At Least the Taishang Speak Honestly

We know what to expect from China-based Taiwanese businesspeople. Can we say as much about the KMT?
Chris Wang

On May 3, China-based Taiwanese businessperson Tung Shu-chen (董淑貞), the president of a financial firm in Shanghai, had her 15 minutes of fame.

The now-infamous taishang (a term to describe Taiwanese businesspeople in China), who has reportedly engaged extensively in philanthropy in Taiwan and China for years, said during a symposium hosted by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) during his visit to China that cooperation between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was what truly mattered, not the 23 million people of Taiwan. Tung said that the voice of Taiwanese people should not be considered as it “hinders” Taiwan’s efforts to connect with the international community, adding that more than 1 million Taiwanese businesspeople in China and their families would almost guarantee KMT electoral victories in future.

(Editor’s note: Tung has since resigned her posts as a consultant of Taiwan’s Overseas Community Affairs Council and reportedly said she would withdraw from the KMT after her comments drew heavy criticism in Taiwan. However, she did not give up any of her positions with Chinese organizations.)

Tung served multiple roles, including: KMT representative, vice president of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) global booster club, Jiangxi Province’s overseas representative of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), and member of the United Front Work Department’s Overseas Association. Some of those appointments could be illegal under Taiwanese (Republic of China) law. Still, like every Taiwanese she enjoys freedom of speech and of political belief. It would even be perfectly fine if Tung publicly supported “liberating Taiwan.”

Comments from Taishang like Tung have become rather familiar to the Taiwanese people in recent years. Chi Mei Group founder Hsu Wen-lung (許文龍), a staunch Taiwan independence supporter, surprised the pro-independence camp in March 2005 when he publicly denounced the Taiwan independence movement one day before a mass rally against China’s Anti-Secession Law in Taipei. Later it was discovered that Hsu had been under tremendous pressure by China against his business venture there, and that he’d had to make the comment.

Since then, proactively or passively, Taiwanese businesspeople have often made similar comments at the “appropriate time,” in particular before major elections in Taiwan, to influence public opinion. Among them were HTC chairwoman Cher Wang (王雪紅), Hon Hai Group chairman Terry Gou (郭台銘) and none other than Want Want China Times Group chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), who is reported to have proudly told then-Chinese president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) that “Mr. President, I have bought the China Times.”

Such declarations by successful business tycoons have succeeded in cultivating a “fear factor” among voters and may have swayed public perceptions and electoral results. More often than not, the politically motivated remarks have sparked outcry from Netizens, who either call Taishang “businessmen without conscience” or tell them to “be Chinese and never come back to Taiwan.” Some had launched boycotts against products made by such business leaders’ companies, though such efforts have enjoyed limited success.

Personally, I’ve always welcomed these comments. First of all, businesspeople do business. Supporting the “1992 Consensus” and opposing Taiwanese independence may earn them a bad reputation among some people, but it is not against the law in the free country of Taiwan. This group of people — business owners and managers — seeks to achieve maximum financial success without regard to the “motherland” and what is on the minds of the 23 million people in Taiwan. They are entitled to promote their political ideology. I have come to appreciate their effort because “what you see is what you get,” meaning that they express out loud their wishes and beliefs, and do not conceal their intentions.

The audience is therefore able to clearly understand what kind of businesspeople they are and what their political beliefs are. Over time, people in Taiwan might be able to reflect on past experiences and realize what these businesspeople have been trying to do, so much so that people here could refresh their perceptions of cross-strait relations.

Second, reading outrageous comments like these — Gou famously said last year that “democracy does not put food on the table” while Tung urged the Ma administration to proceed with its cross-strait agenda without regard to the 23 million Taiwanese people — is a pure amusement, and it makes me laugh.

So China-based Taiwanese businesspeople like Tung and pro-China groups such as the Chinese Patriotic Alliance Association (愛國同心會) have earned my respect, much more so than the KMT, because at least they are honest in their views.

