"Pay close attention to that man behind the curtain!"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

When it comes to Taiwan, National Geographic is "NG"

Baby, they're "no good"

The May 2008 issue of National Geographic Magazine generated a great deal of discussion when it came out in April of the same year. That issue of the magazine was dedicated entirely to China, and the maps within portrayed Taiwan from China's POV -- a POV in which they fantasize that Taiwan is now and has always been part of their authoritarian domain -- instead of the independent (though unrecognized) nation that it is.

National Geographic Magazine, May 2008
The May 2008 issue of National Geographic Magazine
with one of its famous pull-out maps
(Click to enlarge)

Interestingly, almost a year ago, writer Dan Bloom complained to National Geographic about the maps in that issue portraying Taiwan as being part of China. He received a poorly-spun reply from the magazine's Senior Editor & Category Manager David B. Miller. Just this week, someone forwarded me a reply from Miller to a similar complaint. That reply was identical -- word-for-word -- to the one Miller sent to Bloom.

Nearly a year later, Miller's letter is just as deceptive, and it's high time to take apart its false claims.

The world as it is?
Here's Miller's letter in its entirety (blockquoted sections in dark red text) with my responses (regular paragraph formatting) and some other quoted material (green blockquoted sections) which is inserted as rebuttals to Miller's arguments:
Dear [name]

Thank you for your letter; it came to me because I was the map editor for the China supplement. Our policy on Taiwan went through considerable discussion, taking into account statements from the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People's Republic of China. Below is a summary of our policy:

National Geographic has long maintained a de facto cartographic policy; that is, to portray to the best of our judgment the world as it is, as opposed to as any individual or organization might claim it to be. National Geographic strives to be apolitical, to consult multiple authoritative sources, and to make independent decisions based on extensive research.
First of all, the policy on Taiwan shouldn't be based on considerations of the People's Republic of China. It should be based upon facts -- such as Taiwan's de facto independence, for example.

And how can one be "apolitical" when it comes to making maps? What are international borders if not "political"?

NGM labels Taiwan as a 'province'
TAIWAN should be written in bold,
non-italicized, capital letters.
(Detail from the map on pp. 44-45 of
the May 2008 National Geographic
Notations by Tim Maddog - Click to enlarge)

''Taiwan's mountains, on an active tectonic boundary, are still [[NOT China's mountains!]''
If this issue was about East Asia, it'd be okay,
but it's about China, so it's NOT.
(Detail from the pullout map in the May 2008
National Geographic - Click to enlarge)

Note, also, that Miller doesn't name any of his "authoritative sources." (What is the scope of his "extensive research"?) I have my own authoritative sources, and I'll quote them.

For starters, a common method of determining statehood is the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. Article 1 of that document says:
The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.
Taiwan has all of those things -- and more.

China this, China that -- -Hey, what's Taiwan doing there?!
Taiwan doesn't belong on a map of China.
It is not China's "23rd province."
(Click to enlarge)

Getting back to Miller, he just copied-and-pasted that his magazine's policy is "to portray to the best of our judgment the world as it is, as opposed to as any individual or organization might claim it to be." Yet even his own explanation below will contradict this.

An ABC map of China in a report on the Sichuan earthquake
An ABC map of China correctly
omits Taiwan from the outline.
(Click to enlarge)

Continuing directly, Miller pastes:
The issue of the sovereignty of Taiwan (Republic of China) as distinct from mainland China (People's Republic of China) is complex. The People's Republic of China claims sovereignty over Taiwan and regards it as a province of China. The United Nations and most countries, including the U.S., acknowledge that Taiwan is part of China and recognize the People's Republic of China as the sole legal government of China.
What the US "acknowledges" is that both the CCP and the KMT each have their own conflicting one-China policies which say that Taiwan is a part of China, but the US doesn't say that they recognize this as a fact. In fact, the US says that Taiwan's status is "undetermined." (See summary and pp. 7-8 and p. 29 of "China/Taiwan: Evolution of the 'One China' Policy" [417 KB PDF file])

Also, China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council with veto power. It's no wonder that body treats Taiwan the way it does.

But claims made by UN Secretary general Ban Ki-moon in rejecting Taiwan's 2007 application to join the UN under the name "Taiwan" misleadingly referred to UN Resolution 2758. Ban said that this resolution acknowledges that "Taiwan is part of China," but actually, the resolution doesn't mention Taiwan at all. (Read more about that here.)

Therefore, the reason this issue is -- as Miller puts it -- so "complex" is due to the ubiquitous unresearched and misleading information like that contained within this letter from National Geographic.

Back to Miller's letter:
The National Geographic Society's map policy on recognizing independent nations is based on three main principles:

It claims independence
It controls the territory it claims
It has international recognition

Relative to these principles, Taiwan 1) does not claim independence; 2) it does control the territory it claims; 3) very few countries have formal diplomatic relations with it. In essence, Taiwan meets only one of our three criteria common to independent countries.
First, National Geographic begins by using its own criteria to put the goalposts where they favor China. But I shall take this argument apart anyway.

The reason Taiwan cannot claim formal independence is because of China's missiles and the KMT's legislative majority. If those two elements were absent, a referendum on declaring formal ("de jure") independence would pass with flying colors. But Taiwan's de facto independence is the status quo.

