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Taiwan replaces foreign minister, China policy chief (update)

2018/02/23 18:11:42

Joseph Wu (吳釗燮, CNA file photo)

Taipei, Feb. 23 (CNA) Taiwan's government announced a long-rumored reshuffle of top Cabinet posts Friday, with the country's foreign and defense ministries and top agency for China policy all getting new leaders.

Presidential Office Secretary-General Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) is to replace David Lee (李大維) as foreign minister, while Lee will head the National Security Council (NSC), government officials said Friday.

The NSC position was vacated by Yen Teh-fa (嚴德發), who was tapped as defense minister to replace Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬), the officials said.

Wu has been President Tsai Ing-wen's (蔡英文) confidant on national security matters since she became Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairwoman in 2014.

He was a key member of Tsai's transition team after she was elected president in January 2016 and then served as NSC secretary-general for about a year after Tsai assumed office in May 2016, before being transferred to his current position.

The appointment of such a close aide to head the Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows Tsai's intent to lead Taiwan's diplomatic activities, said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Lee faced repeated rumors that he might be replaced after Taiwan faced various diplomatic setbacks in the international community resulting from Chinese pressure on the Tsai administration.

Taiwan has lost two diplomatic allies to China since Tsai took office -- Sao Tome and Principe in December 2016 and Panama in June 2017 -- and failed in bids to participate in regular meetings of the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Health Assembly.

Despite the difficulties, however, the 68-year-old Lee was highly trusted by the president because of his decades-long diplomatic experience, and taking the post as NSC head shows he will continue to play a major role in the government.

Alexander Huang (黃介正), an associate professor in the Department of Diplomacy and International Relations at Tamkang University, did not think the move represented any shift in policy, but he said Wu's appointment could give Tsai more flexibility in naming envoys to represent Taiwan abroad.

"Wu is more like a politician than a diplomat and that might make it easier for Tsai to appoint political appointees as envoys," he said.

Meanwhile, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) chief Chang Hsiao-yueh (張小月) will be replaced by former MAC chief, Chen Ming-tung (陳明通), according to Executive Yuan spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇).

Chen, who currently teaches at National Taiwan University's Graduate Institute of National Development, headed the MAC -- which handles relations with China -- in 2007 and early 2008, the last year of the previous Democratic Progressive Party administration under President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

In other moves, Veterans Affairs Council (VAC) Minister Lee Hsiang-jow (李翔宙) is to be replaced by former chief of the general staff Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正), Hsu said.

Also, Kaohsiung Deputy Mayor Hsu Ming-chun (許銘春) has been appointed to be labor minister, succeeding Lin Mei-chu (林美珠), who tendered her resignation for health reasons but also came under fire for her handling of controversial revisions to five-day workweek rules.

As for who will take over for Wu as Presidential Office secretary-general, office spokesman Alex Huang (黃重諺) said Wu's deputy Jason Liu (劉建忻) will be temporarily acting for Wu until the position is filled.

Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) was rumored to be a potential candidate for the post, but she said the rumor was not true, and Huang would not comment on the speculation.

NSC adviser Lin Liang-jung (林良蓉) has been appointed to lead the Coordination Council for North American Affairs, the counterpart of the American Institute in Taiwan, and she will be replaced by Chen Jin-ji (陳錦稷), Huang said.

Chen is the deputy head of the DPP thinktank, the New Frontier Foundation, and the head of the Graduate School of Financial Management at CTBC Business School.

Ko Cheng-heng (柯承亨), secretary-general of the semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation, has been appointed to replace National Security Bureau Deputy Director Kuo Chung-hsin (郭崇信), who is to retire in the middle of next month, Huang said.

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan and Joseph Yeh)