Taiwan’s KMT hopes for elections boost after China trip
Taipei, Taiwan – Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) has wrapped up a nine-day trip to China, including meetings with some of the Communist Party’s highest-ranking officials, amid hopes its links with Beijing will help boost its chances in presidential elections that are due to be held next year.
Known as the party with the best working relationship with Beijing, the KMT’s close relationship is a sore spot among more nationalist-minded voters on the self-ruled island, but it is also a draw for the business community and older voters who still feel a strong cultural and political affinity for China.
The trip marks the second visit in 12 months by KMT Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia, who also visited China in August 2022 as tensions between Beijing and self-ruled Taiwan rose to their highest in 25 years. Held days after Beijing staged military exercises and fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait in protest at a visit by then United States Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to the democratic island, Hsia’s August trip was highly controversial.
So was this one, earning a rebuke from Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, the body that oversees Taipei’s relations with Beijing. China claims the island as its own.
Analysts say the KMT may be banking on voter fatigue for the drama of the past year, which also saw Beijing send a record number of flights into Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone — an area of land and sea monitored by the military — to intimidate Taiwan.
“The KMT, of course, is going to jump at the chance to demonstrate that they can cooperate with Beijing they can play nice together,” said Kharis Templeman, a research fellow at the US Hoover Institution and a member of its Project on Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific Region.
“And if in a year [Taiwanese] elect a KMT candidate as president, cross-strait relations will improve a lot. That’s clearly what they think will be the most effective pitch to voters and if Beijing helps them make that pitch that’s smart from Beijing’s perspective.”
He described the recent trip as a “smart play by Beijing” to try and undermine the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration of President Tsai Ing-wen, dubbed a “separatist” by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), while also demonstrating its support for the KMT.
The KMT has accused Tsai and the DPP of being too confrontational with China, and of trying to paint the party as “red” — a reference to the colours of the CCP.
Range of views
While KMT members hold a range of views — from pro-unification hardliners to moderates and those who quietly see Taiwan as de facto independent — having the ear of Beijing may be its biggest trump card for voters who have also been anxiously watching the Ukraine war unfold over the past year.
Beijing has pledged to bring Taiwan and China together by 2049, and it has not ruled out the use of force as it overhauls its People’s Liberation Army into a powerful military force. This existential threat, combined with the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, has made some voters nervous, while others may want to see life return to normal after the stress of further problems such as COVID-19.
“The Ukraine-Russian war has taught everyone a lesson: in war, ‘there are no winners, but all are losers.’ It’s time for the leadership of both sides across the Taiwan Strait to renew a focus on the bread-and-butter issues facing the post-pandemic world,” said Chih-yung Ho, deputy director general of the KMT’s culture and communications department.
Experts like Liu Fu-kuo, a professor and research fellow at the Institute of International Relations at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, agree.
They argue that recent controversies could give the KMT the edge it needs to win back public support.
The Taiwan Strait could see more flare-ups this year if Kevin McCarthy, the new US Speaker of the House, makes good on a promise to visit the East Asian democracy, according to Liu. Recent media reports in Taiwan also suggest that Tsai may be planning to visit the US herself later this year, breaking an unspoken rule that Taiwanese presidents do not visit American officials on US soil.
“Public opinion is on the move as seen in the last two local elections,” Liu told Al Jazeera, referring to electoral wins for the KMT in local polls in 2018 and 2022.
“The government has made a number of quite serious mistakes which have already shaken the support of younger generation. Last year after the missile crisis — the Fourth Strait Crisis — the younger generation understands that if we don’t improve things with China, Taiwan will be preparing with war,” he said.
While in China last week, Hsia and the KMT delegation met some of China’s highest-ranking leaders, including Wang Huning, a member of the seven-person Politburo Standing Committee; Song Tao, the new head of Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office; and Yin Li, the party secretary of Beijing.
These are the same officials, however, who may well hope to dismantle democracy in Taiwan in much the same way as China has done in Hong Kong, where mass arrests and national security trials have wiped out a generation of pro-democracy leaders. Other “autonomous” regions like Tibet and Xinjiang live under some of China’s harshest restrictions.
Hong Kong’s 2019 democracy movement helped deliver Tsai a second — and landslide — victory in 2020 as Taiwanese voters watched with alarm events in the territory, where Beijing had promised to respect Hong Kong’s freedoms for at least 50 years. Dubbed “one country, two systems,” the offer was originally meant for Taiwan as a means of returning to the “motherland”.
