With the Jan. 16 presidential and legislative elections around the corner, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Eric Chu (朱立倫) has chosen “One Taiwan” as his campaign slogan. It is a catchy slogan and far better than the “Taiwan Up” cry that left many puzzled when they saw it blazoned across Taipei 101 and heard President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and then-Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) chanting it as Taiwan entered 2010.
However, Chu’s choice of slogan does point up some inconsistencies.
The first is that barely a few months ago, when he met Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), Chu agreed with Xi that cross-strait matters should be structured solely under the framework of “one China.” The contrast between these two phrases has left many wondering whether Chu speaks out of both sides of his mouth. Does he use the phrase “one China” on one side of the Taiwan Strait, and “One Taiwan” on the other side? Is Taiwan a part of China in his view? What relationship does Chu see between “one Taiwan” and “one China”?
Allowances for campaign rhetoric can be made, but the question remains, especially as Beijing forbids the use of Taiwan in any national arena or context and insists on the less contentious epithet “Chinese Taipei.” Chu’s ambivalence exposes deeper fractures in the continuously changing KMT discourse on the Republic of China (ROC) and Taiwan and raises the question: Why it has changed so drastically?
In 1949, after the KMT lost the Chinese Civil War and fled to Taiwan, the discourse was completely different. The rhetoric then was all about retaking the mainland and driving out the Chinese Communist Party “bandits.” This even led to a variety of minor military operations that culminated in Project National Glory, a secret program that ran between 1961 and 1972. The project had disastrous results, particularly in August 1965, when one venture, “Tsunami No. 1,” left many Taiwanese at the bottom of the sea.
Project National Glory and the dream of retaking China steadily waned after the ROC was kicked out of the UN in 1971. By 1979, when the US moved its embassy from Taipei to Beijing and fully recognized the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the idea of Taiwan retaking China began to look like a fading dream.
Nonetheless, the discourse within the KMT did alter to meet the changing situation: It became less ambitious, but there was still the idea of separation.
In 1979, former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) came up with his “three noes,” consisting of “no contact, no compromise and no negotiations” — to show that the ROC would not be coerced into any peace talks. The “three noes” remained in effect until May 1986, when a Taiwanese pilot hijacked a China Airlines cargo flight and the ROC did have to send some “unofficial delegates” to talk to the PRC about getting the aircraft back.
In the following year, Chiang relaxed his stance and began to allow aging ROC soldiers to contact family members who had been left behind in China nearly 40 years before. As these soldiers were reaching retirement age, this was a humanitarian gesture. However, along with the humanitarian aspects, at this time the ROC was allowing a multiparty political system to develop. Was this change from the “three noes” related or tangential to the KMT’s no longer running the nation as a one-party state?
By 1990, the ROC and the PRC had learned to live side by side and in 1991, then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) further eased restrictions by officially abolishing the “Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion” (動員戡亂時期臨時條款). This continued to enhance a change in rhetoric. During the next year, the two nations had meetings to discuss how to exchange mail and whether they would recognize each other’s university degrees. These discussions would later become the source of the fabricated term “1992 consensus” — a term former Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi (蘇起) invented in 2000. Again, was the timing a coincidence or an indication that the KMT was motivated by the fact that in 2000 they lost control of the nation for the first time?
Lee, who was president from 1988 to 2000, ruled during the period that would encompass the “1992 consensus.” Ironically, Lee has denied that the term ever expressed the idea of “one nation with two interpretations.” Lee’s main contribution to the KMT’s discourse on cross-strait ties was when he described exchanges between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait as being held “nation to nation” during an interview with German magazine Deutsche Welle in 1999.
Lee would be kicked out of the KMT in the year 2000 and blamed when former presidential candidate Lien Chan (連戰) — who never won a free election in his life — fared very poorly at the polls, barely garnering 23.1 percent of the vote.
The KMT subsequently changed its discourse again when Ma became president in 2008. Now not only had the KMT totally forsaken Chiang’s “three noes,” but it also seemed to be saying that all matters related to cross-strait ties were open to interpretation.
Ma implied or seemed to wish that the PRC would just agree that “his one government” was as valid as Beijing’s. Ma would cling to the facade that the Constitution is adequate to determine the nation’s stance on cross-strait exchanges, although the ROC flag was often hidden when Chinese delegates visited Taiwan and Ma avoided naming the ROC in talks with China.
During Ma’s tenure the KMT discourse quickly became filled with vagaries and became aimed at the economic enrichment of both sides. It also sought to find a way to persuade the PRC to let the KMT back into the fold of “one China.”
Over the years, Taiwan’s democracy has evolved, and there is a strong possibility that in next month’s elections the KMT will not only lose the presidency, but also the control of the Legislative Yuan. In this context, what does Chu mean when he says “One Taiwan”? Does he equate it with “one China”? How does he see “One Taiwan” expressing both the PRC’s “one China” and that of the ROC Constitution?
These are the questions that must be put to Chu and the KMT. The PRC is growing into an oligarchy that benefits the privileged few, and Taiwanese can legitimately ask whether the KMT is giving up its discourse of championing democracy. Is the KMT’s ideological base being forsaken? Or was democracy always only a matter of rhetoric and discourse for the KMT from the outset?
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.
In November last year, a man struck a woman with a steel bar and killed her outside a hospital in China’s Fujian Province. Later, he justified his actions to the police by saying that he attacked her because she was small and alone, and he was venting his anger after a dispute with a colleague. To the casual observer, it could be seen as another case of an angry man gone mad for a moment, but on closer inspection, it reflects the sad side of a society long brutalized by violent political struggles triggered by crude Leninism and Maoism. Starting
The year 2020 will go down in history. Certainly, if for nothing else, it will be remembered as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing impact it has had on the world. All nations have had to deal with it; none escaped. As a virus, COVID-19 has known no bounds. It has no agenda or ideology; it champions no cause. There is no way to bully it, gaslight it or bargain with it. Impervious to any hype, posturing, propaganda or commands, it ignores such and simply attacks. All nations, big or small, are on a level playing field
The US last week took action to remove most of the diplomatic red tape around US-Taiwan relations. While there have been adjustments in State Department “Guidelines on Relations with Taiwan” and other guidance before, no administration has ever so thoroughly dispensed with them. It is a step in the right direction. Of course, when there is a policy of formally recognizing one government (the People’s Republic of China or PRC) and not another (the Republic of China or ROC), officials from the top of government down need a systematic way of operationalizing the distinction. They cannot just make it up as
Like a thunderbolt out of the blue, with only 11 days remaining of US President Donald Trump’s term, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday last week announced that the US Department of State had, effective immediately, lifted all “self-imposed” restrictions on how US diplomats and other government officials engage with their Taiwanese counterparts. Pompeo’s announcement immediately triggered a backlash. Criticisms leveled by former US National Security Council director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia affairs Evan Medeiros, who served in the administration of former US president Barack Obama, were representative of the disapproving reaction. “The administration is over in two weeks…