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Cabinet reshuffle unlikely to thwart will of Taiwan president

Publication Date : 21-09-2012


Amid speculation over the extent of a much-expected Cabinet shake-up, two officials credited for improvements in cross-strait relations have been replaced, while the struggling economic and financial team is said to be staying put.

The developments seem to defy common sense, but they actually show Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou's strong conviction to pursue his agenda.

One of the imminent, high-profile departures from the Cabinet is that of Mainland Affairs Council Minister Lai Shin-yuan, who will be replaced by former presidential spokesman Wang Yu-chi.

Chiang Pin-kung will also retire as head of the semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation, which handles ties with China on behalf of the Taiwan government.

Lai, the China policymaker, and Chiang, the special envoy for cross-strait affairs, have contributed much to the fast improvements in Taiwan-China ties since Ma took office in 2008.

More than a dozen pacts have been signed between the sides, including the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement and the freshly sealed investment protection agreement.

The pair represents the more successful side of the Ma administration, which has won wide acclaim for easing tensions and maintaining stability in the region.

The stable cross-strait relations have often been cited as a major reason voters re-elected Ma to another four-year term early this year.

Even the pro-Taiwan independence opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has come to realise that its lack of rapport with China has been standing in its way to returning to power. And the DPP is now seeking ways to improve ties with China.

So why are Lai and Chiang leaving after achieving so much? Chiang, 79, cited old age when announcing his retirement yesterday. His successor was not named.

Lai has been appointed as Taipei's representative to the World Trade Organisation, where she can make good use of her expertise and experience. She played a major role representing Taiwan in negotiations for joining the international trade body in 2001.
But their departures are hardly likely to bring any change to the Ma administration's China policy.

Lai's successor has summed up precisely why there will be no change. Wang noted that the China policy that the MAC has put forward has never been based on Lai's personal ideas, and neither will it represent his own ideas when he takes over.

Wang maintained that it is the Ma administration's China policy. Better still, it is an extension of Ma's own will, regardless of who heads the MAC.

And we believe Wang will do an even better job implementing Ma's China policy.

The appointment of Lai, a lawmaker from the Taiwan Solidarity Union, to the MAC leadership sparked a controversy more than four years ago. But she has never let her pro-independence past hinder improvements in cross-strait ties.

Wang is a member of Ma's inner circle, having served as spokesman for the Presidential Office and for the president's re-election campaign. He knows Ma better than Lai does, and can execute Ma's China policy even more precisely.

Ma certainly has an agenda running the country, and each and every member in his administration is supposed to help him put this agenda into practice.

Premier Sean Chen and his Cabinet ministers have often been ridiculed as merely puppets of Ma — and in a sense they are.

Who insisted on raising gasoline and electricity prices in order to normalise the country's energy costs? President Ma. The Ministry of Economic Affair simply enacted Ma's plan. And who decided to postpone the implementation of the second-phase increase in electricity rates? Ma again.

So despite the economic woes that the country has been facing, the Cabinet's economic and financial officials may still keep their posts.

It seems pointless for the opposition to call for their heads. After all, the worldwide economic downturn should be blamed for Taiwan's troubles, and the ministers have shown strong will carrying out Ma's orders.


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