Well, the race for KMT chair has been turned on its head.
After the first debate, which I discussed in Parts 3 & 4, the situation was essentially that Eric Chu was the presumed frontrunner, but had been directing his attacks and energies towards heading off Johnny Chiang–who appeared to be nipping at his heels.
Cho Po-yuan was essentially a non-entity, but the guy I referred to as a “gadfly” in the first of this series–Chang Ya-chung–had done shockingly well in some admittedly dodgy online polls prior to the debate.
After the first debate, some semi-serious polls came out which showed Chang Ya-chung polling a strong second behind Eric Chu, with Johnny Chiang in third and Cho Po-yuan still basically not registering.
One TVBS poll even had Chang in first place.
Now, these polls have some problems.
First, polling KMT members is a bit tricky.
Second, they mostly seemed from biased sources, and third there were large numbers of undecideds.
But those polls, and a sudden surge in press interest, showed a clear surge in support for Chang.
Chang has long been considered, well, a “gadfly” within the KMT–and even a bit of an odd character in the deep blue, pro-unification wing of the party.
Every few years he comes out with another pro-unification plan with a catchy name, like “one China, three constitutions”, “two sides of the Strait, common unity”, or in a close play on “one country, two systems” he advocated “one country, two governments”…and those are just some of his formulas.
He has always been deeply pro-unification to such a degree it is a wonder he isn’t in the New Party.
He’s an ex-professor who currently heads up the KMT’s Sun Yat-sen school, and was a big influence on Hung Hsiu-chu’s aborted presidential run in 2015.
He has run for KMT chair and ran in the last KMT presidential primary, and both times got totally crushed–he barely registered.
So why is he suddenly hot now?
The most likely reasons are pretty simple, starting with the obvious: Up through the first debate Eric Chu and Johnny Chiang sounded almost identical, and neither came across as particularly sincere.
Neither had a terribly successful run during their terms as KMT chair–though to be fair both took over at particularly tough times for the party.
They’re both seasoned politicians and it’s very obvious.
Chang is anything but.
He’s a deeply committed ideologue, passionate, blunt and sincere.
He has a good delivery and good voice, honed by years of experience lecturing, and delivered his performance at the first debate with some punch–which either came across as righteously indignant or simply as a cranky old mainlander, depending on your view of him.
So, let’s say you’re a KMT member, and the press is feeding you two options that are essentially slick political peas in a pod, as Chu and Chiang are.
Then a guy who is deeply passionate about the KMT comes along speaking with sincerity.
So, a lot of people in the KMT who weren’t impressed–or disagreed with–Chu and Chiang bolted to what appeared to be the only viable alternative: Chang.
Plus, there are still a fair number of deep blues in the party, and a big block of mainlanders who will naturally gravitate to someone like Chang if they don’t like the alternatives.
Plus, Chiang is full Taiwanese and Chu half Taiwanese, and in the mind of the deep blues their first Taiwanese leader, Lee Tung-hui, betrayed the party and paved the way for the hated DPP to take power.
And Chang specifically came out and trashed both Lee and the DPP.
He’s speakin’ their language.
Interestingly, they didn’t go with the stodgy, dodgy but ideologically orthodox Cho–but then so far he’s come across as so exciting he makes Chiang and Chu look like movie stars.
So suddenly Chang became a media darling.
There were some weird incidents, with Chang claiming a source of US$5 million and waving around sample cheques with the NT$ scribbled out and US$ handwritten in, and somehow managed to infuriate his erstwhile comrade-in-arms Hung Hsiu-chu with allegations of money still leftover from her time as party chair.
She went on the counter-attack and said Chang’s personality wasn’t suitable for KMT chair, and that he was too “subjective”.
Calls rose, probably originating in the Chu camp, to “dump Chiang, support Chu” to head off the threat and unite the semi-reformist side of the party.
