Thursday, June 25, 2015

KMTitanic 13: Hung over an Abyss

Taking a morning walk.
LOVETT: It still gets me every time... to see the sad ruin of the great ship sitting here, where she landed at 2:30 in the morning, April 15, 1912, after her long fall from the world above.
BODINE: You are so full of shit, boss.
I do not want to make this blog about Hung Hsiu-chu, but the Discovery of Hung is not only endlessly fascinating, but critically important for the KMT. So for the nonce there's going to be a lot of posts about her. Apologies.

Probably the most important bit of news yesterday was the KMT's insistence that Hung will be confirmed as the nominee:
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) spokesperson Yang Wei-chung (楊偉中) yesterday said that it is “absolutely impossible” for any change to be made to the party’s decision to nominate Deputy Legislative Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) as its presidential candidate, after Next Magazine reported that Hung’s nomination might be at risk as her master’s degree has been called into question.
Nevertheless, numerous observers continue to speculate that the KMT will swap candidates. Everyone I talk to sooner or later offers some variation of the following two sentences:
"I can't believe they aren't going to change candidates."
"I admit, I kinda have a sneaking fondness for her."
...myself included. She's so authentically herself, many of us can't help but like her.

The commentary on Hung continues to grow -- and much of it negative. Like many other observers, my friend Brian Hioe notes that Hung is an existential threat to the KMT:
Where Hung is a thought of dangerous and unpredictable, it is because of the fiery nature of her rhetoric. When Hung states criticisms of the DPP and opposition to Taiwanese independence, she is not truly saying anything new, but Hung states it in terms that threaten flare-up sub-ethnic tensions in Taiwan. In an interesting contradiction, having joined the KMT despite being the child of a victim of the White Terror, Hung has acquired a reputation for anti-native Taiwanese chauvinism, for example, regarding cutting the budgets of Taiwanese language programs or even casually making fun of the enunciation of the Taiwanese language. Hung’s appeals seem primarily aimed towards deep blue KMT diehards, which has been a crucial factor in her past inability to capture larger Taiwanese demographic and may be a factor as to her future inability to do so.

Where we may speculate as to the internal dynamics of the KMT, if Hung’s support comes from KMT hardliners within the party, it may be that the past year’s defeats of the KMT have not made the KMT reevaluate its need for internal reform. Recent attempts to highlight young members of the party in cognizance of the disconnect of the KMT with younger Taiwanese notwithstanding, it seems that the solution arrived at by hardliners is if what they are doing now is not succeeding, they need to go back to the good, old days—as represented by Hung. This kind of behavior, too, is not entirely surprising where, for example, the Ma administration’s reaction to the large-scale popular resistance to attempts to sign free trade agreements with China in the past year as expressed in the Sunflower Movement and its aftermath has largely been to attempt to continue attempting to draw Taiwan economically closer to China.

With every issue in the past year that stirred the fear of Taiwanese that Taiwan was in danger of encroachment from China—whether regarding the CSSTA trade agreement that the Sunflower Movement was reacting to, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank which also prompted protest, or flight route M503 which was seen as allowing Chinese airplanes to get dangerously close to Taiwanese airspace—Hung has taken the line that such fears were unfounded and attributed the outbreak of protest to the machinations of the DPP rather than any popular expression of the will of the Taiwanese people. Hung will almost certainly never connect with the Taiwanese public at large if she keeps this up and is unable to moderate herself.
Hioe's article is excellent and should be read in its entirety. He argues that Hung represents an opportunity to target the KMT in a way that another candidate would not. Her strident anti-Americanism may rupture the historical American support for the KMT, and her obdurate Nationalist views will surely chill voters, especially middle of the road voters.

Expert Jon Sullivan makes that argument in an excellent SCMP piece.
Hung is an advocate of faster economic integration leading to unification. In a long and undistinguished political career, she is best known for her strident ideological views. Until now a marginal character in the KMT, Hung has a reputation for pugnacity and a sketchy electoral record. She secured the deputy speaker position as a balance to the "local wing" speaker, Wang Jin-pyng, who prizes pragmatism in terms of future political solutions. Although her father was a victim of the KMT's White Terror, a political purge during the martial law era, Hung has shown strong commitment to the party. In a polity where pragmatism is the norm, at least at election time, Hung's commitment to old ideals and pursuit of unification with China is unusually steadfast.

