With Taiwan’s 2020 elections to be held in less than a month, many international media organizations will parachute journalists into Taiwan to cover the story. Sometimes these journalists are Beijing-based or more recently have spent considerable time in Hong Kong to report on the ongoing protests. Regardless, we often see distortions and inaccuracies in Taiwan reporting when it’s covered by someone based outside of the country.

As a long-time observer and commentator on Taiwanese politics, I find the many errors that appear in the international reporting about Taiwan’s elections both a source of humor and frustration. Humor, because some of the errors are so easily avoidable we can only laugh at the hilarity of the mistakes. Frustration, because those of us who care about Taiwan’s security should not accept inaccurate reporting about Taiwan, as it can be detrimental to Taiwan’s interest in the long run.

An example of these issues is a recent Washington Post article titled, “Taiwan’s tea party aims to burst Beijing’s one-China bubble,” authored by Anna Fifield. The article uses the popularity of bubble tea as the basis to explain consumer decisions to boycott certain beverage stores perceived as pro-China. Fifield called these pro-democracy supporters “the Taipei tea party.”

The “tea party” most famously refers to an event that occurred in Boston in 1773, when American colonists, after years of growing anger at British policies towards the colonies and their lack of representation in the Parliament, dumped shipments of British-exported tea into the harbor. Participants hid their identities by dressing as Native Americans, similar to the use of masks worn by protesters in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, these historical facts are omitted from Fifield’s article.

Fifield also repeated two of the most clichéd phrases in English-language reporting about Taiwan. She wrote that China’s “Communist Party has viewed Taiwan as a renegade province.” But examples where the Chinese Communist Party used this term to describe Taiwan are difficult to locate, if not impossible. It's not used in public remarks at any government level, nor in any white papers or other policy documents that refer to Taiwan.

Fifield also described Taiwan’s democracy as “vibrant,” another adjective that often appears in reporting about Taiwan. “Vibrant democracy” is a term also used frequently to describe India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and South Korea, among others. It has a patronizing tone as if it is describing countries whose democracies lack the serious (and somewhat boring) deliberation that mature western democracies have. It’s time Taiwan graduates from being described as a vibrant democracy. A “democracy” will do just fine.

However, perhaps the greatest error in Fifield’s article is the reference to President Tsai Ing-wen’s support for Taiwan’s bubble tea. Fifield cited President Tsai’s visit to a Taiwanese bubble tea store in Los Angeles “this year” and links to a South China Morning Post video about the visit, but the video itself does not mention the beverage shop stop.

In fact, President Tsai visited Los Angeles in 2018 instead of this year, and it was widely reported by Taiwanese and global media outlets both in English and Mandarin. Tsai’s visit to the 85°C store, during which she had autographed a pillow at the request of the store staff, resulted in a backlash from consumers in China. The parent company, which is publicly listed in Taiwan and has over 600 stores in China, eventually issued an emphatic statement that it supports the “1992 Consensus,” a formula for closer China-Taiwan relations that was promoted by formerPresident Ma Ying-jeou but discontinued by President Tsai.

An article about how consumers use their purchasing power to support Taiwan’s separate identity and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, but fails to get the important facts right, is fatally flawed. And that tea dumped in Boston Harbor by the American colonists? It came from China. Another important fact Fifield omitted.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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