The KMT, the new status quo, and Xi Jinping’s Confucianism with Taliban Characteristics

Contenders for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairmanship are being characterized in Taiwan’s English-language press as doubling down on their Chinese nationalism. Having resigned themselves to their continued wandering in the Taiwanese political wilderness which began with the 2014 Sunflower uprising, the leadership candidates are publicizing the support of retired generals and advocating a return to the ‘1992 Consensus’, a compromise in which Taiwan agrees to accept its status as a Chinese province while China accepts that Taiwan has its own interpretation of what China is.

As one writer in The Taipei Times describes it:

Who exactly were these people [the former generals]? They are hardly household names. None has a sufficiently high national profile to attract votes, and therein lies the rub: The presence of these “heavyweights” will hold no sway beyond military dependents’ villages or the deep-blue vote. Thus, it revealed Chiang’s and Chu’s modest expectations: Their ambition stops at securing the KMT leadership.

Only six months ago, as the article points out, Chiang was willing to consider scrapping the 1992 Consensus as being demographically outdated, as it no longer has any appeal to the main of Taiwanese society. Yet, he now he has a new campaign slogan: “the 1992 consensus based on the Republic of China Constitution”.

This might be a fair barometer of how quick cross-Strait relations are changing. As Taiwan’s international status has been elevating, the KMT looks more and more the anachronism, a political museum piece. Its one hope to remain relevant is to push in the opposite direction, closer to China.

But, Taiwan is a small island, and there might not be a lot of runway to get that policy aloft.

Focus Taiwan described their debate on China as follows:

Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), who is seeking reelection, said his priority is to break the ice by resuming dialogue and exchanges across the Taiwan Strait and building mutual trust between the two sides. Highlighting his proposed commission to promote peace across the Taiwan Strait and holding a national forum on future relations between Taiwan and China, he said there are many options for the next generation without resorting to military conflict….Chiang advocated the “1992 consensus based on the Republic of China Constitution,” adding that the KMT has a responsibility to prevent war across the Taiwan Strait.

…[F]ormer New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), said the KMT as an opposition party should establish a channel with China to promote social exchanges and focus less on politics. He said the KMT believes in defending the Republic of China and its love for Taiwan, and the party should not be distracted by being labeled China-leaning by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

…[F]ormer Changhua County Magistrate Cho Po-yuan (卓伯源) questioned what the DPP is doing to Taiwan when there is no public support for changing the status quo. “Were there (Chinese) military planes flying around Taiwan when the KMT was in power?” Cho asked. Cho also said if elected, he will invite Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), also general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, to visit Taiwan.

Chang Ya-chung (張亞中), president of the NGO Sun Yat-sen School, said his mission if elected KMT chairperson is to save the party, the country, and cross-Taiwan Strait relations. He would negotiate with Beijing on setting up an office in China to assist Taiwanese businessmen, students and their family members living there, Chang said.

The problem is that, at the moment, there is a new status quo: increased recognition by the international community coupled with increased threats by China, accompanied with Xi Jinping’s Talibanized Confucianism.

In order for these KMT formulas to actually work in an election, some serious changes in the new status quo will have to occur. COVID, the global economy, and political instability within China and/or the US could provide the KMT with some relief eventually, but there is nothing to indicate such an opening yet. Plus, the situation would have to become very dire indeed.

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