Then, on September 17, Eric Chu on a talk show referred to Chang as a “red unificationist scholar”, which was a surprising attack from inside the party that seems to play right into the DPP’s line that there are “red”–IE, pro-Chinese Communist elements in the party.
“Red unificationist” is a shorthand for advocating for unification with China on China’s terms, or advantageous to China’s aims.
That brings us up to the second KMT debate on CTiTV that was broadcast online.
This is by far the weirdest debate I’ve ever seen, but to be fair, one of the most entertaining.
It was held in a small studio in a setting that more resembled a gameshow than the usual stage and auditorium setup we’re used to.
The debate itself was also more like a gameshow, with a series of shifting formats that I’ve never seen anything like before in a debate.
For example, one section featured a series of questions from various notables–including some fairly famous like Jaw Shaw-kong and Dennis Peng.
It forced a series of decisions on the debaters to choose carefully, because each choice came with some political messaging on picking that person’s question and risks in what they may ask.
Then, once chosen, the candidate had to then declare another candidate that they would also force the same question on–and were given a few minutes to answer before the other chosen candidate had to weigh in.
This meant that the candidate had to carefully choose which questioner to get their question from (amusingly shown as videos from the person, and introduced by the MC as “let’s check the VHS” before playing the question)–and then choose who else to stick the question to, which was yet another strategic decision.
There were various other formats along the way, including a weird section involving live questions from viewers that came across as a bit incoherent, and another where they could come up with their own questions, and also pass that question to other candidates.
In short, it was designed to force strategic questioning, defensive answers and offensive assaults within a safely pan-blue context.
It was, actually, fairly entertaining and very unpredictable.
Not sure it’s a particularly dignified setup for civic engagement, but it sure was more fun.
And oh, my did the fireworks fly!
Before I get into the wild and weird debate that it was, I should note that all the questions–and some of them tough–were almost entirely from a pan-blue perspective, so no questions on the KMT’s martial law legacy, for example.
It’s also important to note that CTiTV is largely controlled by the Want Want China Times Group, which the Financial Times–citing multiple sources–reported actually receives marching orders direct from China.
At one point they were devoting around 70% of their entire news coverage to Han Kuo-yu, and any troubles in China or Hong Kong simply never happened in their world.
They finally got kicked off of cable TV by the national regulator, though they are still on MOD and broadcast via Youtube.
Their audience is deep, deep blue bordering on red–a fact that makes what happened in the debate even more shocking and startling than expected.
So, the candidates were:
Cho Po-yuan, who has been staking out a line that could have come out of the Ma Ying-jeou era unadulterated, but who has been barely noticed.
Johnny Chiang, the last KMT chair seeking another term, who started out as a strong reformer, got his ass kicked, and is now trying to win again on a more centrist platform by dropping his previous opposition to things like the 1992 Consensus.
Chang Ya-chung, an old deep pro-unificationist once considered a bit kooky by even deep blues, but who is now surging on a campaign to bring the KMT back to their roots, to remove the poison of Lee Tung-hui and the DPP, and to sign a peace memorandum of understanding with China during the first few years of his term.
And finally, Eric Chu–the consummate politician whose carefully crafted messages can mean “all things to all people” and who never, ever takes a firm stand or indeed any risk if he can possibly avoid it–but who is considered genial, likeable and is remembered for doing a pretty good job running Taoyuan and New Taipei.
Right from the moment the candidates came out, it was clear things were going to go a little unexpected.
Cho came out in a blue suit and tie, as expected.
Chiang appeared in a blue suit and tie–but wearing runners with a black top, but bright white thick soles, in short–the mullet of footwear–but nothing surprising for the relatively youthful Taichung Johnny.
Chang came out professor-style in a blue blazer, tan slacks and a blue tie.
So far, nothing out of the ordinary.
It was the always boring, conservative Eric Chu that was the surprise.
“L.L. Cool Chu” sauntered out wearing a casual polo shirt, slacks and runners–looking like he’s just popping out to the nearest 7-11, not like someone whose political career was on the line.
