Taiwanese online media start-up Master Chain (大師鏈) — owned by Long Lien Blockchain Media Technology — on Wednesday held a high-profile news conference in Taipei. The platform says it employs blockchain technology, such as that used by the cryptocurrency bitcoin, to manage news content in innovative ways. However, its use of such technology was not the most striking revelation at the news conference.
Master Chain founder Chuang Li-ping (莊立平) announced that he would open an office in Beijing in February, making the firm the first Taiwanese media company granted an operating license in China. Accusations of a pro-China bias immediately began to be leveled at the firm — and it is easy to understand why.
First, despite Chuang having previously claimed that Master Chain would use blockchain technology to present “opinions from all sides,” the company receiving approval from the Chinese Communist Party should be enough to raise suspicions: Beijing would never allow a truly non-partisan, free-wheeling media organization to operate behind the Great Chinese Firewall.
The company says it would update its Taiwanese and Chinese Web sites concurrently, meaning that readers in democratic Taiwan and authoritarian China would have access to the same content. If Master Chain does employ genuine blockchain technology — a decentralized, tamperproof database for managing the upload and payment of content by registered users, in addition to the upvoting of articles — it would surely be blocked by the Chinese censors.
Second, several of the usual suspects from Taiwan’s pro-China camp attended the news conference, including former vice president Lien Chan (連戰) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and former KMT secretary-general Lin Feng-cheng (林豐正).
Lien could not have been more explicit when he said: If Master Chain is successful, then “cross-strait peace and the rejuvenation of China will not be such a distant dream.”
In the frequently-asked-questions section of the company’s Chinese-language Web site, it states that it is a “global online platform for the promotion of content with Chinese values,” which is to act as a “corrective” to “vulgar, sensationalist and fake news clickbait” on the Internet — just the sort of nationalist rhetoric frequently spouted by Chinese apparatchiks.
Third, when you want to know more about an organization, follow the money. The Liberty Times (sister paper of the Taipei Times) has published an investigation showing that Master Chain has undergone a rapid expansion from five employees up to about 50.
Company literature boasts of annual average salaries that exceed NT$1 million (US$32,787) and “benefit packages to die for.” Master Chain reportedly pays Taiwanese doctoral students tens of thousands of New Taiwan dollars per article — unheard of fees within the industry.
Splashing around cash with gay abandon requires serious funding. Master Chain has vociferously denied that it is funded by China and says it received US$100 million in funding from US-registered company HASDAQ.
However, the investigation showed that HASDAQ is headquartered in Hong Kong and that its business activities are focused in China, with operation centers in Shenzhen and Xian. It has all the hallmarks of a front company for channeling Chinese funds.
Rather than a novel way of disseminating unbiased news and information, Master Chain appears to be nothing more than an old-fashioned propaganda rag masquerading as a cutting-edge tech start-up.
It is nothing more than a mouthpiece for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) Han Chinese, nationalist ambitions and the promotion of “Greater China” to a Taiwanese audience.
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