There is something very bizarre going on at the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) nowadays. Shaken by last year’s Sunflower Movement, a catastrophic showing in the November 29 nine-in-one elections and the removal of President Ma Ying-jeou as party chairman, there was every indication that the KMT would do the “rational” thing and move closer to the center so as to better align itself with the wishes of the electorate ahead of next January’s presidential and legislative elections. Instead, thanks to poor leadership by Chairman Eric Chu, Hung Hsiu-chu has emerged from left field as the prospective presidential candidate, and her platform, rather than seeking to reassure voters, reads as if it has been drafted in Beijing.
With the more moderate members of the KMT seemingly standing by, Hung has forged ahead with a radical pro-Beijing policy that has much in common with the pro-unification New Party. In fact, a new term — the “New Party-ization of the KMT” — was recently coined to describe what has been going on at the KMT. Hung, who was vitriolic in her opposition to the Sunflower Movement’s occupation of the Legislative Yuan, has also complained that controversial changes to school curricula, which present more China-centric material, are not going far enough.
The 67-year-old deputy speaker of the legislature, whose wild pronouncements in recent weeks have earned her comparisons with Sarah Palin, has also displayed an anti-American streak which is rather unusual for a party that has enjoyed decades of close relationship with the U.S. Days after Hung’s opponent, Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), returned from a 12-day, six-city visit to the U.S., Hung very vocally expressed her lack of interest in embarking on a similar visit, and went as far as humiliating KMT Chairman Chu by contradicting him on the matter.
The KMT candidate made many of her views rather clear in an April interview with the Hong Kong-based China Review News, a publication that is closely associated with the China Association for Promotion of Chinese Culture (CAPCC), a PLA General Political Department Liaison Department (GPD/LD) platform for political work against Taiwan. Much of the article reads as if was scripted by a CCP official, not someone who wishes to ensure electoral victory for the KMT, even less a candidate who is dedicated to defending Taiwan’s liberal democratic way of life.
Hung has called for ending arms procurement from the U.S., one of the cornerstones of the U.S.-Taiwan security relationship, and said that the Taiwanese should “stop complaining” about the 1,600 or so short- and medium-range missiles that China’s Second Artillery Corps is aiming at Taiwan. More dialogue with China, she said, would resolve the matter. She has also said that the new M503 flight route, which sparked a controversy in Taiwan when it was announced unilaterally by Beijing, made Taiwan “safer.”
In a statement that is sure to cause headaches for the U.S. government and the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), Hung has argued that one of the core principles of the Three Communiqués signed between the U.S. and China is the recognition of the “1992 consensus,” which isn’t only false but is historically inaccurate as the all three Communiqués were issuedbefore the supposed consensus was reached in the year it is named after (1972, 1979, and 1982).
Probably for the first time since the creation of the KMT, one of its leaders now risks alienating the military establishment, which is unlikely to look favorably on policies that, for all intents and purposes, call for its neutralization. Militaries want new weapons, greater budgets, and influence. Relegating them to an afterthought is no way to keep the top brass happy. Tsai, meanwhile, has repeatedly called for greater cooperation with the U.S. on national defense, which would conceivably include renewed efforts to increase the national defense budget and to procure weapons from U.S. arms manufacturers.
Departing from her predecessor’s “one China, different interpretations” policy, which over the years provided the flexibility that has allowed dialogue to flourish in the Taiwan Strait, Hung instead advocated a “one China, same interpretations.” Though she has yet to fully define it, the term sounds ominously like the speaking notes for the Taiwan Affairs Office of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Moreover, Hung has stated that the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait will not take Taiwan anywhere, and added that relations between Taiwan and China should move beyond the “1992 consensus,” the mechanism that has served as a platform for the two sides over the past seven years or so. All of this has made the China policies of the highly unpopular President Ma look like a careful, go-slow strategy for cross-strait relations.
Hung has surrounded herself with extremely “deep blue” advisers who played a role in last year’s abysmal bid by Sean Lien for Taipei mayor. Given Hung’s pro-Beijing stance, such a choice might not be a surprise; after all, Lien is very close to the “princelings” back in Beijing. Already, the Hung camp has resorted to the same tactics of character assassination and outright fabrication that backfired against Lien in November when he ran against Ko Wen-je, the independent candidate who prevailed in the race. Philip Yang, a former National Security Council (NSC) deputy secretary-general for President Ma who is also regarded as “deep blue,” has been tapped to be Hung’s spokesman for international affairs. And the icing on the cake: Chang An-le, the pro-unification “ex” Bamboo Union leader with ties to mainland officials, has expressed his admiration and full support for Hung, calling her a “very brave woman.”
Many members of the KMT have grown uncomfortable with the direction Hung has taken the party and her ideology, which has very little appeal across Taiwan. In fact, it is difficult to see how such a platform, which admittedly is still taking shape, could help KMT candidates attract votes in January. This discontent has been expressed on TV talk shows. Even waishengren (“mainlander”) members of the party have expressed those views, making fun of Hung and saying they hoped that she would be elbowed out by mid-July. A number of them, including hardened party members, have described Hung and her group as “pro-unification,” with a clearly negative connotation. Discontent notwithstanding, nobody within the party seems willing to take action to prevent her nomination.
Rather than try to appeal to the “light green” and undecided voters, not to mention to the majority of KMT voters who also support the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait, Hung has taken a hard turn to the right by offering policies that have succeeded in alarming just about everybody — except Beijing. By so doing, she has transformed Tsai’s DPP, which not too long ago was regarded as the “rogue” and “unpredictable” element in Taiwan politics, into the “safe” vote, into the party whose policies are most closely aligned with the majority of voters.
It is very difficult to explain Hung’s positions using a rational yardstick. At this point, nobody — KMT members included — seems to know what is going on. Whether this unprecedented departure from the norm is the result of chaos within the party, or, more darkly, collusion between Hung and the CCP, remains to be seen. What is known, however, is that the KMT’s bizarre turn is diametrically opposed to the direction in which it ought to be heading — that is, becoming more reflective of the wishes of the majority of voters in Taiwan (including traditional KMT voters) and more accountable to the public. Unless someone of influence within the party finds the strength to adopt corrective measures and stop Hung in her tracks, Taiwan’s democracy will suffer, and the KMT will regress by a solid 30 years.
The healthiest thing for Taiwan, even if this made it more difficult for the DPP to win in 2016, would be for the KMT to learn its lessons from recent events and to become more Taiwan-centric so as to better reflect the wishes of the majority. Most people in Taiwan (including this author) could live with a middle-of-the-road KMT president emerging from the 2016 elections. But the prospect of a President Hung, however remote it may be at this point, is keeping many of us awake at night.
The author is an employee of the Thinking Taiwan Foundation, a think tank launched by Tsai Ing-wen in 2012. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the institutions with which he is affiliated.