Feb 11, 2005

Taiwan: Chen to Offer China Talks Role to Soong

Taiwan's president is expected to offer a formal role in relations with China to the head of the People First party, a breakaway faction from the Kuomintang
Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan's president, is expected to offer a formal role in relations with China to James Soong, head of the People First party, a breakaway faction from the Kuomintang.

Senior officials of Mr Chen's Democratic Progressive party said the president would like Mr Soong to chair the Straits Exchange Foundation, a semi-official body handling contacts with the mainland, or head a committee proposed by Mr Chen to work out an interim agreement with China.

At the same time Frank Hsieh, premier and leader of the minority DPP government, is trying to entice senior KMT politicians to join his cabinet.

The efforts by the ruling camp are increasing the opposition's influence on Mr Chen's administration and moderating his stance on Taiwan's independence, a trend welcomed by international observers.

But many KMT members are less optimistic over their party's future after Mr Soong and Lien Chan, KMT chairman, lost a joint presidential bid last March. "Back then, we were united against Chen Shui-bian. But now we are quickly losing the sense of what we actually stand for," said Hung Wei-kuo, a KMT member.

Last month the KMT allowed prominent defectors to rejoin and take high-ranking party posts by bypassing formal procedures, a step aimed at Mr Soong, who was excluded from the KMT after his maverick presidential bid against Mr Lien in 2000.

But the PFP leader rejected the gesture and all the KMT got back was a number of old-guard, conservatives who had left in protest at the party's efforts to shed its mainland-Chinese profile and move towards supporting Taiwanese independence.

Younger KMT politicians contend that the return of these stalwarts slows down attempts to reform the party.

"What we need is a new programme which can compete with the DPP, new internal procedures which help foster capable young politicians, and a new leadership," said Kuo Chia-fen, a professor at Shih-Chien University and a member of the Blue Eagles, a KMT rebel faction. "We cannot win elections by returning to the old personnel and old ideology under which we have seen our share of the vote erode ever since democratisation started."

Pang Chien-kuo, a former PFP legislator who failed to get re-elected in December, blamed the parties' leaders for putting their personal ambitions first. But with the PFP demanding its share in joint nominations for local elections in November, the KMT and the PFP seem set to continue to struggle over political posts rather than address their future.


Source: FT