When Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) and Taiwan Affairs Office Director Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) met at the APEC summit, Zhang raised the issue of a media bureau exchange. Last week, China Central Television held a forum on cross-strait media prospects to discuss and formalize media exchanges. It is clear that the Chinese government has made the establishment of these offices a priority for talks next year.
In the past, Taiwanese media organizations sent reporters to China because they were not permitted to set up permanent offices. The reporters were required to come and go on a regular basis. This was inconvenient, but requests to establish local bureaus were denied by Chinese officials. China is now willing to establish these offices, and while the exchange would be convenient for Taiwanese media organizations, it would also have serious implications. Taiwan must approach this issue with caution.
The nation’s liberal democracy and China’s communist dictatorship are vastly different political systems with different levels of press freedom. Media establishments on either side would be as different as night and day. If Taiwan allows Chinese media organizations to set up offices in the country, the bureaus’ reporters would be able to contact members of the public any time and report on any topic without scrutiny from Taiwanese officials.
The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Publicity Department recently held a Marxist news training event for 200,000 reporters. Only those who passed a final exam were given a press license. Would this be acceptable for Taiwanese reporters?
In China, there are restrictions galore: If a report does not suit the CCP, both the reporter and the media outlet can be targeted. The Chinese government delayed resident visa renewals for the New York Times and Bloomberg’s reporters due to their reports on the assets and wealth of top Chinese leaders. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and US Vice President Joe Biden defending the two media organizations during Biden’s visit to China. In the end, Xi requested that the visas be issued.
Exchanging media offices appears on the surface to be in the spirit of fairness and equality, but because of vast differences in levels of press freedom, there would be substantial differences in reporting. Consider Hong Kong’s experience following its return to China: The Xinhua news agency was the first organization the Chinese government established in Hong Kong. The office is not merely a branch of China’s official news agency, but represents the Chinese government and carries out its so-called “united front” objectives. The office rules Hong Kong and functions as a command center. As President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration continues talks with China, it must be clear on what the repercussions are and make its decisions only after consulting with the public. It must not act rashly, as it did in the case of the cross-strait service trade agreement, lest Taiwan follow in Hong Kong’s footsteps.
Ma’s public support has dropped and he is being challenged by the Democratic Progressive Party. If Xinhua sets up an office in Taiwan, enabling it to co-opt pan-blue camp politicians and undermine support for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Ma may one day find that his powers do not reach farther than the four walls of his office.