New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential candidate, held mostly closed-door meetings with US think tank experts during his visit to the US, but based on his public talks, interviews and op-ed pieces, it appears he wished to send the message in the US that he would be resuming a position of neutrality, taking the middle route to US political circles and academia. However, it remains to be seen if that approach would be supported by the rest of his party.
The reason for this doubt is because what Hou appears to have promised in the US vastly differs from the KMT approach of years past. If the party falls in line with Hou’s strategy and completely overhauls its foreign policy, then the candidate would have a better chance of keeping his campaign promises. If Hou cannot win over his party and get them on board with his foreign policy, then his promises in the US would become just empty words.
Of course, Hou would have to be consistent and not play both sides by promising one thing to the US and another to Taiwanese voters.
The issue in question is reflected in Hou’s dialogue in the US. For example, at several forums and discussions, on the issue of Taiwan’s national security, Hou promised multiple times that if elected, the national defense budget would reach at least 3 percent of GDP and that Taiwan would continue its collaboration with the US on national security.
Even though Hou’s statements are textbook answers for Taiwanese politicians visiting the US, several of the people he spoke with were not convinced. They pointed out that it was not long ago that the KMT had criticized the governing party for increasing the national defense budget and saying it was a form of provocation. The KMT also often seems to echo the narratives of anti-US supporters and dance to Beijing’s tune.
The KMT is always holding Hou back, whether intentionally or unintentionally. For example, regarding the so-called “1992 consensus,” US academics have called it an outdated “prerequisite” for presidential candidates established without the foundation of democracy. In other words, the notion has no public consensus. The issue has been a hot potato for the KMT, let alone an easy question for Hou.
The forcing of the “1992 consensus” down Hou’s throat by KMT senior grandees has only underscored the party’s underlying problem with its policy on China, and that is a lack of faith in democracy, and to view that flaw as a form of hindrance to cross-strait communications.
Inside sources say that former KMT chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) originally proposed a “4Ds strategy” to Hou — defense, dialogue, democracy and deterrence. As Chiang was well-trained in international relations, he must be aware that the idea of “democracy” can be associated with forming alliances and reassuring the public that the KMT’s cross-strait policy would be centered on democracy and freedom.
However, Hou has crossed out democracy and even changed “defense” to “de-escalation” in his final version, the “3Ds strategy.” It was rumored that a “campaign director” had concerns that led to the alteration. No matter what went on behind the scenes, it was a pity that Chiang’s proposal of “democracy” was dropped, underscoring the KMT’s quagmire.
Hou has emphasized that if elected, he would build on President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) foundations and protect the “status quo.” At a Heritage Foundation event, Hou tried to portray Taiwan as “the most dangerous place on Earth” to differentiate the KMT’s foreign policies from the Democratic Progressive Party, which drew criticism and opposition from attendees.
It is apparent that the KMT cannot get rid of its baggage. The KMT could have shaken off these shackles of contradictions and still retain its competitive edge, which has people asking: Will the KMT change or maintain its approach once it is back on home turf? Is Hou now running the show or is the tail wagging the dog?
Tzou Jiing-wen is editor-in-chief of the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper).
Translated by Rita Wang
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