In her last speech as Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) urged the party to learn from its setback in the presidential election and to formulate a new strategy and policy toward China.
In the party’s review of why it lost the campaign, Tsai identified the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) last-minute maneuvering of the “economic stability card” as one of the key factors leading to her defeat. Tsai consequently suggested that the DPP should establish a mechanism for its members to engage with China.
Amid a potential factional struggle in the next DPP chairpersonship election, Tsai also persuaded Greater Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) to take over as acting chairperson until May. Despite Chen’s seniority and unanimous popularity, making her well-qualified for the position, there is speculation that Chen was picked to act as Tsai’s “surrogate” and block another heavyweight — former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) — from running in the chairpersonship election.
Though Chen refuses to discuss her participation in the chairpersonship race, the behind-the-scenes cooperation between her and Tsai shows that the latter has a strong desire to control the DPP’s future policy direction.
Chen gained fame first as a pioneer and a political prisoner in the opposition movement in the early 1980s, and later as an experienced administrator both in central and local government. She won a landslide victory in the last Kaohsiung mayoral election and is now the highest-ranking DPP administrative official.
Moreover, Chen is a pragmatic politician within the DPP. She visited Beijing three years ago to promote the World Games in Kaohsiung by carefully balancing the issues of Taiwanese sovereignty and goodwill toward China. She even called President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) “Taiwan’s president” while she was in Beijing — something Ma himself dare not do when faced with Chinese officials.
As for the party’s China policy, Tsai, in her farewell speech, again urged the DPP to increase communication and dialogue with China. The establishment of an official DPP think tank a year ago was an attempt to achieve such a goal. Regretfully, there have been no direct contacts and communication through such a channel due to political sensitivities. What was new in Tsai’s speech was her call to DPP members to study China and break away from the party’s traditional image, as painted by the KMT, of being “anti-China” or “locking up Taiwan.”
The implication of such a symbolic adjustment shows that Tsai and other DPP leaders believe they need to take more aggressive steps in dealing with the China issue. One possibility is for Tsai to stay on as a senior consultant or president of the DPP’s New Frontier Foundation, making use of this position to engage in China studies. The question of whether Tsai will visit China has turned up again. Other DPP heavyweights — including former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) — have also expressed an interest in visiting Beijing.
Though Beijing leaders might set some conditions for high-profile visits by DPP “big shots,” at least the DPP leaders have diverted attention from that simplistic thinking of whether the DPP should just accept some form of “1992 consensus” or the “one China constitution” formula by moving toward the KMT’s path.
There is no doubt that Tsai is hoping to control the DPP’s future agenda. However, this depends on whether Chen is interested in playing Tsai’s game.
Liu Shih-chung is a senior research fellow at the Taipei-based Taiwan Brain Trust.
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