OP-ED: SCMP the Good Little Mouthpiece

Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像
Why you need to know

More and more, the South China Morning Post’s editorials read as if they were drafted in Beijing. Here’s an example.

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Following Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s (馬雲) acquisition of the 113-year-old Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post last year, many questions were raised as to whether the move would have an impact on the paper’s editorial line.

The paper had been bleeding independent minds for years and editorial pressure existed well before Mr. Ma took over. Still, the pro-Beijing line became more apparent, and earlier this year the SCMP was one of the few news organizations that were given access to the ostensibly staged “confessions” of Chinese activists. Under Mr. Ma’s watch, the online version of the paper also became free.

If, as many assumed, the SCMP was to become yet another mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) but one that enjoyed a veneer of respectability, then it would have made perfect sense to make all that propaganda free and as widely accessible as possible.

▶ See Also: “Thinning China News Options as SCMP Chinese Edition Falls”

What is certain is that the SCMP now runs editorials that openly embrace Beijing’s line on a number of its “core” issues. And that includes Taiwan.

In an unsigned editorial titled “Taiwan should concentrate on economy, not UN membership” published today, the paper turns on Michael Tsai (蔡明憲), a former minister of national defense during the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration, and castigates him for seeking full UN membership for Taiwan in New York. Why the SCMP felt compelled to write about this effort by civil society, at a time when Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration has made it perfectly clear that it will not seek to join the global body and instead will continue her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) policy of seeing meaningful participation in specific UN agencies, is a question that only the editors at the paper themselves can answer (and as we found out yesterday, China continues to block Taiwan's efforts to participate in those, this time the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Committee on Fisheries).

What we do know is that for months now, certain elements in Taiwan’s pan-blue camp, along with Chinese political warfare agents overseas, have tried to create the impression that the Tsai administration was intending to seek full UN membership.

The Taiwan United Nations Alliance, of which Mr. Tsai is president, has tried for 13 consecutive years to lobby the UN on the issue; eight of those 13 years were when the Kuomintang (KMT) was in power. Therefore, to claim, as the SCMP does, that “the issue rears its ugly head each time the DPP takes office” is disingenuous.

The Alliance didn’t represent the government then, and it doesn’t represent the government now. That such efforts by civil society would “incur the wrath of Beijing” is utterly preposterous, to put it generously. That’s what civil society does: it lobbies, regardless of whether their chances of success are good or not (and in this case they indeed are inexistent).

▶ See Also: "Patience, Patience on UN Bid"

The editorial then makes a silly effort to tie Taiwan’s official development aid to its diplomatic allies (which it says stands at US$268 million) with Michael Tsai “and his 45-strong team of lobbyists,” the implication being that somehow the government is providing financial assistance from state coffers to the Alliance.

Then comes the attack, right on cue, on President Tsai’s refusal to acknowledge the “1992 consensus,” which dovetails perfectly with Beijing’s insistence on the matter.

“Her refusal to acknowledge the 1992 consensus that there is only one China has harmed ties,” it opines, making no mention whatsoever that through its intransigence Beijing is just as responsible for “harming ties” and is the one that has shut down official communication channels.

The attack continues on the economy and draws a direct line between her policies.

“The economy is in the doldrums, made worse by Tsai Ing-wen’s policy failures towards the mainland,” it writes, “to the point that trade and tourism have been affected.”

Taiwan’s GDP growth forecast for 2016 is just 1.1 percent, it says, “far below the rest of the region, and exports continue to fall while wages remain stagnant.” Implied, of course, is the notion that President Tsai is somehow responsible for the low GDP growth figure and her policies detrimental to Taiwan’s economy.

What the editorial doesn’t say, however, is that GDP growth was a tepid 0.75 percent in 2015 and contracted at an annual rate of 0.52 percent in the fourth quarter of that year, when President Ma of the at-least-we-recognize-the-1992-consensus KMT was in office and when, that same year, more than 4 million Chinese tourists visited Taiwan.

President Tsai, just as did President Ma before her, has inherited an economy that has been stagnant for more than a decade. The root cause of that slow economic performance isn’t politics, and it certainly isn’t the “1992 consensus” issue, tensions with China or even Chinese tourists, who never were the panacea that the KMT (and Beijing) wanted us to believe they were.

The SCMP, like the CCP, is grasping at straws. Unfortunately for them, the facts simply don’t align with their narrative.

The editorial concludes with one observation and an amusing typo: “Economic development, not a seat on the UN” — now that would be dangerous, given that the building is 154 meters tall! — “should be the priority.”

At least it got that part right. Economic development is President Tsai’s priority.

 

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: Olivia Yang

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