Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has a dream: that his country will emerge on the world stage as a great superpower. He calls this the “Chinese dream.” At the same time, he also suffers from a recurring nightmare that he and his party could be ousted from power.
Before, Xi was worried that then-Chongqing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來) posed a threat to his rule, and he regularly frets that his regime could be toppled by the US “imperial machine.”
It is possible to construct a rationale for Xi’s angst in these two scenarios, but his fear of being ousted by human rights advocate Lee Ming-che (李明哲), an ordinary Taiwanese with no real political clout in China who has been detained and charged with subversion, boggles the mind.
The Chinese dream is clearly proving more elusive than Xi had imagined; China’s leader appears trapped in a recurring nightmare.
One of Xi’s nightmares has already come true: Democracy has swept away the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on which he had pinned his hopes.
The KMT long ago dispensed with its objective of “retaking the mainland” and “uniting China under the Three Principles of the People.”
Then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) in 1991 abolished the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion (動員戡亂時期臨時條款), putting an end to his party’s view of the People’s Republic of China as a “rebellious entity.”
Outgoing KMT Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) advocates unification with China, while incoming chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) has acknowledged that Taiwan does not have the capability to unify China and that there is little appetite among Taiwanese to accept unification on Beijing’s terms.
Over the years, the century-old political party has suffered one defeat after another.
It was disheartening that Wu, having made the difficult decision to speak the truth, back-tracked and issued a denial.
Nonetheless, Wu’s ability to recruit an army of followers and successfully scupper Hung’s leadership campaign — on the eve of the CCP’s 19th National Congress — poses by far the greatest threat to Xi’s leadership.
If members of Xi’s party, looking at the political goings-on across the Taiwan Strait, were to demand free elections to choose the next CCP general secretary, where would this leave Xi’s bid to continue as leader of his party?
The turn of events that sealed the KMT’s fate in Taiwan must give Xi the heebie-jeebies. Mao Zedong (毛澤東) successfully duped the US when in 1973 he stated that Taiwan was not important, that there are too many “reactionaries” there and that since China had no need for it, the issue could be put on ice for 100 years.
Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) later indirectly accepted the need for a “peaceful resolution” of the Taiwan problem. To aid the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the US, Deng also said that the hope of unification “rests with the Taiwanese people.”
Then-bureau chief of Xinhua news agency in Hong Kong Xu Jiatun (許家屯) interpreted Deng’s remarks to mean that he was placing hope of the Taiwan issue’s resolution onto the 2 million Chinese who fled to Taiwan with the KMT at the end of the Chinese Civil War and their offspring.
However, the first generation of Chinese have gradually slipped out of public life into retirement. Their offspring, who took for granted their status as the ruling elite, remain aloof and disconnected from the lives of ordinary Taiwanese and not only lost the presidency last year, but even let Wu snatch the chairmanship of their party from Hung, their pro-Beijing candidate.
Even worse, a significant proportion of the party’s assets, misappropriated during their many years in power, are now being confiscated by a government committee. The false hope that Beijing placed on the pro-unification faction of the KMT now lies in tatters. The pro-China camp is in dire straits and has no road left to run.
The first generation of KMT emigres, using a party-state model, carried out a power grab upon their arrival in Taiwan and manipulated ethnic Taiwanese to pursue a divide-and-rule strategy, ensuring that the KMT minority was able to rule over the Taiwanese majority. Despite this, the democratic will of the people proved too strong for the KMT.
No wonder Xi’s ostensibly powerful regime is so weak that it constantly frets that its authority could be usurped by human-rights campaigners such as Lee. Xi’s party might soon share the same fate as its distant cousins in the KMT.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Edward Jones
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