KMT has second thoughts???

It’s hardly news that Hung Hsiu-chu’s first couple of weeks as the presumptive KMT presidential nominee haven’t gone well. She has insulted the USA, slapped down Chairman Chu, made several extreme statements, and given very little impression of having prepared for a presidential race. (In fact, she admitted as much, stating that during the Lunar New Year holiday, she had decided to retire. In other words, rather than methodically mastering policy briefs for three or four years, she slapped the entire effort together over the course of the past few months.) Still, I did not think that there was any serious thought inside the KMT about Plan B. After all, she won (what everyone interpreted as) a smashing victory in the polling primary, and the party closed ranks around her.

As of Thursday, however, I’m no longer so sure that the nomination is decided. Four things have happened in the past week to give me pause. They may mean nothing, or they might collectively be indicative of deeper scheming. I dismissed the first three, but the fourth one seems potentially devastating. It is has the least evidence behind it. Again, this might all be nothing.

First, in this week’s KMT Central Standing Committee, Wang supporter Lin Jung-teh 林榮德 openly blasted Hung, saying, “She hit the USA with her left fist; she hit Wang Jin-pyng with her right fist; she tripped up Eric Chu; and she was ‘New Partyizing’ the KMT so that it might become a small party after next year’s election.” This is pretty open and hostile stuff coming in the KMT’s official forum. They should be producing statements about party harmony and unity, not publicly airing this sort of internal conflict. Still, we could overlook this as simply sour grapes from a bitter nomination fight.

Second, a talk show host, Wen Shen 溫紳, accused Hung’s father of informing on others during the White Terror. Hung has spent the past few weeks stressing her family history. Her father’s experience as a White Terror victim is a central part of her desired image as someone who did not grow up in privilege, and it is supposedly the source of her deep sense of justice and righteousness. Her entire career is presented as a validation of her father’s innocence. Now this story calls into question her father’s innocence. If he was an informer, he is a far less sympathetic character. Again, we could just dismiss this story as an isolated incident. Maybe Wen Shen is a really smart researcher and just happened to look in the right place.

(Aside: Politicians always claim that it is unacceptable to bring their family members into the political fray, especially if those family members are dead. In this case, I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for Hung. On the one hand, she was the one who brought her father into the political discourse by stressing his experience in the White Terror in an effort to construct a more sympathetic public image. That makes him fair game. On the other hand, the smear campaign again Tsai Ing-wen’s father has been traced back to Hung’s close associates. If you are going to dish it out, you better be ready to take it.)

Third, famed media scandalmonger Clara Chou accused Hung of getting a fake Masters degree. Hung received a MA in Education Administration from Northeast Missouri State University in 1991. As far as I can tell, this is an unjustified accusation. The diploma looks real to me, and (now renamed) Truman State University is not questioning its veracity. Chou is now questioning whether Hung had enough credits, but that is a matter for Truman State, not Chou, to decide. She is also questioning the meaning of “non-certified.” I think this simply means that Hung did not receive a teaching certification and is not accredited to teach in Missouri. That shouldn’t affect the validity of the MA. It looks to me like the diploma is authentic and Chou’s accusations are unwarranted. On the other hand, what is pretty clear is that Hung got a lousy degree from a lousy program in a lousy university. Apparently she only needed to study for one summer and amass a very low number of credits to get the MA. That seems extremely lax. Moreover, one of her classmates has helpfully clarified that they actually did study there, and they even hired a tutor to help them when they couldn’t understand the English content. That doesn’t sound reassuring. (He is currently the vice-president of Taiwan Sports University; I wonder if that school might be reconsidering his qualifications!) As for Northeast Missouri State, many Taiwanese may not be familiar with the pecking order in American public universities. A rule of thumb is that you discount the quality for every word other than the state name. For example, Florida State and Michigan State are not quite as good as Florida and Michigan. “State” is often a relatively small discount. Direction words are bigger discounts. Western Washington, Southern Mississippi, and Northern Arizona are a big step down from Washington, Mississippi, and Arizona. Northeast Missouri State has three discounts in the name, which does not suggest excellence. This is probably why they changed the name to Truman State. In sum, Hung was probably accused unfairly, but we have learned that her formal training in her supposed field of expertise is extremely shaky. Anyway, I suppose this could also be just another isolated incident. Perhaps Clara Chou stumbled on this story all by herself.

