The KMT nomination nightmare

The Kuomintang is expected to confirm Hung Hsiu-chu as its first female presidential candidate, ahead of the 2016 election, at its party congress next month. Hung, currently the deputy speaker in Taiwan’s legislature, has already passed the first step to nomination: a combined party and public vote. If, as expected, Hung’s nomination is confirmed, it will pit her head-to-head with Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party.

For an East Asian polity with a significant “Confucian heritage” still manifest in patriarchal social norms, an all-female contest for the presidency is no small matter. Many Taiwanese are rightly proud of improvements in gender equality. But the gender of the two candidates is not the real issue here.

When Tsai stood for president for the first time in 2012, gender was a conspicuous non-issue. Tsai lost, not because of her gender but because voters did not trust her hastily assembled China policy. Tsai has since sharpened her thinking on China, and has adopted a position that appeals to the moderate middle. The same cannot be said for Hung, whose views on China are not shared by the majority of Taiwanese.

Hung is an advocate of faster economic integration leading to unification. In a long and undistinguished political career, she is best known for her strident ideological views. Until now a marginal character in the KMT, Hung has a reputation for pugnacity and a sketchy electoral record. She secured the deputy speaker position as a balance to the “local wing” speaker, Wang Jin-pyng, who prizes pragmatism in terms of future political solutions. Although her father was a victim of the KMT’s White Terror, a political purge during the martial law era, Hung has shown strong commitment to the party. In a polity where pragmatism is the norm, at least at election time, Hung’s commitment to old ideals and pursuit of unification with China is unusually steadfast.

This would not be a story if Hung’s nomination were consistent with the trajectory of Taiwanese public opinion. But the attitude of the majority of the electorate is moving firmly in the opposite direction, both on China and “traditional” attitudes. Continue reading at SCMP.

Environmental Protests

Mass environmental protests continue to gain strength in China. Within the last couple of months thousands of people in different parts of the country have vocally, and in some cases violently, railed against polluting chemical plants, waste incinerator projects and coal-fired power plant expansions.

New incidents are reported every week through Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter. The most recent large-scale incident saw more than a thousand people take to the streets in the suburbs of the northern industrial city of Tianjin claiming that pollution from a nearby steel plant was carcinogenic. Just days earlier thousands of residents in Wuchuan, a city in southern Guangdong, marched on government offices to oppose plans to build a waste incinerator near their homes.

These waves of protest are unique in that they are uniting China’s working and middle classes under a common grievance. Party leaders fret about political stability and potential challenges to the regime; pollution is one of their greatest concerns. But the Chinese government is failing to address the underlying cause of this discontent – an entrenched public distrust of officialdom – and, in the long term, is risking the possible ‘joining up’ of environmental protests into a widespread movement.

The government’s search for a solution is likely to prove fruitless; its only option appears to be maintaining social unrest at a manageable and local level. For these environmental protests are striking at the heart of the Chinese governance model of ‘adaptive authoritarianism’ and exposing its limitations. The Party’s strategy in dealing with major environmental disputes that bring together local communities across all ages and classes has often been one of short-term appeasement. But when governments are known to make ad-hoc concessions to quell disorder it encourages further episodes of contention.

The anger of protestors, each fighting their own local causes, was vindicated in April when an explosion at a chemical factory producing paraxylene (commonly called PX, and used to produce polyester and plastics) in Zhangzhou, Fujian province, required the attention of the Chinese army’s anti-chemical warfare unit and the evacuation of 30,000 people. Continue reading at Forbes Asia here.

Comparative perspectives on Taiwanese democracy

Taiwan is one of a number of democracies that began their transition around the same time; sometimes referred to in Huntington’s terminology as ‘Third Wave’ democracies. Taiwan’s experience of democracy has rendered it an increasingly common subject of comparative research, further aided by participation in a number of cross national data collection projects. One of the most popular areas of comparative research is popular attitudes towards democracy. Chu et al 2008 compares attitudes in Taiwan to seven other East Asian countries, not all of them democracies, using the East Asian Barometer survey collections which are based in Taiwan. South Korea and Taiwan share a number of features in common; Confucian cultural heritage, a former developmental state, similarly timed economic miracles and transitions to democracy etc. As such they are frequently compared. Diamond and Shin 2014 (my review) is the most recent example of comparative research on various aspects of the two cases’ experience of democracy, now entering the “maturing” phase, in terms of the economy, foreign relations and politics.

