China-Taiwan Tensions and the Guomindang’s Existential Crisis

600px-china_map

People’s Republic of China vs Republic of China (Taiwan). CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In November 2014 the Guomindang (Chinese Nationalist Party) suffered a defeat in Taiwan’s local elections, winning 40.7% of the votes and only 6 out of 22 local seats. The main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), gained 47.5% of the votes. This setback led to the resignation en masse of the Guomindang executive cabinet.

It was widely believed that the Guomindang’s declining popularity was caused by its policy of rapprochement with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The controversial signing of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) between Taiwan and mainland China was opposed by a majority of Taiwanese and resulted in the formation of the Sunflower Movement. Students occupied the parliament and eventually forced President Ma Ying-jeou to scale down his efforts to improve relations with the CCP.

The Guomindang did not draw the right conclusions from its electoral backlash. Instead of steering towards a more moderate policy, in June 2015 the Guomindang endorsed candidate Hong Xiuzhu (Wade-Giles: Hung Hsiu-chu), who stood out for her conservative pro-China views.

Hong’s poll ratings were so low that a few months later her own party ditched her, replacing her at an emergency meeting in October 2015 with Eric Chu, Guomindang chairman and mayor of New Taipei City. However, Eric Chu did not dissociate himself from Ma Ying-jeou’s pro-China stance. In May 2016, he travelled to mainland China to meet with President Xi Jinping. a move that further alienated Taiwanese voters. In the 2016 presidential elections, the DPP won 44.1% of the votes, while the Guomindang garnered a mere  26.9% of the votes.

Yet, once again, instead of aligning itself with moderate voters who viewed close Taipei-Beijing ties with suspicion, the Guomindang turned again to Hong Xiuzhu, electing her as its chairwoman – the party’s first female leader. Ahead of the chairmanship elections due in May 2017, the candidates are once again debating how to handle relations with the Communist Party, an issue that has been at the heart of the Guomindang’s internal struggles since the 1920s. Will the Guomindang be marginalized by the DPP and its Taiwan-centric stance? Or will it once again redefine itself so as to appeal to voters who reject closer ties with Beijing? Continue reading

Advertisements

The China-Taiwan Issue and the American Civil War

On November 6, 1860, the 19th presidential election of the United States of America was held. Abraham Lincoln, a relatively unknown politician born into a poor family, received 1,866,452 of the votes; although his three opponents combined received more votes (2,815,617), Lincoln won and became the 16th President of the United States (J. G. Randall / David Donald: The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1961, p. 133).
For the slave states of the South, Lincoln’s election was an insult. The new President was opposed to slavery. A large part of the white citizens of the South considered slave ownership as one of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution. They not only considered the black population inferior to themselves and by nature servile, but their entire economic structure and way of life depended on slave labour.
On November 13 the legislature of South Carolina under Governor William Henry Gist called a convention that would decide on the future of the State. Popular sentiment was by that time in favour of secession. On December 20 the South Carolina Convention passed by a unanimous vote of 169 an ordinance declaring that “the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the ‘United States of America’, is hereby dissolved” (ibid., pp. 135-136). Within a few months, six more Southern States seceded from the Union: Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
On February 4, 1861, delegates from these states met at Montgomery, Alabama, where they promulgated their own Constitution. This was the founding act of the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and Alexander Stephens of Georgia were elected President and Vice-President respectively.

 

The evolution of the Confederacy (source: Wikipedia)

 

Davis believed – as most Southern Confederates did – that they were faithful to the principles of their forefathers who had fought against British rule and had established an independent state. In his Inaugural Address he stated:

The right solemnly proclaimed at the birth of the States, and which has been affirmed and reaffirmed in the bills of rights of the States subsequently admitted to the Union of 1789, undeniably recognizes in the people the power to resume the authority delegated for the purposes of government. Thus the sovereign States here represented, proceeded to form this confederacy … (quoted in: Hugh Tulloch: The Routledge Companion to the American Civil War Era, 2006, p. 91). 

Vice-President Stephens was clearer about the true motive behind secession: the issue of slavery. The Southern states were primarily slave rural economies, and they resisted attempts by the Northern industrial states to limit slavery. In his Address on the Confederate Constitution of March 21, 1861, Stephens said:

The new Constitution has put  at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions – African slavery as it exists among us – the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution … [Our new Government’s] foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth (ibid., p. 93; my emphasis).

