Ongoing controversies in Taiwan and China surrounding the media are once again highlighting the delicate balance that must be struck in cross-strait cooperation in all matters pertaining to journalism.
As the editorial staff at Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly defied censors this week over government intervention in the newspaper’s editorial last Thursday, several Taiwanese who in recent months have launched protests against the monopolization of the media and the risks of increasing Chinese influence, received just what they needed to confirm that their actions were justified.
Since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) came to power in 2008, Taiwan has made a series of moves to encourage cross-strait journalistic exchanges, with government agencies calling for more cooperation in news and entertainment media. One of the premises under which such liberalization was launched, we are told, is that the more Chinese journalists are exposed to operating in a democratic society, the likelier they are to pollinate China with liberal thoughts once returning.
Although a case can be made for such efforts, after decades of Chinese journalists operating in Europe, the US and Canada, such results have yet to materialize. This is not because Chinese journalists — the real ones, as opposed to those who work for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — are intrinsically anti-democratic.
It would be unfair to argue that Chinese need to physically leave China to learn the virtues of liberty and democracy. Over the years, there have been ample examples of Chinese journalists, academics, writers and activists who, at great risk, exposed social ills and corruption in their country. Many of them have never worked abroad.
The problem, rather, lies with the strong grip the CCP has on all forms of media throughout China.
From comments to the effect that there is no such thing as “so-called censorship” in China to a Global Times editorial arguing that “Even in the West, mainstream media would not choose to openly pick a fight with the government” — as if the Pentagon Papers had never happened, to use but one of many examples — Chinese authorities are making it clear that efforts to liberalize Chinese media through contact are failing. In several instances, the environment hardened under Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), just as such contact was accelerating.
China can expel Western journalists, delay their visas, have them followed and roughed up, and can pressure foreign governments, such as Canada’s, to bar certain journalists from covering events attended by visiting Chinese officials, but somehow, the rest of the world must continue to play by the rules.
If the theory of exposure were valid, keeping the door open would make sense. However, as Beijing shows no sign of wanting to play by the rules, it is perhaps time we reassessed the means by which we intend to help journalists and activists in China who are driven by a need to speak truth to power.
Given Taiwan’s small size and China’s designs upon its people, the one-way street of media cooperation with China is especially dangerous. Beijing will take and impose change, but it will deny any reciprocity in the process. Under such dynamics, Taiwan’s media environment as it is today is gravely threatened, while China’s remains insulated, with little prospect for change. Knowing this, the importance of ensuring that journalism in Taiwan remains free of political and commercial influence becomes all the more apparent.
Undoubtedly, Taiwan can serve as an example to China of alternatives for a post-Confucian society.
However, simply throwing it into the wild without proper protection is the surest way to dismember it. For the sake of Taiwan itself, and for those who believe that the path to a liberal China runs through Taiwan, the nation’s media environment must remain “uninhibited, robust and wide-open,” to quote Lee Bollinger, a noted expert on the US’s First Amendment.
President-elect Biden and his team soon will confront a raging pandemic, a severe economic crisis, demands for progress in addressing racial injustices, intensifying climate-induced crises, and strained relations with allies and partners in many parts of the world. They will be oriented to view China as America’s greatest geostrategic challenge, but not the most immediate threat to the health and prosperity of the American people. Amidst this daunting inheritance, US-Taiwan relations will stand out as a bright spot, an example of progress that should be sustained. There are strong reasons for optimism about the continued development of US-Taiwan relations in the
Beijing’s imposition of the Hong Kong National Security Law and a number of other democratic and human rights issues continue to strain relations between the UK and China. The tense situation has significantly decreased the likelihood of British Royal Navy ships being able to continue their practice of docking in Hong Kong’s harbor for resupply — a not altogether unpredictable development. In a Nov. 19 online speech to parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier would next year lead a British and allied task group to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and East Asia. Johnson
Americans tend to think of Vietnam as a war that split the US rather than as a country in today’s world. Vietnamese are of course way past that. The country does not have any US Electoral College votes, but if it did, they would be cast enthusiastically for US President Donald Trump. When I told a group of university students at a park in Ho Chi Minh City that I was from the US, they asked: “Do you know why we love Trump?” “Uhhh, is it because he hates China?” I asked back. “Yeah,” the group responded in unison. With a 1,000-year history of
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Wednesday announced that Shih Cheng-ping (施正屏), a retired National Taiwan Normal University professor, who Beijing says is a spy, had been sentenced to four years in prison for espionage crimes. The news followed last week’s announcement by Beijing that it is compiling a “wanted list” of pro-independence “Taiwan secessionists” that would be used to “punish” those blacklisted under its national security laws. Taken together, the announcements show that Beijing’s Taiwan policy under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is becoming increasingly erratic, uncoordinated and poorly thought out, which raises serious questions about Xi’s leadership ability. Shih went missing