World’s Toughest Job? Johnny Chiang Takes Helm at Taiwan KMT.

On March 9, 2020 Johnny Chiang took office as the new president of Taiwan’s KMT party. (Some might say “China’s KMT”…) Many observers feel that the relatively youthful Chiang, 48, has a rough road ahead. Chiang won a decisive victory over his rival Hua Ling-pin by collecting 68.8% of the vote in a low-turnout KMT election. Chiang immediately promised to reform and revitalize the venerable KMT. He promised to do this in terms of party culture as well structure. There was also talk of a more de-centralized or localized KMT.

What makes his job difficult is not just the stodgy image of the KMT and its membership, but also the fact that over 50% of the population consider themselves “Taiwanese” and not Chinese. Despite Beijing’s slow but steady chipping away at Taiwan’s diplomatic alliances, many young people see Taiwan as already an independent country. Polls show that just about 4% of Taiwanese consider their island part of China.

 All of this makes the KMT’s historically pro-Beijing KMT party line a difficult sell to both to younger people as well as to a majority of the Taiwanese. Chiang’s promises of reform and restructuring may indeed succeed, and the KMT may re-invent itself as a leaner, more modern and robust opposition party.

 However, the “panda in the room” is the 1992 Consensus and the One-China policy. From the beginning Mr. Chiang has said that in the short term there will be no announcement on the 1992 Consensus and that a committee will decide. His deft dodging of the question harks back to that master politician himself, Deng Xio-ping, who essentially did the same thing decades before when discussing the fate of Taiwan.

With local elections coming in 2022 and presidential elections again in 2024, the KMT will really have to answer the “one China/ 1992 Consensus” question if it is to have any chance of gaining legislative seats or indeed the presidency itself. What might happen is that the KMT drops its historically pro-Beijing posture and gets closer to the DPP’s position on China. This will get them more votes domestically, but then both parties will have to face the displeasure of the CCP.

Just as Mr. Chiang had won decisively this time, incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party had captured the presidency in the January 2020 elections. After a recent election defeat, Tsai Ing-wen had to step down as DPP party head, and it appeared that the KMT would be resurgent in 2020 and that she would be out. But thanks to the unrest and demonstrations in Hong Kong in 2019, Tsai’s fortunes were reversed and she kept a decisive hold on the presidency. 

Here we are in 2020 and now it is being said that Johnnie Chiang and the KMT have little chance to gain power. At this point it might seem true, but if Mr. Chiang sets to work with a purpose, all things may very well change in the coming elections. Fate and the Taiwan voters have a way of making things like that happen.

photo: wikimedia commons

Person of Interest: Ma Ying-jeou, President of Taiwan

 “Truth is paramount and triumphs over falsity. Guilelessness is paramount and triumphs over craftiness.”                                                               


        (Photo: Office of the President, Republic of China, Taiwan)

                                      by David Parmer

On July 20, 2013, Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou was re-elected as president of Taiwan’s ruling KMT (GuoMinDang) party. Ma ran un-opposed, but the heavy voter turnout was taken by some as a sign of approval for the job he is doing in his second term as president. Elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, Ma has had a steady and ever-advancing rise to power.

       Some highlights:

  • Born in Hong Kong July 13, 1950
  • National Taiwan University 1972, B.A. Law
  • New York University 1976, L.L.M. (Masters in Law)
  • Harvard University 1981 S.J.D. (Doctor of Law)
  • Office of the President of Taiwan 1981
  • Minister of Justice 1993
  • Mayor of Taipei 1998
  • Chairman of KMT Party 2005
  •  President of Taiwan 2008
  •  President of Taiwan 2012 (Second Term)

President Ma is known, and will probably be remembered for his pragmatic handling of relations with the Beijing government.  While standing his ground on areas where there are basic differences, he has taken a long-term and pragmatic approach toward relations with the mainland.

Since 2003 the mainland has been Taiwan’s chief trading partner. Bloomberg reported that Chinese tourists spent an estimated $9.8 billion from 2009 to the present. Direct flights which eliminated the necessity of circuitous routes required in the past have certainly positively impacted cross-strait relations and trade.

In a Foreign Press Center briefing on July 22, 2013 in Washington, U.S Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Daniel Russel observed:

“…we respect and admire the progress that has been made in cross-straight relations under President Ma Ying-jeou’s tenure. We think that the dialog that he has fostered provides benefits to people on both sides of the strait as well as to the region and others in terms of promoting stability and promoting prosperity.”

 When President Ma was re-elected to the KMT presidency last week, he was congratulated by Xi Jin Ping in his capacity as head of the Communist Party of China and not as her President. And this underlies the problem, for a meeting to take place between the two leaders, President Ma would have to be recognized as a head of state, and officially Beijing sees Taiwan not as a state, but as a breakaway province. Diplomats have artfully resolved more thorny issues than this with subtle artifice and carefully-worded statements, so maybe before his term is over in 2016, Ma Ying-jeou might meet the president of the PRC in Beijing.

Whatever the outcome, he will surely be remembered as the KMT leader who did the most in 60 years to bring Chinese on both sides of the strait closer together.