No detail too small for Taiwan's fiercely competitive media

Cameramen and reporters taking their positions at the lobby of Shangri-La Hotel yesterday. Foreign media outlets have flown teams here to cover the meeting between Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Cameramen and reporters taking their positions at the lobby of Shangri-La Hotel yesterday. Foreign media outlets have flown teams here to cover the meeting between Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese President Xi Jinping.ST PHOTO: LEE XIN EN

Even before the historic Xi-Ma meeting starts at 3pm today, readers are already finding out what gifts Taiwanese President Ma Ying- jeou is bringing for Chinese President Xi Jinping, why his wife is not with him, and that the two sides are splitting the dinner bill.

Since news of the talks broke late on Tuesday night, Taiwan's competitive media outlets have gone into overdrive, churning out a barrage of articles from the political implications of the Xi-Ma meeting right down to the minutest details, such as seating and dining arrangements at Shangri-La Hotel.

They also asked pointed questions - including why Mr Ma's wife, Ms Chow Mei-ching, will not be in Singapore with him.

"It is not that I don't want to take her. She does not want to come with me," was Mr Ma's answer.

The Taiwanese leader's brief stop in Singapore has been widely reported: He arrives in Singapore at about 1pm, meets Mr Xi at 3pm, holds a press conference at 5pm, has dinner with Mr Xi at 6pm and leaves Singapore at 8pm.

Mr Ma will be presenting Mr Xi with a handmade porcelain figurine of the Taiwanese blue magpie, Taiwan's China Times reported.

The two leaders and their delegations will have dinner at a restaurant in Shangri-La, rumoured to be Shang Palace. Each side will have seven people, and Mr Ma's favourite Matsu Laojiu liquor will be presented to dinner guests, according to Taiwanese media.

The two sides will split the bill for their dinner in Singapore, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) deputy minister Wu Mei-hung said on Wednesday. "It's not about who will be whose guest at the dinner, but about having dinner together," Ms Wu was quoted as saying.

She said the two sides will also split the cost of renting the venue at Shangri-La for their leaders' meeting.

In 1993, Singapore was also the venue for a landmark meeting between the two sides, which were represented by the heads of their semi-official bodies - Mr Wang Daohan of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits and Mr Koo Chen-fu of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation. More than 200 journalists from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other Asian economies covered the talks at the time.

This time, dozens of foreign journalists have flown into Singapore to cover the meeting. Media outlets big and small, mostly from Taiwan and China, have dispatched teams of reporters and cameramen here.

There were probably more journalists than guests at the lobby of Shangri-La Hotel yesterday afternoon. There was a scramble when Mr Andrew Hsia, who heads MAC, Taiwan's top China policymaking body, arrived at about 3.30pm.

Mr Hsia was asked why Mr Xi and Mr Ma will be holding separate press conferences after their meeting, in contrast to the joint press conference that Mr Xi and US President Barack Obama held when the Chinese President visited the United States in September.

"Every occasion calls for different practices," Mr Hsia replied in Mandarin.

Journalists from Taiwanese media outlets make up a significant contingent. Taiwan has at least six 24-hour all-news cable channels catering to a population of 23 million. In comparison, there are only three major 24-hour news networks in the US, with its population of 320 million.

A reporter from one of Taiwan's biggest networks, Chinese Television System (CTS), who did not want to be named, said most Taiwanese media organisations sent three teams, with each usually comprising a reporter, a cameraman and technicians.

Hong Kong's Phoenix Television sent an additional 10 staff members from its offices in Taiwan and Hong Kong to cover the event, said one of its reporters.

The mainland Chinese media is also here in full force. A reporter from China's CCTV said the state broadcaster sent a crew of 22, including several heads of departments - underscoring the significance of today's meeting.

The Straits Times understands that China's state news agency Xinhua, which has five reporters based in Singapore, sent 10 more to cover the event.

•Additional reporting by Kua Yu-lin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2015, with the headline 'No detail too small for Taiwan's fiercely competitive media'. Print Edition | Subscribe