It is no small irony that the visit last week of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) would bring to the fore a potentially damaging rift within the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
No sooner had Chen returned to China than the party’s old guard — personified by former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) — accused the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of mishandling a decision to avoid holding major banquets for Chen.
Then a newspaper alleged that SEF officials had referred to Chen as a “C-list” politician whom “A-listers” Soong, Lien and former KMT chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) had desperately sought to meet. SEF Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) denied such a comment had been made, but the damage was done.
Without going into the ludicrousness of anyone considering Lien and Soong to be “A-listers,” it was clear that subterranean animosity in the pan-blue camp, hitherto mostly manifested in body language, was coming to the fore.
Soong, a Mainlander conservative who has long sought, though never entirely successfully, to dispel his image as someone who would sell out Taiwan because of his pro-unification views, was now accusing the SEF and the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) of failing to consult opposition parties — the irony of Soong championing “the opposition” being totally lost on him — over their cross-strait policies. He also did not take too kindly to seeing his request to meet Chen turned down by the SEF and the MAC, nor even Ma’s decision to bar Lien from hosting a banquet in Chen’s honor.
It’s hard to tell whether Soong’s accusations resulted from an injured ego, or whether he was referring to the PFP when he claimed that Ma and the government had failed to consult “the opposition,” but one thing is certain: There’s a rift within the pan-blue camp, and it will only widen the closer we get to cross-strait dialogue on political matters.
This fissiparousness holds opportunities and dangers. It could give the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) an opportunity for a wedge — perhaps by allying itself with less conservative elements in the pan-blue camp — and help shape the cross-strait dialogue in a way that is more favorable to Taiwan. Or it could be part of Beijing’s plan to divide Taiwan’s political landscape until the latter is unable to present a united front of any description.
DPP supporters who think in terms of the next elections may delight in apparent struggles within the KMT, but this is shortsighted, as the nation stands to gain nothing from weakness when it comes to cross-strait negotiations.
How apt it is that these signs of a deep KMT split would occur just as archeologists in China claim to have discovered the tomb of infamous third-century Chinese general Cao Cao (曹操), who more than anyone understood the value of shifting alliances and the opportunities created by disunity in the enemy camp.
Just like the cunning warlord, Beijing is unlike its opponents in its steadfastness of purpose and unflagging desire to seize its objective. It will exploit greed, pride and weakness in others, turn foe against foe, make temporary alliances and be unsparing in pursuit of its objectives.
If we only learn one thing from Cao Cao, it is that disunity in the face of a threat is nothing to savor. If all it takes to split this nation is a “C-list” envoy like Chen, then there isn’t much hope for survival.