KMT Reform? We’ll Believe It When We See It

A former KMT spokesman argues in an influential foreign publication that the KMT is in the ‘throes of reform’. That would be wonderful, but don’t hold your breath
Photo: J. Michael Cole / TT
Photo: J. Michael Cole / TT
J. Michael Cole
By

A recent article in Foreign Policy magazine penned by Charles I-hsin Chen (陳以信) has caused a bit of a sensation among some Taiwan watchers for its seemingly candid assessment of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) failures and need to reform. Chen, who until recently was the KMT spokesman and has now been elevated to the position of spokesman for the Presidential Office, is absolutely right when he argues that the party needs to change. Sadly, he gets just about everything else wrong.

Published on Feb. 17, Chen’s article, titled “How Taiwan’s Ruling but Reeling Kuomintang Can Win the Future,” sparked an odd reaction among some Taiwan specialists who saw in the piece the germs of true reform within the KMT, which since Jan. 17 has been headed by Eric Chu (朱立倫). A number of those experts, who up until then had been scathing critics of the KMT, regarded the article as a groundbreaking admission of mistakes by the party, a “wow” moment even. Undoubtedly there are many others overseas who will likely reach similar conclusions.

However, if we pay close attention to the language used in the article, it becomes clear that Mr. Chen’s blueprint for reform is not quite what it seems. It also helps to know a little more about Chen’s track record, to which we will turn in a moment.

Let’s begin with the article itself. Chen doesn’t lose time and sets the tone with the opening sentence. “Taiwan’s 120-year-old ruling political party,” he writes, “is in the throes of reform.” Though he isn’t explicit, Chen evidently associates the “throes of reform” with Chu’s replacing of the unpopular Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) as chairman of the party, which received a severe drubbing in the Nov. 29 “nine-in-one” elections and undoubtedly compelled Mr. Chen to write his piece.

“The resounding defeat,” he continues, was the result of several factors: “an unequal distribution of wealth, sluggish government reform, and the KMT’s perceived coolness towards youth and civil movements.”

We are still in the opening paragraph and Chen has already given the game away. Note the qualifier: perceived coolness.

Chen ascribes much of the KMT’s unpopularity and recent electoral defeat to slow economic growth and unequal wealth distribution. Those are unquestionably serious issues and a real source of grievance with the public. He later returns to that theme, saying that the party’s policies “clearly need to strike a better balance between growth and equality.” But as we shall see, the wealth gap and out-of-control housing prices are only part of the problem. And they are not necessarily the main sources of discontent. Tellingly, Chen situates the problem in the 1997-2013 period, ensuring that in the reader’s mind the former KMT administration under president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and the two-term Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) presidency are also guilty.

He then turns to civil society with remarks that seem to constitute an admission of failure by the KMT administration. Chen refers to the death of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘), a land dispute in Dapu, Miaoli County, and the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), three controversies that sparked major protests in recent years. Conveniently, he papers over important elements of the controversies and almost certainly succeeds in convincing anyone but the truly attentive Taiwan specialists that the KMT fully understands the grievances that fueled the protests and is doing the necessary adjustments to remedy the situation.

Perhaps a short op-ed wasn’t the most suitable medium to plunge into the intricacies of the three issues; still, Chen leaves out too much and it is difficult to imagine that this is simply by accident. Furthermore, his language is interesting: in his three cases, Chen never admits that the government’s policies may have been wrong.

For example, on the death of the 24-year-old Hung, which gave rise to the Citizen 1985 movement and two large protests in 2013, Chen attributes public anger to “allegations of abuse within the armed services” and to “People criticiz[ing] the investigation that ensued as biased.” [My italics.] Nowhere does he mention the several other unexplained deaths that had occurred in the military, or the fact that for more than a month KMT legislators blocked amendments to the Court Martial Law, or that the few individuals who were ultimately prosecuted over Hung’s untimely death got off with shockingly light sentences.

