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World Conference of Chinese Studies
Witten University Aug. 20th, 2017
Taiwanese Parties and the Cross-Strait Relations
by Dr. Thomas Weyrauch
For decades, the Zhongguo Guomindang (Chinese Nationalist Party) initially determined the policy exclusively on the Chinese mainland. As of 1950, this exclusive role was limited to the island of Taiwan, which had been returned five years earlier from the colonial rule of Japan. Civil rights with regard to the founding of new parties remained limited until 1986. Since then, Taiwan has experienced a boom of young parties, whose number exceeds 300. At the same time, the polarization between Taiwanese-nativist and pro-unification parties is obvious, which influences not only the Cross-Strait relations, but also limits Taiwan´s international space.
The origins of Taiwan’s parties can be found on the Chinese Mainland as well as on the island. When Taiwan was ceded to Japan after the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, one party existed already as Xingzhonghui, Revive China Society, which changed into the Zhongguo Guomindang, the Chinese Nationalist Party, several years later. That party became China’s leading force between 1928 and 1949, respectively the predominant power group on Taiwan since 1945.
Genuine Taiwanese parties emerged in the 1920s and 1930s under Japanese rule, but they lasted only a short time and were prohibited by the colonialists. The civil war in China had a serious impact on Taiwan’s party plurality, when some parties were banned, using the legal justification of advocating communism or separatism. In the subsequent period only three parties were legitimated, the ruling Nationalist Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Young China Party. During the 1970s, the Nationalist Party under the leadership of Jiang Jingguo planned to lift the martial law and to abolish the special restrictions on civil rights including the permission to found and legalize new political parties, but unrests caused by the opposition retarded the democratic reform. It took a longer time till new parties were allowed in the year 1986. The Minzhu Jinbudang, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), became the first party at the threshold between an authoritarian and a coming democratic system. Until then, despite the differences in the civil war the Taiwanese parties orginally founded on the mainland had in common with the parties in the PRC, that they had a vision to China as a single, indivisible subject of international law.
The experiences of the time of warlordism and other phases of division were burned into the collective memory of the Mainlanders, that China´s division would cause a weakening of entire China or every single separated part. More than that it would be an invitation to aggressive foreign powers to subjugate China. Living apart from the Mainland, the Taiwanese didn´t have such an experience of division and civil war.
So there must be a fundamental rift in the views on China between the Nationalist Party on the one hand, and the Democratic Progressive Party on the other. The DPP represented the idea of Taiwanese independence. After president Jiang Jingguo passed away, the new Taiwan born leader of the Nationalists, president Li Denghui, secretly supported the DPP till that party was able to win the presidential elections in 2000. The first years of Li Denghuis rule were quite successful in ending the ice age between the two Chinese parts. The most significant example is the “1992 Consensus”, an accord between the Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party on the existence of One China with two interpretations, which became the key for further exchange.
But few years later he, Li Denghui, created some confusion with his concept on two Chinese states, which outraged the traditionalists of his own Nationalist Party as well as the political leaders on the Mainland. As the result, the Taiwan Straits became a new theater of conflict. This situation even worsened between 2000 and 2008 during the DPP-government of president Chén Shuǐbiǎn, who fostered the De-Sinicization of the island. At this time the DPP had different factions, characterized on the question, how fast Taiwan should become an independent state.
Presently about 320 political parties exist in Taiwan, of whom a large number belong to the Taiwanese-nativist Green Camp or to the pro-unification Blue Camp. Others are parties of followers of Sun Yatsen, liberal democratic, communist, social democratic parties, parties of ethnical, regional, religious, ecologist or feminist affiliation. Between the Green and the Blue Camp the long existent polarization is obvious and prevents the creation of a political culture by the two predominant parties, the Nationalist and the Democratic Progressive Party. Mutual trust and cooperation between them are still underdeveloped.
This unsatisfactory situation paralyzes the parliament to build up a legal framework for the legislative duties. I believe, that a legal framework like a Political Party Act or Rules of Parliamentarian Procedure could be helpful. But in fact, there is nothing like that. Under those circumstances it is no surprise that this assembly is a habitat for clownish clashes. Between 2008 and 2016 during the presidency of Nationalist Ma Yingjiu, there was a new rapprochement between Taiwan and the Mainland. Shortly after president Ma came to power the first airplanes crossed the Straits, followed by a boom of intra-China flights. Ma expected a “Golden Decade” of peace and prosperity by the exchange over the Taiwan Straits. Indeed, this exchange fostered the economy of both sides.
While the green camp blamed the Nationalist Party in the parliament for selling the interests of Taiwan, outdoor demonstrations of young people led to an occupation of the parliament building by some hundred of them. There was a liaison of those intruders with the DPP-opposition and even Ma’s arch-enemy, who was the Parliament President and belonged also to the Nationalists. Their so called Sunflower Movement forced the free elected representatives to freeze the agreements with the Mainland. The confrontation between the two parties continued: In the two legislatures between 2008 and 2016 the majority of the Nationalist Party was blocked about one hundred times during speeches, the rostrum had been occupied by the DPP-deputies, and their fist-fightings prevented others to vote. The permanent attacks of the opposition exhausted the Nationalists, and since 2014 the public opinion turned against them. After the DPP-victory of the 2016 elections the new Legislative Speaker Su Jiaquan of the DPP called for the end of incessant partisan wrangling. Because he said, this assembly was the parliament of the people, his statement led to the conclusion that the parliament of the previous legislature had not been supported by the people, although this body had been elected by 13.5 million voters in 2012. On the other hand, only 12 million citizens went to the ballot boxes in 2016.
One of the main goals of the DPP-government was the attempt of annihilation of the Nationalist Party by a law, which allows the confiscation of all Nationalist property by arguing, that their assets were ill-gotten during the time of authoritarian rule. The result was an expropriated Nationalist Party, which was unable to pay the salaries and pensions of their employees. In this way the DPP violated civil rights and became an authoritarian party.
There is another interesting aspect: The DPP´s Taiwan Straits policy causes a serious threat, as Ms. Cai Yingwen’s new leadership refused to commit to the mentioned “1992 Consensus”. Consequently, Taiwan is increasingly returning to the ice age of confrontation with the Chinese mainland, economic stagnation and international isolation. The more problems emerge the more followers of an independent Taiwan raise their voice. Another leading person of the DPP, like premier Lai Qingde, could even endanger the rule of Ms. Cai. This exactly leads into a situation the famous writer Franz Kafka described in his fable of the mouse:
“Alas,” said the mouse, “the world gets smaller every day. At first it was so wide that I ran along and was happy to see walls appearing to my right and left, but these high walls converged so quickly that I’m already in the last room, and there in the corner is the trap into which I must run.” – “But you’ve only got to run the other way,” said the cat, and ate it.