The year 1979 was the tipping point for the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) one-party state and its dreams for the Republic of China (ROC). Most in the KMT did not see it then and some still do not, yet the KMT must face it, especially as it prepares to choose its next chairperson.
The foreshadowing of 1979 was evident a decade earlier. In 1970, members of World United Formosans for Independence attempted to assassinate then-vice premier Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) in New York City. In 1971, the KMT, as “followers of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石),” were officially “booted out” of the UN with General Assembly Resolution 2758.
Thus when 1979 arrived, the stage had been set. It proved to be a pivotal year, and one that began and ended disastrously for the KMT.
On Jan. 1, then-US president Jimmy Carter moved the US embassy from Taipei to Beijing, and the ROC lost the main advocate of its legitimacy.
The US, whose official position on Taiwan remains “undetermined,” no longer refers to this nation as the ROC; it instead calls it Taiwan in all official dealings. The ROC dream of “retaking” China and returning as China’s representative in the UN are dead.
From the KMT’s standpoint, 1979 also ended poorly as the dangwai (黨外, “outside the party”) movement staged a protest in Kaohsiung on Dec. 10, Human Rights Day. They wanted a democracy. From within and without, the tipping point had finally been crossed.
Participants in the Kaohsiung celebration were arrested, of course, trials were held, people were imprisoned and several high profile murders followed.
All this happened under the KMT’s watch, while Taiwan’s identity was taking shape as the KMT’s one-party state Stockholm syndrome wore off.
These issues of identity have not yet been learned or grasped by some of the KMT. Even as Taiwan’s athletes performed exceedingly well at the Tokyo Olympics, they had to participate under the ignominious name of Chinese Taipei.
Sun Yat-sen’s (孫逸仙) democratic principle of “government of the people, by the people and for the people” remains on the back burner for several KMT members who long to be part of the empire that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) strives to build on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan has witnessed the “traitorous” remarks of retired former general Kao An-kuo (高安國), who urged all Taiwanese military to join with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army if it would attack Taiwan.
Some KMT members still insist on holding on to the so-called “1992 consensus,” a fabrication created by former Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi (蘇起), that the ROC can be seen as China. How can this formula help deal with the voracious CCP as it demolishes the liberties of Hong Kong, the Uighurs and others in China?
Old paradigms die hard, but the past is a prologue and 1979 is part of the past. As it prepares to choose its next chairperson, the KMT must look back to 1979 and see all that has developed since then. Today, 90 percent of the public identify as Taiwanese.
As losers in the Chinese Civil War, the KMT are a diaspora on Taiwan. By 1987, then-president Chiang Ching-kuo faced and admitted this in allowing a multiparty state.
There is perspective in asking: Where were they in 1979 and how has that influenced their thinking? This is important, as it reveals the stance that many took then and whether they still support those results. Do they see Taiwan as a de facto independent nation?
Examine the KMT candidates for chairperson. In 1979, Eric Chu (朱立倫) was a student at National Taiwan University. KMT Chairperson Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) was seven in 1979 and candidate Cho Po-yuan (卓伯源) was 14. The oldest, Chang Ya-chung (張亞中), was pursuing graduate studies. Chang is the only one who still openly advocates unification with China.
How conscious were they then and even now of all that had happened that year? Do they see 1979 as a necessary step in Taiwan’s democracy?
The KMT will never rule China even if it wanted to go home. Do they still hanker for the China dream as Kao does? Do they feel that, like him, they can twist that to their advantage?
Many unresolved issues remain as residue after 1979. Everyone in Taiwan should face these issues, but in particular those that aspire to be the KMT chairperson. Taiwan needs a different name than “the ROC.” The Olympics again raised this issue; Taiwan cannot be Chinese Taipei. Are KMT candidates open to shedding Chinese Taipei and the ROC name? How would they solve this?
Regarding UN membership: What they would do to get Taiwan back into the UN? Taiwan can never enter the UN under the name of the ROC. A new strategy is needed.
What about the flag? Taiwan still needs a new one. The flag brought to Taiwan by the diaspora KMT is no longer adequate. Can the KMT give it up? If not, how does it justify the flag as being representative of all Taiwanese?
A new constitution is needed. The Constitution of the ROC is no longer valid; it has become a patchwork of what the KMT created in 1947. It must fit Taiwan.
All of these might not be immediate issues, but they must be faced as Taiwan seeks recognition as a country. Four decades have passed since 1979, and these questions will help sort the wheat from the chaff.
As the KMT looks to select a new chairperson, its candidates are most on the spot. Will they face or dodge these hard issues?
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.
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