Kuomintang chairman, in Washington, pitches his party as stabilising presence between Beijing and Taipei

·4-min read

Taiwan’s main opposition party is a “pro-US” stabilising presence amid heightened cross-strait tensions between Beijing and Taipei, its chairman said on Monday during a visit to Washington as the group reopened its representative office here after 13 years.

Eric Chu, chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT), sought to counter what he described as a mischaracterization of his party’s aims in remarks delivered as part of his 11-day tour of the US.

“We are mislabelled by some people or some media saying we are [a] pro-China party. It’s totally wrong,” Chu said in a speech at the Brookings Institution. “We are [a] pro-US party, forever. Since we inaugurated the party … in power or in opposition, we are the party [that is] pro-US, close to the US, pro-democracy and pro-peace.”

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Chu’s messaging in Washington came as the KMT struggles to reassert its past prominence, having lost in Taiwan’s last two presidential elections in 2016 and 2020 to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), led by Tsai Ing-wen.

Chu is viewed as trying to raise the KMT’s profile ahead of Taiwan’s 2024 elections. Photo: ZUMA Press Wire via dpa
Chu is viewed as trying to raise the KMT’s profile ahead of Taiwan’s 2024 elections. Photo: ZUMA Press Wire via dpa

Since winning the party chairmanship in October, Chu, a former vice-premier and mayor, has been viewed as trying to raise the KMT’s profile ahead of Taiwan’s 2024 elections while tensions between Beijing and Washington over the island run higher and deeper.

Chu’s visit was timed to coincide with the recent reopening of the KMT’s representative office in Washington following a 13-year absence. The office shut in 2008 when Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT became the island’s leader, a decision reportedly made to lower the party’s profile in the US and engage Beijing as part of Ma’s more conciliatory approach to Beijing.

On Monday, Chu sought to position the KMT as providing a stabilising presence amid the tensions.

“During this pivotal and crucial era, what is our decision and choice?” Chu asked. “If we want to be the flashpoint, some tragedy may happen. If we want to be the stabiliser of the world, I think it’s good news for the world.”

Chu said Taiwan could “maintain” its role as a key supplier for semiconductors, an allusion to the outsize influence of chip makers like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

He also stated his hope that Taiwan would join the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), a US-led initiative widely seen as an effort to counter China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region. This follows the US Trade Representative Office’s launch of a bilateral economic and trade initiative between US and Taiwan last week.

The self-ruled island operates Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Offices from the US and elsewhere. Meanwhile, Beijing has continued to pressure countries to cut official diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

The KMT delegation led by Chu will hold closed-door meetings with officials in US President Joe Biden’s administration as well as members of Congress and think tanks.

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While stressing a desire for greater engagement with the US, Chu on Monday emphasised a long-time KMT stance of expressing hope for a resumption of cross-strait dialogue. Beijing suspended the talks after Tsai’s election in 2016.

That “principled engagement”, Chu said, amounts to “threat reduction and crisis management” with Beijing. He identified self-defence as “the number one” priority for achieving peace and stability.

“A strong defence and liberal coalition are required [and are] indispensable for this region’s security,” he said.

The KMT governed mainland China before losing a civil war to China’s Communist Party and fleeing to Taiwan. The party traditionally favours closer ties with Beijing than the DPP and has struggled in recent years to regain popularity since Tsai’s two election wins. Beijing regards the DPP as independence-leaning and sees Taiwan as a breakaway province, vowing to take the island under its control by force, if necessary.

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