Thursday, June 02, 2005


A Taipei Times article says what needs to be said: "Similar charades from imperial times can be read in history textbooks. After a power struggle the victor would say that 'The support of so many people left him no choice but to take the throne.' It was a hackneyed ploy even back then, but Lien has never been one to avoid a cliché. It is time to say enough is enough and put an end to this soap opera, this comedy of horrors. By putting on such an outmoded spectacle, the KMT has once again demonstrated that it is out of touch with reality and with the democratic era." The Times's editorial on the most recent developments can be found here.

Credit does need to be given to Ma, however. The rap on him has always been that he was a bit to soft to be an effective administrator, too soft and deferential to the elders to represent a new generation of leadership for the KMT. He is fighting the good fight now, though. Taiwan does need a credible, modern opposition to the DPP to continue to develop democratically. The question is whether what Ma's fighting to save is worth saving. The constituency will still be there and will reform under some new banner, with the influence ofthe Old Guard vastly reduced. The KMT, with its vast, ill-gotten wealth acquired during the martial law era, and its control of a media empire, may not be worth saving.

The two most important cross-currents in Taiwan political life are: attitudes towards cross-straits relations and attitudes toward democratization. Of all the main players in Taiwan politics, Ma is unique in the degree to which he's wind-sheared by these two currents. Brought up by a father with a characteristically feudal way of thinking, he was then sent to Harvard Law School. He conducts himself as a man who understands and respects democratic processes, yet he believes, against all evidence, that Beijing would genuinely honor a one country, two-systems arrangement. He also believed in the KMT Old Guard. It's easy to jeer now that the incompatibility of these ideas is being brought home to him by his own father. But we might remember that Ma had another mentor/father-figure, Chiang Ching-kuo. Chiang was a classic henchman of the party through the darkest years of the White Terror period, but I believe he also did more to break the momentum of the authoritarian state in the last years of his life than any other figure. The late life evolution of Ching-kuo into a proto-democrat is one of the most implausible turn-abouts in Taiwan history and also one of Ma's most important early formative experiences. He'll wait a long time and cut an increasingly plaintive figure waiting for the others in Chiang's cohort to grow and evolve similarly, but he seems to be sincere.

An article from the Chinese-language Dong Lin News Service (which I apologize, I lost the link to) made a number of good points. First, Ma could probably not win a general election without the endorsement of Lien Chan, so he is in a very delicate position. On the other hand, what level of support could possibly be expected from people like Wu Den-ying if Lien were to actually run for a third time? We saw in the days following the visits to Hu Jin-tao that there was a crisis of limited duration and intensity for Chen Shui-bian in the wake of those visits. What we are seeing now is that the implications for the KMT are far more ominous, and the crisis deeper. The Dong Lin article concludes:

“Wang Jin-ping has also received a severe blow to his reputation. He has not had the ability to steer his own course in the wake of the meetings of Lien and Song with Hu Jin-tao. Ma has also had to struggle to find a viable path in the wake of the meetings. An example of the kind of dilemma that could become routine for the party in the wake of the rapprochement with the communists will come on June 4. Will Ma attend the commemorations of the Tian An Men massacre on that date, as he has every year previously, or will he not risk offending his party's new allies and stay away? The tectonic plates are shifting under the feet of the KMT, having received the kiss of death from Hu. Who would have thought that the fate of the KMT would rest in the hands of the Communist Party? It begins to appear as if the imprecation of Hsu Hsin Liang, uttered so many years ago, could turn out to be prophecy: “Let the Kuo Min Tang vanish from the face of the earth.”