Four years earlier, Tsai and the DPP rode into national office in 2016 on a wave of momentum from Taiwan’s “Sunflower Movement” that saw students occupy the island’s legislature in protest of a controversial KMT-touted trade deal that would have bound Taiwan closer to China.
Issue of Taiwan’s identity
In the years since, Taiwan’s national identity as somewhere distinct from China has just grown stronger.
Meanwhile, the KMT’s party membership is ageing and often appears out of touch with young voters, who noticeably did not baulk when the government extended mandatory national service for young men from four months to one year in the shadow of the Russia-Ukraine war.
Against that backdrop, some doubt the KMT’s chances of recovering much political ground.
Wen-ti Sung, a political scientist in the Taiwan Studies Programme at the Australian National University, says reactions to the KMT trip in Taiwan had been “lukewarm” at best and said the entire event was eclipsed by the controversy over the alleged Chinese spy balloon brought down by the US.
Voters may also wonder about the KMT’s ability to get along with Washington, Taiwan’s main security guarantor. As US-China relations deteriorate, the US has moved closer to Taiwan over the past eight years and continues to approve critical weapons sales.
Japan, Taiwan’s other chief ally and hugely popular with Taiwanese, has also become more publicly wary of a militarising China and last year doubled its defence spending in response to what it said were rising threats in the Asia Pacific.
“Taiwan is caught between the US and China and its security ultimately rests on both strong relations with the US coupled with cordial relations with Beijing. The ruling DPP has shown that it can build strong relations with the US, but not China. The KMT argues it alone can do both,” Sung said.
On this last point, they may have failed, he said, by carrying out two trips to China in two separate periods of high tension between the US and China.
It is also unclear if voters will be swayed by KMT promises of soft power leverage.
Despite its preference for KMT in local elections, Taiwanese voters have in the past separated the party’s domestic strength from its international image, handing the KMT a local victory in 2018 and a full rejection on the national stage in 2020.
Perhaps paradoxically, the KMT’s trips should give hope to voters from all of Taiwan’s political parties, said Templeman, that Beijing’s door is still open, however narrowly.
Despite the sabre rattling on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, Beijing did not cancel direct flights to Taiwan — only possible since 2018 — until the global pandemic made it necessary for public health reasons, notes Templeman.
And while it has punished Taiwan with trade restrictions, it has kept them far from the tech and semiconductors trade that would cripple the island’s economy.
“The broader point is that there’s very little evidence that [Chinese President] Xi Jinping has given up on the idea of peaceful unification. They would stretch the ‘peaceful’ part of this as including firing guns and rockets, maybe a little subtle coercion, but they haven’t given up on the idea that they can get Taiwan without a full-scale invasion across the Strait,” Templeman said.
What does Trump’s indictment mean for American politics?
Donald Trump is expected to become the first former or sitting US president to face criminal charges.
Donald Trump is expected to appear before a New York court on Tuesday, where he will become the first former or sitting US president to face criminal charges.
The charges have not been revealed yet, but a grand jury has been investigating a payment of $130,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who alleges she had an extramarital affair with Trump which he has always denied.
Media reports in the US suggest the former president may face other charges, too.
Trump denies all wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a witch-hunt by the Democrats, whom he accuses of trying to derail his 2024 election campaign.
Presenter: Laura Kyle
Adolfo Franco – Republican strategist and chief counsel to the chairman of the International Relations Committee of the US House of Representatives
Claire Finkelstein – Law and philosophy professor at the University of Pennsylvania and faculty director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law
Rina Shah – Founder of Rilax Strategies, a political and public affairs communications firm
Ivanka Trump breaks silence on her dad’s indictment
Ivanka Trump breaks silence on her dad’s indictment
Presidential historian Tim Naftali discusses Ivanka Trump’s statement about her dad, former President Donald Trump, being indicted by a Manhattan grand jury.
Ivanka Trump has broken her silence on her father’s criminal indictment to say that she is “pained” for both her parent and her country.
Donald Trump’s daughter finally released a brief statement on Instagram just before midday ET on Friday – around 18 hours after a grand jury voted to indict the former president on criminal charges over the 2016 hush money payments to Stormy Daniels.
“I love my father and I love my country. Today I am pained for both,” she wrote.
“I appreciate the voices across the political spectrum expressing support and concern.”
On Thursday 30 March, a Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Mr Trump on criminal charges over hush money payments to adult film star Ms Daniels days just before the 2016 presidential election.
