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Political Rivalry in China Part 3 – Who Pushed Tsai Ing-wen into the President’s Seat?

Part 3: Who Pushed Tsai Ing-wen into the President’s Seat?

On May 20, 2016, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), was sworn in as the newly elected President of the Republic of China. In her inaugural address, she stated, “Once again, the people of Taiwan have shown the world through our actions that we, as a free and democratic people, are committed to the defense of our freedom and democracy as a way of life. Each and every one of us participated in this journey. My dear fellow Taiwanese, we did it.” [1]

Tsai has her reasons to celebrate the democratic victory in Taiwan. She is the second person from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to win the Presidential election from the hands of the Kuomintang, the party that ruled Taiwan for decades before holding the first open election in 1996.

Perhaps in addition to thanking the people of Taiwan, she should also thank the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It may be hard to believe, but the CCP’s internal fighting, which resulted in conflicting Taiwan policies, actually helped to propel Taiwan’s citizens to choose her to win the Presidency.

The CCP’s internal fighting has intensified since Xi Jinping took power. Xi became the head of the CCP in late 2012 and the President of the People’s Republic of China in early 2013. However, the former CCP leader Jiang Zemin and his faction have refused to relinquish power to Xi. Xi and his close ally Wang Qishan have been working on the anti-corruption campaign to wrest power from them.

Those Jiang followers who still have power have tried many ways to fight back, including directly or indirectly confronting, distracting, or setting traps for Xi.

They sometimes even played the Hong Kong card and the Taiwan card to create troubles for Xi.


I. The CCP Tried to Rope In the Kuomintang

Since Taiwan had its first direct Presidential election in 1996, two parties, the Kuomintang and the DPP, have been dominant.

The Kuomintang established the Republic of China and ruled the country from 1911 to 1949. It had a long adverse relationship with the CCP which went back to the 1920s when the two parties were at war. The CCP won control over the mainland in 1949 and established the People’s Republic of China. The Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan and also controlled Penghu, Quemoy, Matsu, and several outlying islands.

Despite its loss of effective control of the mainland, the Kuomintang maintained that there is only one China and that the Republic of China is the legitimate authority over it.

The CCP, on the other side of the Taiwan strait, also stated that there is only one China, but the rightful government is the People’s Republic of China.

Many members of the DPP were local Taiwanese, strongly committed to assuring support for constitutional freedoms. Once they gained a minority presence in the Legislative Yuan they moved toward advocating an identity for Taiwan and more independence. China and Taiwan’s relationship hit a low point from 2000 to 2008, during the two terms of the first DPP President Chen Shui-bian (陈水扁).

As it has more land, a larger population, and more power, the CCP has the upper hand in the China-Taiwan relationship. In Olympics and many international organizations and events, the CCP’s China is called “China” and Republic of China is called “China Taipei.” This naming arrangement implies that the CCP’s mainland is China and Taiwan is just a part of China.

The CCP’s main Taiwan strategy is focused on reunifying the separate islands with the Mainland. It has promoted the “One Country, Two Systems” framework to the Taiwan people just as it is applied in Hong Kong. It pushed for three direct links (postal, transportation, and trade) between the two sides and established them in December 2008, when Ma Ying-jeou became the President of the Republic of China.

On the business side, the CCP has offered generous deals to businesses from Taiwan. The cheap labor and special treatment attracted many Taiwan businesses, which then opened factories and offices on the mainland. However, once they had settled down and their business ties developed , they found that it became more and more difficult for them to maintain their independent political position. The CCP used their investments as leverage to ask them to support the “reunification,” or at least, not to support Taiwan independence.

The CCP was not shy about punishing violators. In 2000, Taiwanese pop star Zhang Huimei was banned from China for many years, because he sang at Chen Shui-bian’s inauguration ceremony.[2]

Since the Kuomintang and the DPP held different positions on the reunification, the CCP decided to make friends with the Kuomintang and to contain the DPP.

When Kuomintang President Ma Ying-jeou (马英九) took office in 2008, he looked to the mainland to boost Taiwan’s low economic growth. The CCP offered generous trade agreements. It also sent millions of tourists to Taiwan. As Taiwan’s economy improved, Ma and the Kuomintang were popular in Taiwan.

The Kuomintang became close to the CCP, despite their long history of rivalry.


II. Zhang Dejiang Stirred up the Hong Kong Crisis and Alienated the People of Taiwan

Things changed in 2014.

As Chinascope pointed out in its article “Hong Kong, a Trap Set up for Xi Jinping,” Zhang Dejiang, a follower of Jiang’s faction, who currently serves the Chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, began to create trouble for Xi Jinping, to counter his anti-corruption campaign. [3]

Zhang used his influence on the NPC Standing Committee to issue a White Paper on June 10 of 2014, interpreting Hong Kong’s “One Country, Two Systems” structure as one in which the central government (meaning the CCP) has the final say over Hong Kong’s autonomy. This triggered the massive Occupy Central protest and the Umbrella Movement, to demand the true election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive.

