Vol. 2, Issue 22
The Global Taiwan Brief Volume 2, Issue 22
KMT Chairman Election Marks Return of Party Establishment to Power
By: Russell Hsiao
Mapping Taiwan-focused Research Institutes in China
By: Pascal Abb
Wooing Southeast Asia: “New Southbound Policy” Meets “Belt and Road Initiative”
By: David An
KMT Chairman Election Marks Return of Party Establishment to Power
Russell Hsiao is the executive director of the Global Taiwan Institute and the editor-in-chief of the Global Taiwan Brief.
On May 20, Wu Den-yih (吳敦義, b. 1948) was elected in overwhelming numbers by members of Taiwan’s largest opposition-party to serve as the eighth chairman of the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, KMT). In an election that was widely billed as a turning point for the KMT, party members appear to have chosen a path that—at the very least for the near term—portends a return to a more mainstream orientation for the party.
On the same day as the one-year anniversary of Tsai Ing-wen’s presidency, 276,425 members of the KMT—representing 58.5 percent of eligible KMT voters—went to the polls. Wu obtained 144,408 of the votes, representing 52.24 percent of those cast, whereas the incumbent chairwoman, Hung Hsiu-chu’s (洪秀柱, b. 1948), came in a distant second, receiving only 53,065 votes, or 19.2 percent of total cast. The vice chairman of the KMT and former mayor of Taipei, Hau Lung-pin (郝龍斌, b. 1952) came in a competitive third place with 44,301 votes, representing 16.03 percent of total votes cast.
The KMT flirted with a shift towards a more conservative orientation following its devastating defeat in the 2016 presidential and legislative elections. The failed presidential campaign of Eric Chu (朱立倫; b. 1961), who successfully defeated Tsai in the 2010 New Taipei Mayoral Election, shook the foundation of the KMT, which struggled to put forward a unified front during and in the aftermath of the 2016 elections. This discord and discontent were clearly reflected in the results of the presidential and legislative elections that saw Tsai Ing-wen and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) win by a wide margin of 25.1 percent and by 28 seats, respectively. Tsai also carried New Taipei City by more than 11 percent.
A rising political star, the mayor of New Taipei City and then KMT chairman was at best a reluctant presidential candidate, but was put forward by party elders and the establishment wing of the Party in a last-ditch effort to spark an 11th hour rally. The leadership hoped that Chu could salvage the KMT’s electoral prospects, which had been dimmed by Hung’s controversial brand of KMT politics. Among other contentious policies, as vice speaker of the Legislative Yuan, Hung advocated that cross-Strait relations be based on the formula of “one China, same interpretation” （一中同表), which is a stark departure from the KMT’s original “one China, respective interpretations” （一中各表).
Four months into her presidential run and a little over three months before the 2016 elections, Hung was replaced by Chu in an extraordinary party election that appeared to sideline her wing of the KMT. After Chu’s and the KMT’s categorical defeat in the presidential and legislative elections, however, Chu resigned as chairman of the KMT, which paved the way for supporters of the dismissed presidential candidate to hoist her to the helm of the Party in a provisional election that saw Hung besting her closest opponent by a decisive 23 percent. The KMT appeared to be headed down a path of significant course change.
That the former vice president and seasoned KMT politician earned more than 33 percent of votes than Hung represent, in no small part, a resounding victory for the establishment wing of the KMT. Wu’s and Hau’s combined votes constitute a clear majority, with 68 percent of party members voting in the election. Hau comes from an established political family (his father is former Premier and 4-star General (Chief of the General Staff, Army Commander-in-Chief Hau Pei-tsun) and served as mayor of Taipei before Ko Wen-je (柯文哲). Although the former president did not explicitly endorse any of the candidates for KMT chairman, it was clear from his public activities that Ma preferred the establishment candidates: Wu and Hau. During the chairperson election, Ma only appeared atthe rallies of these candidates—and was noticeably absent at Hung’s rallies.
Despite insinuations of irregularity, the other KMT candidates were quick to sound a unified tone after the results were announced. First out of the gate in calling the results in favor of Wu was Hau who congratulated the new chairman. Hung also swiftly conceded and called for party unity. The party’s leaders appear eager to mollify any doubts about the legitimacy of the election and rally behind the new chairman.
While the KMT chairperson election seems to indicate party members’ preference for a more mainstream orientation, whether the Party is able to connect with the changing demographics in Taiwan remains to be seen. The 2016 election was prefaced by a groundswell of youth activism manifested in the 2014 Student Sunflower Movement. Public engagement by Taiwanese youths, as stakeholders in the country’s national politics, must now be seriously addressed by political parties.
