Conservatism in Taiwan
This article may lack focus or may be about more than one topic.June 2018)(
Conservatism in Taiwan is a broad political philosophy which espouses the One-China policy as a vital component for the Republic of China (ROC)'s international security and economic development, as opposed to Taiwanization and Taiwanese sovereignty. Fundamental conservative ideas are grounded in Confucian values and strands of Chinese philosophy associated with Sun Yat-sen's teachings, a large centralized government which intervenes closely in the lives of individuals on both social and economic levels, and the construction of unified Sinocentric national identity. Conservative ideology in Taiwan constitutes the character and policies of the Kuomintang (KMT) party and that of the pan-blue camp.
- 1 Overview: Three spheres of Conservative Policy
- 2 Origins and Philosophy
- 3 Chronology of Kuomintang governments
- 3.1 Chiang Kai-shek (1945–1975)
- 3.2 Chiang Ching-kuo (1975–1988)
- 3.3 Lee Teng-hui (1988-2000)
- 3.4 Ma Ying-jeou (2008-2016)
- 4 Conservatives in Taiwan
- 5 Current Status
- 6 References
- 7 See also
Overview: Three spheres of Conservative Policy
The relationship between the Republic of China (ROC) and the People's Republic of China (PRC) is Taiwan's main concern in foreign affairs. In a broad sense, the conservative Cross-Strait stance adheres to the notion of One-China, represented by the Kuomintang (KMT). However, the integration of this One-China philosophy into the party line has changed considerably. By the end of Chiang Kai-shek’s presidency, the agenda of radical pro-unification via military force has slowly devolved into the desire for peaceful and strategic, albeit competitive coexistence rather than outright contention. Over time, the latter strategy has consolidated into the One-China principle as a result of the 1992 Consensus, which proposed a unified entity comprising both Taiwan and the Mainland, while leaving the issue of representation open to interpretation. From a comparative standpoint, conservatives derive economic and security benefits from communication with the PRC, while warning against Taiwan's isolation and insecurity implied under Taiwanese sovereignty. For Taiwan's political conservatives, the status quo is less than optimal, but at least better than independence from the PROC.
Conservative domestic policy in Taiwan reflects a strong government at the center of policy and decision-making, in which the state takes initiative for individuals and closely intervenes in their daily lives. This runs counter to Western political conservatism, which supports a small government that operates on the perimeter of social life in order to respect the liberty of citizens. As such, conservative KMT policies may also be characterized by a focus on maintaining the traditions and doctrine of Confucian thought, namely reinforcing the morals of paternalism and patriarchy in Taiwan's society. Moreover, conservatism focuses on preserving the safety of the status quo under the One-China principle, which embodies the traditional political thought of the KMT party, as opposed to the uncertainty of change under the opposition parties' associated pro-independence movement. On a broader level, political conservatism within Taiwan revolves around building and later, preserving a unified Chinese national identity based on Sinocentrism. Similar to the threat of multiculturalism which governs one primary concern for western conservatives i.e. United States, KMT policies are against the integration of Aboriginal culture into the mainstream Chinese identity.
In terms of economic policies, conservatism in Taiwan can be described as highly interventionist. The national economy is centrally planned for the purpose of development and little separation between state and society exists. That opposes the general notion of economic conservatism, where little to no government intervention in the economic affairs is desired. This ideological difference stems from the Confucian roots of Taiwanese conservatism. Following the notion of Confucian paternalism, where the father is the head of the family, conservatives see the state as the head of society. As such, the state has to ensure the well-being of the population by promoting development and interfering in the economic affairs. Examples of conservative policies include the 1949-1953 Land Reforms, the 1950-1968 Economic Reforms aimed at encouraging production for export, the Ten Major Construction Projects and the establishment of the Three Direct Links with China.
