Saturday , March 2 2024

‘Cancelling’ Taiwan’s opposition threatens a repeat of the past

When John Lennon penned the lyrics for Strawberry Fields Forever in the late 1960s, he included the line “Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.”

A throwaway lyric in the career of an iconic musician, this line in one of the Beatles most iconic tunes today encapsulates an all-too-common approach to politics seen in the ranks of anti-Kuomintang (KMT) types across Taiwan, and increasingly the Western world.

It is an approach that has been called as dangerous for the ignorance it wraps itself in, as well as the results it so dearly craves; the removal of Taiwan’s main ‘Blue’ opposition party from the nation’s political landscape.

At present Taiwan is led by the ruling ‘Green’ Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) under President Tsai Ing-wen; a populist president in her second term who has seen her tenure marred on the international stage by the loss of a number of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies from around the world and numerous cases of human rights issues involving migrant workers.  

Around ten other minor pan-Green DPP or pan-Blue KMT political entities make up the political landscape of the nation, even if most will never feature prominently in a country dominated by its infamous ‘colour’ divide.

The majority of the smaller parties have no representation whatsoever on the national stage and only a smattering of local seats in regional governments.

As such, Taiwan is essentially a two-party state when it comes to most presidential and even local elections.

It is frightening then to see increased efforts at any level to ‘cancel’ the only viable opposition party in Taiwan making headway in recent years.

That many of the most vocal and aggressive anti-KMT voices, online at least, are not even Taiwanese, and hail from Western democracies and elsewhere in Asia where efforts to forcibly disappear an opposing mindset is the dictionary-definition of ‘fascism’, is scary at best.

Thankfully, many of these same pan-Green backing ‘activists’ have no voting rights in Taiwan despite the noise they make.

And whilst no-one in their right mind across Taiwan’s political spectrum and wider populace can deny the horrific events that took place over decades of authoritarian rule by the KMT prior to 1987, even those with the most rudimentary knowledge of contemporary domestic politics must be aware just how important the progress and hard-won freedoms in the years since are – to all sides.

More aware than most of these freedoms and the benefits of democratic rule, are the younger members of today’s KMT.

Addressing the issue of claims earlier in the summer that the KMT remains mired in the past, Political Officer at the KMT’s Department of International Affairs, Wennie Wu, 30, said “There are in fact many people whose opinions of the KMT remain mired in the past. However, we would like to state that the KMT has undergone significant changes and is different now” adding that “(There) are many strategies and action-plans in place that we are using to reach younger voters.”

This effort to bond with the youth of today around Taiwan is demonstrated daily in Wu’s own department where staff – many interns and volunteers barely in their 20s – are involved in organizing youth forums and camps to allow Taiwan’s next generation to participate in KMT-led events.

Wu was herself first active with the party in her early 20s when she worked as a secretary in the office of the Minister of Overseas Community Affairs Council in the closing days of the (former president) Ma administration.

She later worked with party leader Johnny Chiang, and at Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan for a national legislator.

According to Wu, internship opportunities in KMT offices in major cities and at local councilors’ or legislators’ offices are other methods the modern day party employs in its bid to reach out to younger voters.

However, younger Taiwanese still ‘finding themselves’ politically, and realising that their own beliefs align with KMT causes or other pan-Blue parties in Taiwan, rather than being praised for involvement in issues benefiting local communities, oftentimes face a barrage of abuse if they venture onto the World Wide Web.

This abuse is especially vitriolic in Taiwan’s English language Twitter and Facebook communities where online ‘pile-ons’, and concerted efforts to have anything KMT ‘canceled’ are an all too common form of modus operandi.

Ironically, these are methods disturbingly similar to the politically motivated disappearances of the authoritarian era.

To their credit, however, Youth Democracy Teams of the Kuomintang persevere. 

It is not unusual to see younger KMT members talking policy and party ideals at major junctions and near train stations all over Taiwan ahead of major political events such as the recent referendums on nuclear power or US pork imports, and local or general elections.

And with an series of ‘midterm’ elections set for the end of November, KMT supporters, and those of other parties are out in force. 

While this offers a window for Joe Public in Taiwan into the KMT’s increased reliance on youth, it is still in its approach to China that the party comes in for the most criticism and finger-pointing.

Facing this head-on, Wu goes on to say that in 2022, “The KMT’s cross-strait policy aims to reduce risks, maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and enhance the well-being of people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The KMT will strive to communicate our policies better with the general public, in order to avoid any misconceptions about the party and its stance.”

These are policies increasingly communicated in the media at home and overseas by younger members of the party; a concept best demonstrated in the appointment of departmental leaders, many of whom were born well after the decades of after martial law ended in 1987. 

Wu’s immediate senior in the department this summer, Deputy Director Joseph Weng is only a few years older, yet brings to the party a wealth of experience in domestic business and politics as well as from US presidential campaigns where he worked on the “Hillary Clinton for President team in 2007, and later in the HQ of “Obama for America”.

Director-General Lin Tao, and Deputy Director-General Alfred Lin, of the Culture and Communications Committee are both in their 20s or 30s.

Meanwhile, Eric Huang, the recent Deputy Director of the KMT’s Representative Office in the United States has been the center of a huge amount of media attention this year  as the party works to increase its influence stateside, and he is still in his mid-30s.

For now, in spite of the online attacks faced by members or supporters of the party, employing the same platforms, younger KMT members “will continue to communicate with younger voters through various social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more” Wu said

Whether or not the attempts to ‘cancel’ Wu’s ideals, and KMT efforts to democratically represent Taiwan by misguided pan-Green supporters and bloggers persist, remains to be seen… 

About Mark Buckton

Mark Buckton is a British national based in Taipei, Taiwan. Mark is a longtime writer and editor who has contributed to media including BBC, CNN, Japan Times, Taipei Times and Taiwan Times. He is also the founder of the UK's first ever Conservative Party branch in Taiwan.

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