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The BBC makes trouble in Taiwan's backyard once again

Its Taiwan correspondent’s lack of understanding of cross-strait relations reveals a once proud broadcaster in decline

BBC News screenshot

BBC News screenshot

KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is almost a hundred years old.

For much of its existence, it has been held up as a bastion of free and independent public service journalism, with the BBC World Service, in particular, playing a crucial role in spreading democratic values and freedom across the world.

But today’s BBC is a very different beast to the one founded by Lord Reith back in 1922. A quick Google search today will find a slew of articles attacking its coverage of everything from the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit to U.S. politics and the actions of China.

Meanwhile, the #DefundtheBBC movement is growing rapidly in the U.K., where taxpayers are frustrated about paying a compulsory TV tax for a service that often fails to reflect their values or deliver even a vaguely impartial view on the big current affairs issues of the day.

If you are a "Taiwanophile," as many of our readers are, you no doubt enjoy seeing the country covered by international media. However, for all its prominence, think how often you come across a BBC article that offers a balanced or accurate interpretation of what’s going on in the East Asian nation.

The answer is pretty much never. And the main reason for that is because everything gets funneled through their Taiwan correspondent: Cindy Sui.

Sui has been the BBC’s woman in Taiwan for a long time, though it is interesting to note that BBC reporter John Sudworth was allowed to interview President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) rather than Sui in January 2020.

Prior to the interview, BBC World published a “report” of hers condemning Tsai and promoting a Chinese line about Taiwan as “an alternate reality.” The report received little more than derision from anyone with an understanding of Taiwan and cross-strait relations.

This week, Sui was at it again, publishing a comment piece alongside the BBC’s report on China’s repeated incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

Entitled, “A strong message for Biden,” Sui begins the piece by saying, “China refrained from flying into Taiwan's south-west air defense identification zone for years, even though it had the right to do so."

It is an absurd argument. Countries with ADIZs have rules about who can and cannot enter them.

When these rules are broken, it is considered hostile military activity and provokes a military response. If Taiwan Air Force jets flew into China's ADIZ, that’s what would happen.

Taiwan's ADIZ has existed since the 1950s and both sides of the Taiwan Strait know that and both also know that when Chinese jets cross the line, Taiwan fighter planes will be scrambled.

Taiwan has every right to defend its ADIZ. The fact that the BBC would run such a contrary opinion is deeply troubling, but we will come back to that shortly.

Sui then reports that analysts told her the CCP has been taking these provocative actions because it is annoyed the U.S. and Taiwan have been “changing the status quo over the past four years.”

This statement is not only ridiculous but also inaccurate. Taiwan has been consistent in saying it wants to maintain a positive dialogue with China.

It is the CCP that has thrown its toys out of the stroller because the party it wanted to win Taiwan’s elections didn’t. It is the CCP that has cut communications, repeatedly changed its conditions for talks, and used economic, diplomatic, and military coercion to bully Taiwan into submission.

The U.S. has shown support for Taiwan at a time of unprecedented Chinese hostility, and to suggest this constitutes a change in the status quo means that Sui lacks an understanding of the sensitive geopolitical situation.

Sui goes on to say that analysts told her Beijing's attitude toward Taiwan's ADIZ is that it has a "right to fly in its own backyard" and it is trying to urge Biden to scale back American support for Taiwan.

These are staggering points of view. It is quite obvious the BBC has completely lost touch with the situation in Taiwan.

This is journalism (I use the term loosely) of the worst and most irresponsible kind. It is in no way befitting of the BBC to publish something of this nature, and it’s just one of many reasons why Lord Reith would be spinning in his grave if he could see the state of this once proud institution today.

The BBC is in urgent need of reform in so many areas, but it must begin to take Taiwan seriously now.

It is time for the BBC to follow the lead of so many international media outlets and have at least one full-time correspondent on the ground in Taiwan. That journalist must be scrupulously independent and rigorous in their journalistic output, and it must not — under any circumstances — be Cindy Sui.

Taiwan is at the fulcrum of one of the most important and sensitive geopolitical issues of modern times. It deserves so much better than the coverage the BBC currently deigns to give it.

If you want to let the BBC know what you think about its coverage of Taiwan, and this article in particular, you can do so here.