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Reshuffle a response to Taiwan sovereignty supporters: analysts

2018/02/23 22:32:44

President Tsai Ing-wen's (蔡英文/CNA file photo)

Taipei, Feb. 23 (CNA) Friday's government reshuffle reflects President Tsai Ing-wen's (蔡英文) desire to enhance Taiwan's national security and clear doubts among supporters about her administration's position towards China, analysts said.

The reshuffle saw Presidential Office Secretary-General Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) replace David Lee (李大維) as foreign minister, while Lee will lead the National Security Council (NSC).

Lee will replace Yen Teh-fa (嚴德發), who was tapped to become defense minister.

Also, Chen Ming-tung (陳明通) was appointed to head the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), the top agency in charge of China policy, replacing Chang Hsiao-yueh (張小月).

It is the same post he held for a year at the end of the previous Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration from 2007 to 2008.

The reshuffle was a response to DPP supporters who have criticized the Tsai administration's handling of issues involving cross-Taiwan Strait relations, said Chang Wu-yueh (張五岳), a professor in the Graduate Institute of China Studies at Tamkang University.

It was partly aimed at "dispelling their concerns" over the Tsai administration's policies, which they have perceived as cozying up to China, Chang Wu-yueh said.

Of the Cabinet members labeled as "blue" technocrats, Lee has been subjected to the most criticism from pan-green supporters.

They suspect he has been dragging his feet on sovereignty issues, such as Taiwan's bids for participation in the United Nation and other international organizations.

Presidential Office adviser Wu Li-pei (吳澧培), who has called for Lee to step down as foreign minister, told CNA Friday that he was disappointed at Lee being promoted to head the NSC.

Chang Yeh-sen (張葉森), a leader of the Taiwan Society, said he has a "deep distrust" of Lee leading the NSC because he doubted Lee would safeguard Taiwan's sovereign interests when it came to issues like the controversy over the M503 flight route unilaterally launched by China.

Chang Yeh-sen said he was "full of expectations" for Wu leading the Foreign Ministry, however. "We believe he is able to uphold Taiwan-centered consciousness."

A recent survey by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation found that the popularity of Tsai's DPP has declined steadily since it took power, with nearly 60 percent of respondents dissatisfied with Tsai's China policy.

That sagging support poses a challenge to Tsai, who is also DPP chairwoman, and the party ahead of local elections late this year.

Though the appointments of Wu and Chen were considered to be tinged with political overtones, they were also seen by Chang Wu-yueh as the right people for their new posts.

The scholar said they both have sufficient expertise and experience to handle the operational responsibilities and challenges they face.

In terms of cross-strait relations, Chen is much more acquainted with China than Chang Hsiao-yueh, who had been a career diplomat before being named to head the MAC in 2016, and he has been on good terms with Chinese academics, Chang Wu-yueh said.

Nonetheless, it "remains to be seen" whether his appointment will help ease cross-strait tensions because it is also contingent on how China views the relationships, the professor said.

Kuo Yu-jen (郭育仁), a professor with the Institute of China and Asia Pacific Studies at National Sun Yat-sen University, said the reshuffle showed Tsai's desire to strengthen Taiwan's relationship with the United States and its national security.

On the surface, the reshuffle appeared to simply change the seats of members of the same team, but it should result in synergies that can be productive in enhancing cooperation between Taiwan and the U.S. on the military and diplomatic fronts, Kuo said.

Wu was originally transferred from NSC secretary-general to his current position in May 2017 to vacate the position for Yen, Kuo said.

Having Yen as defense minister now can help build Taiwan's defense capability because of his experience as NSC head and as chief of the General Staff, while Wu will be better able to put his diplomatic expertise to better use as foreign minister than as secretary-general of the Presidential Office, Kuo said.

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)
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