KMT is not Really “Right-Wing”

Taiwan News has a new editorial here.  Overall, it is well written, as usual.  However, I think the article has a major mistake that shows a general misconception, and that is identifying Ma’s KMT as right-wing.  I think that will create much confusion and misunderstanding about Taiwan politics for western and Taiwanese readers alike.

A right-wing party to me has the following features which left-wing party does not have:

  • Idea of small government: this KMT does not fit.  It is actually expanding governement structures over the years.  DPP is the one that tried to cut down government structure, although it never occurs due to legislature blockage of KMT.  Therefore, in a sense, KMT is pro large government, at least in practice.
  • Idea of strong military and hawkish foreign policy: this KMT, especially Ma’s KMT, obviously does not have.  Furthermore, although DPP as a party downplay military power, in practice, DPP seems to spend more effort in nationalize and strengthen military.  The current KMT in contrast cuts down military exercise and budget etc.  In foreign policy, KMT is definitely turtling.
  • Low Tax: this KMT does not fit exactly.  In fact, KMT has been increasing taxes (in different form) after 2008.  At least it is not lowering it. 
  • Opposing the idea of welfare state and state own enterprises: this KMT does not fit neither.  The KMT has provided the largest, most rediculous and unfair welfare to at least part of society – those people who are ‘loyal’ to KMT.  The famous 18% is a good example.  Perhaps there are historical justification, but then again they also opposing cutting down those welfare spending when the situation calls for it.  Therefore, it is clear to see that they do not uphold this idea.  Furthermore, KMT created large amount of state owned enterprises.  A lot of them inefficiently runned, until DPP took over and privatized them.  Again, one might justify such action, but it shows KMT is not opposing state-own enterprise.
  • More conservative: this one KMT does not fit neither, especially in its Chinese policy.  It is proposing larger investment and engagment with China.  In that sense, it is very unconservative, to the point of quite reckless.

Other stuff such as freer trade etc, in both left and right-wing parties, there are those who support and those who oppose it.  Therefore, I do not list them here.  As can be clearly seen above, it is actually quite difficult to call KMT a right-wing party, in the traditional western political sense.  In fact, it actually has some left-wing features.  However, it should not be called left-wing neither, in my opinion.

I agree with what ex-president Chen said in this matter: Taiwan does not have right-wing/left-wing problem.  The political situation is quite different in Taiwan due to its unique situation and political development.  It is difficult to identify Taiwan’s political parties simply as left and right.  To do so will only create confusion in my opinion.

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8 comments so far

  1. Carlos on

    It sounds like you’re thinking of “left” and “right” within an American political framework, which Europe started to copy two or three decades ago. It’s hard to define them well though, because politics can be considered along a governance axis (authoritarian/libertarian) or an economic one (socialist/capitalist). In the US there’s both an authoritarian and a libertarian right, with the latter being the traditionally stronger of the two. In most of the world though, “the right” is associated with authoritarianism. European leftists prior to the USSR, and some afterwards, were traditionally libertarian.

    When you base your party ideology on nationalism, you’re more likely to be authoritarian (especially culturally and linguistically) but flexible or undefined on other aspects of politics.

    • dixteel on

      Hmm…yes, that is why I don’t really like the left/right definition because it is just way too confusing. KMT literally means Chinese Nationalists, but traditionally, they share some similar traits with the Chinese Communists. Actually, originally the KMT army is funded by Soviet Union, and a lot of KMT members are also Communist members. Also, both Chinese Communists and KMT are authoritarian regime. Now I think of it…Is this left/right seperation based on economic theory, political ideology or government structure etc? Therefore, I just think the left/right seperation is very blurry and will only confuse people about the very nature of KMT party. IE. When you say KMT is right-wing, people in the USA will think…oh, so they are like Republican, but they are not like Republican actually.

  2. Thomas on

    Fundamentally, right wing and left wing are much simpler than you are making them out to be. The original droitistes and gauchistes were French. In fact, the right and left refer to where the royalists and republicans sat in the French parliament.

    Simply, to be right wing is to be reactionary. The KMT is a reactionary party. Therefore, Taiwan News is not wrong. The KMT most certainly is right wing. I agree, however, that the term “reactionary” would be a less ambiguous word choice.

  3. Thomas on

    “In most of the world though, “the right” is associated with authoritarianism.”

    Again, you can’t make this distinction with clarity. To be “right” is to be reactionary, hence Mao Zedong’s endless purges of “rightists”. Yes, you could make the claim that the CCP had plenty of discourse about being free and open compared to the regime that preceded them, but fundamentally, the term is used relative to the speaker.

    If the right is associated with authoritarianism in many countries, perhaps this is because many countries have become more free over time.

  4. dixteel on

    Hm…thanks for clarifying, Thomas. That makes a lot of sense. But then again even if Taiwan News is right, using the word right-wing simply gives people the wrong idea, because the word “right-wing” itself is probably misunderstood by many, including me.

    Another thing is KMT does not seem to be reactionary on everything. I mean, their push for closer economic tie between Taiwan and China seems very “aggressive” and “pro-active.”

  5. […] argues that the KMT in Taiwan doesn't really fit the definition of right-wing. Cancel this […]

  6. Irwin on

    I think the problem here is your definition of right wing is not really the commonly accepted definition. Right wing Govt tends to be authoritarian and often associated with heavy internal security organs. In more recent times, the internal security aspect has often been replaced by more complex military-industrial tendencies (see US invasion of Iraq and subsequent profiteering by right wing affiliated companies).

    Small Govt per se, is not really a typical right wing ideology. It is a US-only Republican party idea. Right wing Govt around the world have all subscribed to the big Govt idea: LDP in Japan, various Christian Democrats in Western European countries, Nazi party, Mussolini, Pinochet in Chile, Franco in Spain, CKS in China/Taiwan etc. Some are more benevolent than others but all of them are big and intrusive.

    “Small” Govt advocated by the US Republican party is not really about small Govt either. It’s just a slogan Reagan came up with in the 1979 election. The Republicans have grown US Govt and budget deficits with wild enthusiasm during the Reagan, Bush, and W years. And let’s not forget that Nixon used the US Govt apparatus to settle his personal political vendetta… the very definition of a big right wing Govt.

    Low taxes is also not a right wing ideology. It is generally associated with traditional liberal political and economic ideas. Think Adam Smith, not Sarah Palin.

    KMT fits the classic definition of a right wing party. It is chauvinistic and elitist (mainlander first!); controls internal security agencies; has military backing (Taiwan was under martial law until I was 13 years old for crying out loud!); is closely aligned with big business interests; and has “disappeared” internal dissidents.

    • dixteel on

      Hmm…yea, that is really insightful. I agree with you on most part. But a few ideas I think is debatable.

      First thing is that there are a lot of left wing authoritarian government as well. Soviet Unions and Cold War East European bloc, Vietnam, Cuba, China and North Korea etc are typical examples, although one can argue that countries such as Vietnam and China are moving away from the left…and of course Sovient Unions already broke up. Therefore, to use right wing to describe authoritarian government I think is debatable. A lot of left-wing government have heavy internal police forces etc as well.

      Second thing is that some actually consider the German Nazi party and Italy’s Mussolini party to be left wing, and consider defining them as right wing a misconception. For one thing, the full name of German Nazi is “National Socialism Party.” It is a very left-wing name. But more importantly, its economic policy is more toward central planning, more closely resemble that of a communist state. With central planning economic policy, the one party rule political system similar to the communism country naturally follows. For more on this view though…check The Road to Serfdom and Constitution of Liberty by Hayek. (many consider him a right-wing guy. But he consider himself a liberalism guy and classical economist who follow the Adam Smith philosophy.)

      3rdly some of the characteristic you mention with KMT are also characteristic of left-wing dictators. CCP is certainly elitist (they have bunch of technocrats etc planning their economy, they train their athletes like crazy). CCP also control internal security agencies. CCP also has military backing, and they can roll those tanks over Chinese and Tibetan alike whenever they want to. CCP also has disappeared internal dissidents. The only difference is probably that the old CCP probably don’t listen to big business because they did not have any. However, I wondered did KMT listen to those big business during the martial law period? Or did those big business have to act like dogs and wag their tails. I think it’s actually the later.

      But in any case, KMT in my opinion just does not fit with western right-wing definition. A lot of democratic countries have some sort of left and right wing parties. However, in Taiwan, it’s a bit different. Mainly because KMT originate from outside of Taiwan. That is not a common and normal situation. In fact, they have some colonial occupiers characteristic, such as favoring mainlanders etc. When people read “KMT as right wing,” naturally they relate KMT to the right wing party in their own country, but when in fact, KMT can act very different from those domestic right wing party simply because it’s not domestic and whether it’s even right wing is questionable. One can imagine that a real Taiwanese domestic right wing party will look and act differently from KMT. Therefore, I think putting them as right wing party misguide foreign reader. They will even misinterpret political conflict in Taiwan as the classic RIGHT VS Left, when in reality, that is usually not the case.


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