With pig marches and youth camps, ailing Taiwanese Kuomintang is trying to regenerate it


Taipei, Taiwan – Taiwan’s main opposition party, once a widely feared political force, is now walking the streets in a pink pickup truck decked out with pig ears and snout. She brings life-size pig models to parades. On the floor of the island’s legislature, its members recently I ejected the intestine of the pig At competing legislators.

A showy pig show by the party, Kuomintang, aims to highlight one of the pet’s problems, the import of American pork with a controversial additive. But in the eyes of critics, the bizarre behaviors point to the identity crisis now facing the party, which was once the wealthiest in Asia.

Many see it as far removed from modern Taiwanese life. Worse, they see his traditional focus on seamless relations with China seriously outdated, as the Communist Party led by Xi Jinping takes a tougher stance against the island that Beijing claims to be its own.

The Kuomintang suffered unbalanced Electoral defeats By voters like Chen Yu-chieh, 27-year-old website designer. “The mentality of the Kuomintang is more conservative,” Chen said. “I don’t think I will vote for the KMT in the next few years, unless they make drastic changes.”

Party leaders recognized the problem and pledged to fix it. They embraced democratic values ​​and human rights, promised to recruit younger members and better engage the public, and sought to distance the party from Beijing.

“The Kuomintang needs to keep pace with the times and it needs modernization,” said Johnny Chiang, who was elected party leader in March last year after his pledge. To renew it, in an interview in Taipei. Mr. Chiang, 48, is considered one of the youngest leaders in the party’s history.

The party’s success could have profound implications for the future of Taiwan, as well as for Beijing and Washington.

Founded in 1894, the Kuomintang ruled China for years before it was defeated by Maoist Communists, and they fled to Taiwan, where they ruled with an iron fist and fiercely attacked anyone suspected of being a communist. In recent decades, the party has emerged as a balancing force in the island’s delicate relationship with Beijing. Until recently, Communist leaders saw the Kuomintang as their preferred partner in dialogue on the island, linked with their belief in a common Chinese identity.

But the Kuomintang lost power in 2016 – only for the second time since direct presidential elections began in 1996 – as voters chose President Tsai Ing-wen, who is skeptical of closer ties with Beijing. It was the strength of the Kuomintang It is generally corroded since then.

In Washington, where positions against the Communist Party of China have hardened, Ms. Tsai enjoyed strong support. In Beijing, the party signals it is losing patience.

The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, has yet to send a letter of congratulations to Mr. Xiang, the new Kuomintang leader, after his election. The contempt was a break with a practice that had been familiar since 2005, and some observers suggested that the Communist Party was wary of Mr. Chiang’s lukewarmness toward Beijing.

The dialogue between the Communist Party and the Kuomintang also slowed down. In September, a Chinese government broadcaster mocked a planned visit to the mainland by a KMT delegation as a “petition for peace”, describing the party as conciliatory. The Kuomintang canceled the visit.

The cold between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party could add to the instability in the already strained relations between Taipei and Beijing. Beijing’s threats to forcibly return the island to its fold have escalated since President Tsai He won re-election last year. Analysts on the mainland have warned that Beijing may resort to war if the Kuomintang is unable to regain power or if the Communist Party feels it no longer has a dialogue partner on the island.

The threat of war between the two sides has quickly become a flashpoint in China-US relations. During the Trump administration, Washington angered Beijing with permission High-level visits And the Escalate arms sales To Taiwan. The Biden administration indicated its intention to continue to show support for the island, and Beijing responded with a fiery rhetoric Military activities.

In the long term, the Kuomintang is at a crossroads. On the horizon of the party is the question of how it will deal with the issue of Taiwan sovereignty.

Most of the island’s 23 million residents find the concept of union with the mainland unattractive, and many are Increasingly wary of Beijing’s intentions. The KMT lost the presidential election last year in part because it was its candidate Paid to regain close ties With the mainland.

Two months later, after Mr. Chiang was elected to the Party leadership, he sought to downplay the so-called 1992 Consensus, an unwritten agreement that was the cornerstone of the KMT-Beijing relations. This concept, from the KMT’s point of view, holds that there is only one China, including Taiwan, but each side may interpret it in its own way. But Mr. Chiang’s move quickly exposed a leadership row as Kuomintang elders dropped his proposal, saying it would greatly harm relations with Beijing.

Mr. Chiang now emphasizes that being a citizen of the Republic of China, as Taiwan is officially known, does not mean that one should also not be defined as Taiwan. About two-thirds of Taiwanese – and 83 percent of Taiwanese between the ages of 18 and 29 – are not identified as Chinese, according to Pew Research. The survey Released last year.

“We cannot deny the birthplace of the people,” said Mr. Chiang. “But just being Taiwanese by nature doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a natural pro-independence.”

To sell this message, the KMT would need to win over the biggest skeptics: Taiwan’s youth.

Under Master Xiang, the Kuomintang in recent months began a renewal. The party has launched an online merchandise store and a new app, and it is ramping up its presence on social media.

But it is not clear whether the campaign will be enough to change the popular view of the party as an old-school elite club.

On a recent morning in the southern city of Kaohsiung, about 50 college students gathered in a lakeside resort room at a three-day camp focused on recruiting younger members. Some of the participants were members of the Kuomintang, others had registered to learn more about the party.

Students listened as a KMT politician advising on social media strategy. “You may have seen that on IG there is a very successful marketing tool,” Politician Lo Chih-chiang told an impressive audience, referring to Instagram. “You can write some cool words on a picture and use it to tell a story.”

After the session, students continued the conversation over a meal of fried vegetables, braised fish and yellow watermelon. Yang Zongfan, 24, a graduate student who joined the KMT last year due to her parents’ objections, said she was drawn to what she described as the sincere leadership of the party as well as their commitment to preserving Chinese culture.

Although many Taiwanese youth, including some of the party’s supporters, are skeptical of union with China, Ms. Yang said that in her view, the prospect was not as dire as some imagined. “In a way, we are all one big family. There is no need to differentiate each other.”

Until the old guard of the Kuomintang agrees to step down, Yang said, it will be difficult for the party to make any progress with the youth.

“They have to solve their internal problems, and then allow the youth to participate in politics more,” she said. “They have to change the image that the Kuomintang is full of old male politicians.”

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