Beijing fails to congratulate Taiwan KMT's new chairman

China fails to issue congratulatory message to reform-minded KMT chairman for first time in 15 years

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Xi Jinping. 

Xi Jinping.  (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Beijing failed to send its standard congratulatory telegram after the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party selected reformist Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) as party chairman on Saturday (March 7), in a possible sign that it disapproves of his stance on the "1992 Consensus."

Members of the KMT on Saturday elected Chiang, a legislator and former Cabinet spokesman, as their chairman in what was seen as a victory for reformists. In Saturday’s vote, Chiang defeated Hau Lung-pin (郝龍斌), a former Taipei City mayor who was once chairman of the small pro-unification New Party, by 84,860 votes to 38,483, according to cable news station TVBS.

In his victory speech, Chiang promised he would bring about changes in the party within a year. During the campaign, he hinted the KMT might abandon the "1992 Consensus," an alleged agreement that Taiwan and Communist China both recognize "one China" but that each side has the right to maintain its own version of what that "one China" could be.

Since the KMT's Central Committee announced Chiang's win at 7 p.m. on Saturday, China has failed to send a congratulatory telegram, breaking a 15-year convention between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the KMT. In previous cases, China's Chairman Xi Jinping (習近平), as General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, would send a congratulatory message to the new KMT chairman.

On Sunday afternoon (March 8), Chiang issued a statement saying that he "respects the consideration of the CCP authorities" and asserted that the lack of a congratulatory telegram would not affect the pace of reforming the KMT, reported CNA. Chiang added that "Perhaps it illustrates my election not only gives Taiwanese society a new perspective, but also gives China a new perspective."

CNA cited a KMT insider as saying that the CCP's failure to send a congratulatory message to Chiang could be related to his calls for doing away with the "1992 Consensus" and indicates it is taking a "wait-and-see approach." The source suggested that the CCP's silence on the issue may embolden Chiang to make adjustments to the "1992 Consensus," especially given that Chiang won by a wide margin.

Hong Kong news commentator Johnny Lau Yui-Siu (劉銳紹) told Apple Daily that cross-strait relations are a real problem for the KMT. "The Chinese Communist Party has no idea about Johhny Chiang at the moment. It is worried that he will break away from the existing political foundation of the two parties after reforming the KMT," said Lau.

Lau believes that Beijing is sill observing Chiang, which is the main reason why it has not sent a congratulatory message.

On Saturday evening, Zhu Fenglian (朱鳳蓮), deputy director of the news department of China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), issued a statement which expressed the hope that Chiang would "cherish and uphold the political foundation of the Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Party," which would be accomplished by "adhering to the '1992 Consensus' and opposing Taiwan independence," reported the Liberty Times.

On Sunday evening, China's state-run mouthpiece Xinhua published an op-ed in which it claimed that "blaming the KMT's defeat on the '1992 Consensus' is a misjudgment completely divorced from the facts," and added that "It is absurd to think that the KMT's problems can be easily solved if the '1992 Consensus' is abandoned."

The KMT suffered a landslide defeat to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in the presidential and legislative elections earlier this year. As a result, Party Chair Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and the members of the Central Executive Committee resigned.

In addition to Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), who was seen by some as unsuitable to represent the KMT as a presidential candidate, the party’s conservative policies, including taking sides with anti-gay marriage advocacy groups and calls for closer economic and political ties with Communist China, are thought to be factors distancing the party from young voters, who are generally more progressive and independence-leaning.

Former KMT Legislator Su Chi (蘇起) has admitted on multiple occasions that he introduced the concept of the "1992 consensus" in 2000, before the KMT administration handed over power to the Chen Shui-bian administration. The idea was to suggest that the governments of Taiwan and China could both entertain their own idea of what "One China" actually means.

Throughout the intervening years, the term has become fossilized in the ideology underpinning the KMT's party platform as a symbolic expression of the KMT's historical ties to China and been wielded as a political cudgel to attack the DPP. Subsequently, Beijing took a cue from the KMT's criticisms of the Chen administration and the DPP and seized on the "consensus agreement of 1992," transforming it further into a mantra for China's own cross-strait policy, refashioning the slogan into a "prerequisite" that must be "honored" before meaningful cross-strait dialogue can be achieved.

When Tsai first took office in 2016, she refused to recognize the "1992 Consensus," and only acknowledged that the 1992 Taiwan-China talks were a "historical fact." In response, China has been seeking to punish Taiwan by excluding it from international organizations, stealing away diplomatic allies, and intimidating government bodies and corporations, such as airlines, to de-list Taiwan as a country.