Political biography: it’s a winner

Professor Alex Danchev attended the annual awards dinner of the Political Studies Association at Church House, Westminster, on 29 November, to pick up the Association’s 2011 Award for Innovation in Teaching.

The citation highlighted the course in Political Biography Professor Danchev has developed, in collaboration with Ion Trewin, formerly editor-in-chief of the publishers Weidenfeld & Nicolson and now administrator of the Man Booker Prize. Mr Trewin is also an Honorary Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations. In recognition of their collaboration, the nature of which Professor Danchev recently outlined in the Times Higher Education Supplement, the award was made jointly.

The Political Biography course builds on Professor Danchev’s research in the field: he is a biographer of Georges Braque and Basil Liddell Hart. Here, and in just 60 seconds, he outlines the importance of political biography.

Professor Danchev is also part of the AHRC Challenges to Biography Research Network and will be hosting a symposium on that subject at Nottingham on 20 December 2011. Those who wish to attend this event should contact Dr Adrian Smith at this address: a.a.smith@soton.ac.uk.


CCP interference in Taiwanese elections

Ever since Taiwan held its first direct presidential election in 1996, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has tried to influence the outcome of elections on Taiwan through implicit and explicit means. Many of you will remember the missile threat authorized by the CCP in 1996. And perhaps too, the harsh warning made by former Premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基) during Taiwan’s 2000 presidential election, in which he told Taiwanese voters to “make a historical decision wisely,” otherwise war between Taiwan and China would become a “the logical necessity”.

However, Taiwanese voters seemed to disregard Zhu’s threats and elected the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as the president. Since Chen’s rise to presidency, the CCP has modified its means of influencing Taiwan’s politics through subtler ways, mainly by providing incentives for particular politicians, Taiwanese businesspeople, and media, in order to affect and mold the public opinion to create an image in favor of the China. In this post, I will summarize some of the political intentions behind the scenes and discuss how the KMT and the DPP respond to China’s interference.

There is abundant evidence that the CPP attempts to influence Taiwan’s domestic political scene. The DPP recently provided some evidence to support their suspicion of the CCP’s interference in order to help President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) be re-elected. DPP spokesperson, Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) outlined five tactics which China had adopted to ensure Taiwan’s elections would result in President Ma’s re-election. These include sending provincial-level purchasing delegations to boost economic performance, providing incentives to mobilize Taiwanese businesspeople in China to return to Taiwan to vote, allowing the assembly of Taiwanese businesspeople to campaign for President Ma, bribing some particular legislators to influence Taiwan’s policy-making, and hindering other presidential candidates from obtaining political donations from Taiwanese entrepreneurs who are active in China through direct or indirect threats.

Many more examples of such interference have been uncovered by the media. According to a report by Business Weekly magazine, DPP Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) said China permitted Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) to brief senior Chinese officials on Ma’s “golden decade” platform at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 28: an explicit signal that Beijing backs Ma. Furthermore, according to media reports, DPP spokesperson Liang Wen-jie (梁文傑) said that Lai Xiaohua (賴曉華), wife of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), was investigated by the Chinese government for allegedly embezzling USD$300 million, which was listed as “media purchasing in Taiwan.” This outlay was supposed to be spent on “influence” within Taiwan’s media.

Confronted with these accusations, President Ma defended himself in a BBC interview, arguing that these allegations were made up by his rivals and none of them would be able to present evidence reasonable enough to bolster their claims. President Ma further justified his position, proclaiming “is Beijing kind to me, when it has missiles targeting Taiwan?”

The DPP showed the evidence that the CCP aided the KMT and thereby doubting the KMT’s sincerity to put the Taiwan’s interests in priority. While the DPP usually emphasizes on the CPP’s political intention harmful to Taiwan’s sovereignty and security but failed to distinguish the practical matters from political manipulation. From the DPP’s perspective, it seems that anything related to China is dubious and perceived negative. This kind of self-constraint weakens the DPP’s ability to convince people that it can deal with China issues in a proper manner.

The KMT believes that Taiwan can rely on China, and avers publically that politics can be separated from economics. This view is at odds with the CCP’s views on Taiwan, which put politics ahead of everything else. The KMT intentionally downplays the controversy of Taiwan’s national sovereignty and status. It rarely mentions the potential risks inherent in such an asymmetric power struggle between China and Taiwan, as well as the CCP’s insistent denial of recognizing Taiwan as an autonomous political entity.

The gap between domestic political attitudes towards China provides room for the CCP to polarize and divide solidarity in Taiwan and leeway to manipulate Taiwan’s politics. As a result, there is continuing controversy in defining national sovereignty and cross-strait relations, and it seems very unlikely that a consensus will be reached in a short period of time.

The CCP’s interference inTaiwan’s politics is nothing new. While the means of achieving this end have become increasingly delicate, and both carrot and stick tactics are conducted. Although there are various ways of implementation, the logic behind these tactics is the same: to provide attractive incentives for sympathetic elites while threatening and sanctioning troublesome ones. Applying this logic to the context of Taiwan’s elections, the target elites for the CCP include politicians, businesspeople, and the media. The most general tactic is to provide economic or material incentives in exchange for their cooperation. In other words, the CCP intends to influence public opinion through money politics, which can easily affect the outcome of elections, especially when it is linked to gambling behavior common in some electoral districts at the local level.

The CCP’s maneuvers to influence Taiwan’s elections are consistently operating behind the scenes and we should be aware of their methods and resist this interference. The Taiwanese democratic system is a result of many people’s efforts. In order to maintain the Taiwanese democracy, we should not compromise with any force that seeks to harm it.

Muyi Chou is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at Humboldt University of Berlin

Remembering the British Communist Party


Once referred to as ‘interesting but insignificant’, the British Communist Party has been the subject of many academic studies that have explored its chequered history.

