A combination of the good old days and modern populism can be a superb cocktail for winning an election. The problem for the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) populist presidential candidate, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), is that there are no good old days. Worse for the KMT, its continued promotion of Taiwan as Chinese reveals a party void of new forward-looking policies that truly embrace Taiwan’s uniqueness.
A look at the KMT’s recent past exposes its political and economic failures. Former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) China-friendly policies ended in the Sunflower movement’s occupation of the Legislative Yuan and the promised benefits from economic agreements obtained between Taiwan and China never materialized. Taiwan also dropped in the international democracy ratings by Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders.
Those were no good old days and therefore it is counterproductive for the KMT when Han promotes cross-strait peace and the “1992 consensus” as in Ma’s presidency.
The KMT vision for Taiwan is a Chinese cultural vision in a nation with a diverse cultural heritage and a population that does not consider themselves to be Chinese. Despite this obvious reality, Han continues to talk about the Chinese Civil War and that he would sign a peace treaty with Beijing if Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) promised to renounce the use of force.
However, Taiwan was not part of the civil war in China and a peace treaty would effectively make Taiwan a part of China in the international community.
A future reality check would reveal a Taiwan promoted as Chinese to the public and in diplomatic circles if Han won the election. This would be a sad return to Ma’s policies. It would also be a challenge for the international community to separate Chinese attempts to promote Taiwan as Chinese from the KMT’s own policies.
This would be in stark contrast with the progress made over the past four years in promoting Taiwan as unique in its own way. Taiwan can stand out in its own way through its diverse culture, technologies and aspiration for international cooperation among democracies and emerging nations.
Taiwan can leverage this progress by engaging more with civil society groups in Europe and elsewhere. These groups can promote and engage ordinary European citizens, becoming an even stronger element in Taiwan’s diplomacy. Unleashing creativity and activity that stem from a passion for Taiwan, people in Europe can cooperate in politics, sports, computer games, culture, art and other fields.
It is great to see this multidimensional diplomacy combining international outreach and civil society is getting an even stronger footing in the current Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, something that could not be expected of the KMT.
Taiwan is unique and many Europeans are realizing this by traveling to Taiwan in higher numbers. Taiwan shall live forward and understand itself looking backward — not like the KMT, which prefers to live in the past.
Michael Danielsen is the chairman of Taiwan Corner.
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