Hong Kong’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying (C.Y. Leung), who is loyal to Zeng Qinghong (Jiang Zemin’s right hand person) and Zhang Dejiang, further stirred things up hoping to escalate the situation into a military curfew. If that had happened, Xi would face the world’s condemnation and could be forced to step down.

Fortunately Xi saw through the trap and strictly forbade the military from getting involved. In the end, the Umbrella Movement quieted down.

The Umbrella Movement didn’t directly get Hongkongese what they demanded, but it sent a strong message to the Taiwanese.

Seeing that the CCP wouldn’t honor its “One Country, Two System” promise in Hong Kong, the people in Taiwan worried about the consequences if Taiwan got “reunified” with the mainland. That concern affected their attitude toward the then ruling Kuomintang Party, which had been moving closer and closer to the CCP.

In addition, Taiwan’s economy turned south as China struggled with its own economic performance and was unable to benefit Taiwan anymore.

In Taiwan’s city governor and county executive elections in November 2014, the DPP won a landslide victory over the Kuomintang. It took 13 seats while the Kuomintang had only six. As a result, Ma Ying-jeou took the blame and resigned from the Kuomintang Chairman’s post.


III. Xi Jinping Tried to Boost the Kuomintang

The next big event in Taiwan was the Presidential election on January 16, 2016.

The CCP preferred to see the Kuomintang rather than the DPP stay in office. Xi Jinping made a surprise move in an effort to boost the Kuomintang’s position. On November 7, 2015, in Singapore, as the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi held a summit with Ma Ying-jeou, then President of the Republic of China.

The significance of the summit was that the two Presidents met on an equal footing in a third country. In the past, the CCP had never treated Taiwan as an equal partner. A peer-level meeting between the highest leaders was hard to imagine.

During the summit, Xi held out an olive branch to Taiwan. First, Xi avoided the term “One China” (which, when used by a mainland leader, implies that Taiwan is only a part of China). Instead, in his opening remarks, he repeatedly used the term “both sides of the strait.” Second, Xi said he was willing to allow Taiwan to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank under the “appropriate” title. [4]

However, Xi got resistance from Liu Yunshan (刘云山), another of Jiang Zemin’s followers, who serves as a member of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee and is in charge of literary and propaganda work.

State media, under Liu’s control, made no plan to broadcast the summit. After finding that out, Xi was angry and asked his Chief of Staff Li Zhanshu (栗战书) to inform Liu “that China’s Central Television (CCTV) must broadcast the ‘Summit of Xi and Ma’ live.”

CCTV did so. It broadcasted the part of the summit involving Xi Jinping’s speech. When Ma Ying-jeou was about to give his speech, CCTV cut the broadcast off. This cutting off has generated many media discussions. [5]

IV. The Chou Tzu-yu Incident Helped Tsai to Get More Votes

A few days before the Presidential election in Taiwan, an event about the Republic of China’s national flag exploded in the media.

Chou Tzu-yu, known as Tzuyu, is a 16-year old girl and a member of Twice, a South Korean pop song girl group, under a South Korean company called JYP Entertainment.

In a televised performance, each Twice member held the national flag of her own country in her hand. The flags included the South Korean flag, the Japanese flag, and the Republic of China flag that Chou Tzu-yu held.

A Taiwanese singer Huang An, who had spent most of his time in mainland China, reported it as a “Taiwan Independence” event on his Weibo (a blogging site in the mainland) account. Huang was known for reporting Taiwanese’s “Taiwan Independence” statement. He even received a letter from China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, which stated, “[We] are expressing our deep respect and gratitude to Huang An’s distinctive position on supporting reunification and opposing ‘Taiwan Independence.’” [6]

Huang An’s initial Internet posting didn’t generate any response. Actually, holding the national flag of the Republic of China was not to promote “Taiwan Independence.” The Republic of China’s ruling party, the Kuomintang held the “one China” policy.

Ironically, netizens later found information showing that, in the early 2000s, Huang An also performed while holding the national flag of the Republic of China.

Again, on January 8, 2016, Huang An posted another message on his Weibo account: “A Taiwan girl Chou Tzu-yu waved the Taiwan ‘national flag’ on South Korea’s television. I reported her on my Weibo account. … Soon, the South Korean group including this ‘Taiwan Independence’ girl and three Japanese girls will perform at Anhui Provincial Television’s Chinese New Year Celebration Performance. People opposing their presence please spread this message.”

