President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Saturday visited the Chi-hai (Seven Seas) Residence, the former home of Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), son and successor of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石).
She was there in her capacity as head of state to attend the opening of the Ching-kuo Chi-hai Cultural Park and the Chiang Ching-kuo Presidential Library.
At one point, Tsai was seated between “1992 consensus” supporters former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and former vice president Lien Chan (連戰) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to her left, and Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) — the Taipei People’s Party chairman who contends that “both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one family” — and former KMT vice chairman Hao Lung-bin (郝龍斌) to her right.
During the speech, she praised Chiang Ching-kuo’s “staunch defense of Taiwan” against the Chinese communists on the other side of the Strait, even though she knew that those from the pan-green camp would be scrutinizing her every word while she delivered an address about the man who presided over the final decade of martial law in Taiwan.
She must have known when she received an invitation to attend the event from Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange president Frederick Chien (錢復) that there would be people wondering whether she would actually accept, and that she was damned if she did, damned if she did not.
Sure enough, the New Power Party on Tuesday lambasted her for praising a man who participated in an authoritarian regime that brought considerable pain to ordinary Taiwanese, saying that by doing so she was delegitimizing the government’s promotion of transitional justice.
Only a day before the opening, the Transitional Justice Commission itself had said that, by commemorating Chiang Ching-kuo, the cultural park glorified authoritarianism and failed to address his role in the White Terror era.
It is true that there was a slightly surreal feeling to seeing Tsai speak words of admiration for Chiang Ching-kuo, and yet there is rationale behind her acknowledgment of his unflinching resistance to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), given that it arguably poses a far more of a threat to Taiwan now that it did in his day.
That aspect of her speech must have jarred with Ma, Lien and other KMT stalwarts, who have put quite a distance between themselves and the anti-communist stance of their former leader.
In the face of the threat from China, the received wisdom is that even divided nations can unite in such times. This was indeed the thrust of Tsai’s speech, although it is by no means clear that Taiwanese will unite when there is disagreement about the nature of the threat, or whether the CCP presents a threat at all.
Despite the truculent response to Tsai’s attendance by KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫), a man who continuously talks about internal party unity, but does all he can to sow disunity in the nation, there were signs that Tsai’s appeal to unity was acknowledged, from Broadcasting Corp of China chairman Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康) no less, who said that Tsai’s attendance was a good sign, and that the nation should unite toward a common future.
Perhaps it would be best to view this event not as a point in time, but as a stage in a process, and imagine how it will be assessed by future generations and historians as part of the evolution of Taiwan’s political culture and democratic development.
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