Last week in Washington, DC, Arlington-based think tank the Project 2049 Institute (www.project2049.net), started by former senior U.S. government officials Randy Schriver and Mark Stokes, held a conference at the National Press Club entitled Seek Truth from Facts: The Chinese Communist Party’s War on History (hereafter “War on History”). The purpose of the conference was to discuss “[t]he CCP’s narrative of its history … [as] a critical component of the Party’s domestic and foreign policy, as it aims to legitimize its own power and supremacy.”
The first panel focused on the Second Sino-Japanese War—which ended on September 9, 1945—and speakers included academics from Japan and China. The lead presentation was given by Dr. Homare Endo, a professor at Tokyo University, who was born in China and lived through the Revolutionary War. Citing historical documents retrieved from archival research, Dr. Endo challenged Chinese Communist Party (CCP) orthodoxy and its dominant political narrative about the Party and its role during the Republican era. Specifically, she claimed that the CCP colluded with the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 – 1945).
According to Dr. Endo, CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang—whose death in 1989 precipitated the democracy protests in Tiananmen Square—stated in 1979 that “if someday, the Chinese people learned the true history of the CCP, they would overthrow the Chinese government” (要是讓人民知道了我們共產黨的歷史，人民就要起來推翻我們了). Hu’s powerful and incisive critique of CCP misdeeds shows that members in the highest echelons of the Party were aware of the Party’s murky role in contemporary Chinese history. The underlying purpose of the Party’s on-going, comprehensive war on history is nothing less than the continuation of a long struggle to maintain one-Party rule. Indeed, People’s Republic of China (PRC) political warfare is directed at all historic foes of the CCP, not only at its old nemesis the Kuomingtang (KMT), and is used as a means to shape and define the discourse of international relations in line with its political-military objectives.
Interestingly, in the same building where the “War on History” conference was held only several days later, Taiwan’s former Premier Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村), who served as Chief of the General Staff of the Republic of China (ROC) Armed Forces (and is the father of former Taipei mayor and KMT Vice Chairman Hau Lung-pin (郝龍斌)), also gave the keynote remark at a conference entitled A War to Remember – United Chinese Effort Against Japanese Invasion.The conference’s host was the Hong Kong-based China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC). (https://www.cefc.org.hk) Speakers at the CEFC conference included Hong Kong’s former Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho (何志平), Cao Tianzong (曹天忠), Fu Yingchuan (傅應川), Zuo Shuangwen (左雙文), He Shitong (何世同).
CEFC is a political warfare platform affiliated with what was formerly known as the General Political Department (GPD) and an active component of the CCP propaganda and ideology system. Open source research shows that CEFC serves as an administrative subsidiary of the China Huaxin Energy Company and has a distinct mission related to energy, maritime security, and cultural propaganda. It is therefore surprising to see the former premier of Taiwan take center stage at an event designed to propagate the CCP’s political objectives. The ROC National Army’s role in fighting the Japanese Imperial Army during the Sino-Japanese war is a historic fact, yet the CCP has long tried to erase the National government’s role in modern Chinese history. The motive behind what now appears to be the CCP’s attempts to re-assimilate the Nationalist government back into its political narrative is less clear.
The targets of CEFC’s political warfare have not been limited to retired senior military officers and government officials from Taiwan. A follow-on symposium held the day after at George Washington University, which was co-hosted by the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies, entitled “US-China Policy for the Next Administration” saw the participation of former senior U.S. policymakers. CEFC organized a similar event last year.
The linkages between CEFC and political warfare underscore the significance of General Hau’s participation as a coup for PLA political warfare. Indeed, Hau’s participation raises a serious question: What is the KMT’s role—or Taiwan’s, for that matter—in the narrative of China’s future?
To be sure, as a Chinese-speaking democracy, Taiwan plays a unique role in any possibility of a democratic future for China. However, that role may be diluted by CCP attempts to utilize the KMT to water down its role in history or manipulate Taiwan’s democracy. As longtime Taiwan reporter and former analyst at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service J. Michael Cole also observed: “[political warfare] demonstrates how China uses an ‘onion layer’ strategy to deceive and overwhelm its adversaries.” It’s high time for policymakers and historians in Washington, Taipei, and other third countries to peel back the layers of PRC political warfare.
The main point: As a Chinese-speaking democracy, Taiwan plays a uniquely important role in the competition of narratives for China’s future. However, that role may be diluted by attempts by the CCP to utilize the KMT to water down its role in Chinese history or manipulate Taiwan’s democracy.
Correction: The earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the 2016 KMT presidential candidate.