Wed, Apr 10, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Will the media play ‘Pied Piper’?

By Ben Goren

Han got high praise from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman An Fengshan (安峰山), who politically framed the “achievements” as “the embodiment of the concept that ‘both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one family.’”

If Han thinks he can use this “success” to convince Taiwanese that his economics-first approach reaps rewards without political strings, he is sorely mistaken.

With the Sing Pao Daily News reporting that “the deals Han Kuo-yu reaped on his trip to China were gifts from the Chinese Communist Party,” it is far more likely that both Taiwanese and Chinese are well aware, and rightly suspicious, of the true purpose of this sudden CCP largess.

It appears that, once again — but this time with Han and vegetables instead of Ma and tourists — the KMT and the CCP are indeed making the same strategic mistake of trying to buy off Taiwanese votes with gifts and transparently veiled statements that only serve to reinforce the sense of crude political gears grinding just below the surface.

The separation here is not between politics and economics, but between a “united front” ideologically snared by its own ethno-nationalism and the reality that Taiwanese do not want a “one country, two systems” policy or unification in any form, dressed as economic sense or otherwise.

Han has tried to appropriate the success of Pingtung’s Lantern Festival, made deeply offensive comments about Philippine migrant workers, “paid tribute” in China and does not seem particularly interested in doing the actual work of the mayor of Taiwan’s second-largest city.

His entire career as a politician and as the head of Taipei Agricultural Products Marketing Co has been thoroughly unremarkable and lacking any personal achievement or conviction of note.

A big reason Han is mayor is because KMT Chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) tapped him to lead the party in Kaohsiung, and he won mostly because he was in the right place at the right time and was savvy enough to know how to exploit that. His DPP rival was competent, but uninspiring, and the DPP had ruled the city for 20 years.

Somehow Taiwanese media have still managed to fashion “an unstoppable popular force that transcends politics” from this gaffe-prone conventional KMT political journeyman.

Looking back, it is now clear how the rise of political chameleon Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) psychologically and electorally paved the path for Han in Kaohsiung.

I would argue that Han is no longer a person, but a concerted and focused media campaign, a brand marketed for the purpose of catching votes from a tide of whipped-up discontent.

An unpleasant truth is that a nationalist plutocracy can hide in plain sight masquerading as a pluralistic democracy. When the media do not hold this plutocracy to account, but serves as a tool to promote prejudicial populism, narrow the scope of debate, misdirect public anger and grossly misinform the public, the results can be explosive and deadly.

In a popular Western TV show a particularly Machiavellian character says “chaos is a ladder.”

Sometimes there is no actual chaos, but voters are still drawn to a leader who “speaks like they do.”

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