Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) Chairman Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) yesterday began a 20-day visit to the US, saying that his goal is “understanding the US” and “letting the world understand the TPP.”
The visit is widely regarded as the start of the former Taipei mayor’s presidential campaign and a signal that a rumored joint ticket in next year’s presidential election between Ko and Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) is no longer viable.
Ko hinted at his intention to run for president as early as 2019. Not much later, speculation began that he might team up with Gou, and after the Hon Hai founder indicated that he might also run, several rounds of negotiations were held between the two. The TPP nominated former Hon Hai employee Ann Kao (高虹安) as legislator-at-large candidate for the 2020 elections, and neither Ko nor Gou ran for legislator.
However, after Gou on Friday said that he would seek the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential nomination and Ko touted his US tour as a TPP-centered venture, a joint ticket seems very unlikely.
Asked about Gou’s call for unity against the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Ko said he is against the idea of a “non-green alliance to remove the DPP,” and sarcastically asked whether such an alliance would enable “the KMT to rule again and continue its corruption.”
Calling the TPP Taiwan’s “third force,” Ko said that the party must work to find more international space for Taiwan amid conflicts between the US and China, and Taiwan’s pan-green and pan-blue camps.
The TPP’s goals are “Taiwan autonomy” and cross-strait peace, as well as forming “a coalition government” based on solidary among Taiwanese, Ko said, adding that he is the only politician who can unite the nation.
In an interview with Japanese news magazine Nikkei Asia, Ko last week sought to set his party apart from the pan-green and pan-blue camps, saying that the DPP is “too pro-war,” while the KMT is “too deferential toward China.” The TPP “will not provoke war,” even though it is “not afraid of war” and would “prepare for war,” he said, adding that a TPP-led government would lower the risk of war breaking out.
Ko said Taiwan should learn from Japan’s and Singapore’s relations with China and the US, adding that the two deal with the pressures from the two superpowers “with great flexibility.”
However, it remains to be seen whether Ko’s ideas can sway anyone in Washington, as well as Taiwanese voters in next year’s elections, especially as his remarks have been inconsistent, with many causing controversy and earning him labels such as “a speculator,” “political chameleon” and “person without core conviction.”
Ko’s remarks ranged from describing himself as “deep green” to telling an event in Shanghai that the “two sides of the [Taiwan] Strait are one family” and are “a community with a shared destiny.” He has also said that Taiwan’s aim should be “befriending the US and being friendly to China” and that it should “remain an equal distance with superpowers.”
Ko’s latest remark that Taiwan should learn from Japan’s and Singapore’s China policies is also flawed, as the two countries do not deal with Beijing denying their sovereignty, and Japan has a solid military alliance with the US. Taiwan’s relationships with the US and China are more complicated than Ko acknowledges. Instead of approaching the two superpowers “with great flexibility,” Taiwanese leaders are forced to walk a tightrope.
In past elections, TPP voters were mostly young and politically unaffiliated. Ko has branded his party as a force that can overcome Taiwan’s two-party system, but whether his unpredictable and ambiguous stance can continue to sway voters frustrated about the DPP-KMT rivalry is questionable.
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