On balance, the 69-year old incoming chairman of the KMT presents a stark contrast to the firebrand politics of his immediate predecessor. However, in a primary that seemed more focus on the candidates’ experience than policy differences, Wu’s capabilities as a seasoned politician may have been more of a salient factor than his policies for party members. A native Taiwanese, Hakka-minority, and considered part of the party’s local faction (本土派), Wu can speak and play to these political advantages in appealing to a general audience. Although Wu’s election as chairman currently puts him in the most favorable position to become the party’s candidate in 2020, his candidacy remains far from assured. Much will depend upon the Party’s showing in the 2018 local elections.
The chairman of the electronics conglomerate FOXCONN, Terry Gou (郭台銘), is rumored to be a possible contender in the 2020 presidential election. According to a recent poll conducted by the China Times Weekly, 35.7 percent of respondents said that, if the election were to be held immediately, they would vote for Gou, compared with 24.2 percent of those polled, who would vote for Tsai.
The main point: While the KMT chairperson election indicates the party members’ preference for a more mainstream orientation, whether the Party is able to connect with the changing demographics in Taiwan remains to be seen. Moreover, KMT voters may have found Wu’s capabilities as a seasoned politician to be more salient than his policies.
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly referred to 2018 as the year for Taiwan’s next presidential election.
Mapping Taiwan-focused Research Institutes in China
Pascal Abb is a research fellow at the GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, specializing in the role of think tanks in China and international relations of East Asia. In 2015, he spent ten months as a visiting fellow at the Institute of International Relations, National Chengchi University. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Think tanks in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have enjoyed significant attention in recent years, mostly as a result of the Xi Jinping’s well-publicized initiative to build so-called “new-type think tanks with Chinese characteristics” (中國特色新型智庫) in a bid to improve China’s governing efficiency, broaden its soft power capabilities, and build domestic support for government policies. At the same time, due to the opaqueness of China’s policymaking process, think tanks and the materials they publish also usually offer the best opportunity to track current debates and emerging policies.
Given the importance attached to Taiwan policy and unification of Taiwan with the PRC, a distinct set of institutes has emerged to support these goals. The number of institutes active in this field is quite large nowadays, reflecting both the internal development of China’s think tank sector and the intensification of cross-Strait ties over the past decade. This article will skip a discussion of research units that are directly integrated into policymaking bodies like the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) or the office of the Taiwan Affairs Leading Small Group (TALSG), which have already been covered in studies on China’s policymaking towards Taiwan, focusing instead on the activities of organizations that are at least somewhat independent.
Among these, the most important remains the Institute for Taiwan Studies (ITS) at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) (中國社會科學院台灣研究所). With a staff of more than 60 people and a direct communication channel to the TAO and the TALSG, it has long been considered the Chinese leadership’s top think tank for background analyses and policy input. In addition to the central CASS organization, provinces like Fujian and Shanghai that have strong economic links with Taiwan also maintain related research capabilities as part of their provincial academies, which advise the local governments in a similar matter. Xiamen University in Fujian also houses the Taiwan Research Institute (TRI) (廈門大學台灣研究院), China’s premier institution for scholarly Taiwan studies. The TRI’s expertise in conducting field research and opinion surveys in Taiwan is made available to the TAO through regular internal reports. In 2013, it established its own think tank as a platform organization, linking up with partners at Shanghai’s Fudan University and ITS at CASS. Further networking among academics and policy makers is promoted by bodies such as the National Society for Taiwan Studies (全國台灣研究會, NSTS), whose leadership includes former state councilor Dai Bingguo (戴秉國) as well as senior figures in the TAO and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (海峽兩岸關係協會, ARATS). Its regular conferences and symposia offer academics outside of the policy apparatus opportunities to provide input for decision-makers, as well as providing links with sympathetic Taiwanese scholars.
In addition to dedicated Taiwan research units, other major Chinese think tanks like the China Institute for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) (中國現代國際關係研究院) under the Ministry for State Security and the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) (中國國際問題研究院) under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also active in maintaining cross-Strait academic ties and policy discussions, often exchanging multiple delegations per year with Taiwanese partners like the Institute for International Relations (政治大學國際關係研究中心) or the Foundation for Asia-Pacific Peace Studies (亞太和平研究基金會). While Taiwan policy used to be highly centralized and compartmentalized from general foreign policy, these boundaries have weakened in recent years, judging from key personnel appointments: Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪), the state councilor in charge of foreign policy, sits on the TALSG; foreign minister Wang Yi (王毅) used to head the TAO; and Su Ge (苏格), the president of MOFA’s go-to think tank CIIS, has been described as an influential voice on Taiwan affairs. Most recently, Yang Mingjie (楊明杰), a former CICIR vice president without a background in Taiwan studies, was appointed as the new head of CASS’ ITS, possibly reflecting a desire to review Taiwan policy within the broader context of East Asian international relations.
