Former Top Kuomintang Aide James Soong Joins Taiwan Presidential Race

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Former top KMT official James Soong enters Taiwan's presidential race, representing the People First Party, Nov. 13, 2019.
Former top KMT official James Soong enters Taiwan's presidential race, representing the People First Party, Nov. 13, 2019.

Former top KMT official James Soong entered Taiwan's presidential race on Wednesday, representing the People First Party he founded in a move that could draw support away from pro-China opposition KMT candidate Han Kuo-yu.

Soong, whose party favors a gradual rapprochement with China, could split the "blue" vote: people who oppose Taiwan forging an identity for itself on the international stage, something that Beijing has blocked at every turn.

"The election on Jan. 11 for the president of the Republic of China will be my sixth and final campaign," said Soong, a veteran politician with deep roots in the former nationalist KMT-ruled Republic of China that fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists in 1949.

Soong said he decided to run again after Taiwan's richest man, the Foxconn boss and billionnaire Terry Gou, announced he would be withdrawing from the race, causing him "sleepless nights."

Soong will run on a platform that favors maintaining the sovereignty of the Republic of China -- which now controls the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu -- rather than supporting a specifically Taiwanese identity on the world stage.

There was no mention at his campaign launch of the 1992 informal accord between Taiwan and China that has been roundly rejected by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) incumbent Tsai Ing-wen, to Beijing's fury.

That understanding, known as the 1992 Consensus or the "one-China policy," saw both the Taiwan-based Republic of China and the People's Republic of China under the Chinese Communist Party as different expressions of the same entity -- China -- effectively blocking Taiwan from membership in international bodies and from forming diplomatic ties in its own right.

Since her election in 2016, Tsai has rejected the agreement as infringing on Taiwan's de facto sovereignty, and vowed to defend the island's freedoms and democracy after Beijing warned it wouldn't wait indefinitely to annex the island.

Beijing wants to rule Taiwan under the "one country, two systems" concept used to take back the former colonial cities of Hong Kong and Macau.

Tsai has been an outspoken critic of the Hong Kong government since the anti-extradition, pro-democracy protest movement gripped the city in early June, calling on Beijing and chief executive Carrie Lam to heed the call of the people of Hong Kong for fully democratic elections.

'White Terror' in Hong Kong

After riot police raided the Chinese University of Hong Kong on Tuesday, raining down tear gas and rubber bullets on students, university staff and college president Rocky Tuan, Tsai drew parallels with the "white terror" era of dictatorship under the one-party rule of the KMT in Taiwan.

"During the white terror, the armed police also entered university campuses, and police suppressed freedoms," she wrote on her Facebook page. "These are sad memories that we have no wish to see repeated."

"It was hard for Taiwan to emerge from those dark times, and now Hong Kong is entering them," she said in a reference to the island's struggle for democracy that saw the KMT crack down on all forms of political dissent for decades.

"Hong Kong's freedoms and the rule of law are being eroded by authoritarian power," Tsai wrote. "Taiwan is at the forefront of the global fight against the spread of authoritarianism."

Soong said that, if elected, he would ensuring the continued existence of the Republic of China and its current freedoms.

"[I will ensure] that votes continue to be cast, investments continue to flow, the internet remains open, that prayers are still said and offerings still made, and that the president continues to be the target of insult and criticism: in short, all the trappings of a democratic society," Soong said.

KMT hopeful Han Kuo-yu, whose campaign has been marred by gaffes and a perception that he lacks diplomatic skills, has also vowed to defend the Republic of China and to uphold freedom and democracy, but his campaign includes a commitment to "love Chinese culture," differentiating him from the "green" vote that prefers a Taiwan-centric world view.

Asked about Hong Kong, Soong, a former aide to late supreme KMT leader Chiang Ching-kuo, gave a conflicting message.

"Both sides should calm down and communicate better," Soong said. "Armed opposition and conflict are not good for Hong Kong."

"I believe that Hongkongers are a lot like folk in Taiwan; they think that freedom and democracy are their inalienable right," he said, but didn't specify how such a right could be defended without conflict, in the event that the government of the day refused to grant it.

Checkered past

National Chengchi University literature professor Chen Fang-ming said the KMT under Chiang Ching-kuo had behaved in a very similar manner to the Hong Kong government when it sent in armed troops to put down pro-democracy demonstrations during the 1979 Kaohsiung, or Formosa, Incident.

"Stop trying to alter your own memories now that times have changed. We all remember," Chen said, adding that Soong's claim that Chiang had treated the nascent Tangwai political opposition in Taiwan with respect and leniency was "fake" and "a lie."

"[When the demonstrations were over], they sent police to arrest people in their homes, one by one," he said.

"He shouldn't mess with our memory of history," Chen added. "I became a political activist after that incident. Taiwan may have solved the problem [of democracy], but James Soong has not; he still lives in that era."

Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of 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.

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.

Reported by Hwang Chun-mei, Hsia Hsiao-hwa and Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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