Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei Mayor Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安), purportedly the great grandson of former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and grandson of former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), has much to learn from the reaction to his speech on Tuesday afternoon marking the 76th anniversary of the 228 Incident.
Chiang Wan-an offered an apology that, regardless of whether he was sincere, some people found difficult to accept due to several factors.
First was his curious reaction to the chaotic appearance of protesters, who approached him from behind, demanding that he kneel down to apologize and calling him a murderer. Second was his apparent downplaying of the relevance of his bloodline and party affiliation.
Video footage showed that the first protester who approached Chiang Wan-an seemed astounded that he was to arrive at his target unimpeded by the mayor’s security detail, prompting him to veer off at the last second. The security detail eventually held off the other protesters, but their slow response to apparent aggression against the capital’s highest elected official leaves many questions unanswered. The security of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was also taken by surprise when he was assassinated less than a year ago in Japan, a country where such things usually do not happen. It is concerning that Chiang Wan-an’s security team had not learned the obvious lesson: Things do not happen in your own country until they do.
The protest was clearly at least partly performative, yet it showed the strong emotions that still exist among Taiwanese. Chiang Wan-an, aware of the disruption, initially looked over his shoulder, but then turned back to face the audience while his security dealt with the protest. Clearly uncomfortable, he smiled while he waited for calm to return. His uncomfortable smile was understandable, but observers who are less sympathetic to his circumstances could easily perceive it as a smirk. This was not a good look for a politician intending to convey sincerity.
Chiang Wan-an, who is not personally culpable for the 228 Incident, apparently thought it sufficient to apologize in his capacity as Taipei mayor for the killings of tens of thousands of innocent Taiwanese that began in the city’s Dadaocheng (大稻埕) area. This left him open to accusations of insincerity and political cowardice, not least from Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Fan Yun (范雲), who accused him on Facebook of using “what he thinks is clever political language and rhetoric” to hide behind his political duties.
She said that Chiang Wan-an had sought to justify that he did not address his bloodline by relying on precedent set by former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who had apologized for the incident while serving as Taipei mayor for the KMT. Fan called on Chiang Wan-an to demonstrate his sincerity by removing symbols of his forebears’ regimes, such as bronze statues in front of schools and street names in their honor, and to express his support to the central government’s plan to repurpose the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, which takes up prime real estate in the capital.
Chiang Wan-an should be aware of his obligations as Taipei mayor, as heir to his bloodline’s legacy and presumably as a future leader of the KMT. He should also be aware of the baggage he inherited from his forebears and his party.
However, he seemed as blissfully unaware of these as he was apparently unaware of the danger of the protesters behind him on Tuesday. He will have to address the combined weight of all of these, especially while cross-strait tensions continue to escalate and his party seems to be willing to collude with the Chinese government, risking a repeat of history.
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