Kim 2000 provides a comparison of Taiwan and Korea’s experience of democratization and environmentalism. Although environmentalism and democratization co-evolved in both cases, the environmental movements developed in very distinct ways. Tsai 2009 examines the two polities’ political development and the relationship between democratization and corruption. Political cultural and institutional arrangements in Taiwan and Korea have produced substantially different levels of corruption. Wong 2004 compares the connections between the two democratization paths on social policymaking and outcomes in the area of health and welfare. Another common topic of comparison is the KMT as a “dominant party”. Like the KMT in Taiwan, former hegemonic parties in Mexico and Japan also survived the transition to democratic competition only to weaken later on, as Solinger 2001 examines. But written just after the KMT lost the presidency in 2000, it does not prefigure the KMT’s resurgence since 2008. As a former Japanese colony with numerous aspects of the political system inherited from the former colonizers, comparisons between Taiwan and Japan are also common. Lin 2006 examines the two polities’ reform trajectories, while Grofman et al 1999 compare the nature and effects of the SNTV electoral system on party and voting behaviour.

Taiwan is a predominantly Chinese cultural context where the political and developmental trajectories are distinct from those in China. As such, there has been much interest in what Taiwan’s democratization might mean for China. Tsang and Tien 1999 collects a number of perspectives on the implications of Taiwan’s successful transition to democracy for mainland China, where economic reform and remarkable economic growth has not, as yet, been accompanied by political liberalization. Gilley and Diamond 2008 approach the issue from a slightly different starting point, looking first at developments in China and comparing them to what has previously gone on in Taiwan. Dickson 1997 presents a detailed comparative analysis of the authoritarian KMT and CCP with a view to identifying similarities and differences in the reform trajectories of each.

Scholars are not alone in their interest in Taiwanese elections, which have been closely monitored by various interested parties in China. Han 2007 investigates how Chinese media report on “presidential” elections in Taiwan. Authorities in China have long been keen observers of political developments in Taiwan; this article provides an empirical study of how Taiwan’s experience is framed in state and commercial media in China. Diamond and Myers 2001 present a range of different assessments on the prospects for political reform in China, with reference to developments in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Focusing on individual attitudes, rather than the KMT and CCP, Shi 2001 compares a range of cultural values and political attitudes among Taiwanese and mainland Chinese citizens. Shi’s empirical investigation based on survey data collected in the early 1990s, compares the effects and implications of culture on political trust in two polities with cultural similarities but different political systems. Full bibliography here.

National identity & Taiwanese nationalism

Throughout democratization and into the democratic era, questions around national identity, Taiwan’s current and future status, and relations with China have been an inescapable and highly contested feature of the political landscape. Indeed, as the sophisticated study by Wachman 1994 shows, national identity and nationalist themes evolved or co-evolved as the major cleavage in Taiwanese society as democratization processes expanded and deepened with democratization. Another good starting point for investigating the complexities of national identity, particularly in terms of individual understandings, is the collection of Corcuff 2002. This edited volume provides some very strong contributions primarily employing an historical and sociological approach.

Brown 2004 demonstrates the fluidity and constructed nature of identity, even when it is built on supposedly more “solid” foundations such as ethnicity. The study is based on meticulous ethnographic case studies and historical data analysis focusing on the place of indigenous peoples and the competing constructions of their identity in various time periods. Like Brown, Philips 2003 demonstrates how contemporary conflicts over identity are rooted in processes that began much earlier, in Philips’ case during the five year period between the end of Japanese colonialism and the establishment of the KMT regime on Taiwan. This is an important historical study covering the crucial, and often overlooked, period between the end of the Pacific war and the relocation of the KMT regime in Taiwan. China’s claim to Taiwan is rooted in historical arguments, but as Hughes 1997 demonstrates, it is also fluid and subject to interpretations and constructions that are mutable across time.

