I ran across an interesting ad in Neihu in Taipei 4. This is the district that in 2012 elected Alex Tsai, one of the most reviled legislators of the sunflower movement. Tsai is not running for re-election. Instead, city councilor Lee Yan-hsiu is representing the KMT. The DPP did not nominate a candidate in this district and instead is supporting Huang Shan-shan, a PFP city councilor. Not all the green camp supporters are comfortable with supporting a person who has always been a supporter of the other side, and a TSU candidate has stayed in the race in order to soak up all those votes.
Huang only has one campaign picture. It has her and the slogans, “listen carefully,” and “hear your voice.”
The attack ad from TSU candidate Hsiao Ya-tan plays on this slogan. It has a picture of PFP chair James Soong shaking hands with Xi Jinping. The characters say, “listen carefully,” and “hear the sounds of boots at the military parade.” At the bottom it says, “defend Taiwan, go all out to rescue Hsiao Ya-tan.”
This is not a post about how Xi Jinping is being used in this year’s election campaign. What is most striking to me is that this is the ONLY ad I’ve seen using his image. Notably, this is an ad of Soong and Xi, not Ma or Chu and Xi. Its purpose is to keep green voters from voting for a blue candidate, not to convince previously blue voters to change sides and support a green candidate. [Hsiao’s campaign isn’t very well funded, and I’ve only seen this billboard in two locations. As if to emphasize just how unique this ad is, while I was taking a picture of it, I glanced to my left and saw a TVBS also news reporter doing a quick report on it.]
When Eric Chu went to China last spring to meet Xi and when President Ma held his surprised meeting with Xi in November, I assumed that photos of those two shaking hands would show up in someone’s campaign ads. Thus far, I have not seen any such ads. Isn’t that interesting?
I’m not terribly surprised that the KMT isn’t using any pictures of Ma or Chu shaking Xi’s hands. No one in the KMT wants to suggest to voters that the KMT and CCP are allies. It would almost be like telling voters that a vote for the KMT equals a vote for the DPP.
I’m much more surprised that I haven’t seen any photos of Ma or Chu with Xi used in New Party or TSU ads. I would have expected one of these smaller parties to stake out an ideologically extreme position in an effort to appeal to the most radical sliver of the population.
However, it is most fascinating to me that no one in the DPP has used one of those photos. There has to have been some sort of command from the central party strategists to all candidates telling them not to go there. Otherwise, you have to imagine that someone would have put a picture on a flier or banner. It’s not as if the individual campaigns have been shy about using a variety of other attacks, and I have heard several people complaining about Ma’s behavior in the Ma-Xi meeting on the stump.
I suspect that there are two reasons the DPP is eschewing this line of attack in its official campaign materials. One is that the public is not necessarily against engagement with China. What we learned during the Ma-Xi episode is that there can be quite high levels of support for such talks, provided that various conditions of transparency and national dignity are satisfied. The DPP doesn’t want to get an image as a party that automatically shuns contact with China. Second, Tsai and the DPP are probably deliberately leaving some breathing space for future dealings with China. By not demonizing Xi Jinping in the campaign, they might be sending a message to the PRC that they are willing to have contact and even leader-to-leader meetings in the future. In other words, Tsai is being very careful not to poison the well.