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China-US relations

Taipei sends US experts to diplomatic front line to ward off hostile Beijing

Taiwanese president picks new foreign and defence chiefs as she seeks closer contact with the United States

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 February, 2018, 8:38pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 February, 2018, 1:07am

Taiwan has appointed two men well-versed in American affairs to top security and foreign relations jobs as the island tries to engage the US in its grand strategy to counter military intimidation from the mainland.

The appointments were part of a partial shake-up of the island’s cabinet, which saw the replacement of heads of the foreign, defence, mainland, labour and veterans’ affairs ministries.

Presidential Office chief Joseph Wu, 64, will be sworn in as foreign minister on Monday, taking over from David Lee, 69, who has been named secretary general of the National Security Council.

Cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung said that all but one of the appointments were decided by President Tsai Ing-wen, who is in charge of foreign, mainland affairs and military policy.

Labour Minister Lin Mei-chu was stepping down because of illness, Hsu said.

Wu completed his doctorate in political science at Ohio State University in 1989 and was a professor at Soochow University in Taipei before former president Chen Shui-bian appointed him head of the Mainland Affairs Council – Taiwan’s top cross-strait body – in 2004.

He was Taiwan’s representative in the United States from 2007 to 2008, and played a key role in organising Tsai’s visit to the US in 2015 before she took power a year later.

National Dong Hwa University political science professor Shih Cheng-feng said there were strong reasons why Tsai picked Wu for the foreign minister’s job.

“Wu built [firm relationships] with senior US officials when he was the government’s and the then-opposition Democratic Progressive Party’s representative to the United States from 2012 to 2016,” Shih said, referring to Tsai’s pro-independence party.

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Lee was also Taiwan’s representative to the US during Chen’s era, and headed the Coordination Council for North American Affairs – a counterpart of the US’ representative office in Taiwan – from 2012 to 2014.

Analysts said Lee’s appointment would advance Tsai’s plans to bolster national security with the aid of the United States.

Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province subject to eventual union, if necessary by force. It has time and again warned the Tsai government against declaring independence and cut contacts amid Tsai’s refusal to publicly support the “one China” principle, which Beijing sees as the basis of all cross-strait exchanges.

Shih said that with Beijing and Taipei at odds, it was natural for Tsai to try to expand ties with Washington, especially with the mainland increasing its military threats against Taiwan.

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Philip Yang, president of the Taiwan Association of International Relations, said the DPP had long had an international strategy of seeking to engage the United States.

“It has become even more so since the mainland suspended talks and exchanges with Taiwan. The Tsai government needs US support in countering Beijing,” he said.

Also on Friday, Taipei announced that NSC secretary general Yen Te-fa, 65, was the new defence minister; Chen Ming-tong, 63, a former MAC deputy chairman would take over from Katherine Chang as the council’s head; Hsu Ming-chun, 52, deputy mayor of Kaohsiung, would replace Lin as head of the Labour Ministry, and Chiu Kuo-cheng, 64, would become head of the Veterans Affairs Council.