Meanwhile, think tank exchanges have branched into other issue areas—for example, the National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS) (中國南海研究院) has identified the eponymous maritime territory claimed by both sides on behalf of China as a shared interest and regularly organizes joint activities ranging from policy discussions to student summer camps. So far, Beijing’s harsh reaction to the Tsai presidency has not disrupted these ties—in fact, the months immediately following her inauguration and the cutting of official ties saw an especially high level of cross-strait visits. This has allowed academics who are advising the new government to take part, effectively and ostensibly serving as the unofficial communication channel that Tsai hinted at last year.
However, whether these institutes are able to exercise genuine influence on Beijing’s Taiwan policy is somewhat questionable, due to several reasons: first, the CCP’s long-standing insistence on a narrow formula for cross-Strait cooperation, its rhetoric, and the passage of the 2005 “Anti-Secession” law have left it with little to no room to adapt its overall strategy. This was on clear display after the election of President Tsai Ing-wen, as Beijing rigidly insisted on her explicit endorsement of the so-called “1992 Consensus” and dismissed her alternative suggestion as an “incomplete test answer.” Second, Taiwan is a supremely sensitive topic in the PRC‘s policy debates, and experts who comment publicly on it are expected to uphold the official line that unification is inevitable and the logical endpoint of closer cross-Strait relations. This makes it difficult to discuss phenomena that run counter to this line, most notably the steady rise of a Taiwanese identity and perceptions of China as a hostile foreign power. Finally, Xi Jinping’s insistence on centralism and ideological conformity has clearly inhibited open policy debates in general and created a climate of fear among intellectuals that is especially pronounced on Taiwan-related questions.
These problems are on clear display when reviewing a few expert reactions to Tsai’s election win and the subsequent confrontation over the “1992 Consensus.” In a panel convened by People’s Daily, experts from some of the abovementioned institutes anticipated and backed the government’s hard-line approach, arguing that the shift in power between both sides made an agreement on the PRC’s terms inevitable. This forms a stark contrast to the view of most Taiwanese and international observers, who believed that punishing Taiwan for its electoral choice was likely to backfire and solidify anti-Chinese sentiment on the island. Likewise, an ITS expert commentary attributed the election result to KMT infighting and a lack of political conviction rather than any problems with Ma Ying-jeou’s cross-Strait approach, despite the clear evidence that the KMT’s fortunes declined dramatically after the 2014 Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) confrontation.
Overall, the role of Taiwan-focused think tanks exemplifies the ongoing efforts and challenges faced by the CCP in making the country’s governance more “scientific” while retaining its one-party rule and tightening the ideological screws. Whether this approach, and the policies it produces, will turn out to be successful is very much an open question.
The main point: The making of Beijing’s Taiwan policy is supported by an impressive array of research institutes and experts. However, the leadership’s self-imposed rigidity on this issue and tightening ideological constraints severely hamper its effectiveness in promoting innovative policies.
 Kevin Cai, “The Evolution of the Institutional Structure of Beijing’s Taiwan Policy Making Since the Late 1970s,” in Kevin Cai (ed.), Cross-Taiwan Straits Relations Since 1979(Singapore: World Scientific, 2011), 235 f.; David Lampton (ed.), The Making of Chinese Foreign and Security Policy in the Era of Reform (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 302 f.
 David Shambaugh, “China’s International Relations Think Tanks: Evolving Structure and Process,” The China Quarterly 171 (2002): 575-596.
 Bonnie Glaser and Phillip Saunders, “Chinese Civilian Foreign Policy Research Institutes: Evolving Roles and Increasing Influence,” The China Quarterly 171 (2002): 597-616.
Wooing Southeast Asia: “New Southbound Policy” Meets “Belt and Road Initiative”
David An is a senior research fellow at the Global Taiwan Institute and was previously a political military officer at the US Department of State.
Southeast Asia finds itself in a favorable position of being courted simultaneously by both Taipei and Beijing, which raises the question of whether Taiwan’s and China’s diplomatic tug of war in Africa, Latin America, and Oceania will lead to intensified competition between the two in Southeast Asia. President Tsai dismisses the possibility that Southeast Asia will be a new and heated arena of political friction between Taiwan and China. Tsai recently stated: “The New Southbound Policy (新南向政策) isn’t about making a political statement in the region… Let me repeat: It is not about geopolitics. It is about economics and trade.” Unfortunately, it may not solely be up to her administration to decide how the policy will be perceived and received, since Beijing and Southeast Asia will necessarily have a say.
Despite the Tsai Administration’s declared intentions, there is mounting evidence that Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (一带一路) are pushing up against one another in Southeast Asia. The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesman Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) has already accused Taiwan’s new policy of being a politically motivated attempt to pivot away from the PRC market and suggested that it was a means to promote independence. Indeed, Taiwan’s official New Southbound Policy Work Plan states up front that one key reason to look south is because China’s economy is restructuring, its regulatory system is adjusting, labor costs are rising, and its economy is slowing. However, that Taiwan would want to diversify its options does not necessarily mean that Taipei is giving up on doing business in China.
