Daily Bloom is the shortform blog of New Bloom, covering breaking news events as they occur in real-time.
Underreported upon and underdiscussed by Anglophone and Sinophone media alike, DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-Wen’s public statement that under certain circumstances she would be willing to visit Beijing to meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping, was deeply shocking to many of her supporters. Particularly scandalized were supportive activists from Taiwanese civil society.
Interestingly, not even Ma Ying-Jeou is meeting Xi Jinping in Beijing at present, but rather on the supposedly neutral grounds of Singapore. And obviously Xi Jinping will not be visiting Taipei anytime soon, not only because of the power imbalance between Taiwan and China, but because of the protests which would inevitably result. But Tsai set three conditions for her meeting with China, “dignity and equality”, “openness and transparency,” and “not having any political preconditions”. What Taiwanese activists felt betrayed by was the perception that Tsai would not be so different from Ma in being willing to meet with Xi.
Another question to be asked is whether Tsai would in fact have any ability to maintain any of those conditions in a hypothetical meeting with Xi. It is highly likely that entering into a meeting with Xi, Tsai would have no ability to maintain these conditions. Just by entering into that meeting, Tsai might already be violating those conditions. So these may just be empty words by Tsai. Apart from the one press conference Tsai held to the four press conferences held thus far by government officials or KMT politicians, is in fact somewhat surprising how silent the DPP has been about the issue of the Xi-Ma summit. Is the silence of the DPP because the DPP is planning on reversing course at a point in the near future and doing much the same as Ma is doing in the present?
Despite the wariness of Taiwanese activists of being co-opted by the DPP in regards to the assertion of Chen-era identity politics by DPP forces during the Sunflower Movement, it would be that the Tsai campaign has since included many elements drawn from civil society in her campaign, including with campaign staff, graphic designer, and elsewhere.
To begin with, would there be any possibility of a meeting between Tsai and Xi happening? Probably not, seeing as the point of the Ma-Xi meeting seems to affirm the “special relation” of the KMT and CCP. Because despite that the Ma-Xi meeting is being billed as a meeting of the presidents of Taiwan and China, maybe it is truer to say that it is the meeting of the de facto heads of the KMT and the CCP.
However, if the Ma-Xi summit would be aimed at accomplishing very little except serving as a photo-op, or influencing international perceptions of cross-strait relations, it is may be that we are now seeing very real discursive effects on the future foreign policy of a Tsai campaign just from the Ma-Xi summit becoming such a hotbed issue—this in spite of that Ma-Xi hasn’t yet happened. It is in the through the discursive influence of the Ma-Xi summit alone that we see such effect, because although we do not know if Tsai would have been willing to meet with Xi from the beginning, once elected president, it was certainly that because of the slated Ma-Xi summit that Tsai would make such an announcement in the present.
Is it that we are already seeing backsliding on the part of the DPP from its campaign promises? Maybe we can more broadly situate this in the fact that through the course of this campaign we have been seeing a series of event in which one political party does something, only for the other party to try to hastily do the same. For the most part, seeing as the DPP has been much more successful in this campaign to date, this has been the KMT attempting to imitate the DPP—from everything from Chu’s possible trip to America following in the footsteps of Tsai’s earlier trip to his campaign logo resembling that of Tsai. Now we may be seeing a situation in which the the tables are turned with the KMT and DPP.
But, apart the question of whether these are mere words by Tsai or not, if president, it would likely be Tsai’s prerogative as to whether or not she would seek a meeting with Xi. If Ma is able to do so the same in his role as current president, Tsai obviously could also carry out such a meeting under unilateral authority if she so decided. Thus, Tsai’s statement has raised fears of DPP monopolization of power, and that DPP policy once in office would not, in fact, be so different from KMT policy.
In the past, Taiwanese activists have stated fears that the DPP would become something like the next KMT in conducting policy under “black box” lack of transparency, or that the DPP would become the next KMT in monopolizing political power. Critics have pointed to the disparities which have always existed between DPP and KMT as a way of suggesting that these fears are unfounded, given how much more resources the KMT has than the DPP. Nevertheless, present circumstances may drive home the general point of that both parties require oversight, that politicians are in the end politicians, and political parties fundamentally operate on the basis of political interest. Is Tsai Ing-Wen any different?
Still, as we wait to see what will happen with planned protests this weekend, it is that Tsai’s declaration—and her willingness to make a declaration—may be an indication that political opposition towards the Ma-Xi summit is not as strong as expected. If it is hardly that the Taiwanese opinion is in support of the Ma-Xi summit, as the Executive Yuan has been claiming, maybe it is that many Taiwanese are in fact laboring under the delusion that the Ma-Xi summit would in fact be a meeting of equals.
Obviously, this is not the case, given the massive disparity in power between Ma and Xi going into the meeting. However, once again, we might point to that the majority of Taiwanese seem not to be in favor of “independence” or “unification”, per se, but maintaining the present circumstance of de facto independence. Indeed, it is that large swaths of the public wish to prolong Taiwan’s current state of de facto independence and it has not sunk in that as China would have it, the days of that independence would be limited.
Nevertheless, is it that the people of Taiwan if to depend on, then, if the DPP cannot be trusted? If Taiwanese activists were surprised by this turn of events, they really should not have been.
Actually, if the forces of the past year’s civic uprising have largely arrayed themselves behind Tsai, in the belief that a DPP presidency would be better for Taiwan than a KMT presidency, which would be disastrous, it was also long expected that this united front coalition behind Tsai would fracture after she was elected into office. This fracture would have occurred probably regarding more radical pro-independence positions and more moderate pro-independence positions, the latter of which would have been closer to the position of maintaining Taiwan’s de facto independence only, rather than trying to realize independence as a project of transforming Taiwan’s status in the world.
However, civil society should have from the beginning viewed Tsai as the lesser of two evils, rather than be uncritically supportive. Indeed, at a certain point, the sharp criticality of the DPP which existed during the Sunflower Movement dulled—because while it was fine to criticize DPP legislators who are often far from paragons of virtue, Tsai herself became somewhat idealized. Maybe the view was that criticism of Tsai should be shelved in order to maximize her chances of winning, never mind that during this election cycle, the KMT seemed perfectly capable of self-destructing on its own without much need to prop Tsai up.
So, as indicated by present events, is it that sooner than we think, civil society will find itself at war with KMT and DPP alike? It is hard to say. But civil society should not be afraid to go to war with the DPP, if need be. And after 2016 presidential elections, it should perhaps be readying itself to go to war with the DPP.
Author: Brian Hioe
Biography: Brian Hioe (丘琦欣) is an M.A. student at Columbia University, a freelance writer on politics and social activism, and an occasional translator. He is a resident of Taipei, Taiwan.