Taiwan Needs Some KMT Straight Talk

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Tuesday April 18, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

As May 20 approaches, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is again gearing up to select its chairperson. Concern fills the air and candidates are putting forth their positions. Former Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin states that the KMT must win at least two of the six special municipalities in next year's local elections if it wants to stay in the game.

Former KMT vice chairman Steve Chan countered that the party's blue funk can only be solved by gaining ground in the green south. Meanwhile incumbent chairperson, Hung Hsu-chiu is going all out by preparing a wide-ranging platform of goals for the party.

Whomever the KMT chooses will impact the party's future in Taiwan. However, from Taiwan's side, deeper and far more reaching questions must be answered in addition to who is the chairperson.

Does the KMT really have a central guiding thought or unifying Taiwan-centric paradigm that not only governs its actions but also justifies whether its members should be considered for any government office in Taiwan? And if so, how does this paradigmatic perception bring together the KMT's supposed vision and the interrelated realities of democracy, Taiwan, and China. It is a time for honesty and not euphemistic wordplay, something that has always been a problem for the KMT.

First of all, begin with the matter the Chinese Civil War. This may seem a strange starting point since it ended in 1949 with the victory of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over the KMT but it opens the gates for the necessary related questions where honesty has often been lacking.

In 1949, the CCP created the People's Republic of China (PRC) while the KMT fled to Taiwan where it justified its one-party state rule of the island under the name of the Republic of China (ROC) and its Constitution of 1947.

However, when the San Francisco Peace Treaty (SFPT) that ended World War II was formally enacted in 1952, Japan gave up its rights to Taiwan but did not specify giving the island to any nation leaving the possibility that Taiwanese would finally have the right to self-determination under the charter of the UN. The seeds of a rights dispute are here and it begs the question: is the KMT basically a party of squatters and carpetbaggers?

Japan would later make treaties with the ROC and the PRC after it had already surrendered Taiwan but it could not give Taiwan to either of them since it had already surrendered Taiwan. A nation cannot give away a second time something that it no longer has.

Return then to the Chinese Civil War, what was it all about? Millions died in it and the CCP won. However the war between the KMT and CCP was never a fight for democracy in China. Instead, despite all the rhetoric, it was a war for control of China by two "megalomaniac leaders" who each basically wanted to be an emperor. Mao Zedong fought under the name of communist socialism and Chiang Kai-shek under the name of democracy but while each gave lip service to a people's democracy, neither really wanted the government of the people, by the people and for the people that Sun Yat-sen had advocated.

Civil war hostilities have long ceased. Nonetheless, on the CCP side, its position is quite simple and clear. It won the Chinese Civil War. And even though Japan did not give Taiwan to the PRC, it considers Taiwan a part of "one China." In short, it speaks of Taiwan as a renegade province, which if it declares independence, that declaration will justify the PRC declaring war on Taiwan.

However, our focus here is on the KMT's position where the waters are much muddier and the fact that the KMT will soon be electing its chairperson.

How does the KMT view its attachment to China and the end of the Chinese Civil War? The CCP certainly considers itself as the victor, but what about the KMT? Since it cannot claim victory, does the KMT admit that it lost the civil war? Or does it project that the war ended in a stalemate, a draw with the PRC ruling China and the KMT controlling (at least until the end of Martial Law in 1987) Taiwan?

Does the KMT still consider that the ROC is the legitimate government of China? Or does it consider there to be more than one legitimate government of China? KMT leaders are torn here because they feel obligated to maintain a "one China" policy, but if there is "one China" which government is the legitimate government of China?

Here the KMT vagueness in discourse begins to multiply. Some members hold to the belief in one country (China) and two areas, namely the free area of Taiwan and the mainland area under the PRC. This allows the claim that the KMT did not officially lose the war, but only control over the vast continental area.

The PRC had promoted "one country, two systems" model but that died a quick death when the CCP promise of free elections for Hong Kong twenty years after 1997 recently went up in smoke.

The genius for Taiwanese has repeatedly been to have the courage and ability to frankly assess their situation and realize that salvation must always come from their inner commitment.

Return to the KMT. Some have favored the terminology of "one country and two interpretations." The PRC interpretation is clear and straightforward, but the KMT interpretation brings us back to the question of whether the KMT considers that the ROC is the lawful government of "all China." Yet even this raises other questions such as the independence of Mongolia. The PRC has long recognized Mongolia as an independent country but the ROC treats it as part of "one China."

Sidestepping euphemisms remain part and parcel of the KMT discourse. In most of the above interpretations, perpetuation of the ROC allows the KMT to declare that it never fully lost the civil war. Yet given that Japan gave Taiwan to neither the PRC nor the ROC, did that make the KMT a government in exile or diaspora?

Here, resort to euphemisms affects Taiwan's stolen state assets. The latest KMT claim that most of Japanese assets on Taiwan belong to the KMT because its members suffered cruelties in China's war of resistance against Japan. This KMT appropriation was allegedly formalized in 1954, long after the end of the Chinese Civil War and even after the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which did not give Taiwan to the KMT. The KMT party's claim for Taiwanese assets remains bogus.

The legitimacy of the ROC along with the KMT's claim to China fell when the ROC was about to be "kicked out" of the UN in 1971 and replaced by the PRC. Here again, KMT euphemisms abound. The KMT can technically claim that it was not kicked out because it technically left before the vote to remove it could be held. An equivalent of this is the blustering person who when he is about to be sacked cries out: "You can't fire me, I quit."

In the past, Chiang Kai-shek justified quitting the UN before being voted out with the euphemism that "gentlemen do not sit down with thieves." However now that KMT generals enjoy being wined and dined by their former enemy CCP generals in China, different questions arise. Are the thieves of Taiwan dining with those of China? Or were either ever gentlemen in the first place?

Conscious of this current collaboration, it seems that a new euphemism has entered the KMT lexicon; it explains its quick UN departure as a "strategic error." Could this same euphemism be used to explain the KMT's losing all of China?

Honesty in both explaining and justifying the past has never been a strong point of the KMT.

However for Taiwanese at the end of the day the ultimate question is this: What is the KMT's stance on Taiwan and its democracy? Taiwan's hard won democracy is essential to the nation's survival. Is this something that is non-negotiable in any dealings with China? Or does the KMT still see Taiwan as a part of China and sees it as a bargaining chip to gain a back door entry to what it sees as the motherland?

These are questions that the Taiwanese have a right to know before even letting any KMT person hold office. And they are questions that the KMT should ask anyone wanting to be its chairperson. It is time to demand straightforward answers and stop using euphemisms to beat around the bush.