Origins and Philosophy
Socioreligious tradition of Confucianism
There are four basic elements of Confucianism which apply to conservatist governance. The Paternalistic State entails top-down decision making under the notion that the “Father is the head of the house, and likewise, the state the head of society.” Leaders possess, jen, a supreme virtue representing human qualities at their best which determines their right to rule. The idea of social order and harmony translates into the assumption of the benevolent state - ren/humaneness, with which civil society works together - shu/reciprocity, rather than oppose, monitor, and scrutinize. The Notion of Patriarchy positions men as leaders, and women as passive. Confucius and Mencius, in the three obediences depict obedience to the father and elder brothers when young, to the husband when married, and to the sons when widowed. Finally, collectivity captures the absence of the tradition of celebrating the individual in contrast to the United States. Instead, hierarchy is respected because it reflects naturally ordained positions in society. Moreover, the fulfilment of individual duties in a given position is necessary for the function of society.
Sun Yat-sen's Political Perspectives
Many of the Kuomintang's policies were inspired by its founder Sun Yat-sen’s vision, and his Three Principles of the People: nationalism (民族主義), democracy (民權主義) and people’s livelihood (民生主義). These three principles combine to make Taiwan a free, powerful, and prosperous nation, although they are selectively interpreted in a specific context which deviates from Sun Yat-sen's original intent. For example, during Chiang Kai-shek’s rule and much of Chiang Ching-kuo’s, the authoritarian state overshadowed democracy by censoring the people’s voice. However, most of his political ideas which were later adapted by his successors in governing Taiwan included equalization of land ownership, learning Chinese traditional morality through Confucian values, and the regulation of state capital by national corporations.
Chronology of Kuomintang governments
Chiang Kai-shek (1945–1975)
Chiang Kai-shek`s retreat to Taiwan following the Chinese Civil War, and the subsequent establishment of the ROC in December 1949, marked the beginning of the One-China party line. In Taiwan, the KMT immediately insisted on its right to maintain the position of the legal representative of all of China. The “government in exile”, a term the ROC under Chiang Kai-shek elected to call itself, remained a status recognized by the international community until October 1971, when Taiwan's seat in the UN Security Council was replaced by that of the PRC, and February 1972, which marked Nixon's historical visit to Peking which ended in the shocking Shanghai Communique.
Initially, the KMT sought to bide time and strength under US assistance and protection in order to retake the mainland. The outbreak of the Korean War prompted President Truman to order the Seventh Fleet to defend Taiwan against the possibility of invasion on June 27, 1950. Although the US overall goal was not to aid Chiang's return to the mainland, but to build Taiwan into a fortress against communism, it allowed Chiang to pursue his military vision of reunification.
As a staunch anti-communist, Chiang pushed his doctrine of pro-reunification under the ideology of liberating the mainland from the Communists using force. Hence, the army of civilians, legal specialists, troops, and other skilled workers that came with him viewed Taiwan as a temporary base for building industrial and military strength towards the level necessary to retake the mainland. In August 1955, and later in 1958, Chiang demonstrated his commitment for settling KMT-Communist Party of China (CCP) representative rivalry with military force by instigating conflict along the Tachen, Kinmen and Matsu islands in the First Taiwan Strait Crisis. The PROC began shelling the islands in response to Chiang's deployment of approximately 60,000 armed troops into the area, which prompted the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis. In the 1960s smaller skirmishes were accompanied by unconventional strategies aimed at the liberation of China. Chiang Kai-shek deployed planes which dropped leaflets and sent the air force on reconnaissance and espionage missions i.e. blowing up bridges and infrastructure in the mainland. Nevertheless, the 1970s was marked by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758, signaling Taiwan's decline in the international community, and with it, the desire to recapture the mainland was replaced by the necessity to survive under the new unstable status quo.
The KMT's One-China policy also influenced its governing policy in Taiwan. Dealing with the island's weakening economy after a long period of prosperity under the Japanese, as well as the residents’ dissatisfaction of KMT's administration, Chiang Kai-shek decided on consolidating his dominance through an authoritarian political system to stabilize Taiwan's internal affairs, opening path for reunification with Mainland.
Structure-wise, the government of Chiang imposed on Taiwan was of little difference than the previous form used to administer Mainland China. Almost all of the governmental positions, with the addition of the highest military positions, police, and the educational system, were occupied by Mainlanders. Ethnic division in the establishment of the administration system was visible: Hokkien people, the major ethnicity in Taiwan, took control over local governments. Meanwhile, the minority Hakka occupied top positions in bodies such as police and railroads, due to their favorability towards Mainlanders. The KMT created a separate government for Taiwan, consisting of five municipalities and sixteen counties, where local residents could exercise voting rights.
