A Ministry of Truth with a KMT Flavor

Hung Hsiu-chu’s views are a problem for the KMT. If she is to continue as the presidential candidate past July 19, party members will have to engage in Newspeak
J. Michael Cole

Much has been said in recent weeks about prospective Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate Hung Hsiu-chu’s (洪秀柱) “one China, common interpretation” remarks, which have been widely regarded as her recognition of Beijing’s sovereignty claims over Taiwan. Hung’s departure from the KMT’s “one China, different interpretation” baseline was not well received within her party, prompting a number of its members to jump ship and to join the People First Party, with several others threatening to follow suit unless Hung is either cast aide or forced to articulate more acceptable (and current) views on Taiwan’s relationship with China.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), the high priest of the “one China, different interpretation” concept, was himself said to have been “deeply angered” by Hung’s unilateral dismantling of the KMT’s ambiguous — and thus far arguably useful — formulation. And rightly so, as Hung could put at risk the balancing act that President Ma has performed over the past seven years and torpedo the KMT’s chances in the presidential and legislative elections in January next year.

It didn’t help, either, that most Taiwanese reject the very idea that Beijing and Taipei could have a “common” interpretation of what “one China” means, either because they believe that Taiwan is the “other China,” or that there indeed is only “one China” and that Taiwan is not part of it. Of course, that is not how Beijing interprets the matter: According to its view, there is only one China — the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which mothballed the Republic of China (ROC) in 1949 and of which Taiwan was, is, and always will be, an indivisible part.

Maybe it’s the water in the Dominican Republic, where he is currently on a state visit, but speaking to reporters on Monday, President Ma suddenly sang a different tune about what Hung has said. In fact, he sounded very much like what a spokesperson from the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s novel 1984 would sound like.

From being “angered,” President Ma was now saying that Hung’s “one China, common interpretation” did not go beyond his “one China, different interpretation” policy, and that Hung’s formulation was “also seeking a common ground between Taiwan and China.” In other words, we were to believe that “common” and “different” mean the same thing. Indeed. And war is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

Even if they won’t admit it, supporters of the “different interpretation” formula agree that there exist two legal political entities in the Taiwan Strait — two Chinas (the ROC and the PRC), or something else. Though suboptimal, this formulation has nevertheless permitted Taiwan’s continued existence as a de facto independent state. However, given what we know about Beijing’s views on “one China,” the notion that two legal entities can exist side-by-side in the Taiwan Strait is anathema to the Chinese Communist Party. Thus, “common interpretation” would mean the annihilation of Ma’s beloved ROC as well as that of Taiwan. How this does not go beyond “different interpretations” boggles the mind.

Ma’s Orwellian volte-face likely is part of a damage control effort by the KMT, which has been forced to mop up after Hung’s binging. Senior party leaders have been pressuring Hung to stop saying things that risk tearing the party apart and costing it the presidency and, for the first time ever, its majority in the Legislative Yuan. President Ma’s overseas contribution, and the flat out lie about Hung’s views on “one China,” is an indication that despite the huge discontent within the party, Hung will likely emerge from the July 19 KMT congress still in one piece…and still the KMT’s presidential candidate.

Even though the genie is out of the bottle and we now know what President Hung’s China policy would look like, President Ma said he would encourage Hung to return to his “one China, different interpretation,” because her “common interpretation” risks creating confusion among people who are “not well versed in cross-strait affairs.” In other words, ignorant people like those of us (including many KMT members) who refuse to believe that 2+2=5.


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.

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