Emily Robinson, a post-doctoral researcher based in the Centre for British Politics has just published an article that looks at the party’s dissolution in 1991, something which brought to an end just over 70 years of life struggling on the margins of British politics.

As she explains here, Emily’s article explores the way in which history and memory were used and understood by Communist members as their party – one in which the idea of History played such an important role – broke up.

Hsiao Bi-khim at Columbia University: report

Ms. Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴, spokeswoman and advisor for the Tsai Ing-wen Presidential Campaign, recently spoke at Columbia University. The event took place on 16 November 2011 and was organized by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute. Ms. Hsiao was invited to speak as a prominent alumna, who graduated with an M.A. in political science in 1995. Political Science Department Professor Andrew Nathan served as the moderator. The venue was filled to capacity with students, scholars, and members of the public. There was a question and answer session following her speech. A number of the questions came from Chinese students who were fascinated to learn more about  Taiwan, their democratic neighbor.

Ms. Hsiao began by discussing her background, simultaneously weaving her own life story and interest in politics into her perspectives on the process of democratic transition and consolidation in Taiwan. Recalling the night when she emceed Chen Shui-bian’s presidential victory rally in 2000, she saw tears in the eyes of older generations of Taiwanese. They had waited their entire lives to change their government through the power of the ballot box. Ms. Hsiao poignantly remarked that following the historic victory, Democratic Progressive Party leaders had to deal with a bureaucracy that formerly saw them as enemies of the state, and had throw a number of them in jail. An opposition party that was born and raised on the streets had to learn how to put its ideals into practice by working within the political system and from the Presidential Palace.

When Tsai Ing-wen took over as chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party in May 2008, the party was five million dollars in debt. Many had quipped that the DPP was in the ICU, and Ms. Hsiao said that the process of recovery was difficult and divisive. However, Chairwoman Tsai took a number of steps that enabled the party to once again become a relevant force in Taiwan politics. Her leadership marked a generational change: Tsai was one of the first DPP leaders who was neither politically active during the martial law period nor a victim of political persecution. One of her goals was to encourage the younger generation to help play a leading role in the renewal and regeneration of the party.

Under Tsai Ing-wen’s stewardship the DPP has refocused its attention on socio-economic policy issues, not only cross-Strait issues. It has also sought to win back the public confidence it lost in 2008; Ms. Hsiao noted that in her own mild and moderate way, Tsai Ing-wen has managed to achieve a feat that many had thought impossible. During the November 2010 municipal elections, the DPP won more votes nationwide  than the KMT, despite winning only two out of five mayoral seats. Ms. Hsiao believes that if the DPP wins this election, the party will win on a center-left socio-economic agenda.

Since becoming Chairwoman, Tsai has focused on seeking small individual donations (小募款) and refusing large donations. Ms. Hsiao described how some corporations would attempt to funnel 90 percent of their campaign donations to Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidates, and donate the remaining 10 percent to the DPP. Even such a  relatively small amount of money would benefit the coffers of the DPP, which has always had to compete with a party believed to be one of the world’s wealthiest. However, given the political accusations flung at former President Chen when he accepted corporate donations, Chairwoman Tsai wanted to rebuild the party’s public image as devoted to clean, transparent politics.

In this spirit, the Democratic Progressive Party is currently in the midst of its “Three Little Pigs” fundraising campaign. Ms. Hsiao explained how young triplets attempted to donate money from their piggy banks to Tsai’s campaign, with their grandfather at their side. The KMT protested to the Control Yuan (a government watchdog and one of five equal branches of government in Taiwan), which subsequently ruled that the children’s donations violated the Act Concerning Political Donations because they had yet to reach voting age. Many indignant Taiwanese voters responded by presenting piggy banks full of coins and bills to the DPP. The party began ordering its own plastic piggy banks from the only factory in Taiwan that produces them (the others have moved to China), and tens of thousands of them have been snatched up by party supporters wishing to make donations.

Ms. Hsiao argues that Taiwan is currently standing at the crossroads of a number of policy issues. How will Taiwan deal with security issues, national sovereignty issues, and economic integration with China? She noted that as the debate over nuclear energy continues, the DPP has proposed to invest resources into new energy sectors. Taiwan current operates three nuclear power plans and is building one more. All four plants rest on earthquake fault lines. There is also a renewed interest in agricultural issues in Taiwan. Although production costs are high, the industry creates many jobs. Taiwanese are increasingly aware that as Taiwan moves toward greater economic integration with China, the subsequent economic growth has not benefited all sectors of society equally. Although the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement has already been signed with China, Ms. Hsiao remarked that if any adjustments need to be made in the future, under a DPP administration they would occur only with the democratic consent of the public via the legislative process. The DPP has previously argued that the ECFA negotiations were not transparent and that the Legislative Yuan was not properly informed during the negotiation process.

The Democratic Progressive Party believes in an activist-oriented approach toward its role in Asia. Ms. Hsiao noted the importance of connecting to the region through democracy. Democracy is not just a moral value, but also a strategic asset for Taiwan, a form of soft power that is critical to its survival. Taiwan needs to not only preserve its democratic achievements, but also consolidate and deepen its gains. Taiwan must continue to find creative solutions to find adequate international breathing room, such as working through NGOs and INGOs. Although Taiwan is already a de facto independent country, Ms. Hsiao asserts that Taiwan seeks recognition. At the same time, she emphasized that Taiwan and China have common interests and can work together without seeking to antagonize each other.

Julia M. Famularo is a Research Affiliate at the Project 2049 Institute and a fourth-year doctoral student in Modern East Asian Political History at Georgetown University.