After stage-managing the unceremonious ouster of Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) as the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate on Saturday, KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) is now its official candidate.
Hung’s extreme pro-China slant was leading the KMT to an almost certain catastrophe in the presidential and legislative elections, and her removal was presumably designed to guide the party back to a more mainstream course. Therefore, is it unreasonable to have expected some more evenhanded pronouncements from the new candidate?
Chu’s first statements do not give very much hope that his campaign will meet high standards. In his acceptance speech at the KMT’s emergency party convention, Chu implored the assembly to “safeguard the KMT’s reins of government and majority in the legislature” in order to “preserve our healthy democracy of checks and balances.”
It is highly peculiar that Chu has suddenly discovered the principle of checks and balances in governance. Where was he when the KMT held executive and legislative power at the same time, while it also had a heavy hand in judicial power? There was nary a word of concern or protest by Chu during the past seven-and-a-half years when President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government undermined Taiwan’s hard-won democracy in so many ways.
The next eyebrow-raising remarks by Chu related to his assertion that a collapse of the KMT would pose an existential threat to the Republic of China (ROC). The problem with this remark is that it reflects the old notion of the party-state that is so deeply ingrained in the thinking of old KMT hardliners who hark back to the days of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石).
In this day and age, the nation-state is supposed to be above the party fray, and it might actually be good if a party that has been ruling for too long gets a drubbing, so it will hopefully reinvent itself and rise from the ashes in a new shape that is more in tune with mainstream thinking.
A third perplexing remark was Chu’s challenge to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to “clarify” whether her definition of the status quo adheres to the so-called “1992 consensus.” It is amazing how Chu clings to this vague and anachronistic concept. He is just asking for trouble as he knows the People’s Republic of China (PRC) does not have the same interpretation as his ROC and does not even recognize the existence of the ROC.
So, why not search for a more stable concept that lays the foundation for a longer-term, more sustainable relationship with China in which the PRC accepts Taiwan as a friendly neighbor? That would be a more forward-looking approach which contains better safeguards for Taiwan’s continued existence as a free and democratic nation.
In passing, Chu also tried to imply that Washington looks more favorably on the KMT than the DPP “because the KMT has solid cross-strait policies that are conducive to peace and stability across the [Taiwan] Strait.”
He seems to forget that the US has been watching developments in Taiwan closely and has noted that Ma’s China-leaning policies have no traction whatsoever in Taiwan. After the Sunflower movement and last year’s nine-in-one elections, there is a new political landscape in the nation and Washington knows that.
Moreover, in spite of the KMT’s accommodating cross-strait policies, Beijing has pursued aggressive and expansionistic moves in both the East and South China seas that are seen by the US as a serious threat to regional peace and stability.
As Taiwan is located right in the middle, it has attained strategic importance for the US: Washington will want to ensure it is clearly on the US’ side and does not drift off in China’s direction.
Gerrit van der Wees is editor of Taiwan Communique, a publication in Washington.
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