This would not be a story if Hung's nomination were consistent with the trajectory of Taiwanese public opinion. But the attitude of the majority of the electorate is moving firmly in the opposite direction, both on China and "traditional" attitudes...

....If the KMT suffers a heavy loss, the party will face potential ruptures. Factional cleavages in the party are long-standing. Despite several splinter parties breaking off, the core party has held together because it has had superior resources and political capital. But if substantial losses in 2016 compound the loss of its control over local politics, the KMT will be weakened to the point that it may no longer be able to cover over the cracks in its ranks.
Yep. This piece is important for me in two ways. First, it shows that critiques of Hung as non-mainstream in Taiwan are acceptable in the international media. This means we will see more of them, and because the international media validates in Taiwan local politics, they will reverberate back here, helping Tsai.

The second reason is personal: Sullivan was on Twitter criticizing those of us who have been maintaining that this is an existential crisis for the KMT (long before Hung appeared on the scene), saying that the problems were merely cyclical. Welcome to the Dark Side, Jon. If you haven't read them, myself at The Diplomat and Courtney Donovan Smith at Sullivan's own (and excellent) China Policy Institute blog explain why the KMT is in the throes of an existential crisis. It may yet recover, but prospects look pretty grim right now...

Meanwhile, there's the Cross Strait policy mess (Taipei Times)....
KMT cross-strait policy is consistent with the Three Communiques signed by Washington and Beijing — the Shanghai Communique, the Joint Communique on the Establishment of Relations and the 817 Communique — as well as the Taiwan Relations Act, Hung said in the interview with Broadcasting Corp of China on Friday last week.

Hung said that the elements of the KMT’s policy” — the “one China” principle, the “1992 consensus” — a tacit understanding between the KMT and Beijing that both sides acknowledge there is “one China,” with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” means — and a rejection of Taiwanese independence — are indicated in the communiques.
Hung is either lying (but not in a very slick way) or has zero grasp of this thicket of obfuscation, which has swallowed commentators far more versed in it than herself. The 1992 Consensus, which says that Taiwan is part of China, is not consistent with US policy, which says that Taiwan's status awaits final determination. Nor does the US "reject" Taiwan independence, it merely "does not support." Not that it matters, for US officials are unlikely to issue any clarifications for what is obviously a local matter. But her ineptitude will matter to them privately...

Also of note: her vapid comments on the US, Taiwan, and China relationships are totally undercutting the key KMT propaganda claim that Tsai needs to "clarify" her stance. How can they maintain that position when it is obvious that their candidate has no clue?

Indeed, the media had a good laugh this week when an anonymous KMT member compared Hung and her followers to the Boxers:
Saying that Hung has launched a full attack against the US, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and Chu, the unnamed member compared Hung to militants of the Boxer Rebellion, who believed themselves to be invincible and started the uprising in China in the 19th century to annihilate Westerners.
As for the Taishang, the businessmen in China, some 200,000 would like to come home to vote, according to an association head. Yet, the Taishang are a typical expat population in many ways, spending their time in the new country, educating their kids there, and generally cutting ties with home. As time passes, these propensities grow. As Hung's prospects sink, the Taishang who are supposed to be super-KMT may well rethink spending the time, money, and hassle to come home to vote. Recall that the election is scheduled for Jan 16th, but the Lunar New Year is Feb 8. This means that many businessmen will face the unpalatable choice of coming home and then flying back immediately to be with their businesses during the critical lead up to New Year, then returning a couple of weeks later to do New Year, or staying away from the business for almost a month. And all that to vote for a candidate who likely isn't going to win.

Yet, they might come, to help save the legislature. As I've noted several times, Hung isn't going to help the KMT anywhere outside of the north. She could cost them the legislature.

What's missing? So far Hung has offered nothing on the economy, society -- except for doubling down on the unpopular pro-China changes to the curriculum -- or environment. The DPP's Tsai, by contrast, is maintaining a wait-and-see silence, deliberately letting Hung be hung. So the campaign at the moment is occupied by Hung's strident pro-China, anti-American views. Sweet.

