My Way to Kaohsiung:
Reshaping Party Politics in Taiwan and Respecting the Role of Public Servants in Modern Democracy
Good afternoon, Ambassador Eikenberry, ladies and gentlemen.
Before I begin my speech, I would like to express my appreciation first for the long-term friendship between the United States and the R. O. C., and for the support from the US government and its people, that allows us to engage and cooperate closely. I would also like to extend my sincerest thanks to Ambassador Eikenberry for inviting me here to Stanford University, one of the most admired and prestigious universities in the world. It is a great honor to be in front of you, esteemed scholars and students, to share what I think about today’s political situation in Taiwan and to share my story of making my way to the mayor’s office of Kaohsiung.
I know the main reason I got invited here is that many of you would like to hear about the election held last year, because the result was very much unexpected. You may be curious about how I made my way to Kaohsiung’s mayor office; how I went from being an unfamiliar face to a household name, and how I reached this position from such an impossible starting point. In Taiwan, people describe this as the “Hanliu” or “Han wave,” but here I would like to make a strong and earnest statement that there is no such thing as “Hanliu” or “Han wave,” but only “the will of the people.” What swept Taiwanese politics and society in 2018 was not I, Han Kuo-Yu, as an individual. The sweeping changes are because most people in Taiwan have had enough of divisive partisan politics, deceitful ideological confrontation, and ineffective administrations.
These concerns pushed me to pave my way to Kaohsiung, and they are the reasons I stand before you today.
Not long ago, less than a year ago, I would never have imagined myself standing in a lecture hall at Stanford University, as Mayor of Kaohsiung City in the R. O. C., and would not have dreamed to be sharing my story with you. Before my candidature, I was a has-been political figure, serving as general manager of the small Taipei Agricultural Products Marketing company. I was almost 60 years old; promoting produce and agricultural goods was my major mission and responsibility. I was enjoying the work and doing quite a good job. The company recovered from the brink of bankruptcy, and the profits reached a record high during my service. However, just few months before my retirement, I was ousted and accused of some unfounded allegations. I was slandered because some individuals from the ruling party wanted to give that general manager position to a congressman’s assistant. I was of course angry, devastated and bewildered. I was, in short, a victim of the political struggles caused by disruptive partisan politics in Taiwan.
I was not the single case. I was not the first one who suffered from the partisan struggles. Taiwan has long been divided by partisan politics, and some people in office prioritize party interests over public interests. I have witnessed for myself that Taiwan’s progress has been idling for 20 years due to divisive and malfunctioning partisan politics. I could say the government of Taiwan is not dominated by Public Servants but by Party Servants, and except for the few vested interests beneficiaries, most of the people in Taiwan are all the victims of the polarizing effects of partisan politics that come with the influence of Party Servants.
Over the past 2 decades, we have been faced with a declining economy, standstill salary growth, investments shifting overseas, and also a severe case of brain drain. In the past, Taiwan and Singapore were running neck in neck in terms of development and economy, but now the GDP per capita of Singapore is over US$ 60,000 while Taiwan’s is about US$ 25,000. It is no exaggeration that this kind of hopeless and splitting partisan politics and government incompetence left everyone in Taiwan short of more than NT$ 1M per year. Needless to say, our education system, infrastructure development, industrial planning, and other state institutions are all degraded and undermined. I know we could have done far better if we were not trapped in the loop of partisan struggles. Thus, I decided to step forward and speak up and start making some real changes!
To start, I entered the KMT chairmanship election in 2017, as my first step of declaring war on distorted party politics, although at that time I had no weapons and bullets on hand. I had nothing. No team, no resources, no sponsors: only family, a few friends and some big ideas. I had no way to win the election, but as the famous Martin Niemöller’s poem “First They Came…” reminded me, if I did not speak out loud, who would speak up for me? And who would speak up for the millions of people in Taiwan, and for the many future generations that will call this country home? Our country is the first democratic republic in Asia and we have had direct elections for president since 1996. How come our economy and international standings are even weaker than 20 years ago? Why has democracy in Taiwan not brought progress and satisfaction to the people it was instituted for? Could we say democracy is not a good system of government? Could it be said that democracy does not fit Taiwan?
The answers are of course no. However, our democracy in Taiwan, at its budding stage, has become a captive of polarizing ideologies. The questions of independence or unification, Chinese or not Chinese, and also the corrupt desire for power and money have clouded our democratic system for too long. A lot of politicians claim they will be Public Servants who will serve the people and the country during their campaigns, but once they get elected, they only provide services for themselves, for their parties and for pork barrel projects. They are Party Servants, not Public Servants.
