Cablegate: Media Reaction: Natural Disasters in China and Burma;
DE RUEHIN #0661/01 1340953
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 130953Z MAY 08
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8910
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 8261
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 9504
UNCLAS AIT TAIPEI 000661
DEPARTMENT FOR INR/R/MR, EAP/TC, EAP/PA, EAP/PD - NIDA EMMONS
DEPARTMENT PASS AIT/WASHINGTON
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OPRC KMDR KPAO TW
SUBJECT: MEDIA REACTION: NATURAL DISASTERS IN CHINA AND BURMA;
1. Summary: Taiwan's major Chinese-language dailies focused news
coverage May 13 on the massive earthquake in Sichuan Province,
China, and on the temporary shutdown of Taiwan's debt-ridden Far
Eastern Air Transport Corporation (FAT).
2. In terms of editorials and commentaries, a column in the
pro-unification "United Daily News" said the earthquake in Sichuan
and other recent issues constitute great challenges for China, while
it eagerly pursues its rise in world politics. A column in the
pro-independence "Liberty Times" said the natural disasters in China
and Burma provide good opportunities for the world to review whether
the two regimes are civilized or not. A column in the centrist,
KMT-leaning "China Times" talked about several issues facing the
United States, China and Taiwan after Ma Ying-jeou was elected
Taiwan's new president. An editorial in the pro-independence,
English-language "Taipei Times" criticized the United States'
attitude towards Taiwan based on AIT Director Stephen Young's
remarks in a press conference held on May 8. End summary.
3. Natural Disasters in China and Burma
A) "May 12 [earthquake in Sichuan, China] Recalls of September 21
[1999 earthquake in Taiwan]
The "Black and White" column in the pro-unification "United Daily
News" [circulation: 400,000] wrote (5/13):
"... The earthquake [in Sichuan, China] happened during the power
transition between the old and new government in Taiwan. We also
expect the DPP government could express timely solicitude to the
Chinese victims based on humanity and should not be reserved or too
cautious to take action because of its political viewpoint. After
all, [Taiwan's President Chen Shui-] bian administration has
provided aid to [the victims] in Burma's floods [caused by Cyclone
Nargis]. There is no reason to turn a blind eye to the devastating
earthquake on the Mainland.
"Although the earthquake is a searing pain to the Chinese victims,
it even makes the Beijing authorities 'head scorched and forehead
bruised' [Ed note: meaning it puts them in a very difficult
position]. The opening of the Olympic Games is less than three
months away. Who would have thought that just after the drama of
boycotting the Olympic torch, a massive earthquake would now occur.
Troubles from inside and outside make the joyous Olympic Games seem
like 'the head covered with dust and the face covered with dirt.'
In the [present] circumstance of 'internal disorder and foreign
invasion,' the Beijing authorities should experience difficulty with
their so-called 'rise.' If the political structure cannot receive
credit from the world, and the economic infrastructure cannot stand
the test of incidents such as a massive earthquake, then it will not
be easy to have a real 'rise.'
"[Chinese Premier] Wen Jiabao issued orders to provide relief to
victims [when he was] on his plane headed to the disaster area
yesterday. He said, 'think of the people and do everything for the
people.' If 'the rise of China' can adhere to the highest principle
of [pursuing] the welfare of 'the people,' China can acquire a more
rigorous [basis], which will make China more apt at dealing with
challenges from inside and outside. The Olympic torch's facing
boycotts everywhere and the relentless earthquake occurring in the
pandas' habitat are like major apocalypses on the road to of China's
"The Taiwan people who have suffered seriously from the September 21
(1999) earthquake should express concern to the Chinese victims in
the May 12 earthquake."
B) "A Touchstone of Civilization"
The "Free Talk" column in the pro-independence "Liberty Times"
[circulation: 720,000] wrote (5/13):
"There are more and more disasters on the earth. Hurricanes,
tsunamis, earthquakes are heard often and [these disasters] easily
take tens of thousands of lives. Disasters are able to temper and
refine human beings' noble souls. By the same token, disasters can
also reveal a regime's level of civilization. ...
"Burma victims [suffering from the Cyclone Nargis] lack of food and
medication. The junta instead insists that relief from the outside
can only be put into their hands and distributed by them. [The
Burmese junta] tries to take credit for other people's achievements
and tries to deceive the Burmese people, who are barred from all
information. Besides, [the Burmese junta] disallows international
media to conduct interviews inside the country; tries to hide the
truth from the public; and covers up such a huge disaster. When the
junta's big officials went to give comfort and show concern to
victims, it was surprising to see those victims lead their whole
families to stand outside the temporary tents to greet those high
officials. Such an authoritarian government is extremely brutal and
"Unfortunately a massive earthquake occurred in China yesterday.
