Frank Hsieh named new Taiwanese premier

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

TAIPEI, Taiwan —Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has chosen Frank Hsieh, a leading member of his pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, as the new Premier of the Republic of China.

Frank Hsieh replaces Yu Shyi-kun, who served as Taiwan's premier for three years. Mr. Yu and the entire 20-member cabinet resigned Monday to allow President Chen Shui-bian to reshuffle the cabinet, after his party's coalition lost parliamentary elections last month.

Mr. Hsieh, the 59-year-old mayor of Taiwan's second largest city, Kaohsiung, is a close ally of Mr. Chen and will be expected to closely carry out the president's agenda. Mr. Hsieh served as Chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party from 2000 to 2002.

President Chen praised Mr. Hsieh as "the best person" to help open a new era of negotiations with both the opposition and with Mainland China.

Analysts suggest that Mr. Chen's appointment may signal President Chen's preference for a successor. Mr. Chen's second term ends in 2008 and Mr. Hsieh has had previous experience as a vice presidential candidate in 1996.

In ways, the two men are alike. Both grew up in poor families, graduated from Taiwan's most prestigious National Taiwan University, and passed the bar with the highest score in their junior years in college. Like President Chen, Mr. Hsieh rose to prominence defending the dissidents of the Kaohsiung Incident and went on to serve as a Taipei city councilor and a legislator.

Mr. Hsieh is expected to announce a new cabinet in two days. The cabinet must be endorsed by the new parliament, which convenes February 1.

Analysts believe that many key ministers, including those responsible for foreign affairs, defense, and mainland affairs, are likely to retain their posts.

Mr. Hsieh on Tuesday promised to seek co-existence and "cross-strait peace" through dialogue with the People's Republic of China. He said the new cabinet must maintain cross-strait stability. He will also need to smooth the economic recovery.

He will have to face a parliament in which the opposition holds 114 of the 225 seats. Mr. Chen has complained that passage of his key bills have been slowed by the parliament.

The pro-independence policies of President Chen and his Democratic Progressive Party have angered Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province. Beijing has threatened a military attack if the Taiwan independence is declared. The two sides split amid civil war in 1949 when the Communists established the People's Republic and the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, moved the original government to Taiwan where they maintained the Republic of China, which Beijing regards as defunct. President Chen maintains there are two countries.

The Kuomintang favors maintaining the status quo. Party leaders say the question of whether Taiwan should be independent or reunited with mainland China should be decided by future generations. The Kuomintang, citing its parliamentary victory, had sought to name its own premier and government.

Philip Yang, an associate professor of political science at National Taiwan University, says the recent election's message was that the president and his new premier will have to pay serious attention to relations with Beijing.

"A new message from the people [is] demanding the government to pay more attention to enhance cross-straits interaction," he said.