Andrew Hsia, vice-chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT), is leading a delegation on a nine-day visit to the Chinese mainland from Feb 8-17. Facing the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP’s) groundless accusations about the purposes of the trip, the KMT’s chairman, Eric Chu, emphasized that there is no political consideration, and that the only purpose of this trip is to help Taiwan’s farmers, fishermen, students, businesspeople and others, to tackle their problems.
But is there really no political consideration in this trip?
As we all know, in a rivalry, if the weaker side wants to challenge the stronger side or withstand the pressure from the stronger side, it must lean on a stronger third party. In the context of the all-around “strategic rivalry” between the Chinese mainland and the United States, Taiwan as a small island, with a population of only 23 million, is said to be in the “most dangerous place”. The island’s internal politics will inevitably be affected by developments in external geopolitics.
Over the past 20 years, the Chinese mainland has developed rapidly in various fields, including its economy, military and diplomacy, and has surpassed Taiwan on all fronts. In April 2005, Lien Chan, the then-chairman of the KMT, launched an eight-day “peace trip” to the mainland. Three years later, the KMT returned to power in Taiwan, and during Ma Ying-jeou’s eight-year administration, the KMT made full use of its unique advantages — its good relationship with the mainland, proactively embracing the “development bonus” from the mainland, and facilitating robust cross-Straits exchanges, thus tilting the balance of power on the island toward the mainland.
In 2009, Dana Rohrabacher, a then-US congressman and a founding co-chair of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, said he planned to resign as co-chair of the group because his support for Taiwan would be meaningless if the Taiwan authorities cooperated with Beijing rather than working against it.
During that period of time, the DPP was once again forced into the political wilderness and faced an existential crisis. To regain political prowess, the DPP was eager to find patrons. Given its separatist political color, the DPP could never gain Beijing’s trust. Therefore, after Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016 as the island’s leader, she leaned on Washington for support. That’s why we have witnessed scandals such as the importation of ractopamine-contaminated pork products from the US, military purchases at astronomically high prices, and longstanding restrictions on cross-Straits exchanges. All of these were the consequences of Tsai’s pro-Washington policy. Notwithstanding the public grievances on the island, Washington’s strong backing and the DPP’s relatively strong supporter base have helped the party to keep this policy.
Over the past few years, the KMT has been trying to find a balance between Beijing and Washington, but with the DPP leaning to Washington totally and the growing “strategic competition” between the two major powers, the “balance” that the KMT has been seeking simply does not exist now or in the foreseeable future. If the KMT fails to regain an edge, it could only become a smaller “green” party, or form a loosely organized “anti-green” alliance with the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). Either way, the KMT will have a gloomy prospect.
The KMT must make a choice, now or never.
Without the support of Beijing or Washington, neither the KMT, the DPP, the TPP, Lai Ching-te, Eric Chu, Hou Yu-ih, Terry Guo nor Ko Wen-je will be able to win the islandwide election in 2024.
There is only one reason, a simple question: As the new leader of Taiwan, how will you ensure the island’s security? We must admit that this question is definitely not something that the KMT or the DPP can answer by themselves.
In fact, as tension grows, Taiwan’s political arena has begun to divide, each political party seeking external support. Maybe Hsia’s visit is just the beginning. If the KMT does want to return to power in the island, it could send several more rounds of high-level representatives to visit the mainland this year, and they could have a chance to meet higher level of officials in Beijing.
After all, the wheel of history never stops rolling on, and shall crush down anyone who is against it or hesitates to move.
The author is an academic at the Academy of Oversea Chinese, Jinan University.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
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