“You can’t see the future through a rearview mirror.”— Peter Lynch
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on Sunday last week held its annual national congress.
Despite some hope that the 100-year-old party would go in a new direction, KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) continued to look in the rearview mirror for its future.
The “1992 consensus” was pitched as the core value of the party, but the 28-year-old framework has been rendered obsolete given rapidly deteriorating conditions in Hong Kong and the escalation of the US-China struggle.
The 10-year-old cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) was also proposed as a party focus, going against the new but irreversible global trend to reduce reliance on supply chains controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The KMT is unlikely to find solid footing until it emerges from this bitter stage of soul-searching.
Perhaps the party needs to look further back in the rearview mirror to see its future.
It is time for KMT to find its lost soul in its anti-communist roots.
Only a fundamental value system can lay the sustainable base for a successful political party — not one based on transient strategic ambiguity like the “1992 consensus,” not one based on profit and loss calculations like the ECFA.
As one of the oldest surviving anti-communist parties in the world, the KMT has a rich history of fighting the CCP.
For example, General Zhang Lingfu’s (張靈甫) Menglianggu Campaign in 1947, where he led 30,000 men against 100,000 in a CCP encirclement and fought to the last man, should not be forgotten.
Such gumption was carried across the Strait in 1948 and held Taiwan from CCP attacks for more than 30 years, even after the US abandoned the Republic of China (Taiwan) in favor of the CCP and China in 1978.
Granted that Taiwan was at the time under authoritarian rule — hence it was not a democracy versus dictatorship choice for the US — plus the Cold War dynamics required a strategic refocus away from Vietnam and Taiwan, and onto China.
In any case, Taiwan was put in an extremely regretful and dire situation.
With only two months to negotiate new treaties with the US, four months until the withdrawal of US troops and one year until a defense pact expired, the KMT was suddenly alone in the fight against the CCP.
This do-or-die situation forced the KMT to build Taiwan into an economic powerhouse that could stand on its own, which solidified the party’s technocratic image.
Subsequent events gave rise to democratic movements in Taiwan that have borne fruit.
Today’s distrust toward the US by the KMT-led pan-blue camp could be a result of the US’ abandonment of Taiwan during the administration of then-US president Richard Nixon — a collective memory that has been passed down to young people today.
On the other hand, friendliness toward the CCP is driven by a shared misjudgement by the West and the KMT that by helping China open up, positive change would result.
Instead, the CCP created “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
Chinese are only granted the “freedom of want,” but the country remains an authoritarian state and the economic benefits from being the “factory of the world” have paid for a growing threat to democracies, as retired US general Robert Spalding wrote in his book Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept.
The US has realized this monumental mistake and turned to a new Indo-Pacific alliance to push back on the CCP’s global encroachment.
However, the KMT still seems to be living in the not sufficiently distant past, becoming a victim of the Stockholm syndrome and sympathizing with the oppressor of Taiwan — its old nemesis.
Geopolitical conditions have shifted in such a dramatic way that Taiwan is not alone anymore — it does not need to live in an ambiguous balance between two superpowers that are friends.
However, the KMT is trying to keep a foot on two ships that are sailing away from each other.
There is no reason for the KMT to woo the CCP due to a lack of international allies.
Instead a new global alliance is quickly forming to defend the liberal order. Taiwan should help build that alliance.
The US needs to realize that to regain the trust of Taiwan as an ally in this fight against the CCP, more needs to be done than just moral callings.
This includes: signing a US-Taiwan free-trade agreement to further secure global supply chains, favorable arms sales and clarity in defending Taiwan if the CCP were to invade and promoting Taiwan as a financial hub without CCP influence as a replacement for Hong Kong.
These are policies in the interests of the free world, which are concrete enough to prove to hesitant Taiwanese that the US is back in the fight.
It was the US who left the fight 42 years ago, not Taiwan.
Some sentences in then-president Chiang Ching-kuo’s (蔣經國) prophetic address to the nation in 1978, soon after the announcement that the US was to sever ties with the ROC, are worth remembering:
“The communists have cleverly used the weakness of the US government to establish the long-sought diplomatic relations,” he said.
Now the US has realized its mistake and is trying to fix it.
“We will never negotiate for peace with the communists, or we will be seeking our own demise,” Chiang said.
It is time for the KMT to remember his words. It needs to reclaim its anti-communist roots.
James Lee is a former hedge fund chief investment officer.
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