Chiang kicked off the opening statements, pounding away at party unity and making a spirited defence of the 1992 Consensus he once tried to get scrapped.
He cited DPP supporters, the so-called “1450” online army, of twisting the 92c into meaning “one country, two systems”–which is a bit odd since it was Xi Jinping that did that, the DPP simply had to repeat what he said, but CTiTV audience might not know that because in their newsroom China does nothing wrong.
He cited Ma’s repeat wins and Han Kuo-yu’s upset win in the Kaohsiung mayoral election to state that the 92c “wasn’t poison at the polls”.
He also stated he was willing to hold high-level talks with China.
Chu was if anything, even more concerned with party unity, saying the “KMT is not very united right now” and pitched himself as the unity candidate.
He emphasised beating Taiwan Statebuilding Party’s Chen Po-wei in the upcoming recall and promising to win the elections in 2022 and 2024.
He also talked about the KMT’s glory, and opposed the DPP’s “Taiwan independence education” in local schools.
Chang chose to defend himself, but only after kicking off with stating that “Tsai Ing-wen is the source of all chaos”.
Clearly after always being ignored, he’s not used to a barrage of criticism coming his way, so he decided to directly address those “kou maozi” attacks.
Kou maozi, or pinning an unfair or untrue label on someone, became the catchphrase of the evening.
He responded to four different lines of attack.
The first, he said, was he had been labelled the weakest candidate.
He then asked, who lost in the KMT’s worst electoral defeat ever in 2016?
Obviously, that was a dig at Eric Chu’s epic catastrophe in his run for president.
He also asked, “whose party had less than 3% of the members under 40?” in an obvious dig at Johnny Chiang.
The then asked, “who is weak?”
He then went on to defend against attacks on being a “red unificationist” and that his followers are all deep blue, and that will split the party.
He asked the other candidates rhetorically, “if I win will you all split?”
Oh, and he trashed Lee Tung-hui and the DPP some more.
Cho said that Han didn’t really lose in 2020–after all his total vote count in his presidential run crushed Chu’s four years earlier–but that it was all because the DPP’s “tricks” that Han didn’t win.
Then it was question time, and Chu got a question on US relations, and said that US and China relations are “equally important” and must be balanced.
He added that by the end of the year he would open a KMT office in Washington–which incidentally Chiang has already done the legwork on and apparently has already secured office space for.
He said Washington was full of DPP voices, and that they need to be taught that the KMT is the party of peace and not troublesome.
He punted the question to Chang, saying since he was so angry he’d give it to him.
Chang was pretty clearly pissed at that dig, and said “Chu said I’m angry, but I’m not” and he was unhappy people in the party were “kou maozi” him and it wasn’t right.
He then cited his 10 years of foreign service, and called Chu “naive” on foreign policy, and said it was too expensive and not very productive to set up an office in Washington–and instead he’s work through AIT.
He might be right on that point.
He also said he’d work through “huaqiao” or overseas Chinese who are loyal to the party to influence American politics, and stated that because they were US citizens that would be entirely legal for them to lobby on the KMT’s behalf.
He’s also may have a point there, the pro-Taiwan Taiwanese-Americans have had some success at doing just that.
And of course, being Chang, he had to bring up the Tsai’s fake London School of Economics thesis conspiracy.
He doesn’t have a point there unless somehow time travel was involved.
He got the next question, which wasn’t memorable, and punted it back to Chu.
Chu then said I’m not “kou maozi” to you by calling you a unificationist.
He pounded away at the point that Chang was pro-unification hard, saying Chang had been proclaiming it “here, overseas, in China, in the US” and wouldn’t let up.
He went on to say “mainstream opinion is people love the ROC, Taiwan and we all love freedom and democracy”
“Why do some people doubt Chang?” he asked.
He then went on the give example after example of all the pro-unification formulas and plans that Chang had come up with over the years, and noted that at one time Chang had called himself the leader of the unificationists.
