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Across Europe and in the U.S., Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s apparent propaganda success in reshaping his population’s expectations has been widely framed as a decisive factor in shifting the trajectory of the war in Ukraine in his country’s favor. This raises a question about Taiwan. In a hypothetical Chinese invasion scenario, could the Taiwanese government disseminate equivalent messaging, potentially animating its population to resist in the same manner?   

The answer is that in terms of traditional media structure, as in any democracy, it’s complicated. According to a 2020 paper in the Melbourne Asia Review journal, of 13 “main” traditional media outlets in Taiwan, four were categorized as pro-Chinese Nationalist Party, the Taiwanese party (also known as the KMT) that broadly favors closer links to China, and two were categorized as pro-Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

The situation since then has shifted, with the pro-CCP Chung T’ien Television, known as CTi (中天新聞), controversially denied a licence to broadcast news by Taiwan’s national communications commission (NCC) in November 2020, and the anti-communist daily newspaper, Apple Daily, shutting down. However, even if one incorporates two further large news channels — EBC News (東森新聞台) and ERA News (年代新聞) — which are considered pro-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the party that broadly advocates more distant relations with China, it remains the case that a significant chunk of Taiwan’s traditional media leans towards a Chinese identity, rather than a Taiwanese one. 

Of course, what this leaning translates into in any hypothetical invasion scenario is a matter of speculation, and Taiwanese democracy rightly preserves diversity of opinion. Furthermore, it should be noted that, in television news, those leaning “green” (pro-DPP or pro-Taiwanese identity) rather than “blue” (pro-KMT or pro-Chinese identity) dominated a 2020 Nielsen ranking of the biggest news stations’ ratings. Five stations in the top 10 were considered pro-green — (EBC (東森新聞), Next TV (壹電視), FTV (民視; 1996), Era News (年代新聞), and SETN (三立新聞網) — against just two pro-blue (KMT) stations — CTi (中天新聞) and TVBS (聯利媒體股份有限公司) — even before CTi lost its license. This translated to more than double the audience share. 

However, the split is nevertheless worth factoring into any Taiwan-based calculations, particularly as influencing Taiwanese media has formed part of a well-documented, deliberate strategy by the Chinese government to promote unification. 

A 2017 paper in the China Perspectives journal explains that even Taiwanese outlets that lean toward Taiwanese identity can be co-opted into self-censorship via offers of access to Chinese financing which can be retracted in the event of unfavorable coverage of China. It also details even more direct Chinese involvement in pro-China Taiwanese media, notably relating a 2009 story from CommonWealth Magazine regarding the Want Want Group’s purchase of The China Times Group in 2008. Commonwealth cites a Want Want magazine article circulated in China, about a meeting between Want Want chairman Tsai Eng-meng and Wang Yi, at the time the director of the Taiwan Affairs Office under China’s State Council, a month after the purchase took place. The Want Want article directly states that “one of the goals of the acquisition was the hope that the power of the media could be used to advance the development of cross-strait relations.” Furthermore, according to an article in the Asian Survey journal, citing a senior Taiwanese government official, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office allegedly worked with a senior KMT leader to convince Tsai Eng‑meng to purchase the group under the direction of the CCP’s Publicity Department, because it did not want it to be taken over by the anti-communist Next Media Group.

The Chinese government evidently believes that having Taiwanese traditional media in its favor is worth something.

Image: 竹筍弟弟, Wikimedia

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