A number of progressive social policies were implemented. The government opened more schools and universities, along with organizing a public healthcare plan. The official educational curriculum demanded students learn and speak Mandarin Chinese, while forbidding the use of local languages. However, in exchange for social welfare, benefits were freedom and democratic rights: continuing the Martial Law, which granted extensive power to police and military in case of a “Communist rebellion” Chiang's government throughout the 1950s banned all political activities of the Taiwanese, such as forming parties, publishing newspapers and students’ democracy movements. There was little transparency inside the government, as the Legislative Yuan was limited from discussing bureaucratic issues, including but not limited to planning and funding.
The KMT also attempted at maneuvering elections on the local scale: financial assistance and organizational funds were provided for candidates to better run their campaigns. The party pushed forward at least two candidates from different factions in one area, then allowed those factions to take turn holding position in the local bureaucracies. Additional economic advantages were also given to those candidates who agreed to comply with KMT.
A representative economic policy during the rule of Chiang Kai-shek are the Land Reforms introduced between 1949 and 1953, which had profound effects not only to the agricultural sector, but to the whole economy. Their goal was to change the Japanese colonial laid rental system which promoted unfair distribution of land and contributed to the gap between rich and poor. The reforms aimed at making all farmers the owners of their own fields. The reforms consisted of three stages. First, compulsory reduction of land rent, which limited farm rents to a maximum of 37,5 percent of the annual yield of the main crops. The second stage - sale of public land, that was previously owned and confiscated from Japanese colonists, to actual tenants at a price significantly below market value. The final third stage - the “Land-to-the-Tiller Act”, under which land owned by landlords in excess of 2,9 hectares was compulsorily sold to the government, which in turn resold it to tenants. These reforms touched a vast majority of the Taiwanese agricultural population, with 70% of tenant households having their rents reduced in the first stage. The second and third stages also contributed to reducing the land farmed by tenants from 44% in 1949 to 17% in 1953.
Economically, the reforms were important as with the change of ownership, the incentive framework of the cultivator was transformed - promoting an increase of work efforts, production, investment and adoption of new technologies. This rising productivity was necessary for the subsequent transfer of resources - labor and capital, to other sectors of the economy. The reforms also brought an impact to the income distribution, improving the incomes of tenants and new owners. It is argued that such policy of distribution first, and growth later also contributed to the egalitarian growth pattern of the country.
Chiang Ching-kuo (1975–1988)
Taiwan under KMT president Chiang Ching-kuo embodied a move towards more flexible Cross-Strait relationship in an era of official diplomatic isolation, launched by the US recognition of the PRC on January 1, 1979. While Chiang Kai-shek's original One-China philosophy maintained Taiwan as its sole legitimate representative, a stance at the time recognized by the international community, his son, confronted by Taiwan's declining international status and the rise of China's power and relevance, could no longer maintain the same hard stance and openly hostile policy. Thus, the KMT under Kuo shifted its interpretation of One-China to the notion of representative rivalry within its current Cross-Strait relations, which expresses Taiwan's necessity to negotiate for its relevance and its concessions made in other foreign arenas in light of the CPP's competing claim of representation.
Under the One-China line, Chiang Ching-kuo negotiated for its own security in order to compete with the PRC's growing power. As such, he filled the void of formal diplomatic ties to other countries with unofficial ties, sharing the modern paradigm of Taiwan's foreign relations. Chiang Ching-kuo's responded bitterly to the severing of official relations in 1979 and the termination of the Mutual Defense Treaty, causing him to reiterate his five principles with regard to ROC-US relations under the banner of “reality, continuity, security, legality, and governmentality." As a result, the United States Congress pushed the Taiwan Relations Act on Oct. 10 the same year. The act was an unofficial brokerage which allowed the US to deal with external threats to Taiwan and to sell arms for the purpose of defense building.
In 1979, the “Three Noes”: no contact, no compromise, no negotiation, with the PROC was adopted in response to the ROC's “Three Links” and maintained by president Kuo. However, the hijacking of a Chinese Airline Cargo Plane on May 3, 1986, combined with domestic pressure by citizens demanding to reach the mainland, undid the policy. In 1987, an Open Door policy allowed the ROC Red Cross to issue permits for people from Taiwan to travel to their relatives in the mainland, prompting the start of ongoing civilian exchanges between the ROC and the PRC.
