Early last month, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) was elected party chairman, winning with a seven-to-three majority over pro-Beijing former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), a two-time KMT vice chairman. Chiang’s victory has been interpreted as a generational change and the beginning of major party reform.
In his inauguration speech on March 9, Chiang did not mention the so-called “1992 consensus.” Analysts believe that his most urgent task is to attract more young people to the party and win voter trust, and that he does not care about Beijing’s reaction.
After joining the party chairmanship by-election, Chiang made his pro-US stance clear and said that the KMT would rebuild its representation in the US. As for the cross-strait relationship, the phrases “1992 consensus” and “one China, each with its own interpretation” were all but absent.
Chiang says that the Republic of China is a stabilizing force, which the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) media outlets say is getting too close to a “state-to-state” position. This is also why Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has broken with precedent and not sent a congratulatory telegram to Chiang on his election.
The US of course welcomed Chiang’s US-friendly stance, and the day after his inauguration the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) issued a congratulatory statement.
“The KMT has a long tradition of supporting closer US-Taiwan relations,” it said. “We look forward to jointly pursuing that goal under Chairman Chiang’s leadership, as we promote our many common values and interests.”
The US Congress was also pleased to see two healthy political parties in Taiwan, as this is beneficial to deepening Taiwan’s vibrant democracy.
Although the KMT’s growing pro-Taiwan stance would challenge and counterbalance the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), it would be good in the long run for the maturity and consolidation of Taiwan’s democracy.
In his inauguration speech, Chiang said that the losses in two consecutive presidential elections sent “a clear message that the party is falling behind the times in many areas, and is in urgent need of reform and innovation to be able to catch up.”
He also said that he would align party reforms along three main directions: intergenerational cooperation, “internal creation” — building the party around its legislative organization — and digitization.
Since Chiang was elected in a by-election, his term would only last a little more than a year. Only if he is re-elected next year would he have the opportunity to establish a non-Leninist centralized party structure, allow the younger generation to join the leadership tier and come up with a set of cross-strait policies that are acceptable to Taiwanese.
After the DPP returned to power in 2016, people working with Taiwan within the CCP told Taiwanese media that there was a lot of talk about the necessity for war in the Taiwan Strait within all sectors of Chinese society, that there was a back-and-forth over peaceful or armed unification and that promoting unification was given priority over opposing independence.
The tone of Xi’s political report at the CCP’s 19th National Congress in 2017 and his speech at the military parade on Tiananmen Square in Beijing on the People’s Republic of China’s 70th anniversary on Oct. 1 last year, when he said that China “will uphold the one China principle and the 1992 consensus, [and] promote the peaceful development of relations across the Taiwan Strait,” was to stress that the cross-strait unification he is calling for requires cultural and spiritual “fusion.”
In Taiwan, not only does the pan-green camp reject the CCP’s one-party dictatorship and anti-democratic rule that violates human rights and liberty, the KMT generation represented by Chiang also no longer accepts Xi’s talk about peaceful unification.
They have seen clearly that the CCP has been using the KMT all along to divide the nation and as a tool to facilitate its annexation of Taiwan, all the time completely disrespecting the free political views of KMT members.
Xi’s “one country, two systems” and “peaceful unification” fraud has failed utterly and completely. The question now is if the hawks advocating “military unification” would demand that Xi change tack and take military action or use economic pressure to force Taiwan to fall in line.
Xi fully understands that the US places great importance on Taiwan’s strategic significance, and that a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan is certain to draw US retaliation. With corruption rife in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), with official positions being bought and sold, the PLA is unable to fight and would not be able to defeat the US in any case.
Xi’s final hope is that another opportunist politician would have appeared in Taiwan by 2022 — if Xi is still in power by that time — who is willing to be bought off by Beijing and run as the CCP’s candidate in Taiwan’s 2024 presidential election.
Parris Chang is a former deputy secretary-general of the National Security Council and professor emeritus of political science at Pennsylvania State University.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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