With the Democratic Progressive Party in control of the executive and legislative branches of government, the pan-blue parties are united in opposition, but continue their internal fighting.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is still licking its wounds following the struggle between former chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) and newly inaugurated Chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義).
Before Wu took up the post on Aug. 20, China narrowed its definition of the so-called “1992 consensus,” saying that it means only “one China,” with no “respective interpretations” and no room for the Republic of China (ROC).
This is meant as a warning to Wu not to go down a path of “disguised Taiwanese independence,” meaning independence under the guise of the ROC.
Shortly before Wu took up his post, New Party Chairman Yok Mu-ming (郁慕明) said that his party would part ways with the KMT.
This remark was clearly aimed at Wu.
New Party spokesman Wang Ping-chung (王炳忠) then fired another shot, accusing former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of feeding the Taiwanese independence tendency during his eight years in office.
If you think about it, these remarks are not mere shots in the dark.
The New Party’s moves to differentiate itself from the KMT provide some insight into how China views Wu as he seeks to follow in Ma’s footsteps.
Although Ma had the support of a KMT majority in the legislature throughout his tenure, he did not dare ignore public opinion or the wishes of the US.
So, despite having a good hand of cards, China missed the opportunity to bring Taiwan completely into the framework of “one China.”
When Ma announced his “three noes” policy of “no unification, no independence and no use of force,” China was not happy about the “no unification” part. Although everyone knows that Ma dreams of “eventual unification,” China took the view that his “three noes” policy would perpetuate the existing cross-strait situation of “division without independence.”
When Hung unveiled her notion of “one China, same interpretation” and talked about not mentioning the existence of the ROC, her ideas joined up the dotted line that ran between Ma’s policy directions and those of China.
However, having chosen Hung as its presidential candidate, the KMT later canceled her nomination. Hung was elected to the post of KMT chairwoman after Eric Chu (朱立倫) resigned, but she lost a later inner-party election to Wu. Consequently, the line remains dotted as before.
Now Wu seeks to continue where Ma left off, so he basically accepts the dotted line that existed when Ma led the party.
In 2005, then-KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) met then-general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in Beijing, bringing to the fore the KMT’s policy of aligning itself with the CCP to stem the tide of Taiwanese independence.
In 2008 the Ma presidency began, with China making concessions and offering various peace dividends. However, the real winners were political and business groups with vested interests, while others did not receive the benefits.
As a result, popular resentment grew and came to a head when the Sunflower movement broke out in 2014.
While former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) casts a shadow over China’s policies regarding Taiwan, the idea that Ma nurtured the independence tendency is another shadow.
Lacking trust in Ma, China changed the focus of its united front strategy to directly fostering friendly elements in Taiwan. It originally decided to focus on small and medium-scale enterprises, medium-to-low-income groups and central and southern Taiwan, later adjusting the focus to target the young generation and the grassroots.
Meanwhile, its policy toward the KMT became a matter of preventing Ma and now Wu from sliding toward “disguised Taiwanese independence.” Besides these, China has another pawn available in the form of Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), with his idea that “the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family.”
Wu is sticking to Ma’s policies of “one China with respective interpretations” and the “three noes,” but he no longer carries a blank check endorsed by China.
If Wu’s KMT wants to go on competing in elections, it cannot do so without winning the support of mainstream public opinion.
This is the dilemma that Wu faces, as everyone can clearly see.
While expecting more from Wu, China is not forgetting to keep up the pressure on President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), whom it repeatedly accuses of unilaterally changing the “status quo.”
The US, by contrast, is reasonably satisfied with Tsai’s promise to maintain the “status quo,” which at least does not give China cause to start a war.
However, China is unhappy that Tsai, while promising to maintain the “status quo,” has never indicated that the “status quo” involves both sides of the Taiwan Strait belonging to “one China.”
Losing patience with Tsai, China complains that, while steering clear of de jure Taiwanese independence, she has instead been promoting “cultural independence,” which it sees as a substantial move toward real independence.
China believes that Tsai is pro-independence to the core and seriously threatens to “split the nation.” When China speaks, it is often not just empty words; so, when it raises its voice, we need be vigilant in case the words turn into action.
Taiwan’s democratic evolution has followed its own path, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) ideology also has a logic of its own. China’s policy of enlisting the KMT to help the CCP control Taiwan has smoothly transitioned to one of keeping an eye on Wu while controlling Tsai.
This shows that, in China’s view, the KMT, with Wu following in Ma’s footsteps, has shifted toward the independence end of the unification-independence spectrum.
KMT members and supporters be warned: You might think you are following Ma’s path, but in China’s view, you are following Tsai.
This is an indication that Taiwan’s internal objective development is drifting further from China’s subjective expectations. Wu’s strategy therefore has less to do with differentiating himself from Tsai than it has to do with drawing a line between himself and China.
From Taiwan’s point of view, this is actually a positive development.
Of course China might resort to brute force. However, when China no longer places its hopes in the KMT, which calls itself a party of the whole nation, but only in the likes of Hung and radical pro-unification groups, it shows that the “Taiwan consensus” has been quietly spreading and that the KMT remains within the range of mainstream public opinion. As such, it cannot avoid being interpreted in some unintended way by a hypersensitive China.
You could say that the magnetic attraction of democracy has drawn this community of Taiwan together. Whoever plays the election game will also be attracted to this democratic center. This is a point on which Taiwanese can be confident, and it is the core value that we most need to safeguard.
China’s determination to snuff out the flame of democracy in Hong Kong follows the same logic.
If China waved a carrot to lure Taiwan when faced with Ma’s “eventual unification,” now that it faces Tsai’s policy of maintaining the “status quo,” it has started waving the big stick instead. To make sure that he stays in power for a long time, Xi might have great faith in using strength to overcome.
Despite eight years of luring Taiwan with benefits, China found that the independence trend actually grew stronger.
Would a strategy of overcoming Taiwan by strength make the independence trend even stronger, or would it weaken it? This is not a test of cohesion among Taiwanese, but rather of the force of repulsion between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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