The compromise of “Chinese Taipei” at the 1984 Summer Olympics is a significant example of concessions made during Chiang Ching-kuo's administration. Due to China's complaints regarding the term Chinese Taiwan, and the registering of athletes as Chinese athletes, Taiwan adopted "Chinese Taipei" - a term that silently endorsed the One-China principle, and resembled a compromise of representation to which both parties were satisfied. This was a pragmatic move toward regaining international space for the ROC, one which embodied a move toward reunification.
In light of growing domestic pro-democracy sentiment, abandonment by the international community - starting from the United States’ decision to not recognize the ROC diplomatically, and China's rising power and international status, Chiang Ching-kuo initiated various strategic, limited democratic concessions in order to consolidate KMT authority against internal and external pressures. Doing so would allow the KMT to strategically continue as a strong state under the semblance of democracy, while also enabling the ROC securely allocate attention abroad in negotiating its One-China policy. Ultimately, human rights issues still remained a major controversy in this era, given that Chiang Ching-kuo kept the main policies of his father's reign alive. However, the Martial Law, the product of his father's security concerns of a communist rebellion was eventually lifted in 1987.
Chiang Ching-kuo's gradual switch from ethnic Chinese conservatism to Taiwanese conservatism began with reshuffling the cabinet to include more ethnically Taiwanese members, albeit on a small scale. The next step in this change was to open the political scene for opposite parties, namely Tangwai which had its root in the Taiwanese people. While Chiang Ching-kuo began slowly relaxing restraints on political opposition, “Tang-wai” was already earning large support from local elections in the end of the 1970s; much to the extent that after Kaohsiung Incident in 1979, the KMT initiated stricter surveillance, and capture, of opposition members. As political activism in the 1980s attracted more and more Taiwanese, the KMT government started carrying out open policies to encourage participation of the remaining population, such as including new talents and religious people. A prominent example would be Chiang's decision to pick Lee Teng-hui, an original Taiwanese, to be the country's vice-president in 1982. In, 1986, Chiang Ching-kuo did the unthinkable: he flouted the KMT by allowing the illegal formation of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). These policies demonstrate that Chiang Ching-kuo sought to gain international support in order to strengthen his regime, by taking the moral high ground of democratic legitimacy against the rising threat of China. In doing so, he also sought to appease the United States for finance and security reasons.
Another element of Chiang Ching-kuo's era represented the continued exclusion of aboriginal people of Taiwan for fear of polluting Sinocentric national identity. Although the DPP was formed, it was never based on the intention of restoring rights of Aboriginals, but rather as a front to dissipate anger and satisfaction. Furthermore, there were no policies set in motion to return land stolen under Chiang Kai-shek, lift the ban addressing Aboriginal languages, or provide education in schools to continue Aboriginal culture. Only after democratic consolidation occurred after Chiang Ching-kuo, were aboriginal rights restored. In tandem with maintaining a strict Sino-centric identity, as Chiang Ching-kuo and his men were attempting to introduce a new brand of conservatism to the party structure, on the nationwide scale the government was still labeled authoritarian conservative.
The 1970s was period of rapid economic development for the Taiwanese economy. The government realized that the existing infrastructure was reaching its maximum capacity and was no longer able to accommodate the economy's needs. Chiang Ching-kuo became the driving force behind the proposal of the first post war large-scale infrastructure construction, namely the Ten Major Construction Projects. They included six projects covering highway, rail, sea and air transportation infrastructure, and others - shipbuilding, oil refining, steel manufacturing and nuclear power generation. The work on the projects started in the early 1970s while Chiang was still a Premier and most of the projects were completed by the end of the decade. The construction significantly contributed to mitigating the effects of the 1973 oil crisis, such as spiking unemployment resulting from factory closures. The projects created employment opportunities for 140 000 people and prompted the rapid revival of the economy. They also established a foundation for the Taiwanese increasing export-oriented economy.
