Chomsky: it was a misunderstanding

Noam Chomsky holding sign opposing media monopoly in Taiwan

Lin Ting-an (林庭安) is a Taiwanese student who visited Noam Chomsky and several other academics in the USA and asked them to support the campaign against a media monopoly in Taiwan. She took the photograph above of Chomsky holding a sign written in Chinese opposing media monopoly. The photo was widely republished in the Taiwanese media.

Now the Chinese-language China Times is claiming Chomsky was misled about was written on the sign. China Times is owned by the Want Want Group which is part of the consortium seeking to purchase the Taiwan assets of Next Media and create a media monopoly. They have an obvious interest in discrediting the student led campaign against a media monopoly in Taiwan.

The Taipei Times has covered the story over the past two days. Yesterday they printed an article in which Lin Ting-an explained her meeting with Chomsky. Lin has published the full text of the email she sent to Chomsky to arrange the meeting. You can see the text of the email here. In the email Lin clearly explained the campaign against a media monopoly in Taiwan. She also provided an English translation of the sign she photographed Chomsky with.

Today the Taipei Times published another article saying the China Times had intensified its attacks. The China Times claimed Chomsky and another US academic, Ned Block, were misled by Lin Ting-an. This was based on an email Chomsky had sent to Liu Shih Diing (劉世鼎), an associate professor at the University of Macau.

The China Times has an obvious interest in discrediting the movement which is trying to stop it from expanding its control of the Taiwanese media. They previously attacked NTHU student Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), a leader of the anti-media monopoly movement who famously criticised the Minister for Education in the legislature.

I contacted Noam Chomsky by email with a few questions about the issue and he replied within a few hours. He said a “stream of journalists” had written to him from Taiwan. He provided the following statement which he also sent to journalists from Taiwan.

I have been in touch with my friend Ned Block, a philosophy professor at NYU, who was also photographed holding a poster. His experience was the same as mine. Both of us were under the impression that the poster called for freedom of press and opposed monopoly, and said nothing about China. I don’t charge anyone with deceit or misrepresentation. I assume it was simply a misunderstanding, resulting from the fact that neither of us reads Chinese.

I must add that I first became aware of Chomsky about 20 years ago via his book Manufacturing Consent. This is an influential tome about how the media in the United States acts as a propaganda machine to defend the political and economic interests of the state and large corporations.

Chomsky has consistently advocated for freedom of the press for many decades. He has also been a victim of  the US media’s self-censorship as they have consistently ignored the views of Chomsky and others from the left. It should be obvious what Chomsky stands for even if he cannot read Chinese.

Data and the death penalty

Chart comparing number of murders and executions in Taiwan 1992-2011

Michael Turton posted some statistics on the number of murders in Taiwan on his blog. I thought it would be interesting to graph this data alongside the number of executions carried out under the death penalty. I have used this data to create the chart above. The data pretty much speaks for itself. The number of murders peaked in 1996 while the number of executions peaked in 1997. The murder rate has steadily declined since while the number of executions has also fallen with a moratorium in place from December 2005 to April 2010.

At the moment Taiwan is facing considerable international pressure to abolish the death penalty. Amnesty International are actively campaigning for death row inmates Chiou Ho-shun (邱和順) and Cheng Hsing-tse (鄭性澤). Both these cases involve the use of torture by police to extract confessions, an issue which I highlighted in my recent letter to the Taipei Times.

Additional pressure has come from two members of an international committee invited to Taiwan to assess the implementation of the two United Nations human rights covenants. Manfred Nowak and Eibe Riedel wrote to President Ma Ying-jeou in November asking him to guarantee no executions would be carried out before they visit Taiwan in February.  Joelle Hivonnet, a senior diplomat in the EU, also recently called on Taiwan not to resume the death penalty and to strive for its abolition.

*If you would like to create your own visual representation of the data you can use this spreadsheet. The data on the number of executions came from Wikipedia.

Reflecting on human rights

Today is Human Rights Day. It also marks 33 years since the Kaohsiung Incident, a key event which set Taiwan on the path to democracy. While Taiwan has made many advances in human rights since the days of White Terror and Martial Law it is worth taking some time to reflect on the state of human rights in Taiwan today.

