Political Warfare Alert: Retired Generals Participate in Cross-Strait Forum on Sino-Japanese War
On August 20, the “Symposium on Passing on Chinese Anti-Japanese War History and Anti-War Spirit” (中華民族抗日戰爭史與抗戰精神傳承研討會) opened in Nanning city, in Guangxi province. Attendees of the two-day conference gathered in the historic Chinese city in southern China to commemorate one of the landmark battles of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). More than 500 participants reportedly attended the politically-tinged event, including retired generals, scholars, and youths from both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The event’s organizers were the China-based Academy of History of Chinese Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (中國抗日戰爭史學會) and the Taiwan-based Memorial Association for the Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (台灣中華民族抗日戰爭紀念協會), and reportedly co-organized by the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences (廣西社會科學院) and the Taiwan History Education ‘Three Self’ Movement Association (台灣歷史教育新三自運動協會). Another supporting organization might have included the Chinese Integration Association (兩岸統合學會) based in Taiwan.
The conference was attended by senior retired generals from both Taiwan and China. Participants from Taiwan included former deputy defense minister and retired Lieutenant General Wang Wen-hsieh (王文燮, b. 1932), former commander of the Republic Of China (ROC) Marines Corps General Chi Li-lien (季麟連, b. 1947), retired Lieutenant General Kao An-kuo (高安國, b. 1944), and former dean of the Army Command and Staff College at the National Defense University Huang Ping-lin (黃炳麟), among others. Huang concurrently serves as the chief supervisor of one of the event co-organizers, the Chinese Anti-Japanese War Memorial Association in Taiwan. Senior participants from China included the chairman of the Chinese Anti-Japanese History Association, Wang Jianlang (王建朗, b. 1956), and the former political commissar of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Nanjing Military Region, retired Lieutenant General Fang Zuyu (方祖岐, b. 1935), and the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office Deputy Director Long Mingbiao (龍明彪), among others.
This year’s meeting is the third iteration of this series. Previous conferences organized by the same hosts were held in Nanjing in 2017 and Wuhan in 2018—both places were also major battle sites in the Second Sino-Japanese War. For instance, to mark the 80th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident (also known as the July 7th Incident, 七七事變) in July 2017, the two main organizers held a similar event to commemorate the clash between a small regiment of the Nationalist Army and the Japanese Imperial Army from July 7-9, 1937, which many war historians believe sparked the Second Sino-Japanese War.
The Second Sino-Japanese War was a watershed event that historians generally agree materially led to the Nationalist government’s defeat in the second Chinese civil war (1946-1950) to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). These cross-Strait symposiums focused on revisiting the Second Sino-Japanese War, which have been occurring on a more high-profile and frequent basis after the mid-2000s, are part of a concerted effort by the CCP to reframe the country’s narrative on history, especially those events involving the Communist and Nationalist parties during the Republican period. This is ostensibly an effort to forge a common and united narrative between the two parties. Indeed, since as far back as 2005, the CCP has been trying to re-assimilate the Nationalist Party into its political narrative through various means, including political warfare. In 2015, CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping proposed for the Chinese people on the two sides to jointly revise anti-Japanese history (兩岸共修抗戰史) and Beijing has been actively promoting greater awareness and understanding of the history and spirit of the anti-Japanese war.
At the 2017 conference in Nanjing, the keynote speaker for the conference was the former premier of Taiwan and chief of general staff Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村, b. 1919). In his keynote address, General Hau declared that the victory against the Japanese in World War II was the “shared glory” (共同光榮) of both the Nationalists and the Communists. With the express purpose to develop a common political narrative on modern Chinese history, Hau emphasized five principles that must guide studies on the history of the Sino-Japanese war. First, it must stand on the side of the Chinese nation; second, it must stand on the side of academic enlightenment, and not be influenced by any political sympathies; third, it must stand on a strategic level; fourth, it must stand as a neutral observer, and use the perspective of younger generations to understand the truth of history; and fifth, it must stand on the side of its influence on global human peace in understanding the relationship between the resistance to Japanese aggression and World War II.
