The KMT's and Ma's Surreal Dream of Yesteryear

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Wednesday November 05, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Like an opium reverie of bygone years, a strange surrealistic cloud is descending on Taiwan. Members of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and their sometime leader Ma Ying-jeou are nostalgically striving to recreate the celebratory one-party state days of their colonial yesteryear rule as they wine and dine a civil servant of China, Chen Yunlin. Chen is head of China"s Association for Relations across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS); he is no head of state; he is simply head of an association to negotiate trade and is here to sign some trade agreements. The question then is why is Ma spending so much and trying to convince Taiwan citizens as well as the foreign media that something momentous is going on?

Are the parachute journalists and/or the overseas media that rely on pan-blue sources being taken in and affected by this cocoon-like, put-on glamour of the past? If you hear or read the claims and news reports stating how this is a "first;" a "historic moment," a "landmark dealing ending years of non-contact with China," you know that the opium vapors have already reached your brain and you have lost touch with reality and the real protests in the streets.

How to break through this haze? Begin with Chen's KMT counterpart Chiang Pin-kung who in gilding the KMT lily is quoted as saying that "Taiwan has been waiting 60 years for this moment." Sixty years, really? It seems to me that up until twenty years ago in Taiwan's KMT controlled one-party state they were executing anyone caught coming from China and now we are to believe that Taiwan has been longing for sixty years for them to visit.

Second, separate the mentality of the KMT who came with Chiang Kai-shek's defeated rag-tag army from that of the Taiwanese. Taiwan was never part of China's Civil War. After being forced to take in Chiang's rapacious band of refugees and then wage a long struggle to gain the right to democracy from them, true Taiwanese have no desire to welcome a new group of autocratic despots. It is only for the KMT that this is momentous because it takes them back to yesteryear. It makes them think cross strait matters should be handled on a party to party basis with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with whom they had had a civil war.

To further cut through the new brotherhood rhetoric, examine the real history and see where the real problems of the past decade remain. Wander back, way back to April 30, 1991 (yes seventeen years ago) when President Lee Teng-hui signed and terminated the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion officially ending the Civil War between the KMT and the CCP. For the Taiwanese we have seen that they were never part of the Civil War nor did they want to be. For the KMT, Lee terminated it seventeen years ago. Yet here we are, still being spoon fed by Ma's new KMT rhetoric that the Civil War is momentously coming to an end and that both sides are sitting down to a historic undertaking. The only reason that nothing has happened across the Strait in the past decade is the historical intransigence of China. Taiwan's past president Chen Shui-bian had invited the head of ARATS to visit Taiwan in February 2005. He refused. It was not momentous enough for them and they did not have a dupe to talk to.

Surreal? Yes, it is with that backdrop that I joined a friend for dinner at the Grand Hotel on Monday evening and witnessed firsthand this fantasy dream being played out. The Grand Hotel rests on a small mountain with only one main road that leads up to it. It was chosen for Chen's stay this week because it is easily isolated from the reality of Taipei. At the bottom of the mountain my taxi had to pass a checkpoint of over 50 police; they were stationed there to readily repel any supposed people who challenged the notion that Taiwan had been longing for ARATS Chen's arrival for sixty years. A second checkpoint was at the top of the mountain with hundreds of more police and secret service personnel. No real people were allowed.

The Grand Hotel has a total of 490 rooms, yet inside the spacious hotel lobby, dining rooms and corridors it was empty. The hotel had stopped any bookings over a week ago, claiming it was full. In reality, the only people wandering the lobby and corridors were police, secret service agents and reporters from China. Eating dinner in the large empty dining hall left one feeling he had stepped into a scene of Last Year at Marienbad or The Shining. Outside in the rear of the hotel were hundreds of more police on standby. For a momentous historic moment, all was being kept secretly private. The public were not allowed.

Chen Yunlin and his entourage of 60 personnel returned from dining with the KMT about 9:30 pm to the empty hotel. There to greet him behind two phalanx of police, were a bevy of Chinese media and TV cameras (no foreign media were allowed) on one side and the paid cheering hotel staff on the other. Except for myself and a few foreigners shunted off to a corner there were no real non-paid people present. The entourage from China of course did not know this and from the looks on their faces they thought they were being graciously received to Taiwan. It remained surreal.

Numerous other restrictions had been made; all hotel guests that were there before bookings were cut off, were moved to interior rooms. Republic of China flags were not present; and police did not want anyone hanging unwelcome banners from balconies.

Chen Yunlin is not a head of state; he is no high ranking politician; he is simply head of an agency here to ink some trade agreements that had been begun years previous during the presidency of Chen Shui-bian. Why then is the Ma government going to such great expenditures to welcome him? Why such over the top police protection to keep him from meeting the real citizens of Taiwan? Why is this being touted as a landmark happening ending years of non-contact when in reality the negotiations had been going on for years under Chen Shui-bian? Is ARATS Chen's visit really that momentous? No. But for Ma Ying-jeou with an approval rating that has slipped to 23 per cent, he desperately needs a claim to make people and the outside world think he is doing something momentous.

More dangerous and more deceptive however is the way that all of this is being conducted. In addition to the faade of something momentous, the KMT wants the world to ignore and squelch the reality of Taiwanese protesting in the streets. They do not count; as back in the days of the one-party state, the wining and dining is for KMT members only. Taiwanese must know their place and be quiet; these serious matters will be handled on a party to party basis between the KMT and the CCP. The opium smoke of yesteryear continues to prevail.