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Taiwan’s main opposition party, the KMT, accused Singaporean dissident Roy Ngerng of being an “extreme white supremacist” on Twitter. Patently false and absurd as it is, the charge adheres to the logic of a moribund institution.
The Kuomintang’s storied hundred year history — from its founder who overthrew the Qing Dynasty, to its decades presiding over Republican China and armed struggle with the Chinese Communist Party that drove it to Taiwan in defeat — took a strange turn yesterday. This took place in the form of a tweet from the KMT’s official Twitter account lashing out at Singaporean activist Roy Ngerng that contained the words “but muh japan.”
The KMT’s tweet was in response to a post by Ngerng, an activist and former social worker who has been living in exile in Taiwan after being sued by Singaporean prime minister Lee Hsien Loong. Ngerng, also a long time contributor to The News Lens, stated in the post that he was proud of President Tsai Ing-wen for building a strong relationship with the United States and Japan, which helped procure vaccine donations from both countries earlier this month. The vaccines came, he wrote, “without Taiwan having to lose its integrity, dignity and sovereignty.”
The KMT’s response was out of left field, but it betrayed a troll’s familiar mix of snark, malevolence, and sheer nonsense. The KMT accused Ngerng of being an “extreme white supremacist whilst being a PoC,” referring to this as a form of “cognitive dissonance.” The accusation seemed to be that Ngerng was a “white supremacist” for his comments about the U.S.-Taiwan relationship. (The charge, it scarcely merits saying, is equal parts absurd and insulting. Ngerng is an advocate for migrant workers, who face, among other indignities, racial discrimination.)
The second half of the tweet is far harder to understand. The second sentence stated, “And before you respond with ‘but muh japan’, please read up on the history and popularity of why anime is so popular in the land of the rising sun.” Ironically, less than a week prior, the KMT official Twitter account issued a series of tweets in Japanese thanking Japan for its vaccine donations. In addition to English and Chinese, the account regularly tweets in Japanese, even posting a tweet in response to the arson attack on Japanese anime studio Kyoto Animation that took place in July 2019.
While the anime reference seems to be a non-sequitur, this is not the only time that the KMT has understood foreign policy through the lens of Japanese pop culture. In an April tweet, KMT party spokesperson Chih-yung Ho’s takeaway from a foriegn policy discussion was that the 2016 film Shin Godzilla showed that the Japanese government was conflicted about the constitutionality of attacking Godzilla surfacing off of Japan’s coast.
Although Twitter is not widely used in Taiwan, reactions to the KMT’s odd response to Ngerng were explosive on Facebook. A screenshot of the incident I posted was shared over 590 times. Among those that shared the image were well-known public figures including Taiwanese literature scholar Zhu You-xun, DPP Matsu Islands chapter head Lii Wen, and publisher Joyce Yen, with the latter’s post racking up more than 1,400 reactions. The incident was covered in the Liberty Times, Mirror Media, and several other publications.
The KMT’s tweet was quickly deleted, though not fast enough to prevent screenshots from being captured for posterity. The KMT posted an apology on its Twitter account, which was then deleted three hours later because of typos, and then issued a second apology.
This is not the first time that the KMT’s English-language Twitter account has found itself under scrutiny for bizarre tweets. A tweet from October 9, 2020 taking a swipe at Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu ends with the odd segue to “Thunder-Thunder-#Thundercats!,” the animation franchise from the 1980s. Otherwise, the account refers to press releases as “HOT RELEASE,” and posts frequent caricatures of Tsai Ing-wen, variously depicting Tsai as Mao Zedong or as a Chinese emperor. A recent statement by the party making a series of appeals to the Tsai administration refers to this as “ladling out four appeals to the central government.”
A consistent theme of the KMT’s English-language Twitter account is attacks on the current Tsai administration as dictatorial. This sentiment, however, has been expressed in a garbled manner, through missives like “When democracy is reduced to ochlocracy, we have no choice but to FIGHT!” Ochlocracy, for those who do not have a dictionary on hand, refers to “mob rule.”
To this extent, the KMT’s Twitter account has sometimes drawn scorn because of its frequent posting about the history of the Republic of China, while passing over the past crimes of the KMT. The beating of a Taiwanese diplomat in Fiji by Chinese diplomats led the KMT’s official Twitter presence to declare, “Violence is NEVER the answer!”,prompting responses about the mass killings committed by the KMT, from its rule in China to martial law in Taiwan..
If deliberate, the KMT’s tweet could possibly be due to the assumption by the party that Taiwanese generally do not check Twitter. Given its many questionable tweets, it is probable that the KMT — often labelled as the world’s richest political party in Taiwanese political discourse — devotes very few resources to English-language social media management. This is illustrative of the KMT’s lack of interest in establishing international ties generally or even its traditional ally the U.S., as observed in the party’s lack of a Washington, D.C. office.
Otherwise, the incident could have taken place because a social media “community manager” or intern granted access to the account believed they were writing from a personal account. Whether or not this was the case, similar posts have appeared from individuals affiliated with the KMT’s English-language public presence in the past. It was later pointed out by the Liberty Times that a former foreign language consultant for the KMT had posted comments in the past lashing out at Tsai Ing-wen on a Taiwan News article, like “of course the west loves 蔡處女；she’s their loyal dog.” 蔡處女, or “the Virgin Tsai”, referring to President Tsai, would be a sexist dig at Taiwan’s first female president. After these comments were reported on in connection to the Twitter incident with Ngerng, the KMT disavowed these comments, stating that this advisor was a volunteer, that his views did not represent the party, and that he had since left the KMT to serve his substitute military service.
But the incident does encapsulate the predicament of today’s KMT.. The party is viewed as increasingly out of touch with young people, with less than 9,000 members under forty. This is reflected in the party’s bizarre social media presence, English or otherwise, and the party’s kitschy political messaging in past elections.
KMT chair Johnny Chiang took office promising to turn the KMT around and win back the support of young people, in part by improving the party’s social media presence. But this does not seem to have taken place, apart from the release of an app and a bizarre ad depicting Chiang as a “digital Zhuge Liang,” referring to the character from the Chinese war epic, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The English-language tweets from the KMT’s Twitter account began primarily after Chiang became party chair.
The party is also seen as increasingly out of touch with reality. Just earlier this week, KMT legislator Chen Yu-chen proposed that the Tsai administration fly the entire population of Taiwan to the U.S. to be vaccinated, as a means of overcoming Taiwan’s Covid-19 outbreak. Chen claimed that this was a reasonable proposal, as this would cost about as much as financial bailout measures after the outbreak, and that the government could set up a travel bubble to carry this out. (Taiwan saw around 11.84 million international visitors in 2019, meaning, in a back-of-the-envelope calculation, that Chen’s proposal would take two years of Taiwan’s entire flight-making capacity to carry out.)
Ultimately much of the party’s disconnect from reality is due to its pro-China leanings. The KMT’s pro-unification views do not correspond to the majority of Taiwanese who increasingly do not identify with China, particularly among young people. A July 2020 survey released by the National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center found that 67% of the population identify as Taiwanese, while only 2.4% identify as Chinese — a new record in identity trends. As the tree of KMT support among the populace falls, the monkeys of talented, social media-savvy, and English-proficient youth have scattered. What we’ve seen in the Ngerng incident is what remains in a moribund institution.
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TNL Editors: Bryan Chou, Jon Hum, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
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