KMT Must Reclaim Ability to Advocate for the R.O.C.
United Daily News, June 20, 2020
Under constant assault from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and opposition Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), the Kuomintang (KMT) announced on June 19 reforms on four fronts: organizational reform, youth participation, cross-strait discourse and financial stability. Among them, the party’s cross-strait discourse is getting all the attention. As expected, the “1992 Consensus” underwent an overhaul. In the past, the KMT has regarded the 1992 Consensus as a stabilizer in cross-strait relations, and now the new narrative has changed to call on mainland China across the strait: "Without (recognizing) the Republic of China, there is no 1992 Consensus." As mainland China only claims the 1992 Consensus without mentioning “one China, with respective interpretations" in the past few years, such adjustment is of course necessary and helps the party’s appeal both internally and externally.
The new cross-strait policy discourse is mainly a response to changes in Taiwan's public opinion. Earlier this year, the KMT reviewed the causes for losing the elections. It concluded that "failure to grasp the discourse power and respond to changing environment by both sides of the Strait " were the main reasons. In the new narrative, apart from affirming the past contribution of the 1992 Consensus, it also attributes the reason for revising the 1992 Consensus to the consistent smearing of the DPP and long-term ignorance of the R.O.C. by Beijing. The new narrative can balance old KMT discourse, meet the mainstream opinions, and is also in line with historical facts.
The difference between the new cross-strait narrative and the old can be analyzed in terms of form and content. In terms of form, the KMT has adopted the DPP practice. It no longer regulates cross-strait relations with sole dogma, but formulates new discourse according to changes in the situation, serves as the party’s guiding principle. In terms of content, it is to intensify criticism of Beijing to reflect the voice of Taiwanese people. In the past, the KMT mostly centered on criticizing the DPP actions which were considered the sources of the deterioration of cross-strait relations. The new narrative criticizes Beijing for not respecting the existence of the R.O.C., imposing the “One Country, Two Systems" formula on Taiwan, forcing people who travel across the strait to declare their position on Taiwan independence or risk imprisonment, and violating Hong Kong's autonomy.
The new policy discourse also puts forward institutional measures for cross-strait relations and internal matters. For cross-strait relations, it recommended that both sides of the strait sign a "Cross-Strait Code of Conduct and Mechanisms to Prevent Unwanted Incidents.” Domestically, the new policy discourse calls for passing legislation to oversee cross-strait agreements. As to the KMT itself, the policy discourse proposes establishing a cross-strait code of conduct to guide party officials. In addition, the KMT is also advocating strategies related to future cross-strait ties and diplomacy. Specifically, it would like to maintain peaceful and stable relations with mainland China on the basis of pro-U.S. ties and breaking the deadlock of unification versus independence and seeking a new way out. This is tantamount to proclaiming the KMT’s new pro-U.S. stance and walking a third path.
In summary, it is evident that the KMT has indeed adapted its narrative on cross-strait relations, but in so doing, the political difference between the DPP and KMT will become insignificant. For example, explicitly rejecting the “One Country, Two Systems” which is similar to the DPP’s positions. The so-called "third way beyond unification and independence" is similar to Chen Shui-bin's campaign of "new middle way" between Taiwan and China in 2000. And as to the KMT’s pro-U.S. stance and increased criticism of Beijing, the KMT’s positions are becoming increasingly similar to those of the DPP. Does this mean that the KMT is being assimilated by the DPP or is plagiarizing the platforms of the DPP?
It is not necessarily so. The cross-strait narrative of the DPP has gone through different stages of changes, and there are gaps between the declaration and implementation. The current policy of the Tsai government does not represent the consistent stand of the DPP. In particular, it played the "R.O.C. card" in recent years, President Tsai's inauguration speech this year emphasized that cross-strait affairs would be handled according to the R.O.C. Constitution and the Act Governing Cross-Strait Relations. This is closer to the basic position of the KMT. Therefore, it can be argued that technically the KMT is moving closer to the DPP, while the DPP is moving in principle closer to the concept of the "Republic of China.”
That is to say, when the DPP starts to play "Republic of China Taiwan" card, both the DPP and KMT will inevitably fight to interpret the essence of the R.O.C. After its defeat in the presidential election this year, the KMT almost gave up the right to expound national identity to the DPP. In its new discourse, the KMT has strategically stepped-up its criticism of Beijing and set the code of exchanges for party officials, tried to get rid of the "pro- China" red hat. But new narrative still lacks historical depth and is not conducive to achieving market differentiation between the KMT and DPP or gaining popular support. The KMT must continue to deepen its cross-strait policy discourse in accordance with the ever-changing circumstances.
The KMT hopes to get out from under. The crucial issue is the cross-strait stance. The new plan presented by the reform committee has revealed the foci of the malady: the over-simplified KMT cross-strait narrative. But can it be cured? It depends on how the medicine is prescribed.