In which Ko Wen-je irritates the wrong people

A couple days ago, I stated that I thought that if Terry Gou ran for president, it would be in alliance with Ko Wen-je. Almost immediately, Ko made me regret saying this in public.

Three days ago, Ko gave an interview in which he stated that Gou had offered to give him the VP slot and concurrently appoint him as premier. Ko reported that he had refused this offer, explaining that he dislikes this kind of “dividing the spoils” politics. Ko was doing what has come to be known sarcastically as “virtue signaling,” suggesting that he is more pure and moral than everyone else. Of course, in doing this, he was suggesting that Gou was actively practicing just this sort of unsavory politics, something that inevitably brought about a backlash from Gou. Ko, Gou, and Wang Jin-pyng were supposed to have a meeting today (Sunday) in which they would work out how they would cooperate. Gou first denied ever having offered the VP and premier positions to Ko and also decided that he was too busy to meet with Ko. Ko also alienated Wang by suggesting that he was a lion, Gou was a tiger, and Wang was a fox. When the media asked Wang about this metaphor, Wang pointedly said, “I’m a person.” Wang then found a reason to be absent from the summit. In short, Ko managed to offend both Gou and Wang, apparently just so he could stroke his own ego.

All sides say that cooperation is still possible, but this clearly makes an alliance trickier. For one thing, this episode diminishes mutual trust. For another, they are running out of time. They need to figure things out by early September in order to start the petitioning process to meet the deadline to get on the ballot. This snafu has cost them at least a week, and they still have quite a bit of negotiating left to do.

The recent signs seem to be pointing away from Ko jumping into the presidential race. A week ago, Ko gave a TV interview in which he said that things hadn’t ended well for any of the mayors who left their jobs early, including Chen Chu, Lai Ching-te, and Eric Chu Li-lun. He was talking about Han Kuo-yu, but he has to be self-aware enough to understand that he might as well have been talking about himself. All three of those left office (or ran for president) during their second term, which is exactly where Ko is now. This is not the type of thing someone would say if they thought they were about to launch a presidential bid.


Aside: In the same interview, Ko made a fairly important statement about how he sees cross-straits relations. Tsai’s China policy started out stable and moderate, but as her popularity fell, she gave into the temptation to “drink from the poisoned well” [by playing up nationalism]. This is bad for Taiwan’s long-term development. Talking about Taiwan independence doesn’t excuse corruption, and advocating unification doesn’t excuse rot. Taiwan values don’t include unification or independence.

With this statement, Ko is trying to do two things. First, he is suggesting that Tsai is following Chen Shui-bian’s path of using provocative nationalism to whip up support to mask his other failures. That is, Ko is trying to say that Tsai is just like Chen. Second, he is making a claim that clear positions on identity, nationalism, and Taiwan’s future status – what he would label as ideology – causes corruption. It doesn’t matter which side you take; the point is that supporters will forgive your corruption because they support your nationalist stance. I think this echoes the feelings of his supporters, who are mostly alienated from establishment politics and are sick of the incessant (and inescapable) China Cleavage. I’ll note that political scientists usually assume the opposite: politicians who are not clearly identified with any ideology are much more prone to corruption. They don’t need to worry about causing long-term damage to some cause they care deeply about, so they are more likely to throw their lot in with the highest bidder. Nonetheless, I think this is a revealing statement of how Ko wants to present cross-straits issues to the public.


Second Aside: Ko’s new party is called the Taiwan People’s Party, or the TPP. There was quite a kerfuffle about this name, since the descendants of Chiang Wei-shui, who founded the original Taiwan People’s Party about a century ago, objected to Ko’s appropriation of the name while ignoring the ideals of the original party. My objection is a bit different. The acronym TPP is lousy. For one thing, it is already taken, since TPP is widely understood to refer to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. For another, when spoken, TPP sounds too much like DPP, so confusion is inevitable. I propose that we unilaterally rename his party the KPP, the Ko-P Party. In addition to being a better acronym, it is also a more accurate label for his party, which is, after all, a personal vehicle with (so far) no other discernable sources of social support or other prominent politicians. OK? KPP it is.