Turning to the Dapu case, which Chen disingenuously calls a “land confiscation case” — what happened there was forced eviction pure and simple — the author attributes the discontent to “town residents who felt that Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior [MOI] had reneged on a 2010 promise not to confiscate the land nor demolish the homes on it.” Chen doesn’t place the Dapu incident in its proper context. Doing so would have necessitated mentioning the dozens of cases of forced eviction that emerged around the country during that period, resulting in a large protest on Ketagalan Boulevard on Aug. 18, 2013, where the many victims of the government’s rapacious land policies gathered on stage and eventually adjourned to the MOI building, which they occupied for 24 hours. Chen also doesn’t mention the deaths that directly resulted from the Dapu case, the suicide of Ms. Chu, who ingested herbicide, and the apparent suicide of Mr. Chang, one of the owners of the four homes that were demolished on July 18, 2013. He also skips the total callousness exhibited by the KMT administration over the suffering that was caused by the Dapu controversy, or the fact that the local architect of this man-made disaster, then-Miaoli county commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻), continues to enjoy the protection of KMT central.

Even more misleadingly, Chen writes that, “In the end, it took a Taipei court ruling for the Ministry of the Interior to return the confiscated land,” which for those who don’t know any better would suggest that the wrongs have been righted. That isn’t so. The land was never returned, and the Dapu Self-Help Group is still fighting with the courts to get the land back (it is now a parking lot) and secure compensation for the victims.

Chen then turns to the CSSTA and opens with an admission, agreeing that, “the KMT has sometimes chosen to stand against street protesters.” The student-led Sunflower Movement, which the Ma administration has held in open contempt, mobilized thousands of supporters who “claimed that the KMT had pushed the CSSTA through the legislature without following proper democratic procedures … [and] feared that the agreement would harm Taiwan’s economy and give Beijing too much leverage.” [My italics.] Moreover, this was “a notion international media did nothing to dispel.” Chen leaves no room whatsoever for the possibility that the CSSTA policy itself may have been wrong; it boils down to public fears and claims, which were exacerbated by “international media,” the necessary external culprit in this whole affair. For a party that is supposedly in the “throes of reform,” this language is strangely reminiscent of the Ma administration’s claim that members of the Sunflower Movement were “irrational” and “misguided.”

The closest Chen comes to admitting fault is when he discusses policing action during the occupation — “including the police’s forceful evacuation of students intruders [sic] into the Executive Yuan” — which he argues is what “most alienated voters.” While he is right to point out the anger that the bloody eviction on March 24 aroused within the public, Chen makes no mention of the injuries, or of the fact that while a total of 119 Sunflower activists are being prosecuted for their role in the occupation, not a single police officer or government official has been punished for the undeniable excesses of force used during the operation, or for preventing journalists from documenting the incident. In fact, the Ma administration has refused to even identify the guilty police officers, those who smashed heads with batons, and those who gave the order. This inequitable use of the legal system plays just as important a role in fueling public anger than did the violent expulsion itself. And we must note that the announcement of the indictments against the Sunflowers occurred after Mr. Chu had become chairman of the KMT. In the “throes of reform,” as it were.

Ultimately, Chen’s omissions ensure that the reader only receives a narrow interpretation of recent developments in Taiwan which contributed to the KMT’s serious difficulties. The Sunflower occupation was the culmination of years of anger over systemic problems, many of them of the KMT’s doing, and frustrated efforts on several controversies that, over time, became interconnected. Thus, anger over the state-sanctioned theft in Miaoli, for example, cannot be dissociated from other issues in which the KMT administration behaved unaccountably, selectively or disproportionately (e.g., illegal wiretapping, the Huaguang demolitions, media monopolization, laid-off factory workers, corruption, law enforcement, use of the court system, and so on). The KMT was not perceived to be cool. It was, and it is now paying for it.

The concluding section of Chen’s article sounds more promising — or rather, it would be more promising, had he not discredited himself in earlier passages. “The KMT also must improve its relationship with civic opposition groups — instead of opposing them or freezing them out of the decision-making process, we need to actively communicate with them, and channel their appeals into actual reforms.” He also notes that the party must recruit more youth “or risk letting young talent get away.”

There is no doubt that the party intends to “actively communicate” with youth, though at this point it is hard to imagine that this is more than the old KMT rhetoric about “better communicating” and “better explaining” its policies to a passive public. In other words, the policies are sound (according to the KMT); it’s the public perceptions that aren’t, and this can be remedied through more effective communication. Chen hints at this by suggesting that the KMT must “change the way it communicates in the online world.”

