Taiwan Communiqué No. 98, September 2001

Taiwan party politics

Taiwan Solidarity Union established

After many months of suspense, August 2001 finally saw the formal establishment of a new political party in Taiwan, the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU). It is mainly made up of Kuomintang members who wanted to remain loyal to former President Lee Teng-hui and disliked the policies and dirty tactics of Lee's successor as chairman of the KMT, Mr. Lien Chan (see following story).

The prime mover behind the new party is former interior minister of the interior Huang Chu-wen, who was elected as the TSU's chairman in a festive ceremony in Taipei on Sunday, 12 August 2001. Former president Lee attended the ceremony, and praised the new party for its step, saying "I believe that the TSU will become a major power in reforming both party politics and the legislature." In the weeks following the establishment of the TSU, the 78-years old Mr. Lee went around the island, drumming up support for the TSU and its candidates for the upcoming elections.

The TSU has nominated 39 candidates, and hopes to get some 35 members elected in the 225-member Legislative Yuan. If the ruling DPP and the TSU together are able to gain a majority, they will be able to break the existing stranglehold of the Kuomintang on decision-making in the legislature. The DPP at present has 69 seats, and hopes to increase this to a level of approximately 85 seats.

In the following editorial, the Taipei Times applauds the TSU for its step.

Standing tall for Taiwan

This editorial appeared in the Taipei Times on 25 July 2001. Reprinted with permission.

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Former President Lee on the KMT's gangplank: "Do you really think I would want to stay?"

The Taiwan Solidarity Union, the pro-localization group that has been gradually coalescing, announced its name and party symbol yesterday. The group is in favor of the "special state-to-state relations" model of cross-strait relations and wants to find a solution to the bruising political brawls between the ruling and opposition parties over the past year. It hopes to expand the integration of grass-roots power to create a politically stable Taiwan.

This robust optimism contrasts sharply with the deteriorating economic situation and panicking politicians, industrialists and others who mistakenly believe that if only Taiwan could establish direct links with China, the domestic political and economic chaos would miraculously be resolved. They believe Taiwan must agree to any version of the "one China" model put forth by Beijing's leaders, open direct links and submit to Beijing's terms for cross-strait dialogue.

Comparing this kind of "China fever" that relies on external forces to the Taiwan Solidarity Union's reliance on local forces for changing the situation; the difference in attitude between the two sides is immense. The shortsightedness and opportunism of those who believe in Beijing's promises became the focus of the media once again a few days ago, when national policy advisor Hsu Wun-pin and 14 other people sent a joint letter to President Chen Shui-bian, requesting the government quickly open up direct links and accept the "one China" model.

Taiwan simply cannot accept Beijing's "one China" principle. Under "one China," Taiwan will become a part of the PRC. At the Economic Development Advisory Conference, pro-unification activists and the media attempted to force the DPP to accept the "one China" principle by promoting the idea of "one China, with each side having its own interpretation". These proponents appear to have a blind eye to China's continuous denial of the so-called "1992 consensus," an agreement supposedly reached by the two sides during the Koo-Wang talks and have never questioned or reprimanded Beijing. Their one-sided efforts at currying favor with Beijing are malicious. The people of Taiwan should recognize what it means to the nation's destiny.

Hsu and others thoughtlessly advocate the idea of "one China under the ROC Constitution's frame-work" — a ridiculous concept which makes one question the cognitive abilities of those who favor it. These people claim that one China means an ROC whose territory includes the mainland and Outer Mongolia as well as Taiwan. Such an argument might win votes from among the feeble-minded. But internationally, the KMT government's insistence on this stance led to Taiwan's ouster from the UN and other international organizations as well as the loss of diplomatic ties with many nations. Most of Taiwan's diplomatic woes can be traced back to the KMT's determination to hang onto its dated concept of "one China." Nevertheless, The People First Party is eager to revive the idea — dressing up this sow's ear — in its role as Taiwan's own Don Quixote tilting at Beijing's windmills.

China has thrown itself into an economic "united front" war against Taiwan. It uses people like Hsu Wun-pin to distract and confuse the Taiwan public while it sucks the country dry of capital and undercuts the finances of local businesses. It also tries to cover its tracks by encouraging its puppets and cohorts in Taiwan to sing the praises of "one China according to the Constitution" and shackle the DPP to the one-China pole.

Taiwan needs a clear head and determination to stand fast against the Chinese onslaught. Thankfully, it still has a few political figures willing to stand up for their principles.

The Kuomintang tries to revamp itself

In the second half of July 2001, the 16th Party Congress of the Kuomintang took place in Taipei. It was the first Party Congress after the KMT's resounding defeat in the March 2000 Presidential elections, when its candidate, Mr. Lien Chan, ran a distant third.

