On June 10, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chinese Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe (魏鳳和) met on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore. The world paid close attention to the outcome of the meeting, as did the media in Taiwan.
However, one confusing aspect of the domestic media’s coverage of the event was how Taiwan’s TV news programs, irrespective of political leaning — and in some cases even on state media — quoted the Chinese version of events.
The meeting between Austin and Wei was conducted in English. The English-language material covering the content of the meeting said that both sides concentrated on the Taiwan issue, but also discussed other issues such as North Korea and the Russian-Ukraine war.
When discussing Taiwan, the US emphasized that it would not allow China to unilaterally alter the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait, and brought up the idea of establishing a crisis communication and crisis management mechanism between the US and China; the Chinese side agreed that this would be desirable.
The reason for setting up a mechanism of this kind is to ensure that official or unofficial channels of communication are established between two hypothetical adversaries in the hopes of preventing conflict.
During the Cold War, the crisis communication channel at the highest level of government was called the “hotline.” When tensions arose, it was used for leaders to obtain confirmation regarding their rival’s intentions.
Yet following the meeting, China issued a statement saying that it the Taiwan issue would be resolved, even if it meant having to “fight at all costs.”
Apparently, there was some miscommunication.
Long-term China watchers are well aware that this is a common method employed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), exploiting the low level of English proficiency among ordinary Chinese.
Regardless of what is said in English about other countries’ version of events internationally, Beijing presents a completely different version in Chinese to serve as domestic propaganda.
There should be some English proficiency at Taiwan’s TV stations and to maintain professionalism, media should report based on the original English transcript, not one that is to be used for Chinese domestic propaganda.
Whether due to laziness or incompetence, TV stations in Taiwan used the wording of the Chinese post-meeting statement, essentially acting as China’s official media and apparently unwittingly transforming themselves into an arm of Beijing’s propaganda machine.
The only station to realize this problem was Formosa TV, which immediately took steps to remedy the situation. The other stations have yet to address it.
For international and English-speaking audiences, China says one thing, while saying another for its domestic audience. Everyone studying Chinese affairs knows this.
Any report should be based on the source material, which in this case was in English, and it was clearly the TV stations basic moral duty to ensure that they did this. Instead, they abandoned their journalistic ethics and professionalism for who knows what reason.
The media in Taiwan should reflect on this and make sure it does not happen again, so that it does not allow itself to unwittingly collude with the CCP.
Tommy Lin is director of Wu Fu Eye Clinic and president of the Formosa Republican Association.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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