Thursday, June 02, 2005

KMT Land I

Bait them with the prospect of gain, bewilder and mystify them
Use anger to disrupt them, humility to make them arrogant
Tire them by running away, cause them to quarrel among themselves.
Attack them when they do not expect it, when they are least prepared
Be so subtle that you are invisible.
Be so mysterious thaat you are intangible.
Then you will control your rival's fate.
Use espionage and mystification in every enterprise.
All life is based on deception.

I've never really had much patience for the Sun-Tzu cult. I'm sure he's worth reading as an academic pursuit, on account of his having influenced countless generations of Chinese imperial courtiers and emperors,the same way you could spend your time reading through the works of Ptolemy because the idea that the planets revolve around the sun held sway for 1,500 years. Most people who passionately recommend that I read Sun-Tzu assure me his thinking is of blinding relevance to navigating the modern world. I remain a sceptic. One of the secrets of the success of the Western financial system that ultimately became the international system is that, whereas many business deals in the past had to be done based on trust,or faith, today there are elaborate and rather effective mechanisms to detect liars and cheaters. There's still a fair amount of the old school kind of trust-building around today, of course. Let's just say that if I were at a KTV doing the kind of trust-building socializing businessmen do, if my counterpart were to tell me he was a big fan of Sun-Tzu he would not be moving closer to sealing the deal. Most people who are convinced they are far more subtle, facile and clever than those around them are just frauds, usually shielded by privilege of one kind or another, with limited awareness of how transparent they are to others. In egalitarian situations, people get disabused pretty quickly of the conceit that they're masters of deception.

For people who've been vacationing on Mars, the KMT, as political parties are wont to do, has been trying to have a primary election to determine the next party chairman. Lien is the incumbent, having served as losing candidate for the party in two general elections. Now, flush from his handshake with Hu Jin-tao, he's back to preside over the ascension of a new generation of KMT leaders, with Ma Ying-jeou and Wang Jin-ping as contenders. Straightforward enough – for most parties. But the Kuo Min Tang is not most parties. There's an enormous weight of history, thousands of years deep, of mostly unedifying precedents imported from across the Straits, that keeps this party awake late into the night howling at the moon. The KMT's Old World is a world of imperial palace court intrigues, of thick-face-black-heartery, of feints and deceptions and an understanding of transitional politics as a show performed on a stage while knives are quietly unsheathed backstage. So it appears that, no, the KMT is not yet ready to conduct a normal democratic party primary.

For weeks, getting any sense of what was going on from news reports was like the old profession of kremlinology. The papers announced that Lien had said he was not going to run. He was going to hold a press conference in which he would announce his plans, and when it was held he informed the world that he did not intend to run for party chair. He sent a KMT spokesman out to say "Candidates should state clearly how they would like to lead the party, as well as the future development of it." Okay. Straightforwardness and clarity- good things. Lien then said – again- that he was not running. Hmm. "I'm not interested in joining the race," he reiterated on May 25. Okay. Godspeed to ya on yer way to the pantheon of whatever, oh noble knight! Good-bye. Good-bye. Wang Jin-ping offered that if Lien did run- which of course he had no intention of doing- he (Wang) would renounce his candidacy in deference to Lien, "to avoid splitting the party." When asked by the press if he, too, would fall on his sword, Ma made it clear that he intended to forgo that option and he would run for the position of KMT party chair. Full stop. Which part of I-intend-to-run don't you understand?

KMT leaders (Lien loyalists) announced a debate format that consisted of a thirty minute "report" by each of the candidates, followed by a question-and-answer session in which members of the Standing Committee (read Lien loyalists) would ask the questions. Enigmatically, so subtle that he was invisible, a black-clad ninja shadow on the rooftop, Lien stated once more for the record "I'm not interested in joining the chairmanship race.” But wait - a twist! (That Volkov – wasn't he third from the right of Stalin on last year's May Day viewing platform? And now, he's fifth from the right? What could it possibly mean?) Lien added "There is room for discussion if people still harbor doubts about he candidates" after the "debates". "The reports," the Taipei Times reported, "were arranged based on a proposal by KMT Chairman Lien Chan, who reiterated on Wednesday that he had no interest in seeking re-election."