Fourth, yesterday as Hung was leaving an event, an unidentified reporter shouted out a question asking whether Hung had speculated in real estate in Shanghai. As far as I can tell, there is no evidence for this question. Someone simply threw it out in the open for it to hang provocatively in the air. Hung doesn’t seem to have responded to the question, and other media outlets have not reported the story extensively. It is, at this point, a completely unsubstantiated rumor. However, if this rumor develops into something more tangible, it could be devastating. Hung has not reported any Shanghai real estate on her official statements to the Control Yuan, so at the very least, she would be guilty of hiding wealth. Moreover, if she were speculating in real estate, this would destroy her attempts to frame herself as the poorest presidential candidate in ROC history (running against a candidate with substantial inherited wealth). Most importantly, if she is making big profits in Shanghai, can she be trusted to represent Taiwan in negotiations with the PRC? It is reasonable to wonder if the PRC aids or guarantees Taiwanese politicians from the blue camp when they invest in China. Has she been bought? Remember, there is no evidence for any of this so far. The point here is merely that this rumor could be devastating to her campaign if there turns out to be any truth to it.

Once is a happening. Twice is a coincidence, Three times is a pattern. Reporters might have independently investigated the diploma, her father’s behavior 60 years ago, or her investment habits. However, Taiwan isn’t famous for great investigative reporting. Usually someone tips off the reporter.

It isn’t likely that the DPP is behind this. For one thing, if the DPP had damning info on her, they would want to wait until after she becomes the official nominee. Ruining her now could mean that the KMT switches to a much stronger nominee. For another thing, these are not the types of info we would expect the DPP to be able to dig up. The DPP has an interest in the history of the White Terror, but this case involves mainlanders informing on other mainlanders. This is not the type of case that DPP types would have paid as much attention too. The people most likely to remember the details of this case are the family members of the people involved or the people who were working in the security systems that processed the case. Those people are highly unlikely to be DPP sources. Similarly, the PRC is unlikely to feed the DPP information on Hung’s investments in Shanghai.

No, this has the fingerprints of an internal KMT struggle. Evidence from the White Terror and about financial dealings in China most likely comes from the intelligence networks. It would not be surprising at all to me if they had opened up their files (perhaps on request from above) and informally fed dirt to the highest levels. Those highest levels would then make the decision on what to feed to the media, again through confidential, informal, and untraceable channels.

It could be that Hung Hsiu-chu has successfully performed her assigned task, to block Wang Jin-pyng. Now that Wang has clearly been rejected and Hung seems quite unsuitable for the job of presidential candidate, perhaps President Ma is moving to replace her with someone more stable and better prepared for the presidency. Is it time for Wu?

I seem to be writing these sorts of speculative posts all the time these days. This is blogging at its most irresponsible and unaccountable! If you think I’m way off base, you’re probably right. In my last few speculative posts, I suggested party alignment might be possible, Chu was about to run, and Hau would run in Taichung 6. That makes me zero for three. This one will probably make me zero for four. I promise I’ll eventually get around to writing something more concrete and respectable. In the meantime, I’ll be watching along with everyone else to see if the KMT nomination contest actually does go into overtime. Taiwanese politics wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if they weren’t so outlandish!

4 Responses to “KMT has second thoughts???”

  1. TaiwanLawBlog Says:

    It’s frustrating how the questioning of politicians’ academic credentials always gains so much traction in Taiwan but are usually based on fundamental misunderstandings of how American higher education works. Sensible commentary like yours based on facts and knowledge of the system are so rare.

    I also wrote about Hung’s degree which I think largely aligns with your opinion:

  2. Tommy Says:

    As a Gator and not a Seminole, I thank you. As a Taiwan-watcher, I recognize that Wu might be a better choice. But if Wu is the “better choice”, the KMT has got some major problems.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      I’m shocked that the first response to the part about the pecking order of universities was positive. I expected lots of complaining about my unfair insult to people’s beloved and distinguished alma maters.

  3. davehall Says:

    I would not care to defend Hung but the noise over the university degree does seem unfair. I’ve heard people here in Taiwan and even a North American teacher sneer at Master of “ARTS” like it was a degree in finger painting. A complete lack of understanding as to what a MA actually is and makes me question if the North American has an actual degree herself if she fails to understand thie meaning of MA. Obviously MA has nothing at all to do with art unless it is an MA in Fine Arts.

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