by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Solomon203/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 4.0

THE KMT SEEMS to be on the offensive in the legislature as of late, seeking to roll back much of what has occurred under the Tsai administration using its narrow majority.

The latest case of this would be the KMT seeking to amend laws previously pushed for by the DPP targeting the KMT’s party assets, so as to create loopholes for the China Youth Corps that would allow it to take back or retain assets. These party assets, retained from property seizures during the authoritarian period, once led the KMT to be often referred to as the “world’s richest party” in Taiwanese political discourse. That being said, not all of the KMT’s party assets are, in fact, assets, but sometimes also consist of wealthy organizations affiliated with the party. It is largely local political factions pushing for such a rollback of the DPP’s efforts to target the KMT’s party assets.

Indeed, KMT party assets are thought primarily to come from land seizures from when the KMT assumed control of Taiwan after the end of the Japanese colonial period. In 2014, reported KMT assets totaled 26.8 billion NTD (855 million USD) and 981.52 million NTD (31.3 million USD) was generated from interest on KMT party assets. However, it remains opaque as to the total amount of KMT party assets and what it uses this money on.

The KMT’s party assets were estimated to be between 200 billion NTD (6.4 billion USD) and 500 billion NTD (16 billion USD) in the early 2000s and there were even larger claims by Wealth Magazine (財訊月刊) in 2000 that KMT assets could be as high as 600 billion NTD (19.1 billion USD) and further reports that KMT assets could be over 900 billion NTD (28.7 billion USD). This could indeed make the KMT one of the world’s richest political parties. Assets, then, included holdings in everything from news agencies, construction companies, hospitals, and karaoke to 870 pieces of real estate scattered across Taiwan from Taipei to Kaohsiung, though seemingly concentrated in Taipei.

For now, the bill has been sent back to the procedural committee. But it is to be seen what occurs next, at a time of significant political contention between the DPP and KMT.

The DPP, by contrast, historically only ever had a fraction of the KMT’s income, reporting 1/3rd income of that of the KMT in 2015. After the KMT was stripped of party assets, the party has since claimed an inability to pay workers. Yet public pressure has been such that in 2020, then-KMT chair Johnny Chiang stated that he hoped to reduce the number of assets to zero.

Photo credit: Solomon203/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 4.0

In past decades, a number of party assets passed into the hands of individuals or organizations associated with the KMT. Namely, the KMT realized that the DPP was likely to target its assets if it ever held power.

The KMT has framed the China Youth Corps as a charity and claimed that the DPP is unfairly targeting an organization that carries out humanitarian work. This also occurred with regard to the Chinese Women’s League.

China Youth Corps and China Women’s League are historically mass political organizations such as were not uncommon in the European and Asian political contexts of the early 20th century, during the era of powerful mass parties.

Illustrating its close ties to the state during authoritarian times, in 2017, it was found that over 50 former China Youth Corps employees receive pensions normally reserved for public servants and members of the KMT during the authoritarian period. And, again, such organizations served as means for the KMT to divert resources to avoid scrutiny in the past.

In 2017, the total assets of the Chinese Women’s League were valued at NTD 38.1 billion, larger than the total assets the KMT reported that it possessed in 2017, at NTD 18.1 billion. This means that the Chinese Women’s League, in theory, actually commanded more assets than the KMT, one of the two major political parties in Taiwan, in 2017. But ownership of such vast resources on the part of the Chinese Women’s League is a product of the former party state, in that these funds come from the Military Benefit Tax placed on all goods imported from the US between 1955 and 1989.

The KMT has more generally framed the matter as the DPP targeting non-profits and charities. Yet if such resources are taken away from such organizations, they would end up in the hands of the state. If the KMT were to win office, theoretically, it would be able to use such resources for charitable efforts through the government, but the KMT has instead adopted the stance of framing this as partisan persecution by the DPP.

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