He then pivoted to “only an inclusive party will grow” and reiterated his “there are no light blues, no deep blues, on true blues” line.
He trashed Chang for criticizing Lee Tung-hui, accusing him of sounding like the People’s First Party.
He then claimed that it was Chang who was doing the “kou maozi” to him.
Chang then pulled out a piece of paper with a scribbled chart on it and gave a long lecture on the 92 consensus because “Chu doesn’t understand it”, which was about as deep blue an interpretation as he could have given–and later in the debate he once again accused of Chu of not understanding it, and pulled out the same paper and repeated the lecture.
He did actually make a good point, however, that the KMT’s line about “each side, different interpretations” wasn’t sustainable and something new needed to be created–though it was pretty clear that whatever he had in mind was more pro-China.
He also bragged about invites he got from Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi.
In short, he all but made Chu’s case for him.
Here are some other highlights of the debate:
Chang, when asked about whether the KMT should drop the “Chinese” from the “Chinese Nationalist Party” in the name, said:
“It is a place that our revolutionary forefathers spilled blood for,” adding that the word does not simply mean the People’s Republic of China, as “it also means us. We are Chinese. Taiwanese are Chinese, as they are also Taiwanese.”
At another point, he said basically if he’s KMT chair voters will have to choose between war and peace, and his peace MOU with China would bring voters back to the KMT’s side.
Chu said that every time he met with Xi Jinping, he would go out of his way to bring up the “both sides, different interpretations” part of the 92c–which of course the Chinese would never agree to.
Johnny Chiang called for an “original flavour” 1992 Consensus, noting–correctly–that when both sides met in 1992 there was no such thing as the “92 Consensus”, just a consensus on agreeing to meet and talk.
He called for a return to that spirit.
That’s just a taste of how it went.
Chu and Chang were at each other’s throats for pretty much the entire debate, to the point that both ran over their time and kept heatedly talking even after their mics were cut.
At one point, Chang pulled out a blown up picture showing a previous KMT chair speaking at a Beijing university with just Nationalist Party on the banner behind the speaker, without the Chinese part of the name, and vowed to get more respect.
Chu reacted with glee when it was his turn, pulling out a similar blown up picture showing himself as the guest KMT chair speaking at the same Beijing university with the party’s full name and his full title on full display.
It was clearly a setup on Chu’s part, and he couldn’t contain his obvious “gotcha” glee, so much so that after he was finished speaking, he ignoring the next speaker and pulled out the picture again to show it off to some people in the audience and clearly having a great time at his excellent dis of Chang.
Chu was on the attack constantly, and quite viciously–nothing like the minor slaps he gave Johnny Chiang when he thought he was the one to beat.
In truth, Chu came across as a bit of thug, but Chang’s defensiveness and attacks on Chu didn’t come across much better.
Cho and Chiang kept out of the fray, so much so that they punted their questions politely back and forth to each other.
Cho made basically no impact, and for most of it Chiang was pretty non-descript, though by the end he was starting to lose patience with the two squabbling children and started to come across as the adult in the room.
So, in short, Eric Chu went totally off the rails, off script, out of his lane and took big, big risks in spending almost all of his time attacking Chang Ya-chung for being a non-mainstream, pro-unification red.
He all but kicked over his desk, ripped off his shirt pointed at Chang and shouted “I’ll unify the party and protect the ROC from this commie-loving sellout!”
And he did it on CTiTV!
I was stunned. Shocked. Flabbergasted.
This wasn’t the Eric Chu we’ve all grown to yawn and mildly roll our eyes at.
The Froze over at the Frozen Garlic blog entitled his excellent piece “Chu goes ballistic”.
These academics, always going for the understatement!
So, what the hell was Chu up to?
Obviously he now considers Chang his prime competition, which explains a lot.
Another possibility, which the Froze goes into at length and is very worth reading, is that Chang represents an existential threat to the party.
