Members of the Kuomintang who visit China are ‘lying and eating and drinking’, a Chinese military strategist argues.
Speaking in a recent interview, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Major General Zhu Chenghu reserved harsh words for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the party in Taiwan that, according to the narrative, is supposed to be Beijing’s “natural ally” in promoting the unification of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
“Today’s KMT is no longer the KMT of yesterday,” Zhu, a military strategist and former dean of China’s National Defense University, told reporters, adding that party members who visit China and ostensibly support unification are all, in reality, doing little more than “lying and eating and drinking.”
Zhu, described by the Washington Post as one of China’s leading military minds, also bemoaned the “ambiguous” position of the KMT on cross-Strait issues. Under former president Ma Ying-jeou (2008-2016), the KMT had at least retained some of its commitment to the “one China” principle (though it insisted on different interpretations), he said. But today, the “one China” principle “has disappeared from their [KMT] minds and the issue of the unification of the Chinese nation [sic] has disappeared.”
The KMT is “cheating,” Zhu lamented, and its mainstream no longer advocates unification.
At this point it is difficult to tell whether this realization, late as it is, has gained currency within the PLA and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). What is more certain is that by the beginning of president Ma’s second term, Beijing was already losing faith in the ability of its supposed counterpart to deliver on unification, which only became more apparent after the Sunflower Movement in March and April 2014. Yes, some members of the KMT spoke in favor of unification (at her detriment, as Hung Hsiu-chu discovered in 2015), and indeed a handful of its gerontic members — people like former party chairman Lien Chan and former premier Hau Pei-tsun — are undoubtedly committed to the cause. But what is indubitable — and Zhu is certainly right on that point — is that today’s KMT is no longer the KMT of yesterday.
The reasons for this shift go well beyond the “ethnic” identity of the current KMT chairman, Wu Den-yih, who hails from the party’s Taiwanese faction. Demographics, as well as Taiwan’s democratic political environment, is to blame for this phenomenon. For one thing, a majority of KMT politicians who are active today were born in Taiwan rather than China, meaning that attachment to the “mainland,” which certainly was a factor in their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, has been much diluted. Democracy, meanwhile, now compels politicians who seek election to reflect the wishes of the majority of their constituents. And in today’s environment, whether a voter is “green” or “blue,” a supermajority opposes Taiwan (or the Republic of China) becoming part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The voters oppose such an outcome, and so do the party members themselves, most of whom having also accepted liberal-democracy as their way of life.
The “lying and eating and drinking,” as Maj.-Gen. Zhu puts it, is mostly theatrics, a demonstration, or so the party claims, that the KMT is better at handling cross-Strait relations, at ensuring stability and protecting business interests than the DPP.
In this environment, promoting unification is political suicide for any candidate. Parties that do so, such as the New Party and Chang An-le’s (“White Wolf”) China Unification Promotion Party (CUPP), are marginal and stand little chance of ever getting anyone elected in municipal, legislative or national elections, and act more as members of a civil society aiming to put pressure on society and governing institutions (and Beijing is avowedly regarding those two as partners in its efforts to achieve unification).
Thus, for the majority of KMT members who visit China — especially at a time when Beijing has made it a policy to prevent representatives of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) from doing so — the visits are not so much about working toward unification as they are part of the political games that must be played in a democracy. The “lying and eating and drinking,” as Maj.-Gen. Zhu describes the inaction, is mostly theatrics, a demonstration, or so the party claims, that the KMT is better at handling cross-Strait relations, at ensuring stability and protecting business interests than the DPP. It’s about gaining a political advantage, about securing votes back home, especially when a DPP administration becomes, as it is now, the object of Beijing’s retaliation for refusing to play into its “one China” game. And who, after all, would say no to free trips, meals and indeed drinking — with perhaps some lucrative business opportunities in the process?
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