Senior Ma aide poised to take up U.S. posting

US gives approval for King Pu-tsung to be Taiwan's unofficial envoy, as Ma pays more attention to relationship with Washington

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2012, 5:11am

The most trusted aide of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou will head to Washington in a few weeks to assume his post as the island's envoy to the United States.

The appointment of King Pu-tsung, 56, as Taiwan's representative in the absence of formal ties has been widely seen as showing Ma's desire to further consolidate Taipei's substantive relations with Washington.

The US officially notified Taiwan's Foreign Ministry on Friday its approval of King's appointment, seven weeks after he was named to the position.

Pundits said the choice of King - Ma's closest aide since helping him win the Taipei mayoral election in 1997 - has also helped defuse speculation the Ma administration has placed development of cross-strait relations ahead of US ties.

"By sending his most trusted aide to Washington, Ma actually hopes to head off the US doubt that he has focused too much on cross-strait relations at the expense of long-time friendly Taiwan-US ties," said Edward Chen I-hsin, professor of American studies at Tamkang University in Taipei.

Washington is believed to be concerned about the sharp improvement in cross-strait ties since Ma took office in 2008, as this could mean the diminishing of US influence in Taiwan. Washington has long been Taiwan's informal ally and major arms supplier despite the absence of formal ties.

Taiwan's pro-independence camp, led by the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, has also criticised Ma for leaning too much towards the mainland. It has described as unwise Ma's reluctance to increase the defence budget, given that Beijing is still aiming more than 1,300 missiles at the island.

Cross-strait relations have been bitter since the end of a civil war in 1949, with Beijing still regarding Taiwan as a part of China.

A KMT official yesterday said Ma had had to focus on improving cross-strait relations in his first term because of the Taiwan Strait tension stoked by his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, of the DPP.

"With cross-strait relations warming every day, the president can pay more attention to further cement ties with Washington," KMT spokesman Yin Wei said.

King's appointment has prompted the DPP to decide to resume its long-closed representative office in the US in a bid to not to be sidelined by the government in terms of US-Taiwan ties.

On Monday, DPP chairman Su Tseng-chang appointed Joseph Wu Jau-shieh as the party's representative to the US.

Wu, formerly Taiwan's envoy to the US under the DPP administration and now the DPP's policy research director, said yesterday he would do all he could to make Washington understand the party's positions and policies.

"Because of my duty as the party's policy research director, I will not be stationed in Washington but go there on regular basis," he said.

Su has said the DPP had to reopen its US office to restore its mutual trust with the US.

The party's relations with the US were strained by Chen Shui-bian, who ignored Washington's warnings by repeatedly stoking cross-strait tensions during his time as president between 2000 and 2008.