Taiwan has become the object of a US congressional battle, with a Republican candidate accusing his Democrat opponent in a new TV ad of violating house rules by having lobbyists pay for a US$22,000 trip to Taiwan last year — except there’s a problem: the ad shows the Chinese flag as a backdrop.
The ad, paid for by Republican congressional candidate Matt Doheny, has led to some head scratching in the US and accusations that the “inflammatory” error could mislead the US public.
At one point, the ad shows a composite image of New York Congressman Bill Owens on the left-hand side of the screen, holding a blown-up picture of a first-class airline ticket. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) stands in mid-screen, also holding the airline ticket. In the background is a supine white island in the shape of Taiwan, with the word “Taiwan” inscribed on it in black, while the right-hand side of the screen displays two yellow stars on a red background, in what is clearly the flag of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Reporting the matter on Monday, WPTZ News Channel 5 contacted Doheny to ask for an explanation and whether the mistake might inflame anti-China sentiment among US voters.
An unapologetic Doheny repeatedly evaded questions about the flag, though at one point he said: “Obviously, there’s two parts of China.”
“Well look, you think about what the issues are — people want to make sure that we have economic growth, jobs,” he said. “That’s what my campaign’s all about and again this [Owen’s] trip doesn’t lead to that. It only broke the rules.”
Asked if he planned to change the ad, Doheny declined to comment.
In its attempt to shed light on Taiwan’s situation, the TV station did not quite get all the history right either, though it rightly distinguished between the two flags.
“Although Taiwan is diplomatically a part of China and has never officially seceded, the Asian country does consider itself an independent nation, and they do have their own flag, which is clearly different from the People’s Republic of China’s,” it said.
The reporter then called the Taiwanese consulate to double-check, whereupon a female voice described the colors and patterns of the flag used by Taiwan.
“It’s red and blue, with a white star [sic] on it,” the woman said.
Owens, who denies any wrongdoing by having the US$22,000 trip he and his wife Jane made in December last year paid for by Washington lobbyists, has since repaid the money, and told WPTZ that the use of the PRC flag was “clearly, like the rest of the ad, misleading.”
He said his campaign had launched a counter-ad.
In Taipei, acting-Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Calvin Ho (何震寰) said the ministry would not comment on the campaign ad to avoid interfering in the election.
The ministry has no knowledge of the motivations behind the use of the PRC flag in the campaign ad, Ho said.
Should similar incidents involving foreign governments occur again and in a way that would have a negative impact on the nation’s interests, the ministry will not hesitate to lodge a protest, Ho said.
Asked if the campaign ad was one such harmful incident, Ho would not comment.
“There is no doubt that the country Owens visited was the Republic of China,” Ho said.
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan