Maybe President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) really does welcome the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) “unofficial” meetings in Beijing and sees them in a positive light as a presidential spokesperson claimed this week.
Yet these consultations between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the highest level should be deeply unsettling. They corrupt the norms of conduct for a loyal opposition in a democracy and promote public cynicism about what is acceptable political behavior. They erode public confidence and social stability.
This is especially so for KMT Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu’s (洪秀柱) visit to China this week, where she openly sympathized with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) over his government’s ambitions to rule Taiwan in the name of “one China.”
Meanwhile, the KMT leader reportedly failed to protest against China’s military threats or defend the dignity of the government, which Beijing has so ruthlessly suppressed, even to the point of not daring to mention the name of her beloved “Republic of China.”
This was a confounding display of pandering and submissiveness that would make any self-respecting democrat cringe.
How could a reasonable observer interpret such behavior other than as a betrayal of political responsibility, while even failing to accurately communicate her own party’s official policy on cross-strait relations in favor of a personal interpretation?
In meeting with CCP General Secretary Xi behind closed doors, it is true that Hung followed the path of her predecessors. She is not uniquely culpable in showing poor judgement. Three of her predecessors have done the same. It is also true that the KMT’s political circumstances are even more desperate now than when former vice president and KMT chairperson Lien Chan (連戰) initiated those pilgrimages to Beijing more than a decade ago in an effort to revive his party’s prospects.
The danger now is that such abject behavior has become normalized and is justified under false pretenses. Keeping open communications, especially with one’s adversaries, is a worthy endeavor, but not if they are also aimed at subverting an elected government and advancing personal agendas. If US or European leaders collaborated with foreign enemies to win support against their domestic rivals and raise their personal profiles, there would be cries of treason.
In Taiwan, such behavior has become “politics as usual,” badly disguised as a quest for peace and stability in cross-strait relations.
The conduct of KMT officials this week in Beijing might not have violated any laws, but it has been profoundly troubling for the nation’s politics. It points to the urgent need for reform of a once popular and successful political institution. If the KMT cannot reconfigure its ideological beliefs and follow normal rules for a loyal opposition, it will continue to pose an existential threat to democratic development and political stability.
If the party’s “one China” doctrine is still relevant to some of its members, it is increasingly marginal to its electoral prospects. It is a contentious legacy that needs to be re-examined so that ideologues such as Hung can no longer lead the party astray. Surely there are smarter leaders; those who can sort through the ambivalent political teachings of KMT founder Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) and shape a 21st-century political party that is in touch with the real interests and aspirations of Taiwanese.
The KMT must do better than sacrificing democratic values and the national interest on the altar of an outdated ethnic nationalism while inviting collaboration with an autocratic regime. That is not a sustainable future.
Julian Baum is a former Taiwan correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and former Beijing correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor.
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