I’m going to shameless steal from Frozen Garlic because he summarized so well I couldn’t think of a better way of doing it–but again, there is a lot more to his excellent piece I highly recommend, and have linked to from Taiwan Report under “Must Read”:
“The party is happy to talk about the ten golden years or the three principles of the people, and it is happy to go to China and make business deals that enrich everyone.
However, they are aware, even if they won’t admit it out loud, that unification would mean the end of the ROC, and they don’t want that to happen.
Chang is among the few in the party who have confronted that problem and (seem to) have decided that China is more important than the ROC.
Hung Hsiu-chu is another.
When she was running for president in 2016, old KMT veterans were shocked to hear her refuse to talk about the ROC since that would mean two Chinas.
Chang and Hung are not unconditionally blue; they are willing to be red if their loyalty to One China demands it.
Chu’s insistence that he is “true blue” 正藍 and that the KMT must not become “little red” 小紅 is not mere rhetoric.
He is fighting for the survival of the ROC.
The danger is not that Chang might win this election, since (in this scenario) Chu was confident of victory.
The danger is that Chang might lose honorably, getting a lot of votes, a lot of respect, and set himself up as the frontrunner in the next contest.
In other words, Chang might follow the Han model.
Chu doesn’t want to merely defeat Chang; he wants to discredit Chang.
The point of calling Chang red is to paint him as outside KMT values.
Chang’s aggressive steps toward unification are not steps that the KMT cannot tolerate if it ever wants to win another election.”
The Froze is only saying this is a possibility, but a lot of it I strongly suspect is true.
It explains Chu’s bizarre behaviour better than simply fear of losing a KMT chair race could.
Chu has been spending a lot of time with the grassroots, and knows full well that the majority of Taiwanese have no interest in being annexed by China, peacefully or not.
Chang, if he were to get his hands on the party, would utterly destroy it if he had the chance–with only the Central Standing Committee standing in his way.
Aside from Chu’s totally unexpected behaviour, the debate was surprisingly informative and a lot of interesting things came out–from Chiang’s “original flavour” 92 Consensus to Chang’s often curiously spot on criticisms of the KMT mixed with a totally unelectable unification message.
And a whole lot more.
A bit lost in the Chu-Chang fireworks was another topic that kept coming up over, and over, and over again by the candidates and those posing the questions alike: Party unity, and the possibility of the party splitting apart.
To a certain degree, this is normal during a contentious internal party election–especially considering that three political parties that went on to some electoral success broke away from the KMT: The New Party, the People’s First Party and the Taiwan Solidarity Union.
One of those who wrote an excellent article on the race in Mandarin was Albert Chiu, who I’ve had on Current Affairs Taiwan before.
Essentially, the thinking goes, if Chang does win and a big chunk of the party will simply bolt–and why not, he’s going to make the party unelectable.
Another possibility, less talked about and probably less likely, is that the deep blues bolt–but I think that will only happen if they are pushed from the party first, which the Froze thinks could be a possibility if Chu wins.
I think he may well be right, it would make a lot of sense for Chu to purge the party of the deep blues that give the party its bad reputation.
That would bolster his own reputation with the public at large as being someone who can be trusted to defend the ROC, like the KMT of old.
It’s a strategy that would come with some risks, however.
It would obviously alienate China, but that wouldn’t necessarily be bad as that would only increase the KMT’s electibility.
Another risk is that it could rip out chunks of the KMT’s legislative caucus, as people like Wu Sz-huai might leave with the purged.
When I started this series, I described it as one of the most–if not most–important KMT race in modern history.
After this second, wild debate, I’m even more convinced that is the case, and think the stakes are even more dramatic than I did back then.
Saturday is the KMT chair election.
Let’s see how it turns out.
Chu has taken some huge risks here, which could crush Chang–or backfire badly.
The results are going to be fascinating…
Image courtesy of 張亞中‘s Facebook Page