The chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on Monday called for more exchanges and cooperation between Taiwanese and Chinese media.

Yu Zhengsheng (俞正聲), China’s top political adviser, made the remarks while meeting a delegation from Taiwan headed by Want Want China Times Group Chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) in Beijing.

If it feels like Yu’s proposal — and this is one that we have been hearing for years — is behind the times, that’s because it is. Besides pro-Beijing tycoons like Mr. Tsai, there is very little interest in Taiwan for the kind of censorship and toe-the-CCP-line propaganda that characterizes most of the news and commentary coming out of China nowadays. Moreover, information consumers in Taiwan are fully aware of the detrimental impact that such ties have had on the media environment in Hong Kong.

In fact, Mr. Tsai’s media empire has been losing market share in recent years, in part because it is now widely regarded as complicit in Chinese propaganda efforts. Its fate was sealed when Mr. Tsai attempted to acquire Next Media’s operations in Taiwan, sparking mass protests that helped shed light on the state of affairs at the Want Want China Times Group, which has bled out editors and journalists in recent years who could no longer countenance the editorial line (and outright lies) that was attached to their bylines.


Photo: J. Michael Cole / TNLI

Protesters opposed to Tsai Eng-meng's bid for Next Media in Taiwan, 2011.

Yu’s remarks then went from outdated to downright absurd. As reported by the state-run Xinhua, Yu said that exchanges between media from both sides of the Taiwan Strait “have played an important role in strengthening mutual understanding.” He added that he hoped the Want Want China Times Group would strengthen cooperation and exchanges “with the mainland media … to make [a] positive public opinion environment for safeguarding [the] peaceful development of cross-Strait ties.”

The problem with Marxist-Leninist propaganda is that we can never be entirely sure if those who disseminate it believe the stuff they’re saying. In this case, it can’t have been easy for Mr. Yu to say that with a straight face. Chinese media have not played a role, as he claims, in “strengthening mutual understanding.” If that were the case, then the 1.3 billion Chinese today would have a pretty good idea why Taiwan’s 23 million people have no interest in being annexed by authoritarian China.

The main problem is that there isn’t anything mutual about the kind of “mutual understanding” that Beijing is calling for: what it really has in mind is a one-way street — it wants to convince others, using highly controlled news outlets, of the rightfulness of its positions on a variety of subjects, from Taiwan to the South China Sea, Tibet to human rights. It has no interest in learning, even less in allowing its population to learn.

Back in Taiwan, it is hard to imagine anyone who would see benefits in greater exchanges and cooperation with a country that, under President Xi Jinping (習近平), has cracked down on all forms of free information across China and now ranks 176th in the latest World Press Freedom Index, only better than Eritrea, North Korean, Turkmenistan and Syria.

Mr. Tsai is probably the only owner of a media empire in Taiwan today who would be amenable to such cooperation with the highly restricted media in China and the tag-along state apparatus that comes with them.

At some point Mr. Tsai the businessman will realize that closer ties with Chinese media will only cause Mr. Tsai the media owner more financial losses. With circulation dropping and a brand name that has been severely damaged by recent developments in Taiwan, venturing further into the abyss of Chinese propaganda could be suicidal for the Want Want China Times Group.

Edited by Olivia Yang