This year’s conference location in Nanning was chosen to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Kunlun Pass (崑崙關戰役) on December 18 in 1939. Speakers at the conference hoisted the battle as a symbol of the strength of Chinese unity, as the campaign was the first major victory of the Chinese army since the Battle of Wuhan. While it is a commonly accepted fact that the Nationalist Army suffered far more losses than the Communist Army during the Sino-Japanese wars, the CCP has until recently tried to downplay or dismiss the role of the KMT (Kuomintang, also known as the Nationalist Party) . As such, these events, which celebrate these historic events as joint efforts of the two sides, appear intended to promote a united front through a shared sense of sacrifice between both the Nationalist Party and Communist Party during the war.
The executive director of the Taiwan-based Chinese Integration Association, Cheng Chi-sheng (鄭旗生), stated that the reason why they were participating in the event now is because Taiwan is no longer talking about the anti-Japanese war. The Association is a non-governmental organization established in 2008 for promoting acceptance of “One-China” on both sides of the Taiwan Strait with the express purpose of advancing cross-Strait peaceful development. Most of the original members of the group came from the Democratic Action Alliance (民主行動聯盟), which is a non-governmental organization active in opposing US arms sales to Taiwan through the Anti-6108 Arms Sales Coalition (反6108軍購大聯盟). The current chairman of the organization is the 2019 KMT presidential primary candidate Chang Ya-chung (張亞中, b. 1954) with the secretary general as Hsieh Ta-Ning (謝大寧, b. 1957).
During his speech at this year’s conference, TAO’s Deputy Director Long criticized so-called “Taiwan independence forces,” specifically, he called out the ruling-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for promoting various “Taiwan independence activities to de-Sinicize [Taiwan],” which have blocked cross-Strait exchanges and cooperation, suppressed and threatened civil society groups and people engaged in cross-Strait exchanges. Long accused them of “even beautifying Japanese colonial rule […] and [being] anti-Chinese accomplices with Western countries seeking to contain China.” According to Long, Taiwan independence forces are “national scums, [and] like the traitors who sold the country for glory during the War of Resistance, will eventually be sent to criminal trial and historical courts.” He also mentioned that the purpose of the conference is to bring together friends from all walks of life and on both sides of the Strait to jointly carry forward and pass on the spirit of the war of resistance against Japan, unite and work together at the crucial moment of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” and safeguard the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations.
Wang—the former deputy defense minister and director of the Huang Fuhsing Bureau (黃復興黨部) within the KMT (Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party)—and a regular at this and other cross-Strait united front exchanges, pointed out that the resistance relied on the full cooperation between the Nationalist and the Communist Party; therefore, according to Wang, it is the “Chinese nation” who defeated Japan. He stated that the two sides must pursue the truth of history and let future generations know more about this past. Wang also waxed poetically and said that Xi Jinping’s “community of human destiny” represents the ideals of Taiwan’s founding father, Sun Yat-sen.
The main point: A series of cross-Strait forums organized on the history of the Sino-Japanese war since 2017 are part of a broader effort to reframe the historical narrative of the war to serve the CCP’s united front objectives.
Taipei Mayor Forms New Political Party: Taiwan People’s Party
With little more than five months until Taiwan’s next presidential and legislative elections in January 2020, Ko Wen-je (柯文哲, b. 1959)—the independent mayor of Taipei—formally launched a new political party on August 6 called the Taiwan People’s Party (台灣民眾黨黨). In a move that caught many political observers by surprise, the new political party will reportedly aim to field candidates to run in the upcoming legislative elections in January 2020 that will be held in tandem with the country’s presidential election. While many observers believe Ko will run in the upcoming presidential race, it is not clear how he would manage to effectively run a nationwide campaign or govern if he were to win. Currently without a reliable base of political support for his legislative agenda inside the Legislative Yuan, Ko’s decision to form a political party appears intended to support his run for president—if not in 2020, then very likely in 2024.
