Written by Jonathan Leung.
Image credit: 08.19 總統出席2017年世界大學運動會開幕典禮，並起身向各國選手代表們揮手致意 by 總統府/ Flickr, license: CC BY 2.0.
Green-White Relationship: From Ally to Rival
January 1st, 2022, Ko Wen-je, the mayor of Taipei City and leader of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), stood alone in front of the Presidential Palace under the freezing wind during the early morning New Year flag-raising ceremony for 40 minutes waiting for the arrangement from the presidential staff. His supporters thought it was a deliberate humiliation by President Tsai Ing-wen and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
During the 2022 local elections, the TPP often forcefully criticised the DPP candidates, treating them as the largest political rival. Yet, after Su Tseng-chang’s resignation as premier, there is a sudden suggestion asking Tsai Ing-wen to appoint Ko, the former Taipei City Mayor, to be the new premier. This could pave the way for William Lai, the freshly elected DPP leader and incumbent Vice President, to cooperate with Ko and re-establish the Green-White political alliance to resolve their hostility in the previous year.
Before discussing the “break-up”, one must understand the “honeymoon” of the Green-White relationship, which has a longer history than the Blue-White relationship. Their relationship started way before the establishment of the TPP in 2019, but Ko Wen-je’s announcement of running for the Taipei Mayoralty in 2013. The DPP, the largest opposition then, suggested an open nomination scheme for the capital’s mayoral election in 2014 by including other non-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) oppositions joining the opinion polls to choose the strongest potential candidate. Ko Wen-je, a professor from the National Taiwan University College of Medicine and a famous surgeon, ranked first; he then received support from the Pan-Green camp, including the DPP and Taiwan Solidarity Union. The DPP city councillor candidates, politicians, and other figureheads also endorsed Ko’s campaign.
He eventually won a landslide victory, ending the KMT’s 16 years four terms in the Taipei mayoral office. Ko regarded himself as the “White Power” during the campaign, distinguishing himself from the Greens and Blues and also emphasising his political neutrality; this was the beginning of the future political colour of “White” in Taiwan. In the 2016 general election, Ko cooperated with the DPP and the Pan-Green Camp by endorsing different DPP legislative candidates and supporting the New Power Party (NPP). The DPP copied the model in 2014, forming a Progressive Alliance by cooperating with various non-DPP politicians in certain traditional Blue-base constituencies to open nominations. In Taipei, where Ko’s headquarters is located, the DPP formed a Capital Reform League by vacating six of the eight constituencies for candidates from non-KMT allies to join. Ko helped arrange the plan and diligently corresponded with the DPP’s plan. Although they could only take three seats in Taipei, it was tripled. As a result, the DPP successfully took the majority of the Legislative Yuan, and Tsai Ing-wen also won a landslide victory in the presidential election. People from the Pan-Green Camp admitted that Ko was one of the factors in making the party transition in 2016 possible. This is a brief history of the early Green-White relationship, in which they cooperated to defeat the KMT.
Unfortunately, their honeymoon did not last long. Their conflicts began with the treatise on Ko’s cross-strait relations and the start of the DPP’s full governance in 2016. Ko initiated the famous and controversial “both sides of the straits are from the same family (兩岸一家親)” point of view in 2015, which has been widely criticised by some of the Pan-Green politicians until today. During the second half of his first term in office, he increasingly criticised the Tsai’s administration and teased other DPP local executives. For example, he joked about Chen Chu, Mayor of Kaohsiung City, owing billions of debt. The Green-White break-up can be officially marked when the DPP decided to nominate Pasuya Yao to run for the Taipei Mayoralty in 2018 but not endorse Ko again. After Ko narrowly won the re-election, their relationship declined rapidly. This article briefly discusses the Relationship of Ko with the DPP key figures and the other TPP politicians’ interactions with the DPP members, which are often neglected.
Broken Relationship from the Top: Ko Wen-je and the DPP
Ko’s direct criticism towards the Pan-Green Camp started after their break-up but has escalated since the covid-19 pandemic. During the question time of the Taipei City Council, he was often questioned by DPP City Councillors regarding issues outside of the Taipei municipal administrative issues, mostly regarding his public criticism of the DPP key figures and cross-straits relationship. This showed the deeply rooted hostility between Ko and the DPP; the Taipei City Council was the only official institutional medium for the DPP to question and criticise him directly. DPP City Councillors like Chien Shu-pei, Hung Chien-yi and Wang Shih-chien, and Miao Po-ya, the Pan-Green affiliated Social Democratic Party councillor, often criticised Ko in the City Council. Their criticisms were often related to Ko’s assault towards Tsai and her government, turning the battlefield of the Taipei City Council into the Legislative Yuan.