Flag of the Confederate States of America

Lincoln, however, was an unswerving opponent of secession. He wanted to preserve the Union, by peaceful means, if possible, or by war, if the Southern states ‘rebelled’ against the central government. In his own Inaugural Address in March 1861, Lincoln declared:

Continue reading

Democracy Abolishes Itself – The Case of the Weimar Republic

mass_demonstration_in_front_of_the_reichstag_against_the_treaty_of_versailles

Mass demonstration in front of the German parliament (Reichstag) against the Treaty of Versailles (source: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

At the end of the First World War, Germany was in a state of chaos. The country had been defeated, the Kaiser (Emperor) had abdicated, poverty was widespread, riots and civil unrest created fear and instability. No one knew who would take over the reins of power after the collapse of the imperial government.

The political vacuum was filled in November 1918 when the leaders of the Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, abbr. SPD) and of the left-wing Democrats formed a Council of People’s Delegates. It was headed by Friedrich Ebert, a moderate politician who rejected the idea of a Soviet-style revolution and advocated the establishment of a parliamentary democracy (see Richard J. Evans: The Coming of the Third Reich, 2004, pp. 78-79). In early 1919 the Council announced a general election to choose the representatives for a Constituent Assembly.

The elections came at a time when the possibility of a Bolshevik-style revolution loomed on the horizon. The moderate leadership of democratic left-wing parties was a welcome alternative to violent upheaval and Communist dictatorship. The SPD, the Centre Party and the left-wing Democrats won the majority of the votes and their delegates met in 1919 in the city of Weimar. In July of the same year they promulgated a new Constitution, which was largely based on the previous imperial Constitution but contained several fundamental changes. Continue reading

Democracy, Mob Rule, Dictatorship: The Problem of Freedom in Ancient Athens

1024px-akropolis_by_leo_von_klenze

The Acropolis of Athens by Leo von Klenze (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

After World War II democracy began to be viewed in the West as the best possible form of government. However, a history of democratic states shows that freedom is not something to be taken for granted. Democracy is not simply “freedom for all” or “the will of the people”. It is a complex, delicate machine, a system of rules, institutions and checks and balances that can work harmoniously but can also swiftly degenerate and collapse. It appears that pro-democracy public discourse often ignores the difficulties and the inherent fragility of democracy, while anti-democracy discourse all too readily denies its benefits.

History, far from being a discipline detached from reality, can teach us that democracy should never, not a single day, be taken for granted, and that one should not rely on a too simplistic concept of freedom. Many democratic or semi-democratic states, such as ancient Athens, the Roman Republic, the Italian city-states of the Middle Ages, Revolutionary France, the Weimar Republic, the Republic of China, the Russian Federation, only to name a few, failed to keep the promise of freedom for all and ended up in failure. Most of them not only collapsed, but were succeeded by despotic regimes.

The fragility of democracy had already been noted by the ancient Greeks, who by their own experience and observation knew that no form of government is eternal and inherently stable.

In the present article (which will be divided in three different chapters) we shall briefly analyse three cases in which democracy destroyed itself: the ancient Athenian democracy, the Weimar Republic, and the Republic of China. Afterwards we will show why parliamentary democracy, despite limiting citizens’ freedom, has achieved stability by creating a middle way between direct rule by the people and rule by leaders.

The Contradictions of the Athenian Democracy

In his History of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) the Greek historian Thucydides narrates that shortly after the beginning of the conflict the Athenian statesman Pericles held a speech to commemorate the fist citizens who had perished in the conflict. The definition of democracy formulated in his funeral eulogy is one of the most impressive testimonies to the unique form of government established by the ancient polis: Continue reading

Brexit Highlights Decline of Europe and Rise of China’s Neo-Communist Model

brexit

Brexit (photo by Rlevente, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

In a historic referendum held on June 23rd the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the European Union (EU) by a thin margin of 51.9% against 48.1%. Whether this decision will harm the British economy or will lead the EU to its disintegration, as some have predicted, is a matter of speculation for the time being. However, the referendum and the Pandora’s box it has opened are clear signs of a long-term process: the decline of Europe and the shift of economic and political power to the East.

In an editorial the Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), argued that the UK referendum is likely to push the entire continent into chaos, which will only accelerate the shift of wealth and power from West to East. “East Asia has witnessed decades of high-speed growth and prosperity”, wrote the Global Times. “Europe stays where it was, becoming the world’s center of museums and tourist destinations … Europe is not able to resolve the problems it is facing”. Continue reading

Legalism And Leninism In China’s Constitutional History

guomin_dahui_dalitang_28nanjing2c_193529

The National People’s Convention met in the Great Hall of National Central University in Nanjing on May 5, 1931. Seven days later the Convention adopted the Provisional Constitution (photo by unknown author, via Wikimedia Commons)

When the Qing Dynasty was overthrown in 1911 and the Republic of China (ROC) was proclaimed, the revolutionaries led by Sun Yat-sen embarked on an ambitious experiment to modernise the country according to liberal Western ideals of democracy, human rights and division of powers. The new Republican government issued a Provisional Constitution which guaranteed progressive democratic rights, including judicial independence. However, after the first elections held in 1913, general Yuan Shikai unlawfully seized power and suppressed the elected parliamentary majority. Sun Yat-sen and his party, the Guomindang, were forced into underground opposition. When Yuan died in 1916, the central government fell apart, and regional warlords created personal fiefdoms in which they ruled like monarchs.