Even in a political system that has been dominated by two political parties for more than the past two decades, the creation of another political party is not in itself a material addition to the island’s democratic political landscape. Taiwan has competitive third parties—albeit to varying successes—for quite some time. Yet, what distinguishes the TPP to other political parties is the non-aligned orientation of the party and of Ko’s own popularity. Other smaller parties, such as the People’s First Party (PFP) and the more recently formed New Power Party (NPP), are associated with the two bigger political parties (the KMT and DPP) and generally aligned with the two dominant coalitions (for instance, the PFP is part of the pan-Blue coalition whereas the NPP is part of the pan-Green coalition). On the other hand, the TPP appears, at least on the surface, to be an independent party—not belonging to either coalition although drawing from moderate supporters of the two political parties, as well as independents.
A cursory survey of the TPP’s composition seems to indicate that Ko’s supporters draw from a broad mix of political stripes. This is perhaps an effort to strengthen his party’s image as a political party that is not tied to any of the existing coalitions. See below a non-exhaustive list of senior members of the TPP reported on in the local media outlets:
Central Committee (中央委員): Zhang Yiwei (張益贍), Zhou Zhongyu (周鐘麒), Lin Funan (林富男), Huang Weiwei (黃胤為)
Central Review Committee (中央評議委員): Lai Xiangwei (賴祥蔚), Cai Yilun (蔡易倫), Lai Junming (賴俊銘), Lai Zhenglong (賴正龍), Yang Xingchang (楊行昌)
Other party members (reported in the media): Li Wenzong (李文宗), Yu Jiazhe (余家哲), Zhang Zheyang (張哲揚), Chen Xuetai (陳學台), Lin Chongjie (林崇傑), Cai Bairu (蔡壁如), Li Yuying (李縉穎), Chen Jianwei (陳建璋), Liu Yiren (劉瀛仁), Liu Wei (劉奕霆), Ke Xiaoan (柯昱安), Huang Yuying (黃瀞瑩), Xie Hexian (謝和弦), Dong Dejun (董德堉)
Notably absent were any prominent politicians. Some of the politicians at the launch ceremony include former Tainan County commissioner Su Huang-chih, and former legislators Hsu Hsin-ying (徐欣瑩) of Hsinchu County, Lisa Huang (黃文玲) of Changhua County and Chi Kuo-tung (紀國棟) from Taichung.
By using the name “Taiwan People’s Party,” Ko is also drawing from the emotional appeal of Chiang Wei-shui (蒋渭水)—a Taiwanese revolutionary pre-1949 who established the first political party in the island by the same name during Japanese colonial rule in 1927. As the party’s first chairman, Ko stated as much in claiming that his new party will inherit Chiang’s legacy. It is interesting to note that Ko and Chiang share the same birthdate and the formal launch of the TPP was held on their birthday.
While some observers are dismissive of Ko’s self-professed “neutral line” and argue that the TPP will not appeal to the Taiwanese people who have strong party and identity consciousness, the potential impact of this new political party should not be readily dismissed and may be more significant than observers think in Taiwan’s current political environment. The ongoing rift between members in the opposition party for the presidential race may further splinter votes from the KMT. Rumors of potential independent runs by Terry Guo and Wang Jin-pyng, two heavyweights of the KMT, could open up a huge chasm in the party and encourage supporters to look for another party to vote for (not necessarily the DPP) in the upcoming elections. The TPP may just be that party. Similarly, the fraying of the NPP with the departure of several top leaders over an apparent internal split over whom to support in the upcoming presidential election could weaken voter support for the young political party in the legislative elections. There are public chatters about several smaller parties that may be formed from within the green coalition by deep green factions represented by the Formosa Alliance and also by former President Chen Shui-bian to compete in the upcoming legislative election, which would mean that there are more candidates for voters to choose from in the 2020 legislative elections.
According to the latest public opinion poll data from the National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center released in July 2019, a plurality of respondents identifies as independent or provided a non-response at 42.5 percent (down from 49.1 percent in 2018). Interestingly, party identification for both the ruling party (the DPP) and the opposition party (the KMT) increased with 24.5 percent identifying as DPP supporters (up from 20.1), and 27.6 percent of respondents identifying as KMT supporters (up from 25.4 percent). Moreover, 4.7 percent of respondents said they identify themselves as New Power Party (NPP) supporters (up from 4.0 percent), while other parties received less than 1 percent.
The main point: Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je launched the Taiwan People’s Party on August 6. His decision to form a political party appears intended to support his run for president—if not in 2020, then very likely in 2024.