The unprecedented indictment makes Mr Trump the first current or former president to ever face criminal charges in the history of the US.
It is currently unclear what the charges are but multiple reports say that Mr Trump is facing more than 30 counts related to business fraud.
Court officials have confirmed that he will appear in court in Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon for his arraignment.
The indictment is said to have caught Mr Trump off guard after it was announced that the grand jury was taking a weeks-long break from hearing the case.
As soon as the news broke, Mr Trump’s adult sons Eric Trump and Don Trump Jr leaped into action raging against what they described as “third world prosecutorial misconduct”.
“This is third world prosecutorial misconduct,” tweeted Eric. “It is the opportunistic targeting of a political opponent in a campaign year.”
Meanwhile, Don Jr branded it a “weaponization of our Govt against their political enemies” on Twitter before railing against the indictment during a somewhat emotional appearance on his show Triggered with Don Jr that night.
“Let’s be clear, folks, this is like communist-level s***,” he said. “This is stuff that would make Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, it would make them blush.”
He later shared a tweet from another social media user which sought to claim that his father’s indictment was an attempt to distract from the school shooting which left six victims dead in Nashville earlier this week.
While Don and Eric both raged about the indictment, Ivanka – who worked as a top adviser in Mr Trump’s White House – was silent on the matter for many more hours.
Manhattan prosecutors have been investigating whether Mr Trump falsified the Trump Organization’s business records when his former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen made the payment of $130,0000 to Ms Daniels.
Prosecutors claim that the money was used to silence Ms Daniels about an alleged affair she had with Mr Trump.
Mr Trump has long denied having an affair with the adult film star.
Mr Trump’s former fixer and personal attorney Cohen was convicted of tax evasion, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations related to the payments to Ms Daniels. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
Pakistan’s political heavyweights take their street battles to the courts — as a weary nation looks on
Pakistan’s leaders and the man who wants to unseat them are engaged in high stakes political brinkmanship that is taking a toll on the collective psyche of the nation’s people – and many are exhausted.
As their politicians argue, citizens struggle with soaring inflation against an uptick in militant attacks. In major cities, residents regularly navigate police roadblocks for protests, school closures and internet shutdowns. And in the northern province of Kyber Pakhtunkhua, three people died last Thursday in a stampede to get subsidized bags of flour.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government is attempting to unlock billions of dollars in emergency financing from the International Monetary Fund, a process delayed since last November – but some people aren’t prepared to wait.
Government statistics show a surge in the number of citizens leaving Pakistan – up almost threefold in 2022 compared to previous years.
Zainab Abidi, who works in tech, left Pakistan for Dubai last August and says her “main worry” is for her family, who she “really hopes can get out.”
Others, like Fauzia Rashif, a cleaner in Islamabad, don’t have the option to leave.
“I don’t have a passport, I’ve never left the country. These days the biggest concern is the constant expenses. I worry about my children but there really isn’t anywhere to go,” she said.
Experts say the pessimism about the Pakistan’s stability in the months ahead is not misplaced, as the country’s political heavyweights tussle for power.
Maleeha Lodhi, former Pakistan ambassador to the United Nations, Britain and the United States, told CNN the “prolonged and intense nature” of the confrontation between Pakistan’s government and former Prime Minister Imran Khan is “unprecedented.”
She said the only way forward is for “all sides to step aside and call for a ceasefire through interlocutors to agree on a consensus for simultaneous provincial and national elections.”
That solution, however, is not something that can easily be achieved as both sides fight in the street – and in court.
How did we get here?
The current wave of chaos can be traced back to April 2022, when Khan, a former cricket star who founded the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (PTI), was ousted from office in a vote of no confidence on grounds of mismanaging the economy.
In response, Khan rallied his supporters in street protests, accusing the current government of colluding with the military and the United States in a conspiracy to remove him from office, claims both parties rejected.
Khan survived an assassination attempt last November during one of his rallies and has since been beset with legal troubles spearheaded by Sharif’s government. As of March 21, Khan was facing six charges, while 84 have been registered against other PTI workers, according to the central police office in Lahore. However, Khan’s party claims that 127 cases have been lodged against him alone.
Earlier this month, attempts to arrest Khan from his residence in Lahore led to violent clashes with the police and Khan’s supporters camped outside. Khan told CNN the government was attempting to arrest him as a “pretext for them to get out of (holding) elections,” a claim rejected by information minister Mariyam Aurangzeb.