To make matters political, China and Vietnam signed a joint statement on May 15 at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, which presents another challenge to Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy. The Voice of Vietnam wrote that Vietnam pledged to “persistently respect the one China principle, support the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations and China’s unification cause, and resolutely oppose any Taiwanese independence activities in any form.” An unnamed Chinese official told the Chinese-language United Daily News specifically that the China-Vietnam joint statement is intended to thwart the New Southbound Policy.
In another case, China lodged a strong complaint with India about a rare visit by a three-member Taiwanese legislative delegation in February, warning New Delhi to follow the “one-China” policy and refrain from any official contacts with Taipei. To be sure, the “China factor” is a key spoiler for the success of the New Southbound Policy.
Under these circumstances, Taiwan can play to its advantage by highlighting how the New Southbound Policy emphasizes two-way trade compared to China’s emphasis on simply finding an export market for its goods. Former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce, James Zimmerman, said of China’s Belt and Road Forum held May 11-15, “Tell us what we are going to get out of this. It’s a nonstarter if it’s all about bringing Chinese goods to Europe, or if it’s all one way.” On the contrary, Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy specifically plans for “two way reciprocity,” “economy and trade cooperation,” “talent exchange,” and “resource sharing.” To illustrate, Taiwan’s imports from ASEAN countries grew from $21 billion to $28 billion between 2005 and 2015, and its exports to ASEAN also concurrently rose from $27 billion to $50 billion.
In spite of the economic imperative for the New Southbound Policy, China is pushing back against it. In the face of Beijing’s pressure, Taiwan should not shy away from advertising Taiwanese goods and services, or its tourist attractions through traditional media such as billboards, television, and the internet. Beijing can do little to thwart traditional types of advertisements that rely predominantly on buying advertising space.
However, Taiwan should take a different approach when high-level elite politics is involved. Under these conditions, it would be wise to cooperate quietly with Southeast Asian governments when the situation calls for discretion.
Two months ago, Tainan city mayor Lai Ching-Te (賴清德) led a delegation of chancellors and representatives from 12 Tainan universities to Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia to meet with government officials. The relatively low-key visit was a success, that ended with nine memoranda signed. The trip was successful precisely because it included Taiwanese education leaders on the team, did not employ big and flashy banners to announce their arrival, and refrained from naming their specific interlocutors. This experience offers a method for successfully holding government-to-government meetings, which can then open doors for trade, bring additional international students to Taiwan’s universities, or even enable Taiwanese officials to assist and advocate for Taiwanese businesses in the region.
Around the same time as Mayor Lai’s visit to Southeast Asia, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) made a similar trip to Malaysia in late March. Mayor Ko’s visit was met with more pressure than Mayor Lai. The Malaysia side explicitly mentioned that it wanted to work together in a low-key way. However, unlike Mayor Lai, Mayor Ko’s arrival was marked with large permanent banners and murals of Taiwan-Malaysia cooperation that filled entire office building foyers. While visiting delegations usually involve an element of fanfare, it is more effective for Taiwan to take a discreet approach due to political sensitivities. Ko’s mission also lacked the specific functional focus on education present in Lai’s trip, which featured a delegation of university leaders, and thus raised fewer political concerns. It also did not help that a newspaper article published in the middle of his trip explicitly mentioned that Mayor Ko’s Southeast Asia tour, in addition to the promotion of Taipei City tourism and urban exchange, was also believed to be “shoulder[ing] a more political diplomatic relations work.” Mayor Ko could only repeat his euphemism, “We are the their guests, so we should go with what is convenient for them,” in the face of several meeting cancellations from his foreign hosts.
The Tsai Administration’s non-confrontational approach with its New Southbound Policy is the right one, since the ideal outcome for Taiwan is that all benefit from increased trade and cooperation in the region without confrontation. According to a Taiwanese legislator, the “New Southbound Policy” does not conflict with China’s “Belt and Road” initiative because it was not created to foster rivalry with other nations. “We are not kindergarten kids making others choose to be friends with one side and not another. If the New Southbound Policy is successful, a broadening of cooperation would benefit all three sides,” he said, referring to Taiwan, China, and Southeast Asian countries. Though Taiwan wants to develop trade and people-to-people exchanges with the Southeast Asia, free of geopolitical considerations, others may not see it that way. Therefore, Taiwan should consider strategies and counterstrategies to effectively achieve its goals.
The Main Point: Though the Tsai Administration emphasizes trade and not geopolitics in its New Southbound Policy, it should prepare for political roadblocks in Southeast Asia, and effectively overcome challenges by emphasizing two way trade and government-to-government cooperation in specific functional areas.