On August 20, 2017, Wu Den-yih was inaugurated as the new chairman of Taiwan’s opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), which has a history of more than 100 years.1
Taiwan’s Sunflower Student Movement, which took place from March 18 to April 10, 2014, can be regarded as a political tidal wave for the KMT. Student protesters and activists physically occupied the Legislative Yuan and the Executive Yuan.2 Then-president Ma Ying-jeou did not expect the onslaught of the Sunflower tidal wave. In January 2016, the KMT lost its ruling power status. It could not even maintain its majority-seat status in the Legislative Yuan.
Two important elections are coming up in 2018 and 2020. 2020 will be the year Taiwan has to elect a new president. According to Taiwan’s Constitution, so long as the candidate can get more than half of the total ballot, he/she can become the next president. Can Wu succeed in helping a KMT member to become the next president? Many observers say that Wu himself may compete for the presidency.
Here are a few observations regarding the kind of problems that Wu has to solve within the party.
First, in the last few years, the KMT is having problem paying its employees on time. Before the end of each month, it needs approximately USD 120 million for paying the salaries of its full-time workers. Backed by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, the Ill-Gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee has been trying to get the KMT to pay back its unfairly acquired assets.
Second, there is rampant infighting within the party. Many members want to (tactically) change the name of the party to read KMT of Taiwan (as opposed to “of China”) so as to enable themselves to grab a seat in the 113-member Legislative Yuan. In this context, how is it possible to bring about a grand coalition or even alliance among the pan-blue camp (besides the KMT, there are also the New Party and the People First Party)?
Third, the economy is not good. President Tsai Ing-wen’s New Southbound Policy will not work well because it is not tied to mainland China’s Belt and Road strategy. While many companies, corporations and stores are seeing less profits as a result of the new Yi Li Yi Xiu (one fixed day off and one flexible rest day) policy for laborers, it would become more difficult for KMT to seek donations from them, because the bosses or owners will simply shorten the working hours each week, implying that they may already be making less money.
Regarding external challenges, a few observations can be highlighted.
First, the pro-Taiwan de jure independence activists are not interested in giving the Republic of China (ROC) a new lease of life. They are more interested in creating a Republic of Taiwan. The activists perceived that by giving up all Mainland claims and pretensions, the people of Taiwan can be better off, for example, by being able to choose their own president.
If the KMT further abandons its various ties and linkages with mainland China, it may well literally mean the end of the ROC at an earlier date.
They may justify their wishful thinking by referring to this incident. After the October 1971 withdrawal of the ROC from the United Nations, vice foreign minister Yang Hsi-kun proposed to Chiang Kai-shek that the ROC should be designated as Zhong Hua Tai Wan Gong He Guo (Chinese Republic of Taiwan) and, henceforth, the government “would have nothing to do with the Mainland,” or the Taiwan area will not be an integral part of China.
Yang, after the ROC’s withdrawal from the United Nations, spoke to the American ambassador to the ROC, hoping to generate “a new image needed to be created with the government freed of the outworn trappings, encumbrances and shibboleths of the party and the establishment.” On November 30, 1971, the US ambassador sent a telegram to the American Secretary of State about the matter. At the end, the United States did not want to continue the discussion of this “eyes only” bombshell.
Chiang did not go along with Yang’s proposal. On August 3, 1969, Chiang told the US Secretary of State that Taiwan could only hold on for three days if and when the Chinese People’s Liberation Army were to attack.
Second, Wu tries to toe the Ma line toward Beijing leaders. This is because Wu is fully aware that Chinese President Xi Jinping, armed with the March 2005 Anti-Secession Law, can definitely and swiftly settle the Taiwan issue at an earlier date. After that, would Taiwan still be able to earn USD 70 billion plus annually from mainland China? And, what would happen to those Taiwanese whose spouses are from the Chinese mainland and are living in Taiwan?
Third, the KMT is definitely on the defensive vis-à-vis mainland China. In recent years, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has been able to conduct discourse at home and abroad related to the Taiwan Strait to its advantage. For example, starting from spring 2017, the number of years for fighting against Imperial Japan, as mentioned in Chinese mainland primary and secondary textbooks, has been increased from eight to 14, starting from September 18, 1931.3 In another example, the CPC held a grand ceremony in Beijing in November 2016 to honor Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s 150th birthday, while Taiwan President Tsai downplayed the importance of paying tribute to the founding father of the ROC. Soon, the majority of the younger generations of overseas Chinese will eventually side with Beijing in interpreting the modern Chinese history.
In sum, since May 2016, the power struggle between China and Taiwan has a simple and straightforward reason in that Tsai has so far refused to acknowledge the November 1992 consensus or a version of it. Supporters of the KMT feel increasingly helpless at home and abroad. If the KMT further abandons its various ties and linkages with mainland China, it may well literally mean the end of the ROC at an earlier date. Such a bleak geopolitical landscape is developing. Can Wu reverse the unfavorable trend? The 2020 presidential election would be definitely decisive.
1. In January 1912, the Republic of China was established. As early as November 1894, Dr. Sun Yat-sen founded the predecessor of Kuomintang, xinzhongnui (Society for Regenerating China). However, it was not until October 10, 1919 that the official full name of Kuomintang of China was used.
2. In a March 2017 Taipei District Court decision, Lin Feifan, Chen Weiting, and Huang Guochang were acquitted of incitement charges.
3. Some people in Taiwan posed the following question: Can we trace it back to May-October 1895, when Imperial Japan invaded Taiwan for the first time?