The KMT’s China Policy: Gains and Failures

The KMT’s China policy under President Ma Ying-jeou has been based on four overarching aims. First, to stabilize cross-Strait relations that effectively came to a halt at the semi-official level during his predecessor Chen Shui-bian’s tenure. Second, to revive Taiwan’s economic fortunes through closer integration with the Chinese economy. Third, to balance the imperative of economic incentives with the maintenance of “national dignity”. Fourth, to roll back the “de-Sinicization” elements of Chen Shui-bian’s “Taiwanization” program by emphasizing elements of Taiwan’s Chinese cultural heritage and situating Taiwan within the framework of the greater Chinese nation. The underlying device used to pursue these aims has been the “1992 Consensus”, a rhetorical position regarding Taiwan’s status vis-à-vis China characterized by “One China, separate interpretations”. The “1992 Consensus” is controversial in Taiwan, but its ambiguities have created space for the two sides to develop a workable platform and a new level of momentum. During Ma’s tenure, this platform has yielded a number of practical agreements across several socio-economic sectors, including a limited free trade agreement, the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). When he stands down at the end of his second term in 2016, Ma Ying-jeou will leave cross-Strait relations in significantly better shape than when he began his presidency in 2008. In that sense, his China policy can be considered a success. However, such is the complicated and multifaceted nature of Taiwan’s engagement with China that Ma’s China policy cannot be measured by the tone of cross-Strait relations alone, or by the tenor of particular leaders’ personal interactions or KMT-CCP relations. Taiwan’s China policy has implications for its economy, society, foreign relations and many other policy sectors, and it remains one of the most contested arenas for domestic political competition, often, but not exclusively, refracted through the prism of national identity. Expanding our analytical lens to include these other arenas will demonstrate that the KMT’s China policy under Ma has produced mixed results that can be interpreted as successes or failures depending on one’s point of view. In this paper, we aim to provide a balanced assessment of Ma’s China policy, incorporating multiple perspectives and covering multiple policy sectors. Full paper here.

The strategy behind the Xi-Ma meeting

When Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou shake hands on Saturday in Singapore, it will be the first time in history that sitting presidents from the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China will have met each other face to face, even if they will not address each other as such. The symbolism is rich, particularly on the PRC side, where the image of a Taiwan returning to the fold is more powerful than scenes of Xi rubbing shoulders with US President Barack Obama or being received in state by the queen in Britain. The meeting is obviously a coup for Ma, a man driven by a keen sense of the Chinese nation and his personal role in its preservation. It is also great news for Beijing to serve up at home, with the Global Times pronouncing that “the Taiwan problem is no longer a problem”.

Beyond the warm and fuzzy state media coverage, the timing of the meeting reveals a lot about the intentions behind it. We are just two months away from elections in Taiwan that will almost certainly see the Democratic Progressive Party win the presidency and a legislative majority for the first time. For Beijing, which suspects DPP president Tsai Ing-wen’s “true intentions” and her capacity to keep the “secessionist tendencies” of her party’s factions in check, it is an unnerving prospect.

The last time the DPP controlled the presidency, despite facing an obstructive Kuomintang/People First Party majority in parliament, Chen Shui-bian was able to widely cement the idea of Taiwan’s distinctness and separation from the rest of China. Now, after eight years under a president who is unusually well disposed to the mainland and, in his first term at least, powerful enough to push through significant moves towards economic integration, the trends in Taiwanese public opinion are unpropitious for advocates of closer ties. Decades-long opinion polls show the Taiwanese have never been surer about their identity, and identification with Taiwan is unequivocal among the young. At this point, Beijing has decided to intervene.

In the short term, the prospect of Beijing’s intervention rescuing the KMT, which has for months been sleepwalking towards catastrophic electoral defeat, is slim. Although the KMT recently acted to remove its duly elected presidential nominee, the unificationist Hung Hsiu-chu, the machinations needed to replace her with chairman Eric Chu appear to have been a wasted effort. Tarnished by his ties to Ma and the protracted drama over his decision to run, Chu’s poll numbers are little better than Hung’s. Building on historic gains in last November’s local elections, the national campaigns have thus far been plain sailing for the DPP. Tsai has staked out popular positions on China and the economy, and gave an accomplished performance on her trip to the US. She currently enjoys a double-digit lead. Given that Ma’s unpopularity is mainly a product of a rush to embrace China, combined with his opaque decision-making – the sunflower movement was first and foremost about transparency in politics – it is difficult to see how a clandestinely arranged surprise meeting with the Chinese president will help the KMT at the polls. Full article at South China Morning Post.

Hung makes way for Chu

The New York Times has an excellent journalist, Austin Ramzy, covering developments in Taiwan. I shared some thoughts on the recent nomination snafu:

“With incredible lack of foresight, and I suspect a generous dose of ignorance and arrogance, neither Ma nor Chu appear to have sensed that choosing Hung would exacerbate an already fraught situation for the party,” Jonathan Sullivan, associate professor and director of research at the University of Nottingham’s School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, said in an email. “And for months they blithely carried on. Having made the decision to nix Hung, Chu had no choice but to run.”

“Tsai has staked out the center ground where most voters are by sticking steadfastly to ‘maintaining the status quo,’ ” Mr. Sullivan said. “It is ambiguous enough and palatable enough for most players that China policy will not be an obvious Achilles’ heel for the D.P.P. this time.”

Read the entire article here

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.

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.