The scale [of the earthquake] was not less than the Tangshan
Earthquake [in 1976]. When the Tangshan Earthquake occurred, Mao
Zedong was still alive. People could see the level of [Mao's]
autocracy and authoritarianism [judging from the reality] that the
news of a disaster with more than tens of thousands casualties could
be blocked totally. The level of China's autocracy at that time was
about the same as that of the Burmese junta. A massive earthquake
has now occurred thirty years later. By China's performance in
disaster relief, do people in the world have the chance to review
whether [China] is more civilized and has made more progress?"
4. U.S.-China-Taiwan Relations
A) "[Taiwan's President-elect] Ma Ying-jeou Takes Office; New Face
Appearing in United States, China and Taiwan Relations"
Kuo Chen-lung, the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the China Times, wrote
in the "International Column" of the centrist, KMT-leaning "China
Times" [circulation: 400,000] (5/13):
"... Most people in Taiwan advocate that the economy go first and
that politics move [more] slowly. But why the Mainland has to
release economic [benefits] to Taiwan while there is no political
gain [from Taiwan]. If there is no mutual understanding between
each other [Taiwan and China] on future progress, it will be very
difficult to have further cooperation.
"After Ma Ying-jeou was elected, in the new triangular United
States, China and Taiwan relations, the Taiwan side has stabilized.
But [the Taiwan side] cannot be hampered or decided by the other two
sides [the United States and China]. We, Taiwan, carry small
weight, so we can only influence the other two sides by having
"On the aspect of bringing Taiwan to the edge of danger, [Taiwan
President] Chen Shui-bian's words and behaviors were not advisable.
But on the aspect of shaking up the triangular relations, Ma can
learn some tricks from Chen."
B) "If That's How You Treat A Friend"
The pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times" [circulation:
30,000] editorialized (5/13):
"No one, not even president-elect Ma Ying-jeou, could have been
surprised last week when American Institute in Taiwan Director
Stephen Young informed him that Washington had turned down his
application to visit the US before his inauguration next Tuesday.
"Despite the upbeat sound bites issued by Washington following Ma's
victory and its ostensible desire for better and closer relations
between Taipei and Beijing, last week's rejection was a sign of the
shape of things to come.
"Closer cross-strait relations or not, the US State Department and
the White House are not about to change their longstanding policy of
barring high-ranking Taiwanese government officials from visiting
the US, which during President Chen Shui-bian's eight-year tenure
served as a stark, if not humiliating, reminder of the reality of
great power politics.
"Another aspect of Washington's approach to Taiwan that is unlikely
to change is the desire to sell it weapons.
"To wit, news that a Ma visit to the US was 'not necessary' had
barely registered when Young announced that the US remained
committed to helping Taiwan modernize its military. To be fair,
though, one thing did change this time around: It seemed that
encouraging Taiwan to import US beef was now a top-line policy, as
Young mentioned it in the same breath as the F-16s.
"What this meant was that Washington could continue to yield to
Beijing's pressure and humiliate its ally, but please, please, buy
our weapons and our beef. We're your friend, as long as you remain
a market for our goods.
"This position is the result of different branches of government
vying for different outcomes, and Young's speech was the channel
through which these contradictory discourses were voiced. While the
White House and the State Department seek to mollify Beijing through
engagement and the avoidance of sensitive issues such as Taiwan,
others - such as the Pentagon - continue to seek to provide Taiwan
with appropriate armaments, which is sure to anger Beijing.
"Sadly, while it isn't Washington's intention to humiliate the
Taiwanese leadership or its people, the consequence of such public
announcements is that other countries and international
organizations will have no compunction in treating Taiwanese as
second-rate global citizens.
"In other words, Beijing's pressure on other countries isn't the
only factor in how the international community has continued to snub
Taiwan's efforts to be recognized as an equal.
"Young's diplomatic slap in the face will have repercussions on how
the WHO, to use one example, will deal with Taipei's application for
membership or observer status later this month; or sports
organizations, to use another, will continue to bar Taiwanese
athletes from participating as Taiwanese or unfurling the national
flag when they win a medal.
"After all, if the world's only superpower and an ally of Taiwan can
publicly treat it primarily as a market for its products, why should
lesser partners care about it?"