Written by Jonathan Leung.
Image credit: 高虹安/ Facebook.
Background of the “Blue-White Cooperation”
The political term “Blue-White Cooperation” first popped out after the Presidential and Legislative elections in January 2020. The Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), led by former Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je, gained five legislative seats and received more than 1.5 million party votes, ranking as the third largest party in Taiwan behind the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). The occasions of politicians from the TPP and the KMT appearing in the same scene has increased gradually; their ambiguous relationship has become one of the trendiest topics in the party politics of Taiwan. Ann Kao, the TPP elect Hsinchu Mayor, was publicly endorsed by KMT politicians. Various TPP councillor candidates were also caught campaigning with KMT candidates in the previous election. The rumours of the two parties forming a political alliance have been rising in the past year, especially regarding the campaign of the 2022 local elections. People are concerned about their relationship this year as the national election is coming in January 2024. The voices of the two parties jointly nominating presidential candidates is the most discussed topic now. This article concludes their previous interactions and examines their probable future relation.
Political alliance is not a rare and unfamiliar topic in the politics of Taiwan, especially within the Pan-Blue coalition. For example, the Blue-Orange Alliance in 2004 and 2008, in which the KMT and the People First Party (PFP) jointly nominated presidential and legislative candidates. The New Party (NP) and the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union have also cooperated with the KMT in previous elections. In these various practices of Pan-Blue cooperation, their party leaders would announce an official coalition formation. However, unlike in the past, the TPP and the KMT have never officially announced any collaboration and have never jointly nominated any candidates in the previous elections.
Occasional Partner: Strategic Consideration but not Ideological Congener
Unlike the previous Pan-Blue alliance, both the TPP and KMT cooperate not because of their similar origin, ideology, or history, but simply a strategic consideration – DPP is the common political rivalry at the moment. The historic Pan-Blue alliance has a foundation and common ground of similar origin, ideology, and history to gather the parties. Both the NP and the PFP are breakaways from the KMT, and they share similar historical backgrounds of mainland Chinese descendants or strong sentiments of Chinese nationalism. Despite some minor bifurcation, “ultimate unification” is their largest common factor. Yet, the TPP’s position is different from them. They do not have a sentiment of Chinese nationalism, and “ultimate unification” is also not their political agenda. TPP leader Ko Wen-je has mentioned the largest problem of the KMT is putting the word “Chinese / China” in front of their party name. The ideological and national identity difference is the largest blockade that minimises the possibility of forming the Blue-White alliance. Ko has positioned himself and the party’s national identity as an “ultimate independence” and the major foreign relationship principle as “pro-US and friendly with China”. The KMT’s foreign relationship principle is “pro-US and friendly with the mainland”; the difference between the two is “China” and “mainland”. Although there have been a lot of critics against Ko and the TPP’s cross-strait relation, politicians’ speeches regarding the key issues of their nation from a democratic country, to a large extent, should be considered trustworthy. Therefore, although both parties suggest maintaining cordial relations with China, the TPP takes this approach to diplomatic relations, and the KMT takes this approach to cross-strait relations. Tsai Pi-ru, the former TPP legislator and one of Ko’s most trusted allies, regarded that the nature of the two parties is different. Therefore, there is no space for forming an alliance. Yet, some Blue-White cooperation exists occasionally; these should be seen as strategic cooperation, not a political coalition.
The largest common ground between the two parties is the DPP as the common enemy. Being the two largest opposition parties, both the TPP and the KMT have an innate responsibility to scrutinise the government and the ruling party for now. Strategic cooperation has existed in Taiwan’s central and local politics; they will not jointly nominate candidates, or their party leaders will not officially declare cooperation. But in the name of the “Non-Green Alliance” or “Opposition Alliance”, they maintain a strategic and occasional partnership. They cooperated separately to weaken the DPP, especially during the 2022 local elections. One thing that could be seen is the strategic voting in the Hsinchu City Mayoral campaign. Lin Keng-jen, the KMT mayoral nominee, was abandoned by some KMT local politicians. The latter feared that the DPP candidate Shen Hui-hung would win the election, resulting in these KMT local politicians switching sides with Ann Kao, the TPP mayoral candidate. She received support from the Deputy Speaker of the Hsinchu City Council, the former KMT Hsinchu mayor and other KMT local politicians. The KMT politicians explained that supporting her was to defeat the DPP. Kao also appeared in Taichung to pay a learning visit to the City Mayor, Lu Shiow-yen, a KMT member, before the election to show her respect to one of the popular local executives. These showed the strategic cooperation between the TPP and KMT in the common ground of defeating the DPP.
