With the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on Wednesday nominating New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) as its presidential candidate, the presidential campaign has moved into the next phase, in which the KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will again cross swords.
Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘), who was hoping to be nominated, said he would fully support Hou and help him get elected. He added that he would pass on his proposed “peace declaration” to his former rival.
This declaration is fully consistent with the discourse of the pan-blue camp, and it will be interesting to see how Hou receives it: Will he carry on the line from former vice president Lien Chan (連戰) through former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and on to KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) and Gou himself? All eyes are on how Hou will proceed.
The first thing that Hou will need to address is the geopolitical storm raging over the Taiwan Strait. Even setting aside for the moment all of the events that preceded Hou’s nomination, his first test will be his response to the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, which includes the US, Japan and South Korea holding trilateral talks on countering China.
The White House has said that the G7 leaders would demonstrate a common approach to the challenge posed by the China — one that is based on shared values. At the same time, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has confirmed before the US Senate Committee on Appropriations that work is under way to send Taiwan US$500 million in stockpiled military equipment using the Presidential Drawdown Authority authorized by the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.
Hou needs to rise above the collusion between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and confront the rapid geopolitical changes that are occurring. He needs to set himself up in a strategically advantageous position in preparation for the coming onslaught, with a convincing narrative to contrast his vision with that of the democratically elected government that has been in power for the past eight years, and within the context of a global political maelstrom and mainstream domestic public opinion.
Some believe that cross-strait affairs take precedence over geopolitical concerns in Taiwan’s domestic politics. The pan-blue camp is convinced that China’s military intimidation is not aimed at Taiwanese, but at the DPP’s provocative words and actions, despite the fact that geopolitical concerns are engulfing Taiwan. The pan-blue camp has set its focus too narrowly on the logic of the civil war, allowing itself to be drawn into Beijing’s inverted narrative, blind to what is happening all around.
The tensions in the Taiwan Strait for the past few years have been born of geopolitical changes. As Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Yoshimasa Hayashi described it, China and Russia are intensifying their cooperation, Beijing is trying to alter the situation in the East and South China seas, and increasing its military activity there, and North Korea is firing guided missiles with unprecedented frequency.
All of this is happening against a backdrop of a receding pandemic that originated in Wuhan, China, and has wreaked havoc in the world since 2020, the announcement last year of an “unlimited” friendship between China and Russia, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to send forces into Ukraine.
Together, all of these factors have changed the geopolitical outlook and created the international context for the tensions in the Taiwan Strait. An objective assessment of all this is that, had the DPP been responsible for the creation of the crisis, the international community, and the US especially, would long ago have rapped President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for causing so many problems. The reality is, it is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) who is widely acknowledged internationally as having sparked the current state of affairs.
Taiwan has seen a succession of governments and parliamentary bodies from around the world express their support for the nation. The G7, NATO and the EU have continuously warned Beijing not to use military force to change the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait; and the US is supplying defensive weapons to Taiwan: All of this is happening at unprecedented levels.
Since the beginning of this year, South Korea, Japan and the Philippines have consolidated their bilateral alliances with the US, and there has been a historic thaw in tensions between South Korea and Japan — developments that all originate from the need to confront the threat from China.
The idea that a Taiwan contingency is a contingency for Japan and will involve the US-Japan alliance, that the Taiwan issue does not simply involve China and Taiwan, but like the North Korea issue, is a global issue, and the Philippines granting US access to four more of its bases in the event that China attacks Taiwan all demonstrate that the countries surrounding Taiwan are fully aware that Taiwan is only the first domino in Xi’s plans for the realization of his dream of making China a major global power, and that this has nothing to do with which party is in power in Taiwan.
Since Tsai took office in 2016, public opinion has tended toward maintaining the “status quo” of de facto independence. This period coincided with a deterioration in US-China relations, which has turned into a fierce competition between the two sides under the administrations of former US president Donald Trump and US President Joe Biden. During this time, the so-called “1992 consensus” and the idea that “both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to ‘one China’” have faded into irrelevance in policy debates in Washington’s hallowed halls.
In retrospect, maintaining the “status quo” was Beijing’s best opportunity, as it could at least avoid having Taiwan spin away and the rest of the world working to contain its ambitions.
The pan-blue camp to this day is deluded into thinking that the “1992 consensus” of “one China, each side having its own interpretation” is the “same consensus” that Beijing has long made explicitly clear refers to an oral agreement of a “consensus” that “both sides of the Taiwan Strait maintain the ‘one China’ principle.”
None of this is rocket science. Again, Beijing has been explicit, giving the official definition that “there is only one China in the world, that the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate representative of this and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory.”
Still, the pan-blue camp clings to the idea that unification would see others respecting, at the very least, the declaration by Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son and successor, Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), that “as far as the Republic of China is concerned, the so-called question of unification is the question of how to topple the bandit communist regime, so that the compatriots on the Mainland can be given back their liberty,” and that the way to address the one-party state, reject Taiwanese independence and bring about unification require the establishment of a democratic, free, prosperous China.
On the issue of “resisting the ‘one country, two systems’” and “opposing Taiwanese independence,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office has said that the idea of different political systems is not an obstacle to unification, and it is certainly not an excuse for secession. And still the blue camp would hold back from hoping for a democratic China.
The crisis in the Taiwan Strait starts with Beijing. Speaking on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was important to make a distinction between the aggressor and the victim, and as the US Department of State said: We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan.”
Clearly, the pan-blue camp does not accept the US’ analysis and is fully onboard with Beijing’s version. It is delighted with Beijing’s repeated broadcasting of its anti-DPP witch hunt, even when this is essentially an attack on mainstream public opinion in Taiwan.
Will Hou follow the likes of Lien, Ma, Chu and Gou in parroting Beijing’s line? Will he be like the sirens of Greek myth, singing a song that confuses and befuddles those who listen to drift into dangerous waters?
The world is watching what he decides to do.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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