running around the island opening monuments, giving out awards, and preparing for the transition. The inauguration is scheduled in May so there is still quite some time between now and then.

But it seems that the incoming president, Ma Ying-Jeou is now moving fast to capitalize on some of the more important election promises: including direct flights, tourism, three links, and stabilizing the cross-straits situation. All more than necessary to preserve and advance Taiwan.

However, outside pundits really do have axes to grind when it comes to Taiwan, Tibet, and China. Most pundits reckoned that Tibet would weigh heavily on the minds of local people here. Nothing could be farther from the truth: it barely registered on most voters’ minds and if it did, it was way behind other concerns.

I have come to realize that western writers writing from far away (even as faraway as Beijing) really don’t have much of a clue about the complexity of the relationship between Taiwan and China. After the end of the civil war in China, and the flight of the KMT to Taiwan, the relationship that evolved had a number of unexpected consequences:

Families are divided: Most see it in either economic or military terms; few fail to grasp that the generation of division has meant divided families, mothers from sons, brothers from brothers, separated husbands and wives, and much more. Even now, families are divided by those seeking opportunities in China who can’t come back to visit their family here. Husbands often work in Shanghai while their family is in Taipei.

History is complex: The role of the Kuomintang Party (KMT) has been very ambivalent, while most writers and DPP pundits create the role as something akin to the Nazi regime; this is highly colored by their experiences. In fact, the KMT, and the Japanese as well, were responsible for the rapid development of Taiwan’s economy; propelling it from a country akin to something in Africa just before the 2nd world war to NIC status. But the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been responsible for guiding Taiwan out of the shadow of the KMT-as-Ruler to a new more democratic process.

Relationships: The West is often happy to shout about human rights and how important they are (and, indeed, they are!) but in China and in Taiwan, other things are also valued: human relationships are important, and a great value is put on goals of harmony within families, within companies, within society at large. The development of democracy has tested those who support it as it often appears to create conflict within families, within groups of people, and within society at large.

Stereotypical News Reporting: News reporting from China is always prejudiced through our own Western lens, how else are we to make sense of things there. But there are times when we should suspend our assumptions for a little while and examine what is REALLY happening. If events in Tibet were looked at first, properly what would we see: illegal riots, active repression or insurgency? It this happened in your country, what would you think?

So, when you read the next news column, take a moment and think about what is happening, what is not happening, what is being reported, and who is doing the reporting. Though I don’t agree with Michael Turton exactly, I feel that his comments in the news post above and on his blog are always well considered and well argued.