The “accidental meeting (意外同框)” was also a very common scene throughout the 2022 local elections campaign between the TPP and KMT members, allowing space for the voters to imagine whether the two parties were actually cooperating. For example, Ko Wen-je met the KMT Kaoshiung City Mayoral candidate Ko Chih-en in the night market twice and said he would not support a Mayor who carried loads of debts, inwardly referring to the two DPP Kaohsiung mayors Chen Chih-mai and Chen Chu. During the campaign, Ko also appeared in the same scene with KMT Pingtung County Magistrate candidate Su Ching-chuan. Besides Hsinchu City, the most implicit relationship between the two parties is in Keelung City. Ko gave up nominating TPP legislator Chiu Chen-yuan to run for the Keelung Mayoralty because he did not want the KMT candidate George Hsieh to lose. Their cooperation became obvious when Hsieh was elected. He appointed Chiu Pei-lin, a TPP member, as his Deputy Mayor. The Blue-White cooperation can be seen as a strategic and occasional partnership in a common ground of dragging the DPP down. Still, their fundamental difference in national identity position is the largest obstacle to their possibility of forming a political alliance.
Subtle and Vague: Relationship with the non-KMT Party Central Committee
The more obvious and visible cooperation occurs between politicians of the two parties outside the KMT Party Central Committee. These people include local politicians affiliated with the Pan-Blue background, media personalities and popular internet key-opinion figures. The KMT Central Party always stands against Blue-White cooperation, especially during the election campaign, and they do not show active enthusiasm towards this issue. This could be seen through the firm support from the party’s senior figures’ position in supporting Lin Keng-jen in the Hsinchu mayoral campaign even though he ranked third in the opinion poll. As mentioned above, local KMT politicians withdrew support and switched to Kao. Besides, the independent legislator Ciwas Ali (or Kao Chin Su-mei), a former member of the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union and part of the KMT caucus, openly endorsed Kao as well. Their subtle relations are more visible in Miaoli County, where the independent candidate Chung Tung-chin, the KMT rebel, has endorsed some TPP councillor candidates and also visited Ko during his campaign. His case and the case in Hsinchu showed that TPP candidates love publicly socialising with Pan-Blue background politicians who are not part of the KMT Central Party.
The other subtle interactions between the two groups of people can be seen in the popular Pan-Blue key-opinion politicians on the internet. Former KMT Taipei City councillor Lo Chih-chiang publicly expressed his friendly relationship with the TPP and Ko after he failed to bargain the nomination from the KMT Central Committee to run for the Taipei and Taoyuan mayoralty. Besides, the interactions between Ann Kao and Hsu Chiao-hsin, the KMT Taipei City Councillor, also show the subtle relationship between the two parties. They both publicly supported the other when they were involved with controversies like the “fraud of assistance fee” and the “paparazzi privacy intrusion” incidents. The other case is the continuous suggestion of Blue-White cooperation by Wang Hung-wei, the KMT freshly elected legislator. She initiated the cooperation plan in early 2022, suggesting Eric Chu to run for the Tainan mayoralty and Ko for the Kaohsiung mayoralty. She even suggested the inclusion of Ko to the KMT presidential opinion poll. These KMT figures are not associated with the KMT Central Party but are very high-profile in political participation in the whole country. They had close ties with the TPP, while the KMT Central Party seemed uninterested in those interactions and cooperation. Fu Kun-chi, the KMT legislator and former Hualien County Magistrate, is the KMT 2022 elections convener; he rejected the Blue-White cooperation by accusing the TPP of the DPP’s satellite party. This showed that the KMT leaders are not interested in allying with the TPP, but their politicians with distant relationships with the Central Party, including the local Pan-Blue background politicians and popular key-opinion figures, have closer and more intimate ties with the TPP. This could be seen as a strategy of the two sides to gain more anti-Green votes. The two parties shared a subtle and vague relationship since their leaders were not interested in establishing an official coalition, but the others seemed delighted to do that.
Although they had quite a lot of vague cooperation in 2022, these could only be understood as a strategic partnership with the political consideration of defeating the DPP. The TPP and KMT are unlikely to form a political alliance in the coming year; at least it is difficult for them to nominate candidates jointly in the forthcoming elections. As Ko is determined to join the presidential campaign, the KMT, the most traditional party, will definitely not be absent. Their cooperation remains in a level of strategic partnership on occasions since they are both the opposition party at the moment. Their fundamental national identity differences make it nearly impossible to ally in 2023, as the presidential and legislative campaigns will begin very soon.
Jonathan Leung is an MA History student at SOAS, University of London and a history graduate from the University of Sheffield. He is researching in post-war political and social history of Taiwan.
This article was published as part of a special issue on ‘Farewell 2022 and Welcome 2023’.