On point two, one might argue that while the KMT claims to control what we all know as China -- plus Mongolia! -- they don't control any such territory. So it's intereresting that National Geographic now seems to be saying that the KMT only claims Taiwan.

But when this issue of the magazine was published, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was Taiwan's president, and for the previous eight years, Chen frequently referred to Taiwan as a "sovereign, independent country" with a population of "23 million" and an area of ""36,000 square kilometers."

This National Geographic map of China is incorrect
Here's an incorrect map on p. 111 of the
May 2008 issue of National Geographic.
When presenting a map of China,
Taiwan shouldn't have a bold outline.
(Click to enlarge)

As far as international recognition goes, the CCP's and the KMT's one-China policies are the direct cause. If a country has relations with one side, it isn't allowed (by these idiotic policies) to have relations with the other. Most countries choose the PRC because of economic considerations. I call this "economic terrorism."

Nevertheless, Taiwan does currently maintain official relations with 23 countries as well as unofficial relations with many others, including the US. Apparently that doesn't meet National Geographic's subjective criteria for how many countries' relations would qualify Taiwan for independence.

Taiwan Communiqué editor Gerrit van der Wees, writing in 2007 (when Taiwan had 24 diplomatic allies), provided some historical background which shines a brilliant light on how such criteria can be viewed:
One often hears the misconception that Taiwan is not a state "because it is not recognized as such by the international community."

This is hogwash. From 1949 until 1979, the US did not recognize the People's Republic of China (PRC). Was China therefore not a state during that period? At present, the US doesn't recognize the Cuban government; is Cuba therefore not a nation-state?

The history of the US itself is a prime example of how fuzzy the issue can be.

Asked whether the US is a nation-state, most people would answer in the affirmative. However, when people are asked when the US became a nation state, most would emphatically answer 1776, when the Founding Fathers unveiled the Declaration of Independence.

Still, during the two years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, not a single country recognized the young republic. The first country to recognize the US -- France -- didn't do so until September 1778.

The second country -- Spain -- waited until a year later, and during its first 42 years of existence the US was recognized by only seven countries.

In the 1820s, a number of Latin American countries followed suit and in the 1830s European countries such as Belgium, Sardinia and the Two Sicilies also recognized the US.

Interestingly, the US did not attain 24 diplomatic recognitions -- Taiwan's present number
[Maddog note: that was in 2007] -- until 1848, some 72 years after the Declaration of Independence.
See how ludicrous Miller's argument sounds? (Go read the rest of van der Wees' piece when you finish this.)

Moving the goalposts back where they belong, I would argue that Taiwan is an independent and sovereign country/nation because it meets the criteria set forth by the Montevideo Convention -- and more: Taiwan has its own government, flag, currency, laws, passports, military, Internet domain (.tw), and international country calling code (886) separate and distinct from the PRC or any other country.

Look who else constantly sees Taiwan through Chinese eyes
AP, AFP, BBC, DPA, Reuters, and so many
other mainstream media outlets usually
tell Taiwan's story from China's perspective.
It's time to add NGM to that list.
(Tim Maddog poster creation - Click to enlarge)

Let's continue examining Miller's form letter:
As reflected in its formal name, the government of Taiwan (Republic of China) considers itself to be part of China. In 1991 the Republic of China acknowledged on a constitutional level "that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are under separate rule." This means that Taiwan considers itself part of a historic and traditional China—but not part of the People's Republic of China. There is one China, but there are two separate entities.
It would be nice if National Geographic would make their maps as if "the two sides of the Taiwan Strait [we]re under separate rule" instead of deciding "what this means" -- and using nonsense ("under separate rule" somehow means "part of a historic and traditional China") to "enlighten" people.

Getting back to Miller's letter...:
In short, while Taiwan functions independently, its government has never formalized independence, and Taiwan is not recognized as independent by the UN and most countries. I would note that the results of recent legislative and presidential elections indicate that the Republic of China (Taiwan) is less likely to assert its independence in the near future.
What the hell happened to what Miller stated at the very beginning about the magazine's policy being "to portray to the best of our judgment the world as it is"? What do the words "Taiwan functions independently" mean to him?

Who could've guessed that the BBC wouldn't screw it all up?
Even the frequently unreliable BBC
colors Taiwan differently on maps of China.
(Click to enlarge)

To reiterate, Miller also ignores the reasons why "[Taiwan's] government has never formalized independence" -- the Chinese missiles and the KMT -- while referring in the same paragraph to Taiwan's independence. Does anyone else see the irony in this?

'TAIWAN,' not 'China, Taiwan'
A passionate Taiwanese couple
describes "the world as it is."
(Tim Maddog photo - Click to enlarge)

Here's the end of Miller's letter:
Hope this helps. Thanks for writing National Geographic.
These two brief sentences are merely platitudes. All that Miller has done throughout was to dissemble and confuse. Since he and his magazine aren't portraying "the world as it is," one might wonder why.

TAIWAN is NOT part of China
"TAIWAN is NOT part of China"
A sign at an August 30, 2008 rally in Taipei, Taiwan
(Tim Maddog photo - Click to enlarge)

Please, sir, may I have some more?
If you, too, would like the chance to receive a form letter from David B. Miller, write to him at dmiller@ngs.org, and confront him with the facts and with his own contradictions.

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Cross-posted at Taiwan Matters!

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