And this time, Chinese media and Chinese netizens were on steroids. They strongly condemned Chou Tzu-yu. Huaiwei, which had signed Chou to promote its mobile phone Y6, also cancelled the contract.

On January 13, seeing that it was about to lose the big China market, Chou’s company JYP issued a statement, “This untruthful rumor was about a 16-year old teenager. She has not formed [a mature] political view due to her age and [limited] experience.”

Anyhow, JYP cancelled all Chou’s performances in China. It changed Chou’s official website several times: from “Nationality: Taiwan” to “Place of Birth: Taiwan,” then to “Place of Birth: China Taiwan.” [7]

JYP also released a video in which Chou issued a public apology, stating, “There is only one China.” Chou held the statement paper in her hand and said submissively, “The two sides of the strait are one body. I am always proud of myself for being a Chinese. I felt very sorry and guilty for hurting the feelings of netizens on both sides. I decided to stop all my activities in [mainland] China to reflect on myself. Again, I seriously apologize to you all. I am sorry.”

China’s state media Global Times praised this battle against a teenage girl, “In the struggle with the ‘Taiwan Independence’ forces, mainland netizens have won a ‘complete victory.’” [8]

However, this “Internet bully” and “business bully” approach truly irritated the people in Taiwan.

Even Ma Ying-jeou, who had a good relationship with the CCP became angry at the CCP for its attack on people holding the national flag of the Republic of China. Ma said, “Those who truly endorse the Republic of China, of course, do not support ‘Taiwan Independence.’”

People in Taiwan answered back in their Presidential election on January 18, 2016. They gave Tsai Ing-wen a sweeping victory. She received 56.1 percent of the vote, while the Kuomintang candidate Eric Chu got 30.1 percent.


V. The Clean up

Somehow the authorities seemed to realize that things didn’t move in the desired direction. So on January 16, Xiakedao, a Weibo account that the People’s Daily authored, published a long article, commenting on Chou Tzu-yu’s case with criticism over this narrow “nationalism.” [9]

“A Taiwanese friend said, the more the mainland netizens criticize Chou Tzu-yu, the more emotional the confrontation will be between the two sides [of the strait], and the more the activities for ‘Taiwan Independence’ will occur. That is very true.

“Chou’s [apology] video had been broadcasted repeatedly in Taiwan. Taiwan’s young people were furious [about this humiliation]. Without exaggeration, this event could have added 500,000 votes for the DPP.”

Denouncing Chou Tzu-yu stopped in China.

But it was too late. The damage had already been done.


VI. Conclusion

Netizens on mainland China might not be that politically savvy and able to foresee the consequences of condemning Chou Tzu-yu. They might have just felt the urge to do so as their “patriotic” blood flushed into their heads.

The politicians, however, should have understood the consequences. Just as Xiakedao’s posting pointed out, this action was not to stop “Taiwan Independence,” but rather to provoke it.

In a tightly censored environment, netizens of the mainland don’t have the freedom to express themselves. The fact that Chou Tzu-yu was overwhelming condemned over the Internet in a short few days indicated that the authorities approved this condemnation. Maybe they even organized it.

The authorities in question had to be the CCP Central Propaganda Department which oversees the media and the Internet. It is under Liu Yunshan. What was the purpose? Probably to create tension in the China-Taiwan relationship and make Xi Jinping’s life miserable.

It was surprising to see that Jiang Zemin’s followers Zhang Dejiang and Liu Yunshan were willing to create trouble for Xi Jinping at the cost of the Hong Kong people and the Taiwan people.

The CCP’s in-fighting has grown to a destructive level.



[1] Focus Taiwan, “Full text of President Tsai’s inaugural address,” May 20, 2016.
[2] New York Times, “Taiwan Pop Star Chou Tzu-yu Forced to Apologize for Holding National Flag, Causing Dramatic Backfire in Taiwan,” January 17, 2016.
[3] Chinascope, “Hong Kong, a Trap Set up for Xi Jinping.”
[4] Chinascope, “Is Xi Softening His Approach to International Affairs?”
[5], “Liu Yunshan Has ‘Secretly Attacked’ Xi Jinping Several Times,” November 19, 2015.
[6] Guancha, “Huang An Received State Council Taiwan Affairs Office Response; Seashine Group Will Not Consider Joint Project with ‘Taiwan Independence’ Lady,” October 16, 2015.
[7] BBC Chinese, “Contined Development of Taiwan Signer Chou Tzu-yu’s Holding the National Flag of the Republic of China,” January 16, 2016.
[8] New York Times, “Strong Reaction in Taiwan to Singer Chou Tzu-yu Apologizing for Holding National Flag,” January 17, 2016.
[9] Sohu, “Denouncing Chou Tzu-yu Was the Party of the People of ‘Narrow Nationalism,’” January 16, 2016.