Under Chiang's presidency, the Ten Major Construction Projects were followed by the Twelve Major Construction Projects, which included infrastructure projects and expansion of a steel mill. Next, the Fourteen Major Construction Projects were completed, providing essential materials and infrastructure for the expansion of many small and medium enterprises in the countryside, and therefore promoting growth with equity.
Lee Teng-hui (1988-2000)
In handling Cross-Strait Affairs, President Lee diverges from the traditional KMT line. Thus, his contributions to Conservatism must be carefully limited to the economy sphere. Indeed, throughout his presidency, Lee rejected the “1992” Consensus" under the claim that China's characterization of Taiwan as a "renegade province” embodied a straw man argument. Instead, he considered Taiwan as having always remained historically independent, under the observation of the San-Francisco Treaty. Such a radical stance worried China to the extent in which military sanctions were used, prompting the outbreak of the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis.
Due to being regarded as the pioneer of the liberalization ofTaiwanese politics, many internal policies under Lee's presidency did not follow the conservative political line traditional to KMT. During his rule, he actively promoted democracy by removing permanent members of the Legislative Yuan - namely the Mainlanders in power since 1949, as well as holding free elections afterwards to include more Taiwanese members. He emphasized his ethnically Taiwanese identity in his rule, crafting a stronger sense of Taiwanese nationalism following his predecessor Chiang Ching-kuo's steps.
During the 1990s the Taiwanese government actively pursued monitoring and control over the cross-strait investments. Various regulations were implemented, such as requiring all firms that were investing in the mainland to report the amount and the nature of their investments. If they failed to do so, variety of punishments were awaiting - including denying permissions to travel, cutting off credits and exchange operations, denying future investment applications. Regulations also prescribed that new investments over 1 million USD would require advance approval, further strengthening the government's ability to oversee the mainland related economic activities.
This period was also marked by a major shift in the Taiwanese investments - from-small scale manufacturing and mostly labor-intensive industries, such as apparel, footwear, food processing, to higher technology production and infrastructure projects. As a result, the value of investments increased greatly, bringing up the government's fears of Taiwan's growing reliance on the mainland. In response, President Lee Teng-hui asserted that the country's excessive dependence upon overseas investment, particularly in the PRC, was diverting capital and attention from revitalizing the domestic economy, and the government might have to put a lid on it. One of the new strategies to diversify Taiwanese investments in other less hostile markets, was the “Go South” policy that encouraged outsourcing production in Southeast Asia. This policy however didn’t produce the needed results and reduce the investments to the mainland.
Seeing the weaknesses of the “Go South” strategy, the government took another approach introducing the “No Haste, Be Patient” policy. It required case-by-case approvals of Taiwanese investments in high-technology and infrastructure in the mainland. Also, it imposed limits on investments in the PRC - with a maximum investment level of 20 to 40 percent of a firm's total net worth and a ceiling of 50 million USD on individual investments. A following regulation also banned Taiwanese investment in most large-scale infrastructure and energy projects. It was argued that the policy's objective was not to stop entirely the movement towards the mainland, but to slow and manage the outflow of high-tech firms and give them the opportunity to develop at home. Lee also claimed that as long as Beijing was being hostile towards Taiwan, such unrestrained investments and excessive reliance on the mainland would undermine the national security.
Lee's policies were met with strong opposition - both from the business levels and the general electorate, which supported closer economic ties with the mainland, in spite of concerns over security threats and pressure from Beijing.
Ma Ying-jeou (2008-2016)
Under the presidency of Ma Ying-jeou, the 1992 consensus carried on, allowing Taiwan to silently maintain its representation of One-China. In the context of this stalemate, Ma then turned towards bolstering Taiwan's security and international position by implementing flexible diplomacy. As such, Ma's main vision was to slowly restore the modus vivendi in regard to the growing power and influence of the ROC by scaling down the hostile relationship which had greatly escalated during Lee Teng-hui's and Chen Shui-bian’s presidencies. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during Ma’s presidency, the consensus represented the ROC’s principles of “dignity, autonomy, pragmatism, and flexibility” in foreign affairs. By downplaying hostility towards the PROC in conformity with the stance of the international community, Taiwan was able to secure material goods and security via bilateral relationships, as well as international room.