As a pro-unification party, the KMT had to repackage the real intentions of its cross-strait policy since it returned to power in 2008 to prevent scaring Taiwanese voters away. The KMT’s leverage in this policy area has been based on its strategic partnership with the CCP, which was established in 2005 when KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) met with President Hu and reflected on a strategy of “working with the secondary foe to defeat the No. 1 enemy” (Ironically, it was this particular strategy that the CCP utilized to drive the KMT out of the Chinese mainland in 1949.)

The collaboration was the only real thing, while minor tactics, such as the 1992 Consensus, were all sham rhetoric. The working partnership was also why the KMT could always force the DPP into the “game of catchphrase finding” by simply asking the question, “I’ve got mine [the 1992 Consensus] and where is yours [China policy]?”

As the popular saying among Taiwanese Netizens goes, “Body movement and stance reflect those things unspoken.” In fact, it is not too difficult to learn the substance of the KMT’s position toward the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The “status quo” under the Ma administration has dramatically shifted toward the other side of the Taiwan Strait, evidenced by many of its policies and political maneuvering. In terms of the KMT’s cross-strait policy, what matters the most is not what the party says, but what it does not say. Somehow, that is why I have come to appreciate the honesty of the businesspeople who do not hesitate to express either Beijing’s position or their personal wish for a unified China. After all, past experience has taught us that anyone who wishes to assess the cross-strait situation accurately and to better gauge the cross-strait outlook, comments by the KMT’s peripheral groups — the pro-blue camp academics and pro-KMT businesspeople — have always been much more useful than listening to the official KMT discourse.

Tung was right, however, when she said that businesspeople are under no obligation to care about what the 23 million Taiwanese people think. While business owners could care less about their “motherland,” political parties cannot. The biggest problem with Taiwan’s China policy today is not whether the DPP has found the “Da Vinci Code” that could “satisfy people of Taiwan, be accepted by Washington and be tolerant for Beijing at the same time” as suggested by some, since the secret code might not exist. Nor is it the Taiwan independence issue, as independence would not happen overnight. The problem is that the KMT can no longer make an effective argument to counter public perceptions that “the distance between the party and Beijing is shorter than that between the party and the Taiwanese” after its China policy has proven to only benefit politicians and business tycoons rather than the ordinary people, and failed to deliver on Ma’s pledge to promote Taiwan’s role in regional economic integration and international participation if — and only if — Taiwan develops closer ties with China.

The bad news is that the KMT could become even closer to Beijing. Examining the remarks made by Chu during his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) on May 4 in Beijing, in which Chu interpreted the 1992 Consensus as “both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to ‘one China,’ but with each side ascribing different contents and definitions to the concept of ‘one China’” and his remarks that Taiwan’s future international participation would be based on the consensus, one realizes that the KMT does not plan to slow down its positional shift to the other side of the Taiwan Strait. It appears that Chu could not break away from the “one China framework” jointly established by Hu, Ma and Lien.

As if the defeat in the local elections in November last year were not humiliating enough, the KMT seems determined to stay the same, which means that it will continue to pretend that the three-week occupation of the legislature by the Sunflower Movement last year never occurred and that the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) that the Ma administration signed with China in 2009 has created huge benefit for the Taiwanese. It seems the party still plans on sugarcoating those failed policies and will keep pressuring the opposition to unveil that Da Vinci code despite perfectly understanding why the Sunflower Movement happened and knowing that the economic gains from the ECFA have not trickled down to the general public. While the KMT probably understands how ridiculous it is for the U.S. to formulate its foreign policy using a Democratic Party-Iran forum or a Democratic Party-North Korea forum, its insistence on determining Taiwan’s China policy via party-to-party KMT-CCP forums has never wavered. And it has until now, stubbornly, taken every opportunity to tell voters that Taiwan will prosper only if the blue camp stays in power.

The KMT’s “blue is always better” mentality reminds me of a song by British singer Elton John — “I guess that’s why they call it the blues.”


(This article originally appeared in Chinese on the Thinking Taiwan Forum on May 4, 2015. Written and translated by Chris Wang.)

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