Support For Taiwan's Opposition KMT Plummets in Wake of Hong Kong Protests

china-taiwan-han-kuo-yu-presser-dec-2019.jpg Han Kuo-yu, the KMT's Taiwan 2020 presidential election candidate, speaks to the press after his first televised policy address in Taipei, Taiwan, Dec. 18, 2019.
AP Photo

Support for the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), a party that fled to Taiwan in 1949 and still wants it to be part of a "unified" China some day, is at a new low on the democratic island ahead of presidential elections in 2020.

The Global Views Research annual public opinion survey said its findings marked a sharp fall in support for the KMT, which favors ever-closer ties with neighboring China, since last year.

It said the violent suppression of Hong Kong's anti-government protests had sparked growing fears for Taiwan's national security and democracy, although an internal power struggle in the party had contributed.

Currently, only 4.5 percent of Taiwanese support the idea of "unification" with China, something that Chinese President Xi Jinping has said must happen eventually, by force if necessary.

By contrast, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been outspoken against any rapprochement with China.

Incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen has been a vocal supporter of Hong Kong protesters' aspirations for full democracy, and against the use of police violence and political prosecutions to target protesters.

Tsai told a recent presidential election debate that China is the biggest threat to Taiwan's way of life.

"China continues to threaten Taiwan with military force, economic absorption, diplomatic suppression, and social infiltration," Tsai said. "The situation in Hong Kong has made it very clear to all of us that democracy and authoritarianism are in fundamental conflict. The two systems cannot coexist in one country."

Chinese president Xi Jinping said in a Jan. 2 speech that Taiwan must be "unified" with China. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) echoed the sentiment in a military white paper in July.

Tsai has repeatedly responded that Taiwan's 23 million population have no wish to give up their sovereignty.

Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the KMT as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.

Public outcry

The opinion poll results came amid a public outcry against the inclusion by the KMT of retired generals with close ties to Beijing on its list of nominees for "legislators at large" posts.

DPP deputy secretary-general Lin Feifan said former general Wu Sz-huai should be considered a national security risk.

"He is a national security concern whichever political camp you are in," Lin said. "How can Taiwan as a nation be secure if Wu Sz-huai is allowed into the Legislative Yuan?"

Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.

It has never been controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China.

But the initial decision to remove a ban on the opposition "tangwai" movement that later became the DPP was taken under Chiang's leadership, and the process has remained somewhat opaque to historians.

Now, researchers in the United States are lining up to read the diary left by Chiang, the designated successor under the one-party authoritarian regime set up on Taiwan by his father Chiang Kai-shek.

The Hoover Institution of Stanford University announced this month that Chiang's diaries will be available to view by the general public from February.

Lin Hsiao-ting, director of the East Asia Department of the Hoover Institution who has read some of the diaries, said Chiang had envisaged an incremental approach to greater freedom in Taiwan, led by the KMT at every step.

"He hoped that it would be a gradual approach led by the Kuomintang, rather than taking on the democratic model of the west," Lin said. "He also undertook a lot of localization, making the effort to include the Taiwanese elite in the party-state system so that his government would be more representative of Taiwan."

No bipartisan democracy

But Harvard professor Steven Goldstein said it would be wrong to view Chiang as an agent of democratic change in Taiwan.

"I think the first thing he thought of at that time was how Taiwan could survive," Goldstein said. "Taiwan had lost the [diplomatic] relationship it had orginally had with the United States, and also its legitimacy on the world stage."

"Did he want to really build a bipartisan democracy that would enable the defeat of the KMT? I don't think so," he said.

Chiang's entry on Washington's decision to switch diplomatic recognition to the People's Republic of China in 1979 also showed an entrenched hatred of that country's communist government, however.

"In the early morning of the 16th, the U.S. ambassador asked to come and see me on an urgent matter," Chiang wrote in block Chinese characters for emphasis. "Unsurprisingly, the United States informed me that they had recognized the bandits and were breaking off ties with us."

"Feeling great bitterness, I immediately made the most serious protest," he wrote.

Reported by Huang Chun-mei and Wang Yun for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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