Most notably, on May 18, 2009, the ROC took part in the 62nd World Health Assembly, a move which marked Taiwan's return to participating in UN institutions since 1971. In accordance with reintegrating Taiwan into the international community, Ma's administration also placed the ROC's inclusion in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as top priorities. Moreover, since 2009, relations with countries in the Asia Pacific region have also recovered, as evidenced by the Memorandum of Understanding on Aviation Safety Cooperation with Korea and the resumption of deputy minister level economic and trade consultations with Malaysia and the Philippines. The United States, Taiwan's long-standing ally, continued to maintain bilateral relations in the form of assisting in the ROC's national defense: on October 2008, the Bush administration agreed to 6.2 billion dollar arms sales, which was repeated during Obama's presidency.
On June 2013, however, the PRC and the ROC signed the extremely controversial Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA). Ma administration's efforts of flexible diplomacy, which had not only principally maintained the 1992 consensus, but also brought the PROC and the ROC closer to ever before, induced political backlash as students occupied the National Parliament, demanding a clause by clause review of the agreement. General discontent over Ma's Cross-Strait Policy culminated in the election of 2016, which brought the DPP back in power.
The winner of 2008 Presidential Election, Ma Ying-jeou’s policies embodied a large state which aggressively shaped domestic politics. These policies however large in scale, were largely challenged by Taiwanese citizens in terms of not only their interventionism, but also their poor efficacy. In addition, several key points of Ma's campaign were promises of anti-corruption and moreover, harmony among ethnicities. However, neither was kept; in particular, one of the first actions he decided on was the re-opening of Chiang Kai-shek Mausoleum, showing an example of how much the previous president still influenced the newly elected president to support cultivating an exclusive national identity on a Sino-centric basis.
Taiwan's economic growth during his first term gained him a large amount of support from big names in business for reelection, thanks to his efforts on economic integration with the Mainland; but at the same time a growing number of citizens were enthusiastically participating in social movements to oppose various policy changes that Ma's government put forward. Some of those controversial moves from the authorities were poor management on dealing with aftermath of 2008 tsunami, the Statute for Farm Village Rejuvenation, media control of public television broadcasting, sexual harassment towards children, and the approvement of establishing a naphtha cracker plan near the coast. Furthermore, the government permanently stopped operation of the previous DPP-supported civic and environmental structures, causing the loss of communication channels between the government and the public. All those policies reflected a relatively conservative perspective due to the presence of a large, albeit unpopular state, financed by big business, which in particular during Ma's era, undermined human rights and environmental issues.
Unlike the previous KMT government under the presidency of Lee Teng-hui, which attempted to reduce the mainland related economic activities, Ma Ying-jeou focused on development in cooperation with China to reap trade benefits. Following the growing desires and the increasing pressure from the business community, a few weeks after Ma's inauguration he initiated talks between Taiwan and the mainland regarding the issue of the Three Direct Links. These are the three main paths of communication between Taiwan and PRC - via mail, transportation and commerce, which were banned between the two sides for almost six decades. The absence of the three links has been a huge barrier for Taiwanese businesses, increasing shipment costs and obstructing access to a potentially large market, low labor costs and talent pool in the mainland. It also prevented investment and development of multinational companies back in Taiwan.
Finally, on November 4, 2008 the two sides signed series of agreements regarding each link and Three Direct Links were established. The successful talks mark a historic moment signifying that cross-Strait relations have moved past hostility towards negotiation and cooperation. The opposition has been sceptical, repeatedly claiming that while such move might be economically beneficial for Taiwan, it is compromising the national security with Taiwanese airports being open to PRC aircraft. In reality however, because of this development, cross-strait relations have increasingly become oriented towards rapprochement rather than confrontation.
Another economic policy of Ma's government is the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement. Signed in 2010, the Agreement aims to reduce tariffs and commercial barriers between the two-sides, with the hope for much-needed boost to Taiwan's economy. Yet, it was not received well by the public, giving start of protests and a fierce public debate over the effects of the agreement. Opponents have expressed concerns for the future of the local economy, as Taiwanese workers and small businesses would have to compete with increasing imports of cheaper Chinese goods. At the heart of the protests however, has been the fear that the ECFA might be led to reunification with Beijing, which sees the island as a Chinese province. The President has asserted that the deal is about economics, not politics, and has affirmed his confidence over Taiwanese democracy and its ability to fend off undue pressure from the PRC.