Jacobs and Liu 2007 is a close study of Lee Teng-hui’s thinking on Taiwanese subjectivity and expressions of Taiwan consciousness. It focuses on the significant role of the former President in the emergence of Taiwanese nationalism and provides a careful account of the complexities of Lee’s legacy as President. In many ways, Lee established the possibility for Chen Shui-bian to pursue his Taiwan nationalism project, which is well covered by Cabestan 2005. The sophisticated analysis developed in Lynch 2004 suggests that Chen had embarked on an attempt to effectively re-imagine the Taiwanese nation.

While Chen’s “nation-building” effort was often interpreted as indicating “Taiwan independence”, the empirical analysis of thousands of Chen’s speeches by Sullivan and Lowe 2010 shows that Chen frequently avoided references to sovereignty in favour of “non-threatening” expressions of Taiwan identity. This article provides a systematic analysis of Chen’s presidential discourse on various themes of Taiwanese nationalism, and argues that interpretations of Chen’s independence seeking were overblown. Furthermore, Chen’s position on Taiwan’s status was actually less far removed from his opponents in the KMT than one might imagine. Indeed, Schubert 2004 argues that the DPP and KMT positions on sovereignty and national status converged through the 1990s essentially coalescing around Lee Teng-hui’s notions about ROC sovereignty. The KMT’s tilt towards China is picked up by some of the chapters in Cabestan and DeLisle 2014.

While much of the literature on national identity in Taiwan reasonably focuses on the national level, local politics have a significant influence on governance and political culture in particular. Chao 1992 looks at the continuities and evolution in local politics before and after democratization began. One of things that Chao notes is the tension between the local and national level. This tension is examined explicitly in an earlier paper, Lerman 1977, which compares the central government elites with their notions of upholding ‘true’ Chinese culture and reminiscence to Confucian gentry, and their earthier local government counterparts. This pioneering article on the conflicting political cultures of KMT elites and local politicians sets the scene for further work on the emergence of the local, i.e. Taiwanese, opposition movement.

The interactions between and among local and national factions are further analysed in Chen 1995, a dense study of the role of political factions in the post-war, authoritarian and democratization periods. Interest, class and sub-ethnic based divisions at the local level, which would emerge with greater force during the later democratization period, were also manifest in the limited elections that were held almost continuously since the 1950s. Chao and Myers 2000 examine the role of these electoral contests as a ‘pressure valve’ that allowed people with grievances against the ruling party to let off steam. They also helped the KMT channel resources to supporters, a key element of local elections. Bibliography here.

Political culture and social movements

Substantial academic interest in Taiwan has coalesced around the diverse set of norms and behaviours captured by the rubric political culture. The role of patronage, personal networks and guanxi represent a perennial scholarly preoccupation. There is no better starting point for investigating the effects of these phenomena than Bosco 1992, a pioneering study on local factions. This classic article provides a compelling analysis of the workings and connections between the central institutions of state and agents at the local level, with a particular focus on the centrality of personal relationships in facilitating political behaviours. Another ground-breaking study on the importance of personal connections and feelings, based on ethnographic fieldwork, is Jacobs 1979, which made a substantial contribution to our understanding of the contours and dynamics of political relationships in Taiwan. These dynamics and relationships are openly manifest in the campaign practices of local campaigns, as shown by Mattlin 2004, a fine grained study based on extensive fieldwork of party organization and mobilization structures and behaviours during election campaigns.

As Gobel 2012 shows, alliances and factions are also moulded by exogenous conditions, such as changes in the way that resources can be accessed via electoral competition. “Political” relationships are not restricted to alliances between politicians or between candidates and voters. Indeed, as the classic work represented in Chin 2003 shows, Taiwanese politics throughout the democratization period, particularly under Lee Teng-hui, were shaped by a complex interdependence between the KMT, business and organized crime. Indeed the “politics, business and crime nexus”, established under KMT one party rule as a means of propagating its control over society, became even more salient as the KMT prepared itself to face democratic competition. Refocusing the analytic lens, Ling and Shi 1998 examine the effects of Taiwan’s Confucian cultural heritage on democratic attitudes. The collection presented in Paolino and Meernik 2008 focuses on support for democracy, public trust and other attitudes at the individual level using large-scale survey data. This edited volume is also a useful introduction to the kind of empirical work being done with the aid of national data collection projects like the Taiwan Election and Democratization Survey (TEDS) which allow the contributors to probe voting behaviour, democratic attitudes and national identity.

