Taiwan+: How the island is using media to take a stand against China

                                                          The China-Taiwan divide is one of the issues causing global concern right now. On one side, the Chinese government see the island of 23.5 million people as part of its territory, while on the other, many of those people, including the nation’s president, see themselves as an independent state.

While in the past, such a situation might have led to military conflict – worryingly this one still might – modern disputes are carried out across several mediums. The internet, of course, is one of them, and Taiwan has taken a big step towards competing with China’s media output – by launching Taiwan+, an English-language platform that aims to give the state a bigger voice on the world stage.

But will it work? Will Taiwan be able to use media to achieve true independence?

Taiwan+ – an alternative side of the country’s story

In a world dominated by online activity, there is a need for objective news as internet audiences are bombarded with information from a litany of different sources, many of them with hidden motives. China’s government is famous for its restrictive media state: dissenting voices are banned by state propaganda, citizens are unable to use entertainment services from streaming sites to online casinos, and foreign social media sites have no presence whatsoever.

Taiwan+ has stated its aim to provide an alternative side of the story to ongoing events in the region. Claiming to be founded by the people of Taiwan and buoyed by around $28 million in official funding, it will broadcast content ranging from news and current affairs to food, tourism and technology. Its website describes its content as a ‘unique brand of digital storytelling’, something backed up multiple outlets on social media and an app with a steady stream of video content throughout the day.

The platform will target an English-speaking audience and will feature content from media staff in the USA, UK, Australia and Canada. It will also source information from local professionals in Taiwan’s news industry.

Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-Wen welcomed the new platform, sending a video message to its official launch in which she hailed it as ‘an exciting new initiative to tell Taiwan’s story’ after the country had fought so hard for its ‘vibrant democracy’.

Taiwan’s current media industry

Taiwan+ isn’t the only platform aiming to deliver impartial news on the island. Taiwan’s media is thought to be one of the most competitive in Asia: cable TV is cheap and 80% of the country regularly tune in to over 100 domestic and overseas channels, there are several Taiwanese-language stations, and a healthy amount of daily newspapers.

Perhaps the biggest news source is the Taipei Times, a broadsheet launched in 1999 which, like Taiwan+ is available in English and states a dedication to free speech. Although originally printed in 16 pages, its online version has won various awards, and has inspired new platforms like Taiwan+ to provide quality daily content.

Despite these, there have been concerns in recent years that China has attempted to influence Taiwan’s media. Paid ‘news’ articles that lavish praise on the Chinese government have appeared on major Taiwanese news sites, with some even trying to lure the island’s businesspeople to the mainland to start businesses.

These efforts have created a niche for sites like Taiwan+ who strive to be free from Chinese influence – and it’s also led to an increase in social media use, with all the positives and negatives that it brings. Facebook dominates Taiwan’s internet scene: the island’s monthly active users reaching nearly 19 million in 2018 – as many as its number of TV viewers. The platform is an essential communication channel but is open to misinformation like in any other country.

What next for the China-Taiwan divide?

The current situation has come about because Taiwan’s status is so unclear. Most countries accept that the island is an independent state in all but name, holding nearly all the characteristics of a sovereign nation.

China, however, has used increasingly aggressive strategies to show that they believe Taiwan is under its control, including the media tactics mentioned earlier.

The dispute is further complicated by the close economic ties between the two areas: some Taiwanese worry that their economy is dependent on China, and up to one million of them work on the mainland. If any were to arise, it could seriously threaten the island’s economic health. Likewise, it would also damage China’s economy at a period of uneven growth following the pandemic.

With military action lower down on the list of possibilities than in the past, it gives other forms of warfare a chance to take centre stage. If China were to drum up enough support among the Taiwanese population to ditch the idea of independence, via propaganda and other non-violent techniques, then they would regard it as a huge victory.

This is why, amid all the uncertainty, platforms like Taiwan+ have sprung up: to give, as they say, two sides of the story so that people in Taiwan and beyond get an impartial, unbiased version of events in the South China Sea.

No tags for this post.