While the KMT tried to shift the blame for the defeat to then-President Lee Teng-hui, and forced him to resign as Party Chairman, it was Mr. Lien Chan's lackluster performance which led to the party's downfall. In the intervening period — from the Spring of 2000 to the Spring of 2001 — Mr. Lien led the Kuomintang in a damaging rear-guard battle against the new government of President Chen Shui-bian. He was able to do this, because in the Legislative Yuan _ which had been elected in 1998 _ the KMT still had a majority, which blocked each and every move of the new administration.

In the run-up to the next Legislative elections in December 2001, the KMT is now trying to revamp itself _ without much success. One of the moves of trying to present a "new" image was to propose former President Chiang Ching-kuo as the symbol for the KMT's "honesty and decency." While this may have appealed to some old Nationalist diehards, it prompted the Taipei Times to point out that CCK had been the chief of the KMT's dreaded secret police, and thus stood for repression.

The next shot in its own foot was the re-election at the KMT's Congress of Mr. Lien Chan as party Chairman. Apparently, it still didn't sink in with the party delegates that this gentleman was the prime reason for the party's slide into oblivion.

A third and final nail in the KMT's coffin was the proposal that "confederation" with China would be the new policy line of the Kuomintang, thereby formally ditching Lee Teng-hui's "state-to-state" dictum as the party's policy towards China. This proposal drew laughter and shrugging shoulders in Taiwan, as perhaps best expressed by the following editorial in the Taipei Times. Furthermore, the idea was immediately shot down by Beijing as being unacceptable.

The emperor's new clothes

This editorial appeared in the Taipei Times on 9 July 2001. Reprinted with permission.

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Will the "confederacy" proposal save the KMT's sinking ship?

Confederation? Don't waste your time. The KMT's new confederation policy can be all things to all people. For unificationists, it provides the most solid framework yet for how unification can be achieved. The majority of the population, who are in no hurry to unify, should like it because it promises the status quo (almost) forever with the removal of China's military threat. Even some realists of a pro-independence stamp might find it attractive. After all, they might reason, China is not going to renounce its claim to Taiwan, so better, perhaps, to put dreams of de jure independence aside and do a deal with China which will guarantee the de facto independence that Taiwan now enjoys. The appeal of confederation is, therefore, right across the political spectrum.

It is, however, precisely this broad appeal that should arouse suspicion. Policies that manage to appeal to the extremes usually turn out to be hollow in the center. And so it seems with the confederation idea, which is riddled with problems, that no amount of the KMT's aspirational twaddle will cut through.

A confederation is the voluntary coming together of two independent sovereignties, the better to pursue shared goals. Each of the two sovereignties retains the right to opt out of the arrangement. Each keeps whatever rights it wishes to keep and only surrenders to the central government those powers about which an agreement has been reached that a united front is better than a divided one — most usually defense and foreign affairs — while the central government usually has no power to enforce its diktats upon either of the members without their consent _ the major difference between a confederation and a federal system.

How would Taiwan and China fit into such a framework? Since apparently each side will retain their own defense institutions and conduct their own foreign affairs, it seems incumbent upon the KMT to explain just what the "confederation" will be. What aspects of Taiwan's affairs will Beijing have a say in?

Nothing that the people of Taiwan don't want it to have, seems to be the KMT's answer. That seems to be just about everything you can think of. So would there be a central government structure at all? What for? What would it do? Or is "confederation" just another word for two independent sovereignties talking to each other to coordinate, where possible, policy objectives and implementation. But this is no more than has been on offer since 1991 were Beijing willing to renounce the use of force and treat Taiwan as an equal.

So the KMT's "great breakthrough" in policy seems to be substantially meaningless. If it isn't to be so then we need to know how things would work with China which means we need to know what Beijing will accept. Nothing, appears to be the answer. Establishing a confederation would involve China's recognition of Taiwan's independent sovereignty, that Taiwan was an equal and that Taiwan could voluntarily dissolve the relationship, all of which are anathema to Beijing.

The KMT might argue that Beijing's current intransigent position is not the way to assess the viability of a new concept. This was Beijing's view before the confederation proposal. But once it realizes the obvious advantages of the idea it will change its recalcitrant ways.

In response, we can only say with some skepticism that this has to be shown, and had better be before the people of Taiwan pay any attention to the confederation idea. The KMT has devised confederation as a cross-strait panacea for the election. People will not doubt debate it at length in the months to come. But until the KMT can prove that Beijing is prepared to listen to the idea — that is, that it might actually work — there seems no reason why anybody in Taiwan should care.

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