“Instead of treating the Internet as a platform promoting policies we’ve already decided upon,” he writes, “we must use it to proactively engage and encourage public participation at the policy shaping stage.” This is absolutely true, but the KMT’s track record leaves little room for optimism, and it is easy to conclude that Chen is merely paying lip service to the notion of civic empowerment. Chen also rightly points out that the KMT has barely scratched the surface of the Internet, only to unintentionally undermine his argument by mentioning that, “The KMT has worked hard on online public relations — President Ma Ying-jeou’s Facebook page exceeds the DPP’s in numbers of fans and likes.” It’s an open secret that in order to be able to read and comment on President Ma’s Facebook page, one must first “like” it. In other words, liking the Ma page doesn’t mean liking the president or his policies; just as many “fans” have clicked like simply to be able to leave criticism and abuse.

Mr. Chen is undeniably doing his job as spokesman, and he may well have succeeded in convincing people overseas that the KMT is indeed reforming. But the views expressed in his article would be more credible were it not for the fact that Chen, as good a KMT foot soldier as it gets and who is now spokesman for a president who will not admit to committing mistakes, has often argued the very opposite. For example, one week prior to the Nov. 29 elections, the man who here sounds the clarion of reform was on the record attributing negative perceptions on Dapu, Hung, the CSSTA and the trade in goods agreement to “manipulation” by the opposition.

Chen concludes with comments that are hard to disagree with. “What matters most now is our ability to turn things around. It begins [with] the humility to accept criticism, and the courage to reform.” There is no doubt that the KMT needs to reform — in fact, all the major political parties in Taiwan urgently need to reform. But it will take more than an article in an influential U.S. magazine to convince us that the KMT has recognized the fundamental flaws in its rigidly top-down structure and just as importantly, that Mr. Chu has the ability to turn things around and move the party in a direction that is more beneficial and accountable to all Taiwanese. It must also have the courage to accept that sometimes it is itself wrong.

 

J. Michael Cole is editor in chief of Thinking Taiwan, a senior non-resident fellow at the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, and an Associate researcher at the French Center for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Taipei.

 

國民黨改革?口說無憑,眼見為實 (translation by William Tsai)
國民黨前任發言人在一份有影響力的外交政策刊物上撰文,宣稱國民黨正在「改革的陣痛期中」。似乎很動聽,但別抱太大期望。

 

近日《外交政策》雜誌上由陳以信(Charles I-hsin Chen)撰寫的一篇文章,由於看來似乎對國民黨的失敗及改革需求做出坦率的評估,在一些台灣觀察家中間引發了震動。最近才卸下國民黨發言人一職,升任總統府發言人的陳以信,對於國民黨必須改革的論述當然完全正確。但悲哀的是,除此之外的每一件事,他幾乎全都理解錯誤。

陳以信在2月17日刊登的文章標題為「台灣顫慄的執政黨國民黨如何贏得未來?」,引發了部分台灣問題專家的奇特反應,他們從這篇文章裡讀到了1月17日起由朱立倫(Eric Chu)接任黨主席的國民黨即將真正進行改革的蛛絲馬跡。其中許多位專家直到不久前都還在狠批國民黨,卻把這篇文章看成是國民黨破天荒地公開認錯,甚至以為值得讚許。無庸置疑,許多海外台灣人也會得到這樣的結論。

但我們只要仔細審視這篇文章運用的語言,就能夠認清陳先生的改革藍圖和我們所預期的大相逕庭。瞭解陳以信過去的紀錄也是很有幫助的,我們在下文還會提到。

我們先來讀讀這篇文章。陳以信毫不多費唇舌,開頭第一句就為全文定調:「建黨120年的台灣執政黨,正在改革的陣痛期之中。」儘管陳以信沒有明說,但他顯然是把「改革的陣痛期」聯繫到去年11月29日地方九合一選舉慘敗之後,朱立倫接替票房毒藥馬英九出任黨主席這件事上,這次慘敗無疑也是促使陳以信撰寫這篇文章的起因。