The 1912 Constitution was inspired by the ideals of the American and French revolutions. But the failure of democracy, the repression suffered at the hands of Yuan Shikai and the warlords, and the threat of foreign imperialism convinced Sun Yat-sen that democracy in China was unattainable as a short-term goal. He observed with keen interest the events of the Russian revolution, and the triumph of the Communists led by Lenin seemed to him an example of a revolutionary party that had succeeded where the Guomindang had failed. Sun asked for Soviet help, and Russian advisers were sent to China to reorganise the Guomindang on the basis of Leninist principles. Continue reading

Legalist Tradition And Criminal Law – Republic Of China vs People’s Republic Of China

redactoresdelaconstitucic3b3nchina1913templodelcielo

The original Constitutional Drafting Committee of the newly founded Republic of China, photographed on the steps of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, where the Draft was completed in 1913 (photo by Rowanwindwhistlerhttp://www.archive.org/details/thefightforthere14345gut, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

In a previous post we have demonstrated that the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) contains fundamental elements which are consistent with, if not directly derived from, Legalist principles. In this chapter we shall analyse and compare the Legalist elements contained in the criminal codes of the Republic of China (ROC) and of the PRC.

Legalism and the Criminal Code of the Republic of China

In 1911 the Xinhai Revolution overthrew the Qing Dynasty which had ruled China for over 260 years. On January 1st, 1912, the leader of the insurgents, Sun Yat-sen, proclaimed the foundation of the Republic of China (ROC). On March 11 the government promulgated the Provisional Constitution of the Republic of China (中華民國臨時约法). The Constitution embodied Sun’s political ideals, which he later enshrined in the Three Principles of the People. Sun had been educated in the United States and his worldview had been shaped by the three major Western ideologies of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century, namely nationalism, democracy and socialism. In his Three Principles, Sun tried to synthesize these three political currents in order to revitalise and strengthen China.

The Provisional ROC Constitution was heavily influenced by Western liberal democratic ideals, most especially the principle of free popular elections, of protection of individual freedoms and rights, and of division of powers, including judicial independence (法官獨立). Article 51 stated: “Higher government authorities shall not interfere with the independent work of judges” (法官獨立審判不受上級官廳之干涉). Continue reading

Law In Post-Mao China: Confucianism, Legalism, Imperial Traditions

1280px-great_hall_of_the_people_at_night

The Great Hall of the People, Beijing (photo by Thomas.fanghaenel, licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia Commons)

In the previous post we have described the similarities and differences between Maoism and Legalism, and in particular we have shown the parallels between Maoist and Legalist doctrines regarding the establishment of an autocratic, centralised state. Moreover, we have demonstrated that Mao Zedong rejected Confucian values, which he viewed as “reactionary”. In this post we will show how the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the post-Maoist era has preserved elements of Legalism, Leninism and of the imperial legal system; at the same time, however, it has also rediscovered Confucianism as a more humane and family-oriented ideology which helped the Communist state overcome the brutality and the excesses of Maoist class struggle. Beijing’s attempt at combining Legalism, Leninism, Maoism and ancient imperial traditions has created a state with ideologically inconsistent and weak foundations. Yet at the same time the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has succeeded in preserving power and consensus exactly because it draws upon such broad and various traditions.

Continue reading

The Communist Party Will Uphold ‘One Country, Two Systems’, Oppose Hong Kong Independence, Says Zhang Dejiang

zhang_dejiang_in_may-2014

Zhang Dejiang (photo by Lelde Rafelde, Saeimas Kanceleja, CC BY-SA 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons

On May 17, Zhang Dejiang  paid a high-profile visit to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). Zhang is a senior member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Politburo, ranking third after Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. He currently serves as chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC), as vice-chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), of the Central Committee and of the National Security Commission, and as head of the Communist Party’s Central Coordination Group for Hong Kong and Macau Affairs.

In Hong Kong Zhang attended a forum on the ‘One Belt, One Road‘ initiative. On May 19 he held a speech in which he outlined Beijing’s policy towards the city. He reassured the people of the territory that the Communist government will uphold ‘one country, two systems’ and that the city’s economy and way of life will remain unchanged. However, he also issued a clear warning to political groups opposing the Communist Party and calling for Hong Kong’s independence.

Continue reading