Pinning down Chu's "One Taiwan"

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Wednesday December 23, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

With the Jan. 16 presidential and legislative elections around the corner, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Eric Chu has chosen "One Taiwan" as his campaign slogan. It is a catchy slogan and far better than the "Taiwan Up" cry that left many puzzled when they saw it blazoned across Taipei 101 and heard President Ma Ying-jeou and then Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin chanting it as Taiwan entered 2010.

However, Chu's choice of slogan does point up some inconsistencies.

The first is that barely a few months ago when Chu met Chinese President Xi Jinping, Chu agreed with Xi that cross-strait matters should be settled solely under the framework of "one China." The contrast between these two phrases has left many wondering whether Chu speaks out of both sides of his mouth? Does he use the phrase "one China" on one side of the Taiwan Strait, and "One Taiwan" on the other side? Is Taiwan a part of China in his view? What relationship does Chu see between "one Taiwan" and "one China"?

Allowances for campaign rhetoric can be made but the question remains especially as Beijing forbids the use of Taiwan in any national arena or context and insists on the less contentious epithet "Chinese Taipei." Chu's ambivalence exposes deeper fractures in the continuously changing KMT discourse on the Republic of China (ROC) and raises the question: Why has it changed so drastically?

In 1949, when the KMT lost the Chinese Civil War and fled to Taiwan, the discourse was completely different. The rhetoric then was all about retaking the mainland and driving out the Chinese Communist Party "bandits." This even led to a variety of minor attempts that culminated in Project National Glory a secret program that ran between 1961 and 1972. That plan had disastrous results particularly in August 1965, when one venture, "Tsunami No. 1," left many Taiwanese at the bottom of the sea.

Project National Glory and the dream of retaking China steadily waned after the ROC was "kicked out" of the UN in 1971. By 1979, when the United States moved its embassy from Taipei to Beijing and fully recognized the People's Republic of China (PRC), the idea of retaking China began to look like a fading dream.

Nonetheless, the discourse within the KMT did alter to meet the changing situation: it became less ambitious but there was still the idea of separation.

In 1979, former president Chiang Ching-kuo came up with his three noes those of "no contact, no compromise, and no negotiations" to show that the ROC would not be coerced into any peace talks. The "three noes" remained in effect until May 1986 when a Taiwanese pilot hijacked a China Airlines cargo flight and the ROC did have to send some "unofficial delegates" to talk to the PRC to negotiate about getting the aircraft back.

In the following year, Chiang relaxed his stance and began to allow aging ROC soldiers to contact family members who had been left behind in China nearly 40 years before. As these soldiers were reaching retirement age, this was a humanitarian gesture. However, along with the humanitarian aspects, at the same time the ROC was allowing a multiparty political system to develop.

Was this change from the "three noes," related or tangential to the KMT no longer running the nation as a one-party state?

By 1990, the PRC and the ROC had learned to live side by side, and in 1991, President Lee Teng-hui further eased restrictions by officially abolishing the "Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion." This continued to enhance a change in rhetoric. During the next year, the two nations had meetings to discuss how to exchange mail and whether they would recognize each other's university degrees. These discussions would later become the source of the fabricated term "1992 consensus," - a term former Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi invented in 2000. Again was the timing a coincidence or an indication that the KMT was motivated by the fact that in 2000 they lost control of the nation for the first time?

Lee, who was president of Taiwan from 1988 to 2000 ruled during the period that would engulf the "1992 consensus." Ironically Lee has denied that the term ever expressed the idea of "one nation with two interpretations." Lee's main contribution to the KMT discourse on cross-strait ties was when he described exchanges between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait as being held "nation to nation" during an interview with the German radio magazine Deutsch Welle in 1999.

Lee would be kicked out of the KMT in the year 2000 and blamed when former presidential candidate Lien Chan - who never won a free election in his life - fared very poorly in the polls barely garnering 23.1 % of the vote.

The KMT subsequently changed its discourse again when Ma Ying-jeou became president in 2008. Now not only had the KMT totally forsaken Chiang's "three noes" but it also seemed to be saying that all matters related to cross-strait ties were open to interpretation.

Ma implied or seemed to wish that the PRC would just agree that "his one government" was as valid as Beijing's. Ma would cling to the facade that the Constitution is adequate to determine the nation's stance on cross-strait exchanges, although the ROC flag was often hidden when Chinese delegates visited Taiwan and Ma avoided naming the ROC in talks with China.

During Ma's tenure the KMT discourse quickly became filled with vagaries and became aimed at the economic enrichment of both sides. It also sought to find a way to persuade the PRC would let the KMT back into the fold of "One China."

Over the years, Taiwan's democracy has evolved and there is a strong possibility that in next month's elections the KMT will not only lose the presidency but also control of the Legislative Yuan. In this context, what does Eric Chu then mean when he says "One Taiwan"? Does he equate it with "one China"? How does he see "One Taiwan" expressing both the PRC's "one China" and that of the ROC Constitution?

These are the questions of discourse that must be put to Chu and the KMT. The PRC is growing into an oligarchy that benefits the privileged few, and Taiwanese can legitimately ask whether the KMT is giving up its discourse of championing democracy? Is the KMT's ideological base being forsaken? Or was democracy always only a matter of rhetoric and discourse for the KMT from the outset?