A different dimension of political culture, Taiwanese cultural nationalism, is comprehensively dissected by Hsiau 2000, the classic study of Taiwanese identity and nationalism from the Japanese colonial period through one party rule to the democratization era, with a focus on the roles of language, literature and history in constructions of Taiwanese and Chineseness. Hsiau 2010 examines the cultural transformation of Taiwanese society, which exerted a powerful influence on the nascent opposition movement, tracing it back to intellectuals in the 1970s who themselves looked back in time to the Japanese colonial period to seek understandings of Taiwaneseness.

With the gradual opening of civil society space, activists and ordinary citizens had the opportunity to get their voices heard and fight for their interests. In the early stages of democratization, much of this energy went into the fight for democratic reform and other issues relating to national identity, as Tu 1996 demonstrates. There is also a long history of social movements in various other sectors, which is described in Ho 2010, a careful analysis of the different phases that social movement organization went through in the previous two decades, up to and including the recent resurgence of civic protest movements under Ma Ying-jeou. The earlier work of Hsiao 1990 focuses on the emergence of the conditions that allowed social movements to emerge in the 1980s. In later work, Hsiao 2002 focuses on the political and cultural “paradigm shifts” that transformed values, attitudes and expectations of Taiwanese citizens.

Among the more important social movements are the ones pertaining to the environment and the anti-nuclear movement and described by Ho 2003. The close connections between democratization and environmentalism (the ambiguities of the environmental movement long being tied to the DPP), and the challenge that both presented to the ruling KMT, are analysed in Tang and Tang 1997. The article focuses on the response of the KMT, as the sponsor of polluting industries, to the local politicians and civic groups that coalesced around the environmental movement and provides a convincing explanation of the success and failure of co-optation at various locales in Taiwan. Perhaps no other sector so aptly symbolizes the local effects of globalization, which is encapsulated in the analysis of environmental activism in Kaohsiung presented in Lee 2007. During Taiwan’s rapid economic growth phase, Kaohsiung, one of the world’s busiest ports, was a byword for environmental pollution and degradation. Now it is routinely held up as a success story for placing the environment at the centre of urban politics. Tang 2003 is a study of urban politics in the context of the northern wetlands, examining the relationship between local political actors, pressures from civil society actors and policies that tend towards promoting growth or environmental protection. Bibliography here.

Political parties in Taiwan: Short intro & annotated reading list

Political parties have played a determining role in the shape and outcome of democratization processes in Taiwan. For much of the early democratization era the KMT was the only party, and much research has focused on the behaviour, composition and evolution of the party. Hood 1997 provides a balanced analysis of the contribution of the KMT to political liberalization, which acknowledges the external pressures on the party and the rise of the Dangwai opposition movement. It is particularly valuable for the insights it gives into the competition within the KMT. Rigger 2001 is the most authoritative account of the growth of the Dangwai and the transformation into the DPP in 1986. Rigger’s detailed and nuanced analysis charts the DPP’s emergence as a major political party, up to the point that Chen Shui-bian won the presidency. Chen’s victory (albeit a minority winner in a three horse race) appeared to mark a turning point in Taiwan’s political history, and (at the time) perhaps the start of the KMT’s decline as has happened to other one party regimes after democratization. The sense of uncertainty comes through in the analysis of the party’s disastrous presidential campaign provided by Hsieh 2001. It is useful to keep this in mind given the KMT’s resurgence in 2008 and predicted futility in 2016: party fortunes are cyclical and long periods of governing are frequently followed by difficult elections and periods in opposition. Despite Chen’s landmark and surprise victory, the DPP was ill equipped to govern, especially in the context of incomplete reforms, divided government and KMT obstructionism, as Wu 2002 demonstrates. The article benefits from being written by a US trained political scientist turned DPP politician who served as Taiwan’s representative to the US under Chen.