When I officially announced my candidature for the Mayor of Kaohsiung City, Kaohsiung was a city on its knees. Kaohsiung was once the 2nd largest city in Taiwan, but now is the 3rd, behind Taipei and Taichung. The city was once the 3rd busiest port in the world but now has dropped to the 15th. Despite all the shortfalls of the city, for more than 20 years, Kaohsiung has been the stronghold of my competitor’s party. My friends told me not to run in the election there. Many people were anticipating my failure and my competitors thought it was laughable that I would even think to run. Although I do not have extraordinary talents, I do have strong determination and most importantly, I am bald, so I am bold! I have visited many towns and rural places in Taiwan and set foot on the farms and fields. I could clearly see worry and despair in many people’s eyes, like mine. So I know we cannot, and we should not wait any longer.
Taiwan has wasted many years on Party Servants’ politics, and for the people who truly put Taiwan dearly in their hearts, like me, we can no longer stand idly and watch this Party Servants’ disaster go on damaging our future. So, I stood up and I spoke up wholeheartedly. I asked people from the bottom of my heart to join me and to stop allowing ourselves to fall victim to the endless lies of the Party Servants. I asked the people of Kaohsiung to vote for true democracy, in which we should be responsible for our choices and would rather lose elections with our hands clean, than win with our hands tied up in filthy plots. I asked everyone I met on the streets and spoke out at every occasion on TV or on stage. And the people of Kaohsiung heard me. I would like to give my gratitude and appreciation to the Kaohsiung folks, my fellow like-minded KMT friends, and the many full-hearted volunteers that joined my campaign so that I was not alone any more. With my team and the people by my side, I headed into battle to fight. Together, we encountered miles of challenges and overcame tons of obstacles to finally make our way to Kaohsiung. It was not my own journey but ours.
We fought our way to Kaohsiung, but indeed it is not yet the end of the journey. We are still on the way to building a better Kaohsiung, to recover the old glory and more. Luckily, I have a big team of 2.8 million great citizens with me. We have started our work in 2 major directions. First, is to review and fix degraded infrastructures. For instance, we have thousands of potholes on the streets and also under the ground. Without sound infrastructure, how can we expect people, business, goods and capital to flow in? Secondly, we are promoting Kaohsiung’s products and the tourism sector to the world, to realize my campaign slogan “Export Goods Out, Welcome People In, Let Kaohsiung Prosper”. We have already been to Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen and Xiamen. Now I am here in America talking to you future global leaders. We try very hard to increase our global visibility, and to drive business and investment. Besides, we also signed a MOU with Foxconn last month in order to develop Kaohsiungs technology industry and hopefully recruit thousands of software engineers in Kaohsiung for big data, AI and software development.
I would say that we have done a fairly good job so far. However, still many murmurs disturb our work. Some people criticize that agriculture only shares a tiny percentage of the City’s GDP, and claim that the sales contracts and MOUs with Mainland China are betrayals of Taiwan. I don’t understand, how doing business is not an act of Trade but an act of Treason? This is what the Party Servants’ talking to deceive the people. Me and my team, are Public Servants. We care about farmers, fishermen, retailers and all hard-working groups of people. We know that the agriculture business could drive other industries to thrive, like packaging, machinery, logistics, and so on. We, Public Servants, are working hard for progress, yet Party Servants still engage in disruptive partisan politics, discouraging us and holding the city back.
I feel sorry for Party Servants. They do not realize that many people’s minds have changed since the election of 2018. I would like to share another opinion of mine about democracy. I believe everyone is familiar with the words of President Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” After so many years of elections and especially after the election of 2018, we should have learned the true meaning of democracy. In my words, I would say: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask who you vote for your country.” What if we vote for integrity instead of corruption, vote for harmony instead of confrontation, vote for open instead of closed approaches, vote for truth instead of lies, vote for the well-being of the nation instead of divisive ideologies? Only then, will we have a more productive and constructive society, and a dynamic, reliable, cheerful and peaceful place to call home.
We have reshaped the Taiwanese political environment in 2018, and allow me to re-emphasize that it was not because of a “Hanliu” or “Han wave”, it was because of the will of the people, the vision of the people, and the desires of the people. The voters in Taiwan have started to see the damages caused by Party Servant politics, and they now expect Public Servants to bring in honesty, hope, and happiness, without more lies, frustration, and confrontation.
I believe this is the dawn of a Public Servants’ era, and we are on the way to reshaping Taiwanese politics, and starting to honor the role and purpose of Public Servants. Hopefully in Taiwan, and also other places in the world where the people believe in true value of democracy, we can one day be all free from the politics of Party Servants and enjoy Public Servants’ productive and constructive contributions to society.
Again, there is no “Hanliu” or “Han wave”, but only the people. Because of the people, I made my way to Kaohsiung. Now, we are on the way to a new democracy in which Party Servants have laid down their self-interests and means of manipulation, and in which Public Servants work to unleash the great potential of our country.
That is our way.
Thank you, thank you all for listening to me, to this old and bald man. I wish that everyone who listened to my speech without falling asleep today, will live happily ever after!