他接著寫道:「這場慘敗」是幾個因素共同造成的:「財富分配不均、政府改造遲緩,以及國民黨對待青年世代及公民運動被人們公認的冷漠。」

我們都還沒讀完第一段,陳以信就已經露出馬腳了。看看這個修飾語:被人們公認的冷漠(perceived coolness)。

陳以信將國民黨的不受歡迎以及最近的敗選,大半歸因於經濟成長緩慢及財富分配不均。這些當然是嚴重問題,無庸置疑,而且是人民怨恨的真正起源之一。他接下來又重提這點,表示國民黨的政策「顯然需要在發展和平等之間達到更好的平衡。」但我們也必須瞭解,貧富差距和房價失控只是問題的一部分,也未必是民怨的最主要起源。陳以信將問題定位在1997-2013年之間很能說明問題,他要讓讀者記得,李登輝總統時期的國民黨政府,以及陳水扁總統的八年任期同樣難辭其咎。

接下來他談到公民社會,用字遣詞讀起來似乎是承認了國民黨執政的失敗。陳以信提到最近幾年引起大規模群眾抗爭的三大爭議:陸軍下士洪仲丘凌虐致死案,苗栗縣大埔的土地徵收迫遷問題,以及海峽兩岸服務貿易協議(CSSTA)。他信手掩蓋了這幾次爭議的重要內容,幾乎成功說服了每一個讀者國民黨完全理解引發抗爭的民怨所在,並且正在努力進行必要的修正與補救,但這騙不過真正用心的台灣問題專家。

一篇簡短的對頁評論或許並不是詳細梳理這三大爭議錯綜複雜之處最適用的媒介:可是陳以信實在省略掉太多內容,令人難以想像這純屬意外。不只是這樣,他的用字遣詞也很有技巧:陳以信敘述這三個事例時,始終不承認國民黨政府的政策有可能出錯。

例如,陳以信談到24歲的洪仲丘死亡事件引發公民1985運動和2013年的兩次大規模抗爭,將大眾的憤怒歸因於「對軍中施以凌虐的指控」以及「批評軍方偵查不公的民眾」(斜體為本文作者所標記)。但他完全不提國軍內部發生的另外幾件官兵離奇死亡案,不提國民黨立法委員封殺軍事審判法修正案一個多月,也不提洪仲丘死亡事件少數被起訴的涉案人,獲判的刑期輕的嚇人。

至於他含混稱作「土地徵收案件」的大埔事件(但在那兒發生的完全就是強拆迫遷),陳以信則將民怨歸因於「鎮民感受到台灣內政部背棄了2010年不徵收土地、強拆房屋的承諾」。但他把大埔事件抽離了脈絡。真要就事論事談大埔案,就不能不提同一時間在全台灣各地發生的數十件強拆迫遷案,這些強制徵收及迫遷事件引發了2013年8月18日凱道的大規模抗爭,許多受害者登台控訴政府貪得無厭的土地政策,最後更湧入內政部大樓,佔領24小時之久。陳以信同樣隻字未提大埔事件直接造成的死亡,包括服用農藥自殺的朱馮敏老太太,以及2013年7月18日被強制拆除的四戶屋主之一張森文先生的自殺。他更是完全省略了國民黨政府對大埔事件造成的人民苦難麻木不仁的回應,以及在地方上一手製造這場人禍的前任苗栗縣長劉政鴻至今仍然受到國民黨中央庇護。

陳以信接下來的這段話誤導更甚:「最後,是由台北的法院判決內政部將已徵收的土地歸還。」不瞭解狀況的人恐怕真會以為錯誤獲得糾正了,實情卻絕非如此。土地始終不曾歸還原主,大埔自救會至今仍在法院抗告,要求歸還已被改建為停車場的土地,並且切實補償受害者。

隨後陳以信談到海峽兩岸服務貿易協議,首先承認「國民黨有時選擇站在街頭抗爭者的對立面」。由學生發起,受到馬英九政府公然輕蔑的太陽花運動,動員了成千上萬的支持者,他們「宣稱國民黨在立法院強行通過服貿協議,不遵守民主程序……(並且)害怕服貿協議損害台灣經濟,給予北京太大的影響力。」(斜體為本文作者所標記)不僅如此,這種觀點「國際媒體並未給予有力駁斥」。陳以信完全不考慮服貿協議及其相關政策本身有可能出錯,說到底,全都是大眾恐懼宣稱,而且受到整個事件中必不可少的外部勢力「國際媒體」煽風點火。對於一個據說正在「改革陣痛期」中的執政黨,前任發言人使用的這些語言,卻不知為何讓人回想起馬英九政府宣稱太陽花運動的參與者「非理性」、「被誤導」的說詞。