We're weeks into her campaign and no competent English writer has cleaned up Hung's Legislative Bio. It's still studded with gems: "Her mother used to rag on her" that have no place in formal writing. Is there a Hung team competence issue here?

Finally, this week, which saw an approving interview in TIME of Tsai even if the rest of it was filled with KMT propaganda (my rip of it is now one of my top posts in terms of views), produced the dumbest "controversy" ever. TIME wrote:
Tsai gained a reputation for being wonky—the type who likes to debate protectionism over early-morning sips of black coffee or oolong tea.
KMTers immediately seized on that to proclaim that TIME had implied that she was "unreliable" which is another meaning of "wonky." No, seriously, the Hung camp really did that.

That's the level the Rational Party is working at, folks.

Recent sightings of the good ship KMTitanic
The Latest from Hung -- KMTitanic 12: Hung can see the Statue of Liberty -- The KMT rules -- It's Hung -- The rational party is Hung -- The Comic Genius of Hung Hsiu-chu -- Eric "Hamlet" Chu suffers the insolence of office -- KMTitanic 11: The Captain is no longer aboard -- Hung? Really? -- Comedy and ethnicity in The Rational Party -- KMTitanic 10: the ship is foundering -- Wang out -- Chu goes there? -- Rounding up the KMT again -- KMTitanic 8: Chu = monkey wrench -- KMTitanic 7: Existential Crisis --  KMT Shorts -- Chu Notes -- KMTitanic 5: Struggling for the Northern Lifeboats -- Chu Political Theatre -- KMTitanic 4 -- KMTitanic 3 -- KMTitanic 2 -- KMTitanic 1 -- Chu's Revolutionary Reforms?

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an angry taiwanese said...

I do not want to make this blog about Hung Hsiu-chu, but the Discovery of Hung is not only endlessly fascinating, but critically important for the KMT.
Also critical for the west Pacific geopolitics. Her every motion helps us to evaluate whether if KMT elites have made an important new decision - that is they decide to leave the USA-lead alliance and switch to the side of communism China. China may also want to use her to change the vagueness in the status quo, a way to tell the USA 'let's play a new game'. So do keep blogging on Hung.

Carlos said...

I can understand the "wonky" issue. If you don't know the word and look it up, you only get the unreliable definition. I think the correct adjective form of "wonk" as in "policy wonk" is "wonkish."

Michael Turton said...

Excellent comment, angry taiwanese

Anonymous said...

For the DPP, this is the make-or-break opportunity of a lifetime. It's not just enough for Tsai to win; she has to absolutely clobber Hung.

Inflict a massive defeat on Hung in January - say, 70% to 30%, and the KMT will be forced to Taiwanize in a hurry or never win the presidency again. Unification may finally become abandoned vocabulary for good.

But let Hung lose narrowly - say, by 54% to 46% - and not only will the KMT hang around, but unification might actually gain a lot of legitimacy - "Hey, we ran the craziest pro-China candidate possible and STILL only lost narrowly!"

2016 is a vital crossroads.

Michael Turton said...

Yes, that's a good point.

Jerome Besson said...

All through Ma's two terms in office, there are those who have been quietly saying that Ma was given the nod for scuttling the KMTitanic by 2016. It follows that Hung is the eager but whacky boatswain to untie the last hawser. Et voilà. . . voilà, voilà, there she goes to the abyss, with flying colors.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, it looks like that there's no way to explain what “wonky" means to rational and educated people.

Direct them to or, and they will say that those are only blogs and not reliable sources.

Dictionaries such as Webster or American Heritage do not have that second meaning, ”overly studious or obsessed with details," listed for wonky. The blogs mentioned that only OED included that meaning after 2014, but I do not have access to OED. Show them entries on political wonk and they will point to you that the adjective for wonk is wonkish, not wonky.

Tell them to read the paragraph, put it in the context, and they will tell you that people who would discuss protectionism over a cup of tea in the morning are self-contradictory, empty-talking and unreliable.

I doubt asking the author herself would work, too, since UDN is saying that it is a slip of tongue that reveals a true, hidden, implication underneath.

So petty, being entrapped in this narrow frameset that shifts the focus from an whole article to one ambiguous word makes me feel petty about myself too. So frustrating, how are dialogues possible when people continue to be so rational, logical, and well-educated.