The DPP is by far the most successful and enduring of the parties established on Taiwan (i.e. not the KMT which was established in China), outlasting the Chinese New Party, Taiwan Solidarity Union and People First Party among others. Taiwan has evolved into a multi-party democracy, although the parameters of political competition are dominated by the KMT and DPP. As one strand of political science would predict, the two major parties converged on major issues as democratization progressed. Party preferences over time on a range of issues are analysed in the pioneering work of Fell 2005, an indispensable study of party politics, specifically focusing on party positions on various issues across a crucial period in Taiwan’s democratization process. Dense empirical analysis of party materials combined with interviews of party politicians make this the most authoritative work focusing on Taiwanese parties in the 1990s.

However, it is not just issues that differentiate parties or electoral candidates. Bosco 1994 presents a detailed picture of how factions intersect with issues and ideology to affect the mobilization of voters and electoral outcomes. Similarly, Hood 1996discusses the effects of democratization on the behaviour of KMT factions, and the refocusing of factional mobilization on delivering votes. Factions can also influence who is nominated for election, as Fell 2013 and Fell et al. 2014 show in their analyses of how parties select their electoral candidates. Candidate selection processes have changed over time partly in response to changing rules. Lin 2000 (another US trained political scientist turned DPP politician) shows that parties are highly adaptive to changes in the political environment, in particular showing how they have responded to the expansion of electoral competition. Focusing on a different aspect of political parties, Chen 2000 analyses the composition of party support across time, focusing on variables at the voter level across three different generations.

For much of Taiwan’s political history since 1945, the Legislative Yuan has been a marginal political institution. With democratization, the disbanding of the obsolete National Assembly and constitutional reforms, the Legislature has become much more influential. As the DPP found to its cost, controlling the legislature is a crucial source of power for a party wanting to implement or block a policy agenda. The transformation of the Legislature (from “rubber stamp” to “roaring lion”) is captured by Liao 2005, a historical analysis of the institution from 1950 to 2000. The relationship of the Legislature to other branches of government, and the nature of Taiwan’s political system, is not totally clear-cut, as Kucera 2002 shows.

The incomplete reforms enacted in the mid-1990s created great difficulties under conditions of divided government after 2000. Liao and Chien 2005 explore these difficulties with a close examination of the ROC Constitution. In addition to the Legislature’s position within the political system, another research interest concerns legislative elections and the electoral system used to elect legislators. Nathan 1993 analyzes the first non-supplementary election in 1992 while Chu and Diamond 1999 assess the effects of the 1998 legislative election on the consolidation of democracy. Of particular interest to Taiwan scholars and comparative political scientists, has been the SNTV electoral system, which was in effect prior to 2008, making Taiwan the last polity in the world to use it. Tsai 2005 focuses on the effects of SNTV on party strategy with regard to policy positions and factions while Hsieh and Niemi 1999 looks at the systemic effects of SNTV. Legislative elections since 2008, when the number of seats available was also halved, have taken place under the new and supposedly fairer MMD system. O’Neill 2013 assesses this supposition by comparing the performance of the DPP under the new and old systems. Bibliography here

The ROC President: A short introduction and bibliography

The ROC President is the single most visible political actor in Taiwan and much of the literature charting Taiwan’s progress towards democracy and democratic consolidation has focused on respective presidencies. Although Chiang Kai-shek cannot take any credit for the political liberalization that occurred after his death, he was the dominant political figure in Taiwan for almost three decades until 1975 (although his power was derived from heading the KMT and military rather than the ROC Presidency). The definitive study of Chiang’s life is Taylor (2011). Much of the book concentrates on the period of Chiang’s rule over China and the civil war, but there is some excellent coverage of Chiang’s relationship with the US after the relocation to Taiwan, including the period up to the normalization of relations between the PRC and US (and the implications for Chiang and Taiwan). Chiang’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, had a greater role to play in the transition towards democratization, although the extent of his contribution and willingness to liberalize is still much debated. The complexities and ambiguities of Chiang Jr’s political life are expertly covered in Taylor (2009). If the seeds of liberalization were sown during Chiang’s tenure, they bloomed under President Lee Teng-hui, which is reflected in one of his nicknames ‘Mr Democracy’. But Lee’s tenure was not completely straightforward. Chao et al (2002) provides a collection of sophisticated analyses bringing out the differences between Lee’s unelected tenure when he was instrumental in pushing institutional and constitutional reform alongside continued economic growth and the preservation of the ROC, and the period after 1996, when decision-making appeared more arbitrary, corruption flourished and relations with China deteriorated as his discourse moved away from ‘one China’ to his ‘two states theory’. Lee and Wang (2003) sets Lee’s presidency within the context of battles within the ruling KMT, and demonstrates that the move toward democratization in the 1990s was not inevitable.Alagappa (2003) provides an assessment the Lee era and immediate reactions to the 2000 presidential election.

