Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

The KMT's radical plan to win Taiwan-centric voters from the DPP

KMT Chair Eric Chu is taking a 'if you can’t beat them, join them' strategy and trying to move the party closer to the DPP

  2353
The KMT's radical plan to win Taiwan-centric voters from the DPP

Eric Chu campaign graphic source: Facebook

TAICHUNG (Taiwan News) — In a now-famous interview with the BBC right after winning re-election in 2020, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) dropped this bombshell: “We are an independent country already and we call ourselves the Republic of China (Taiwan).” In one fell stroke she flipped the entire independence debate on its head and, as a fellow columnist put it at the time: “No longer is Taiwan going to tiptoe around the notion of 'one China,' the flawed concept of 'one country, two systems,' and the fabricated '1992 consensus.'

On June 29, the Kuomintang (KMT) released a statement on their official website with the headline: “The Republic of China has always been a sovereign, independent country! The KMT is raising two points in a statement imploring (China’s) Taiwan Affairs Office to stop deceiving itself once again!” In the statement the KMT not only admitted that the PRC has held sovereignty over China since 1949, it also used a line that the Tsai administration uses: “The People’s Republic of China has never ruled Taiwan.”

The statement used some very tricky and not entirely accurate wording regarding Taiwan’s sovereignty and “one China” that tries to have it both ways, but that is the subject of a future column. The important takeaway here is that the KMT has started echoing the Tsai administration’s signature lines, and they do so in a way that is sure to attract attention.

This follows on KMT Chair Eric Chu’s (朱立倫) trip to America, where he stated the KMT was “always pro-U.S.” and “anti-communist,” was “never pro-China” and that the 1992 Consensus was a “non-consensus consensus” and was similar to “creative ambiguity.” I wrote a six-part series on why Americans should view this pivot with some caution, but also included domestic political analysis on what I thought was the underlying reason for it.

In one piece, after noting that Chu doesn’t have a history of taking strong stands and a reputation for pragmatism, I summed it up this way:

“While we cannot absolutely rule out his personally supporting this new pivot, we can be certain that he has his eye on the electability of his party. After losing two national elections in a row in landslides, he is well aware of the toxic effects of the party’s ideology at the ballot box.

It appears to have helped already, with the aforementioned TPOF poll showing a nearly 4% jump in popularity over the last month, which is when Chu made his charm offensive trip to America. However, at 18%, it still trails the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) nearly 33% support by a large margin.”

This now appears to be confirmed. On Saturday, Mirror Media published a revealing article with quotes and insights on the KMT’s strategy from a few key party figures, including an “elected representative,” “person close to Eric Chu,” “high-ranking party official” and more.

Though all the interviewees remained anonymous, they were all basically consistent regarding Eric Chu’s plans and strategies, and what they described parallels what Eric Chu has been doing publicly. In short, the article appears credible.

An “elected representative” explained that Chu’s decisions regarding this year’s local elections are entirely focused on winning, and on laying the foundation for a return to power in 2024. As I’ve noted before, Chu has largely avoided the normative primary process and has been handpicking candidates himself.

That "elected representative" explained that the chosen candidates are those who will follow the KMT’s new political line, which is “middle of the road” and “rational.” This is with an eye on enticing middle-of-the-road voters.

That lines up with Chu’s choices, for the most part, as they’re generally viewed as more moderate. It also explains why he was so insistent on blocking the nominations of deep blue hardliners Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) in Taoyuan and Chang Ya-chung (張亞中) in Kaohsiung.

According to a “party insider,” Chu’s trip to the U.S. was the launch of a plan to replace the party’s old “pro-U.S., peace with China” (親美和中) platform with a new “pro-U.S., love Taiwan” (親美愛台) one. Obviously, these catchphrases, and the ones following, sound catchier in Mandarin.

Regular readers may remember my column where I speculated that Chu is up to something regarding the 1992 Consensus, and this turned out to be true. However, there was nothing in the article that either confirmed or refuted my theory that Chu is hoping to replace it with “seeking commonality and respect differences” (求同尊異).

The "party insider" said that while the KMT still advocates for peaceful exchanges with China, the party needs to consider mainstream public opinion, international trends and other factors. Consequently, going forward, the party will propose “temporarily setting aside the 1992 Consensus controversy and debate.”

A “high-level” party source was quoted as saying: “But nowadays, current public opinion in Taiwan doesn’t wish for us to conduct cross-strait exchanges under the 1992 Consensus, so the KMT should keep up with the times and change direction towards a pragmatic political line, we don’t want to continue wasting time on these controversies.” An “elected representative” explained this is all to help dispel the negative “pro-China, sell out Taiwan” (親中賣台) label that has been pinned to the party, and to reduce the risk of being “smeared as red” (pro-China, 抹紅).

The new “pro-U.S., love Taiwan” platform, as multiple sources mentioned, is to counter what they termed as the DPP’s “anti-China, defend Taiwan” (抗中保台) platform.

The article notes that at the party conference on August 28, the plan is to launch a more fleshed-out “three-axis” platform around the themes of “pro-democracy, love Taiwan” (親民主、愛台灣), “strong national defence, defend Taiwan” (強國防、保台灣) and “want peace, protect Taiwan” (要和平、護台灣). All that’s missing is “mom’s dumplings, Taiwan boba tea.”

By the standards of the post-2000 KMT, this shift is radical. It also shows that Eric Chu understands that the political landscape has shifted dramatically since the 2014 Sunflower protests towards a far more Taiwan-centric outlook, and that the DPP has dominated the political mainstream ever since on the national level.

So, Chu is taking a “if you can’t beat them, join them” strategy and trying to move the party much closer to the DPP, and even outright cribbing their lines. He is trying to keep the party viable as an alternative to the DPP nationally, to gain voters under the age of 40 and hold off the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), and he knows he has to pull this off for the party to become more popular.

The key word, though, is “trying” — he still needs to get the party on board for this, and convince voters this shift is genuine. The challenges will be herculean on both counts.

But can he pull it off? Tune in to the next column.

Courtney Donovan Smith (石東文) is a regular contributing columnist for Taiwan News, the central Taiwan correspondent for ICRT FM100 Radio News, co-publisher of Compass Magazine, co-founder of Taiwan Report (report.tw) and former chair of the Taichung American Chamber of Commerce.