Chu playing China card to boost KMT campaign
Few would have believed that New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu really meant what he said when he repeatedly stressed that he would not run for president next year. But some of the latest developments have shown that he is determined to honor his promise to the voters who elected him to the mayoral post last November in that he will complete his four-year term.
The most telling development is his scheduled meeting with Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping in Beijing next week in their capacities as the heads of their respective nationalist and communist parties.
Such a meeting would only undermine the presidential bid of any candidate from the pro-China unification Kuomintang, for it would look as though he or she was looking for the Chinese leader’s blessing and approval.
A meeting between Xi and the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party’s candidate Tsai Ing-wen in the run-up to the presidential poll would be seen differently — if such a thing could happen at all.
The sensitivity of the upcoming Chu-Xi meet will almost certainly prevent the New Taipei mayor from running for president this term, unless he really lacks the political wisdom to see the implications and possible damage.
Chu has overwhelming backing from KMT supporters who have looked up to him as the best candidate in a bid to keep the presidency for the ruling party after its crushing defeat in the local elections in November.
But it may not be difficult to see why he is resisting the temptation: he has promises to keep for his New Taipei job; and the party would risk losing both New Taipei and the presidency if he ran and lost, for he would be forced to give up his mayoral post to show his commitment to the presidential campaign.
Instead, Chu is giving himself a crucial role of another type — a kingmaker. As chairman of the KMT, he is clearly eager to set the agenda for the presidential race, as well as the legislative elections, both of which are taking place early next year.
Judging from his scheduled meet with Xi, Chu is again playing the China card, highlighting the importance of cross-strait stability. The KMT has always played such a card in previous elections, targeting the DPP’s Achilles’ Heel.
Tsai and her DPP peers know the KMT trick perfectly well. Tsai has already vowed to maintain the status quo of cross-strait relations if elected president, seeking to keep the presidential election on the course she has set toward addressing key domestic issues, such as social justice.
But the KMT is not letting her off the hook easily, demanding that she spells out more clearly her China policy.
And Chu does not seem to be only ready to repeat what his KMT predecessors have reiterated for maintaining friendly ties across the Taiwan Strait.
It is not known for certain what Chu and Xi will talk about in their May 4 meeting, but sources close to the KMT leadership have been cited as saying that the party chief will seek to “deepen” the so-called “1992 Consensus” — under which both Taipei and Beijing agree to disagree on the meaning of “one China.”
The sources did not elaborate on how Chu is going to “deepen” the consensus, but such a move could add pressure on Tsai.
Tsai has warned that cross-strait relations are more than those just between the KMT and the Chinese communists; they are relations between two governments.
But the reality is the communists have been eager to make friends with the KMT, and snub the DPP. President Ma Ying-jeou has been able to improve ties with China, while cross-strait ties were stalled during the eight-year stint of his DPP predecessor Chen Shui-bian.
Tsai might be able to win the presidential election by focusing on the domestic issues and ignoring the KMT’s cross-strait agenda. But still cross-strait relations will remain a key issue that any president of the R.O.C. will have to address.