When the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian surprisingly won the presidency in 2000, as a result of a split in the KMT, some observers argued that democracy had been consolidated in Taiwan. But under the conditions of divided government, KMT obstructionism and the DPP’s lack of governance capacity created intractable problems for Chen’s reform agenda, as the essays in Goldstein and Chang (2008) show. With their focus on partisan battles, divided government and polarizing ethnic politics Copper (2009) and Chu (2005) emblematic of one strain of scholarship that suggests that democracy was not in fact consolidated by Chen’s victory in 2000 and that the Chen era was a wasted opportunity in which reforms stagnated. Much scholarship on the Chen era is divided by finding fault in KMT obstructionism or Chen’s intransigence; these articles lean towards the latter in seeking an explanation for a difficult period in Taiwan’s democracy. Rigger (2002) on the other hand finds fault in the institutional design that rendered the ROC President relatively weak (particularly under conditions of divided government). Cabestan and DeLisle (2014) gives an overview of the Ma Ying-jeou era from 2008 until his re-election in 2012, with much coverage centred on economic policy and dissecting the means and implications of Ma’s rapprochement with Beijing. It is the most authoritative and comprehensive analysis of developments during Ma’s first administration.

Elections have provided many of the milestones in Taiwan’s journey to democracy, and elections for the highest office have commanded much scholarly attention since the first direct election in 1996. The drama of the campaign in 1996, preceded by the intrusion of Chinese missiles off the coast of Taiwan, and featuring open conflict between conservative and progressive elements in the KMT, is ably captured in Rawnsley (1997). This article also provides an early account of the evolving political communications environment.  Splits in the KMT did not prevent a comfortable victory for Lee Teng-hui in 1996, but the independent candidacy of James Soong in 2000 would allow Chen Shui-bian to sneak home with 39% of the vote. The result represented a milestone in Taiwan’s democratization: the first change of ruling parties. Diamond (2003)provides a compelling account of the behind-the-scenes strategy and machinations that led to President Lee nominating Lien Chan thereby setting off the train reaction that would see Chen into the Presidential Palace. Approaching the surprise result from the opposite side, Niou and Paolini (2003) investigates the behaviour of voters, and provide a precise quantitative assessment of the effects of Lien and Soong splitting the KMT/blue vote.

Seeking to avoid such a split in 2004, Lien and Soong joined forces to try to spoil Chen’s quest for re-election. In a memorably bitter campaign, Chen prevailed in controversial circumstances, after surviving an apparent assassination attempt on election eve. Clark (2004) provides a detailed account of the campaign and the party’s campaign strategies. One of the masterstrokes of the Chen campaign was to use the presidential agenda setting power to tie a defensive referendum to his Taiwan identity project. Kao (2004) provides a clear analysis of Chen’s clever, and clearly instrumental, use of the defensive referendum which helped him frame the campaign on his preferred terms. Taiwan identity was at the heart of this campaign, the parameters and effects of which are well covered in Corcuff (2004) and Bedford & Hwang (2006). Chen’s second term was tainted by corruption and continuing governance problems, which Ma Ying-jeou pledged to turn around. Ma Ying-jeou’s landslide election in 2008 ushered in a new direction in Taiwanese politics, particularly in terms of economic policy and relations with China, and the election is well covered by Muyard (2008). Ma’s first term brought breakthroughs in cross-Strait relations, including signing a limited Free Trade Agreement with China. It also saw economic problems and question of personal effectiveness. As Tsang (2012) recounts, in the end Ma was comfortably re-elected, despite a strong challenge from the DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen, who will run again in 2016.