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So Taiwan has elected an allegedly pro-independence candidate as president. But China has still not invaded.

Disappointment must reign now in the halls of anti-China media punditry. The strategies and weapons being urged to keep the Chinese dragon at bay are already outdated. Or maybe the pundits have another headline ready: “Beijing reneges on its promises, again.”

One could poke endless fun at mistakes and distortions perpetrated by the anti-Beijing media. As proof of China’s malevolence toward Taiwan, Newsweek recently told us how Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province over which it claims sovereignty.

Correction: China does not use the term “renegade province,” even if all the Western news agencies insist that it does. And even the United States accepts China’s sovereignty over Taiwan.

During the 1996 Taiwan presidential elections, China was supposed to be “rattling its saber” because it could not stand the idea of free elections. At the time, Beijing was going out of its way to introduce elections at the local level in China.

This time, we were told that Beijing was determined to prevent the election of pro-independence candidates, and that the election result was a resounding Taiwanese “no” to Beijing’s pressures. More corrections: Sixty percent of the electorate in fact voted for candidates who approved some dialogue with Beijing. And the man who deservedly won the election, Chen Shui-bian, very indicated that he too wanted dialogue.

In short, Beijing’s pressures achieved precisely their intended goal — to remind Taiwanese leaders where they stood in relation to China at a time when many in the West, and Japan, are itching to use the Taiwan independence issue to provoke confrontation with China.

But the fun in correcting the media over China dies quickly with the haunting memory of Vietnam. There, as in China, the communists had emerged victorious from a bitter civil war and were entitled to claim sovereignty over and reunification of divided territory. By the ’60s, however, the drip-drip effect of a biased media had turned white into black, to the point where any attempt by North Vietnam to gain reunification was supposed to be blatant aggression against the forces of democracy, to be resisted by the full military might of the West. China, too, was supposed to be involved, via an alleged alliance with Hanoi to use the war as the first step for conquest of Asia.

The price? Three million people dead, and all chance of compromise solutions in Indochina sacrificed. If the biased media were to prevail over China and Taiwan, the mayhem would be even greater.

Ever looked closely at the photos most media use to prove the 1989 Tiananmen “massacre” of prodemocracy students by Beijing’s soldiers? Obviously the media haven’t, because the photos show a line of burning tanks, with soldiers being incinerated inside while surrounded by some very nonstudent rioters.

Students, too, were killed. But not in the way, or for the reasons, that the media tell us they were.

Ever wondered why photos show the wife of Taiwan’s new president in a wheelchair? She was crippled by a hit-and-run truck attack almost certainly staged by thugs of the former Nationalist regime in Taiwan, then being praised by rightwing Western media as a bastion of democracy while Beijing was being lambasted for human-rights abuses. Her husband was injured in another incident. Even at its worst, Beijing does not deliberately stage these kinds of cowardly attack on dissidents.

What causes the bias? Deliberate infiltration of our media by Western intelligence agencies is one factor. During the Vietnam War years, unrelentingly anti-Asian communist materials from a seemingly impartial British outfit called Forum Features helped persuade much well-informed Western public opinion to support the war.

Only later did we discover that Forum Features was run by British intelligence. To date, and as with most other abuses by Western intelligence, no one has bothered to finger the culprits.

But the main factor has to be a media herd mentality that goes into denial the moment anyone suggests that, in an issue where Western interests seem involved, our side could be wrong and the other side right. Later, as with Vietnam, there may be a return to reality. But by then it is too late.

A good recent example is over Kosovo. From the start it was obvious the problem lay with an extremist Kosovo Liberation Army willing to use terror and guerrilla warfare to rid Kosovo of its Serbian minority. The Serbs had then reacted harshly to the KLA attacks, much as Western and other governments have done in the face of attacks by hostile ethnic, religious or political groups.

The solution, as in Northern Ireland, the Basque region, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Kashmir and elsewhere, lay in some compromise with moderate elements in the hostile group. But for some extraordinary reason, the West began to insist it was the Serbs, not the ethnic Albanians, who were doing the ethnic cleansing and that it was the KLA extremists who deserved to be supported. Once again, black had become white, and the media went along with it all.

Now, a year later, some of the main U.S. media — The Washington Post in particular — are finally beginning to publish material suggesting that a mistake may have been made — indeed, that the vandalistic destruction of the Serbian economy was not just a mistake but a violation of international law as well.

If, at the time, you had tried to make the same points in the same media, you would have been treated as some kind of screwball. One of the few to try to get it right in the political arena, Japan’s former U.N. mediator, Yasushi Akashi, was studiously ignored.

Let’s hope the media can eventually get it right over China and Taiwan, this time before it is too late.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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