Many of Taiwan’s human rights problems are rooted in a transition to democracy without transitional justice. The legacy of the authoritarian party-state that governed Taiwan during Martial Law still influences the politics of the present.

The case of Chiou Ho-shun (邱和順) has spanned almost the entire post-Martial Law period. In many ways Chiou’s case is symbolic of Taiwan’s human rights problems.

Chiou was first sentenced to death in 1989. The case against Chiou was based on confessions under torture which were later retracted. In 1994, two prosecutors and ten police officers were convicted for using torture to obtain confessions in one of the cases. Chiou remains on death row and Amnesty International are campaigning for a re-trial of his case. Continue reading

Taiwan needs to embrace clean energy

I co-signed the following letter which was published in the Taipei Times today.

Is there an unfortunate misunderstanding about German politics and history among some Taiwanese?

After two of us had to clarify the path Germany took to abolish the death penalty, (“Real deal behind abolition,” March 17, 2011, page 8), we now have to clarify a misrepresentation of the anti-nuclear stance of Germany’s Green Party (“Anti-nuclear protesters confronted by Taipower ‘thug’ police: DPP lawmaker,” Sept. 10, page 3).

Contrary to allegations made in an article on Taipower’s Web site, the German Green Party was partly founded by people emerging from the popular anti-nuclear movement formed during the 1970s. It always had a staunch and unwavering anti-nuclear platform, and, most importantly, has been a key factor in pushing Germany toward a path of sustainable energy based on clean renewable energy and away from dirty coal and potentially calamitous nuclear fuel.

Germany is now a world leader in producing and installing renewable energy, such as wind power, thanks in large part to the Green Party’s insistence of giving clean energy a chance during its stay of power in German’s national government in the early 2000s. Continue reading

A reporter’s snapshots capture democracy in Taiwan

 

Taiwan Snapshots of Democracy cover

Taiwan: Snapshots of Democracy in Action (我鏡頭下的民主時刻) is a photo book by Taiwan-based German journalist Klaus Bardenhagen (aka taiwanreporter). As well as being packed with photos it is fully bilingual with text in English and Chinese.

The book covers the period from 2008 to 2012 which was Ma Ying-jeou’s first term as president. Events are neatly bracketed by coverage of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

The collection of photos capture some of the diversity and vibrancy of Taiwanese democracy. The book shows how the place named Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall by the Chen Shui-bian administration reverted to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall under Ma Ying-jeou. This site of contest reflects the wider contest between green and blue in Taiwan politics. It also shows some of the purple through images of Falun Dafa (法輪大法), the annual LGBT Pride parade, anti-nuclear protests and the battle between the economy and the environment.

Two major events that seem to be missing from the book are the protests that erupted during the first visit of Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin in December 2008 and Typhoon Morakot in August 2009. In many ways these events and their aftermath set the tone for the first term of Ma’s presidency.

Overall the book is a little short but it serves as a very useful introduction to Taiwan for the uninitiated. It highlights the diverse and colourful nature of Taiwan’s civil society as well as its polarisation. For me it is a nice souvenir as it covers much of the period I lived in Taiwan and I observed many of the events pictured in the book.

*For details about how to order the book see taiwanreporter’s website. It is available in ebook format for Apple devices or hard copy.

New book: Taiwan Since Martial Law

Taiwan Since Martial Law book cover

A few days ago I received a long awaited package from Taiwan in the mail. It contained copies of a new book, Taiwan Since Martial Law: Society, Culture, Politics, Economy.

I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of the book because it contains a chapter I wrote titled, “Nation vs. Tradition: Indigenous Rights and Smangus.” The chapter is based on the research I did for my thesis in the Masters of Taiwan Studies program at National Chengchi University (NCCU).

While it is great to finally hold the book in my hands it is important to acknowledge the great amount of work that went into its production. Thanks must go to David Blundell for his tireless work as the editor. Many others were also involved in the project. The quality of the final product shines through in the beautiful artwork and design on the cover. Continue reading