18 March 2019
KMT's new chairman Wu Den-yih (center) is known to be not quite enthusiastic about the idea of 'One China'. Photo: Bloomberg
KMT's new chairman Wu Den-yih (center) is known to be not quite enthusiastic about the idea of 'One China'. Photo: Bloomberg

Why Beijing is warming up to the Kuomintang in Taiwan

As the old saying goes, there are no permanent enemies or friends in politics. Now, this is exactly what the Kuomintang (KMT) in Taiwan is discovering at the moment.

Ever since its catastrophic defeat in the presidential election last year, the KMT has been in disarray and under siege, with hundreds of thousands of its disaffected supporters, most of them young voters, switching their support to President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

While the KMT is in full retreat on all fronts and struggling for survival, it appears however that the Communist Party of China is throwing a lifeline to the beleaguered Taiwan party.

For example, Chinese President Xi Jinping received Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), the former chairperson of the KMT, with red carpet as well as pomp and circumstance while she was on an official visit to the mainland after her party’s defeat in the Taiwan presidential election last year.

Not only did Beijing welcome Hung with open arms, it has also taken great pains to win over KMT lawmakers and pro-unification Taiwanese entrepreneurs by receiving them as honorable guests and promising economic sweeteners.

Last week, Xi even issued a statement congratulating Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), the former vice-president of Taiwan, on being elected the new KMT chairman.

The reason why Beijing is being so kind and generous to the KMT, which had been an enemy for many years in the past, is not difficult to fathom.

Even though in decline, the KMT remains the only political force in Taiwan which can still counter the DPP and President Tsai, who has continued to remain, much to Beijing’s dismay, evasive and equivocal over the “1992 consensus”, which is considered by Chinese leaders as the foundation of trust across the strait.

The problem, however, is that Beijing could find itself betting on the wrong horse if it believes it can rely on Wu Den-yih to promote cross-strait relations and bring the independence-leaning Tsai into line.

It is because on one hand, it remains a big “if” whether Wu, an old-fashioned politician pushing 70, could truly resuscitate the KMT by rejuvenating and revitalizing it so as make it to appeal to a younger demographic and make a major political comeback in the next election.

And on the other, even if Wu does manage to pull off a miracle and make the KMT strong again, it is highly unlikely that he would dance to Beijing’s tune.

It is because unlike former president Ma Ying-jeou, Wu is much less enthusiastic about the idea of “One China”, let alone risk alienating Taiwanese voters by promoting unification with the mainland.

Apparently Beijing is also aware that it would be dangerous to put all its eggs in one basket. Hence, its “carrot-and-stick” approach on Taipei recently.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 23

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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A columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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