Let’s go back to Ko’s TV interview. There was a third thing that he said which seemed like an afterthought but might end up being the most important of all. As with the comment about dividing spoils, Ko likes to signal that he is incorruptible. He did this again with regards to the Want Wang media group. Ko said that Wang Want originally supported him, but then they stopped supporting him because he was not sufficiently obedient. The One Family discourse is his bottom line on cross straits policy, and it is already demonstrating his goodwill toward mainland China. He hasn’t tried to desinicize or de-Chiang politics, “but you also cannot tell me to say this or say that, because being a Taiwanese I have a bottom line, I won’t say anything you tell me to.” He added, “Later, I discovered that a lot of things that Han Kuo-yu said, it’s strange that they were…” He did not finish or clarify that statement, but the implication is clear: Ko was not willing to be Want Want’s puppet but Han was. And since Want Want boss Robert Tsai Eng-meng has close relations with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Ko was indirectly accusing Han of being a Chinese puppet.

Apparently, this statement got under Tsai Eng-meng’s skin. Today, Tsai issued a statement in response saying that he and Ko had met over ten times and that Ko definitely understood and was misrepresenting Tsai’s positions. I hope someone eventually translates the entire statement, but the critical line is this: “Concerning whether Want Want is a mouthpiece for the Taiwan Affairs Office, please don’t be shy, go ahead and tell everyone. What is the relationship between you, me, and the TAO? We have nothing to hide, what do you not dare tell the world? Don’t dodge the question, explain this clearly.”

There are two ways to read this statement. One is that Tsai is asserting his innocence and encouraging Ko to explain to the world that there is nothing to see here. The other, put forward by prominent publisher Yan Tse-ya, is that Tsai is blackmailing Ko. They have met several times, and, through Tsai, Ko has interacted in some way with the TAO. At the very least, Tsai was trying to cozy up to the Want Want (ie: red) media. If Ko doesn’t watch out, Tsai will let the world know exactly what Ko has been up to. Many of Ko’s supporters still think of him as essentially being in the green camp, and it might damage his reputation severely if they knew he was playing footsie with the CCP.

This story may or may not blow up. If Tsai and Ko get into a prolonged war, the repercussions could be profound. Beyond damaging Ko, this story is also potentially dangerous to Han Kuo-yu. After all, Han and Tsai have a very close relationship, and if Tsai lets too much slip and admits to being a conduit for the TAO, it could rebound onto Han. This whole story could end up being a tremendous boon to Tsai Ing-wen, a wedge to attack the Want Want’s media empire, and a spur to tougher national security laws. Or it could fizzle out entirely… (This is why I like to wait a few days before commenting on news. I hate hot takes.)


All these things combine to make a Ko presidential run less likely than it was a week ago. Most of Ko’s wounds are self-inflicted, and driven by his ego. He just isn’t very good at knowing when to keep his mouth shut or when to be a team player.



5 Responses to “In which Ko Wen-je irritates the wrong people”

  1. Shelley Rigger Says:

    I love YOUR hot takes. This is fascinating. Thanks for writing it.

  2. lihan Says:

    I am seeming many key loyal followers leaving Ko. She declared online that she is back, and followed with a vague statement suggesting someone is taking financial supports from the red camp. This had apparently crossed her redline.

  3. Ambiguity Continues Regarding 2020 Presidential Election Candidates | New Bloom Magazine Says:

    […] AN ABORTIVE ALLIANCE between Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je, former KMT majority speaker Wang Jinpyng, and FoxConn CEO Terry Gou seems to have sputtered out, following comments by Ko in which he denigrated the other two before a planned meeting that was to take place last Sunday. Following Ko’s comments, in which he suggested that Gou was politically corrupt and that Wang was … […]

  4. Anger Against Ko Wen-je on Facebook After Misogynistic Comments | New Bloom Magazine Says:

    […] has generally proved his own worst enemy with regard to any presidential ambitions he might harbor. Ko originally seemed to have undermined his prospective alliance with Gou and Wang after comments in…, though Ko made a public appearance with Gou at the Hsinchu City God Temple yesterday as a public […]

  5. Anger Against Ko Wen-je on Facebook After Misogynistic Comments * 10ztalk Says:

    […] has generally proved his own worst enemy with regard to any presidential ambitions he might harbor. Ko originally seemed to have undermined his prospective alliance with Gou and Wang after comments in…, though Ko made a public appearance with Gou at the Hsinchu City God Temple yesterday as a public […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: