By Felice Wu and Ben Blanchard
TAIPEI (Reuters) – Driven out of China after losing a civil war, Taiwan’s main opposition party faces another crisis following an election drubbing this month, seeking to re-invent itself and rethink its unpopular policy of trying to accommodate Beijing.
The Kuomintang, which ruled all of China until forced to flee to Taiwan in 1949, soundly lost both the presidential and parliamentary elections to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), whose promises to stand up to China’s threats contrasted with its own platform to be more conciliatory toward Beijing.
China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory, to be taken by force if needed, with President Xi Jinping last year once again proposing a “one country, two systems” model for the island, only to be denounced by both the DPP and Kuomintang.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen won re-election by a landslide by positioning Taiwan as an independent country staunchly defending its democratic system against autocratic China.
Kuomintang chairman Wu Den-yih resigned in the aftermath of the defeat, and the party will vote for a new leader in early March.
But it is riven by disagreement over what its policy toward China should be, especially as many people, particularly the young, increasingly identify themselves as Taiwanese, with little connection to China, or even reason to be nice to it.
During campaigning the Kuomintang proposed returning to the “92 consensus”, a vague deal it struck with the Chinese Communist Party in 1992, by which both agreed there is but one China, though each can have its own interpretation of the term.
The DPP used that proposal to drive home a message that the Kuomintang wanted to sell out the island to the Communist Party. The Kuomintang emphatically denied that.
“Everybody is clueless now, because the ’92 consensus’ is the bedrock for all of us. If we don’t use it, then what?” Allen Tien, head of Kuomintang’s Youth League, told Reuters.
“In comparison, ‘Resisting China and protecting Taiwan’ is a fancier slogan. We need to get a new name for the ’92 consensus’.”
Beijing insists the ’92 consensus’ must be the basis for any talks with Taiwan.
OTHER PROBLEMS AHEAD
There is no obvious new leader, though possible candidates include Eric Chu, who stood unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2016, and Sean Lien, the U.S.-educated son of a former vice president.
The party needs a “collective leadership”, Lien said last week. Chu has not commented.
Some are taking a more direct approach to the party’s problems.
A group of Kuomintang members, including some lawmakers, launched a Facebook page over the weekend to canvass ideas from the public toward a China policy, saying the party had never denied China was a threat to Taiwan.
“The crux lies in what is the best choice for the attitude Taiwan takes to face mainland China,” the group said in a statement, adding that close trade ties between the two, as well as a shared language and culture, offered Taiwan an opportunity.
Adding to the gloom, the Kuomintang’s presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu could face removal from his position as mayor of the southern city of Kaohsiung.
He is the target of a petition seeking a recall vote, which could happen this summer, if approved by Taiwan’s election commission. Han says he will respect the will of the public.
There have even been suggestions that the party drop the China reference in its name, which translates literally as Chinese Nationalist Party, though for now that looks unlikely.
“Everybody knows we need to change,” Hsu Chiao-hsin, a Kuomintang city councilor in Taipei, told Reuters, referring to the party’s China policy. “But we should not make ourselves unrecognizable.”
(Reporting by Felice Wu and Ben Blanchard)