Days later, more clashes erupted when police arrived with bulldozers to clear the supporters from Khan’s home, and again outside Islamabad High Court as the former leader finally complied with an order to attend court.
Interior minister Rana Sanaullah told reporters that the police operation intended to “clear no-go areas” and “arrest miscreants hiding inside.” Human Rights Watch accused the police of using “abusive measures” and urged all sides to show restraint.
What is happening with elections?
General elections are due to be held this October, but Khan has been pushing for elections months earlier. However, it’s not even clear if he’ll be able to contest the vote due to the push by the government to disqualify him.
Disqualification will mean that Khan can’t hold any parliamentary position, become involved in election campaigns, or lead his party.
Khan has already been disqualified by Pakistan’s Election Commission for making “false statements” regarding the sale of gifts sent to him while in office – an offense under the country’s constitution – but it will take the courts to cement the disqualification into law. A court date is still to be set for that hearing.
Yasser Kureshi, author of the book “Seeking Supremacy: The Pursuit of Judicial Power in Pakistan,” says Khan’s “ability to mobilize support” will “help raise the costs of any attempt to disqualify him.”
However, he said if Pakistan’s powerful military – led by government-appointed former spy chief Lt. Gen. Syed Asim Munir, who Khan once fired – is determined to expel the former leader, it could pressure the judiciary to rule him out, no matter how much it inflames Khan’s supporters.
“If the military leadership is united against Khan and committed to disqualifying and purging him, the pressure from the military may compel enough judges to relent and disqualify Khan, should that be the consensus within the military top brass,” said Kureshi, a lecturer in South Asian Studies at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
Qaiser Imam, president of the Islamabad Bar Association, disagreed with this statement. “Political parties, to save their politics, link themselves with certain narratives or perceptions which generally are never found correct,” he told CNN.
The Pakistan Armed Forces has often been blamed for meddling in the democratic process to maintain its authority, but in a statement last November outgoing army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, said a decision had been made in February that the military would not interfere in politics.
The army has previously rejected Khan’s claims it had anything to do with purported attempts on his life.
Some say the government’s recent actions have added to perceptions that it’s trying to stack the legal cards against Khan.
This week, the government introduced a bill to limit the power of the Chief Justice, who had agreed to hear a claim by the PTI against a move to delay an important by-election in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populated province, and one considered a marker for the party most likely to win national leadership.
It had been due to be held on April 30, but Pakistan’s Election Commission pushed it to October 8, citing security concerns.
In a briefing to international media last Friday, Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khawaja Asif said the security and economic situation had deteriorated in the past two months, and it was more cost effective to hold the vote at the same time as the general election.
The decision was immediately condemned by Khan as an act that “violated the constitution.”
Lodhi, the former ambassador, has criticized the delay, tweeting that a security threat had been “invoked to justify whatever is politically expedient.”
The PTI took the matter to the Supreme Court, where it’s still being heard.
Some have accused Khan of also trying to manipulate the court system in his favor.
Kureshi said the judiciary is fragmented, allowing Khan to “venue-shop” – taking charges against him from one judge to seek a more sympathetic hearing with another.
“At this time it seems that even the Supreme Court itself is split on how to deal with Imran Khan, which helps him maneuver within this fragmented institutional landscape,” Kureshi said.
What happens now?
The increasing acrimony at the highest level of politics shows no sign of ending – and in fact could prolong the uncertainty for Pakistan’s long-suffering people.
Khan is adamant the current government wants him dead without offering much tangible evidence. And in comments made to local media on Sunday, Sanaullah said the government once viewed Khan as a political opponent but now sees him as the “enemy.”
“(Khan) has in a straightforward way brought this country’s politics to a point where either only one can exist, either him or us. If we feel our existence is being negated, then we will go to whatever lengths needed and, in that situation, we will not see what is democratic or undemocratic, what is right and what is wrong,” he added.
PTI spokesman Fawad Chaudhry said the comments were “offensive” and threatened to take legal action. “The statement … goes against all norms of civilized world,” he said.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, the director the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, says Khan’s popularity gave him “the power to cripple the country,” should he push supporters to show their anger in the street.
However, Mehboob said Khan’s repeated attempts to call for an early election could create even more instability by provoking the government to impose article 232 of the constitution.
That would place the country under a state of emergency, delaying elections for a year.
And that would not be welcomed by a weary public already tired of living in uncertain times.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the name of Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, the former army chief.
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