陳以信最接近於承認錯誤的表態,是談到立法院佔領期間警察執法,包括「警方強制清空入侵行政院學生」的部分,他認為這是「最讓選民離心離德」的部分。儘管陳以信正確指出了3月24日血腥清場事件引起的公眾憤怒,他卻絕口不提當天凌晨的傷者,也不提在119位太陽花運動參與者遭到檢察官起訴的同時,卻沒有任何一個警察人員或政府官員因為在行動中不容否認的濫用武力或阻撓記者採訪而被懲處。事實上,馬政府根本拒絕指認犯下暴行的警察人員,無論是揮舞警棍把人打得頭破血流的,還是發號施令的。司法部門的執法不公讓公眾憤怒火上加油的作用,絕不亞於暴力鎮壓本身。我們更不能不提,台北地檢署宣佈起訴太陽花運動參與者是發生在朱立倫接任國民黨主席之後,正是所謂的「改革陣痛期」中。

結果,陳以信的省略使得讀者對於近年來讓國民黨陷入危機的事態發展,只能接收到一套狹隘的詮釋。太陽花運動佔領立法院是台灣人民這些年來對於體制問題不滿的集大成,其中有許多都是國民黨一手造成的,而許多爭議事件中遭受挫折的抗爭努力,久而久之也和民怨合而為一。因此,舉例來說,苗栗縣政府在中央政府准許下公然劫掠人民所引發的民憤,是無法與國民黨政府在其他爭議之中不負責任的、選擇性的或不合比例的執法施政切割開來的(像是非法監聽、強拆華光社區、默許媒體壟斷、剝削關廠工人、貪污腐敗、執法過當、操弄司法等等)。國民黨絕不是被人民公認為冷漠的,它確實冷酷不仁,如今正為此付出代價。

陳以信文章的最後一段讀來似乎前景一片光明,或者應該說,如果他沒有在前文中自打嘴巴的話,會有個光明的結尾。「國民黨也應當改善它和公民抗爭團體之間的關係,不要再對抗他們,或在決策過程中排擠他們,我們要主動和他們溝通,將他們的訴求注入切實的改革之中。」他也提到,國民黨必須招募更多年輕新血,「否則年輕人才就有出走之虞」。

國民黨無疑是想要和青年「主動溝通」的,儘管目前還很難想像這不會僅止於國民黨過去向被動接收的大眾「有效溝通」、「詳盡說明」政策的那套話術。換言之,(國民黨認為)政策本身是健全的,問題出在大眾的認知上,經由更努力的溝通說明就可以補救。陳以信建議國民黨必須「改變和網路世界溝通的方式」的說法恰好暗示了這點。

「不要再像本黨已經決議的那樣,把網際網路當成宣傳政策的平台,」他寫道:「我們必須運用網路,在政策倡議階段主動先制地投入,並鼓勵公眾參與。」這當然是事實,但國民黨過去的紀錄實在令人無從樂觀,而且很容易就能得到這個結論:陳以信提到的公民賦權(civic empowerment)不過就是應酬話。陳以信說國民黨只掌握了網路世界的皮毛也是完全沒錯,但接下來說的「國民黨一直在努力加強線上公關作為:馬英九總統的粉絲頁的粉絲人數和按讚數字都超過了民進黨的粉絲頁。」卻不經意地破壞了自己的論點。人盡皆知,要在馬英九總統的粉絲頁上讀文章和參與討論,都必須先為粉絲頁按讚,換句話說,為馬總統的粉絲頁按讚絕不表示支持馬總統和認同他的政策,許多「粉絲」之所以按讚,就只是為了留言批評甚至辱罵。

