Toward the end of former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) final term in office, there was much talk about his legacy.
Ma himself would likely prefer history books to enshrine his achievements in reducing cross-strait tensions. He might see his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore in 2015 as the high point.
However, given his statements in the past few months, he might be remembered more for contributing to the breakup of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
We are still talking about Ma and his legacy because it is inextricably tied to the so-called “1992 consensus” as the bedrock of his and the KMT’s dialogue with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
For a political party, consistency and unity are crucial. The KMT has problems with both and the “1992 consensus” is a major source of conflict. This was thrown into high relief a week ago with the controversy over the KMT delegation to the Straits Forum in China that opens on Saturday.
The forum is an annual exchange that began in 2009, the second year of Ma’s first term, a time when the KMT had a stronger claim to being representative of Taiwan than it does in its current role as opposition party.
Former legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) was slated to lead this year’s delegation, but his trip was shelved after a China Central Television program hosted by Li Hong (李紅) suggested on Thursday last week that Wang was traveling to China to “sue for peace.”
KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), affronted by the suggestion that the KMT would be participating as an inferior rival desperate to avoid inevitable defeat at the hands of the mighty CCP, canceled the delegation visit, but stopped short of prohibiting KMT members from attending as private citizens.
The KMT’s decision should be lauded, even if it stopped short of a complete ban. However, that it intended to go in the first place stems from its insistence on kowtowing to the CCP and adhering to the “1992 consensus,” even if there is little loyalty to the idea in Taiwan beyond Ma, his supporters and certain members of the KMT old guard.
Kowtowing is rarely done from a position of strength or equality. Going to a forum predicated on the “1992 consensus” is the act of a weaker party seeking favor from a stronger rival, even if “suing for peace” is jumping the gun.
At every major election since Ma left office, leading KMT figures have called for party unity. This is precisely because the party is so fragmented. The KMT desperately needs both unity and consistency of message — a new message. Calls for reform from within the party are strong, and the electorate has long called for the party to change direction.
Consistency only bolsters strength when there is internal agreement. The more Ma and the old guard insist on holding onto the “1992 consensus” in the interest of consistency, the more this very consistency becomes an obstacle to unity — and it could ultimately tear the party apart.
It is not that a significant break from tradition has never happened in the KMT. Ironically, Ma was at the forefront of one such a change of tack. There is little consistency between the stance on China during the time of former presidents Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son, Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) — when they wanted to have nothing to do with the communist “bandits” — and the open engagement with the CCP championed by Ma and former vice president Lien Chan (連戰).
That adjustment was made to address changing political realities. It is perhaps now time for the party to change again, to better reflect today’s reality.
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