Conservatives in Taiwan
Kuomintang is the main conservative party and currently it is the largest opposition party in the Legislative Yuan with 35 seats.
People's First Party is a liberal conservative party, founded by former KMT General Secretary and Taiwan Provincial Governor James Soong after the 2000 presidential elections. It is the main contender with the KMT for the conservative votes. Currently, it holds 3 seats in the Legislative Yuan.
The New Party was also established as a split from the KMT in 1993, after growing dissatisfaction with President Lee's policies of distancing the party from unification with the mainland. The NP has been a vanishing force in the political landscape, not having won any seats in the Legislative Yuan since the 2008 elections.
Initially, the pan-blue camp and the pan-green camp reflected the ideological differences within society over national identity. Those ideological differences were manifested through the different stances on cross-strait policy - with the blue-camp being pro-unification and the green-camp - pro-independence. Therefore, determining party affiliation was based on ethnicity and the attitude towards the relationship with the mainland. As a result, the pan-blue camp supporter base traditionally consisted of people mainly having Chinese identities and pro-unification attitudes.
Recently however, it has been observed that the alignment with a party has grown beyond these traditional dichotomies. This has been influenced by the growth of a distinct Taiwanese identity, rooted not in ethno-cultural aspect, but in the historical, economic and political development of the island. The change has affected people's preferences, with a growing concern over each party's capability and will to maintain what is being considered Taiwanese identity. As a result of this tendency and in attempt to appeal to the growing group of people who identify as Taiwanese, the KMT has lost its idealistic pan-Chinese passion. To avoid marginalization, it has focused rather on practical steps of Sino-Taiwanese cooperation.
Another major concern for the citizens has become the parties capacity to retain the peace and stability across the Strait, with the majority of people preferring the status quo over unification or independence. This has discouraged politicians from pursuing outright unification or independence, but rather moderate their stance towards maintain status quo. In the 2008 presidential campaign for example, KMT used status quo as a campaign tactics, eventually leading to its candidate Ma Ying-jeou being elected. However, in 2016 elections, the failure to do so, combined with DPP utilizing the same “status quo strategy” cost the KMT the presidency.
As a result, from those two tendencies - the growing Taiwanese identity and the steady preference over the maintaining the status quo with the mainland, the characteristics of the supporter base of the conservatives have become less clear cut than before.
Party Instability and Regaining Trust
Domestically, conservatism within the KMT treads a thin line. The rise of a pan-Taiwanese independence movement with mainly of younger members, that does not acknowledge that existence of the 1992 consensus and hence claims that Taiwan is already independent, has challenged the status quo and called for greater ROC sovereignty in multilateral politics and economics. As a result, the return of the KMT into power will likely be predicated on a more careful maintenance of pragmatic diplomacy which foreseeably involves drawing Taiwan closer to the PROC through a variety of methods, such as sharing social spaces in international institutions, making diplomatic visits, signing economic deals. In each case, the KMT must promise to keep a safe distance in order to reflect the beliefs of a vigilant populace. To further exacerbating this tension, the KMT has also suffered from undemocratic perceptions, after its evasion of a clause by clause review of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement, which prompted the Sunflower Student Movement to damage the party's credibility. In the future, the KMT must improve transparency to rebuild trust between it and the Taiwanese populace.
Deteriorating Relationship with the PRC
In recent years, the KMT has been gradually falling out of China's favor. Following the KMT election loss of 2016, the KMT began to shift its pro-China policy towards the median to better represent the view of the electorate. In short, they began campaigning under the ideal of multiculturalism, which included both “Chinese” and “Taiwanese” citizens. However, this change in the party line was criticized by China. Beijing's preoccupation with the process of “localization” stems from concerns over the ROC's move towards “De-Sinification” which would weaken the PRC's claim that people on both sides of the strait share common bond and heritage. Moreover, China views current DPP president Tsai Ing-wen as a dangerous player who threatens the 1992 Consensus, blaming the KMT for mismanagement of domestic and international policy which led to their 2016 election loss. In the future, the KMT must also struggle to balance the preferences of the overall electorate while also treading a thin line with Mainland China.
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