Support for the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), a party that fled to Taiwan in 1949 and still wants it to be part of a “unified” China some day, is at a new low on the democratic island ahead of presidential elections in 2020.
The Global Views Research annual public opinion survey said its findings marked a sharp fall in support for the KMT, which favors ever-closer ties with neighboring China, since last year.
It said the violent suppression of Hong Kong’s anti-government protests had sparked growing fears for Taiwan’s national security and democracy, although an internal power struggle in the party had contributed.
Currently, only 4.5 percent of Taiwanese support the idea of “unification” with China, something that Chinese President Xi Jinping has said must happen eventually, by force if necessary.
By contrast, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been outspoken against any rapprochement with China.
Tsai told a recent presidential election debate that China is the biggest threat to Taiwan’s way of life.
“China continues to threaten Taiwan with military force, economic absorption, diplomatic suppression, and social infiltration,” Tsai said. “The situation in Hong Kong has made it very clear to all of us that democracy and authoritarianism are in fundamental conflict. The two systems cannot coexist in one country.”
Chinese president Xi Jinping said in a Jan. 2 speech that Taiwan must be “unified” with China. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) echoed the sentiment in a military white paper in July.
Tsai has repeatedly responded that Taiwan’s 23 million population have no wish to give up their sovereignty.
Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II
Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
It has never been controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People’s Republic of China.
But the initial decision to remove a ban on the opposition “tangwai” movement that later became the DPP was taken under Chiang’s leadership, and the process has remained somewhat opaque to historians.
Now, researchers in the United States are lining up to read the diary left by Chiang, the designated successor under the one-party authoritarian regime set up on Taiwan by his father Chiang Kai-shek.
The Hoover Institution of Stanford University announced this month that Chiang’s diaries will be available to view by the general public from February.
Lin Hsiao-ting, director of the East Asia Department of the Hoover Institution who has read some of the diaries, said Chiang had envisaged an incremental approach to greater freedom in Taiwan, led by the KMT at every step.
“He hoped that it would be a gradual approach led by the Kuomintang, rather than taking on the democratic model of the west,” Lin said. “He also undertook a lot of localization, making the effort to include the Taiwanese elite in the party-state system so that his government would be more representative of Taiwan.”
But Harvard professor Steven Goldstein said it would be wrong to view Chiang as an agent of democratic change in Taiwan.
“I think the first thing he thought of at that time was how Taiwan could survive,” Goldstein said. “Taiwan had lost the [diplomatic] relationship it had orginally had with the United States, and also its legitimacy on the world stage.”
“Did he want to really build a bipartisan democracy that would enable the defeat of the KMT? I don’t think so,” he said.
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