Top China negotiator to become new Taiwan premier

Taiwanwill choose its top China negotiator as its next premier for lack of other job candidates as the former premier leaves to ease tension in the ruling party ahead of the 2008 presidential race, a source said on Sunday.

Chang Chun-hsiung, chairperson of the Straits Exchange Foundation and a former premier, will replace Su Tseng-chang, who announced on Saturday he would step down.

Su, who lost the Democratic Progressive Party presidential primary last week to another former premier, Frank Hsieh, is the fifth premier to step down during the president’s seven-year tenure.

Analysts said President Chen Shui-bian did not want Su, a folksy man popular among common people but who does not side with the ruling party’s mainstream, to steal the limelight from Hsieh by sticking around.

No one else wanted to be premier for only a year, which is too little time in office to make a difference, the source said. Chen must step down at the end of his term in May 2008.

Analysts say Chang is friendly to both Chen and the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, who faces a tough contest in March against popular former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou. Ma is concilatory toward Taiwan’s archrival China, while the ruling party takes a hard line against it.

Chang, Chen and Hsieh were all dissident lawyers under Nationalist Party rule, said Chao Chien-min, a professor at National Cheng Chi University in Taiwan.
Although Hsieh and Chang have had “differences,” they accept each other now, he said.

“Chen Shui-bian and Frank Hsieh both, of course, like him,” Chao said.

Local media had also tipped Chang to become the new premier, but neither Chang’s office nor government spokespersons would comment on Su’s successor.

Chang (68) was the ruling party’s first premier, from October 2000 through February 2002, and ran the president’s campaign.

The presidential office’s image will suffer because of the frequency of premier changes, political analysts say.

“If my assessment is accurate, people will think Chen Shui-bian has failed as president and the Democratic Progressive Party has failed as a government,” said George Tsai, a political analyst at National Cheng Chi University in Taiwan. “The new premier cannot make any substantial achievements.” - Reuters

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