The explanation of these abovementioned scenarios can be found in Ko’s criticism towards the covid-19 policies by Chen Shih-chung, the former Minister of Health and Welfare and the DPP Taipei Mayoral candidate, which includes the difficulties of purchasing BioNTech vaccines, the 3+11 quarantine policy for cabin crew members, official records of the Executive Yuan regarding their decision in responding to covid-19 and the burden of Taipei’s medical and communal reactions (the crackdown of Wanhua) when covid-19 hit Taiwan. The rumours of Chen running for the Taipei mayoralty have been popular among the Pan-Green camp, making his tension with Ko even worse since he would face Huang Shan-shan, Ko’s Deputy Mayor, in the election. The conflict of Ko criticising the DPP government’s covid-19 response was one of the major factors worsening the relationship between the two in the previous year. Of course, some may argue the battle over this issue is a derived topic of the 2022 local elections.
The other issue between the two was the vague handling of the cross-strait relationship of Ko. This includes the controversial Shanghai-Taipei City Forum, which the DPP politicians regarded as a waste of money and an unnecessary friendship with China due to the continuous disturbance of the Chinese Liberation Army fighter aircraft. Besides, Ko’s suggestion of Taiwan being a balancing act between China and the United States in the previous summer had also been widely criticised by the Pan-Green politicians. As a result, the relationship between Ko and most DPP members was undeniably bad in 2022.
Yet, there were also exemptions. Ko also proved to have a cordial relationship with some DPP figures. One of the DPP key figures, You Si-kun, the Speaker of the Legislative Yuan, shared a good relationship with Ko, which could be seen through their interactions and cooperation regarding the relocation of the parliament. Besides, a few ministers in his Taipei City cabinet were members of the DPP and were willing to defend him in 2022, although it was the year of the election. Like Lan Shih-tsung, the Director of the Department of Civil Affairs, praised the leadership of Ko. Chen Hsin-yu, Director of the Department of Labour, expressed her support to Huang for running the Taipei mayoralty. Chou Yu-hsiu, Director of the Department of Social Welfare, expressed his will to join Ko’s presidential campaign. These were all members of the DPP.
The Neglected Battlefield: TPP Legislators’ Performance and Interactions with the DPP
Although Ko is the key figure of the TPP, the other members of the party’s interactions with the DPP are often neglected. But they are actually very worth observing to understand the Green-White relationship and infer that they did not break up completely. At the beginning of this legislative term, five of the TPP legislators voted for You Si-kun, the DPP member, to be the parliament speaker. More importantly, the TPP legislators have continuously cooperated with the DPP in the semi-annual elections for committee chairs. Jang Chyi-lu, the TPP legislator and a scholar, voted for the DPP Kuan Bi-ling; the latter reviewed their teacher and student relationship as well as shared similar cross-straits ideas. Chiu Chen-yuan, the TPP legislator and overseas businessperson, gained support from the DPP to win the chair of the Committee of Transportation. In return, the TPP legislators all voted for DPP legislators in the chair elections. These examples of institutional cooperation recorded the strategic partnership of the two parties in the Legislative Yuan.
Moreover, the TPP’s legislative voting records and questioning government officials’ attitudes can also show their relationship is not as hostile as that between the KMT and DPP. Unlike the KMT, the TPP legislators always supported the government’s motion regarding welfare and people’s livelihood issues. They also seldom criticised premier Su Tseng-chang and the other cabinet ministers emotionally, compared with the KMT’s radical or violent protest in the chamber. The TPP insists on rational, scientific and pragmatic supervision and question towards the government. Their legislators often propose alternative or optimised suggestions during their question time and seldom argue with the DPP ministers and legislators. This greatly contrasts the KMT, which would often occupy the chamber or involve violent protests like throwing pig organs during the anti-import of American pork debate. From the cooperation and the interactions between the TPP and DPP in the Legislative Yuan, we can see that the two parties are not feuding but with ideological differences on certain topics.
One inconspicuous and opaque issue regarding the Green-White relationship should also be re-considered: the political characteristics of the former KMT and People First Party (PFP) Magistrate of Kinmen County, Chen Fu-hai. Chen ran his campaign as an independent candidate in the 2022 local elections. Yet, he once sought to join and represent the TPP to run the campaign. Although he finally decided to run the campaign independently, he also sought the endorsement of Ko, and the two met to show their solidarity. But surprisingly, the registration of Chen as a candidate was done by a DPP local executive, and the DPP left the nomination in Kinmen blank. In other words, Chen is a candidate who both the DPP and TPP supported. Although the two parties had a rather hostile relationship on most of the battlefields in the 2022 elections, they had this vague cooperation in Kinmen.
The hostility between the TPP and DPP undoubtedly escalated rapidly in 2022. Most of the conflicts were confined to Ko and also Ann Kao. The other TPP members and legislators rather have a friendlier attitude towards the DPP. Their interactions in the parliament can be seen as a strategic partnership, just like their cooperation with the KMT on some occasions, but they indeed had a closer ideology. In 2023, the two parties could be impossible to cooperate due to the constant reality that both William Lai and Ko Wen-je will be running for the upcoming presidential campaign. The interactions between the two parties would only be more hostile in the coming future as the national general election approaches.
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’.