陳以信先生無疑善盡了發言人的職責,並且很有可能也成功說服了海外台灣人,讓他們相信國民黨真的在改革。可如果陳以信這位如今為一個拒不認錯的總統充當發言人的國民黨勤奮黨工,並不是一直都在認真說著各種悖離事實的話,他撰文表達的論點或許會更有可信度。隨手舉個例子:就在11月29日九合一選舉前一週,這個如今吹響了改革號角的人,才公開發言將大埔事件、洪仲丘案、服貿協議及貨貿協議引發的負面社會觀感全都歸咎於「競選對手的操弄」。

陳以信用幾句很難反駁的話作為結論:「如今的當務之急是我們逆轉困境的能力。首先要從虛心接受批評、勇敢落實改革做起。」國民黨毫無疑問必須改革,事實上,台灣的每一個主要政黨都急需改革。但要說服我們國民黨已經清楚認知到由上而下的僵化體制諸多根本缺陷,以及同樣至關重要的,朱立倫有能力扭轉局勢,帶領黨走上一個對全體台灣人更有助益、更負責任的方向,可遠遠不只是在美國的重要刊物上發表一篇文章就能實現的。國民黨也必須勇於承認,有些時候犯錯的正是它自己。

3 Responses to “KMT Reform? We’ll Believe It When We See It”

February 24, 2015 at 12:15 pm, Torch Pratt said:

Extremely adept defense of the importance of the Fourth Estate to educate both readers and voters. Cole for the KO!

Reply

February 24, 2015 at 5:24 pm, Philip K Liu said:

We agreed. The NATPA has a think tank and is plang to recruit writers to submit papers, short assays about the injustice and oppressing evidence in taiwan, especially the crimes against humanities to taiwan residence (Chinese, taiwanese and Aborigines) by the KMT.
More importantly, how constitutional reform will improve. Lastly, forgive is not to forget seeking justice.
I welcome feedback.

Reply

March 01, 2015 at 9:47 am, Mike Fagan said:

“Chen ascribes much of the KMT’s unpopularity and recent electoral defeat to slow economic growth and unequal wealth distribution. Those are unquestionably serious issues and a real source of grievance with the public.”

I disagree with this. To call something “unquestionable” when it is an opinion rather than a fact is to beg the very question thus dismissed. It is your opinion that “unequal wealth distribution” is a serious issue, but it is not a fact. I don’t doubt for one moment that some majority of people will agree with your contention, but that alone does not make them correct (nor convert your opinion to a fact). The complaint against unequal wealth distribution matters because it is either one of two things (or a combination thereof): pure envy or the conflation of inequality of wealth with material poverty. Yet they are not the same thing and to conflate them is to commit the zero-sum fallacy. What gets people out of poverty is the day-to-day work of creating wealth, not “make-it-so” star trek people in government presuming to “redistribute” (i.e. steal) it.

The Taiwanese people who have been dispossessed by interest groups using the levers of political power (e.g. the Land Theft Act) to their advantage need their freedom, and in particular, their right to private property protected. If the Taiwanese are to have a future as an independent nation, then they must first demand their independence as individuals, and that requires a defense of rights, not as privileges bestowed by a newly “empathic” ruling class, but as protections from political power and the necessary premises for their sovereignty over themselves as individual human beings.

Complaints about “unequal wealth distribution” directly undermine any such effort, and indirectly insult the pride and intelligence of people who might otherwise be willing and able to try to better their circumstances without being treated like infants by their ruling Empaths.

Reply

Comments are welcome, but will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive language, personal attacks or self-promotion will not be published. We encourage healthy discussion and, above all, tolerance of other's views.


Fatal error: Uncaught exception 'wfWAFStorageFileException' with message 'Unable to save temporary file for atomic writing.' in /home/thinkin1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/wordfence/vendor/wordfence/wf-waf/src/lib/storage/file.php:13 Stack trace: #0 /home/thinkin1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/wordfence/vendor/wordfence/wf-waf/src/lib/storage/file.php(491): wfWAFStorageFile::atomicFilePutContents('/home/thinkin1/...', '<?php exit('Acc...') #1 [internal function]: wfWAFStorageFile->saveConfig() #2 {main} thrown in /home/thinkin1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/wordfence/vendor/wordfence/wf-waf/src/lib/storage/file.php on line 13