Taiwan President-elect Tsai Ing-wen’s inner circle

TAIPEI–By Special Contributor Guo Jia 

Taiwan’s President-elect Tsai Ing-wen announced on March 15 that Lin Chuan will become premier or head of the nation’s Executive Yuan. Along with Lin, other details that have been revealed about Tsai’s key appointments show that she’s clearly giving preference to her so-called “Dining Group” and former Mainland Affairs Council staff.

Lin Chuan was appointed head of the Executive Yuan. By Xu Shuquan/ Initium Media

Lin Chuan was appointed premier or head of Taiwan’s Executive Yuan. By Xu Shuquan/ Initium Media

Lin as the ‘anchor’

In a telling move, Tsai placed Lin in the core position of the new government, and appointed other key staffers from her campaign. Tsai appears to be making the first appointments from her innermost circle and then extending to her outer circle bit by bit.

Tsai will not officially assume the office of Taiwan president until May 20.

As the Chinese saying goes, a good start is halfway to success. Tsai’s appointment of Lin at this early stage also shows her focus on economic issues.

Tsai herself has an economics background, and she has always been close to industry. Her team considers industrial issues to be the most sensitive of economic conditions facing Taiwan. During the presidential campaign, Tsai visited many industrial sites to get a sense of the challenges facing these businesses.

One of the takeaways she got from these visits is that Taiwanese industry generally expect an economic downturn in 2016 on both a local and global level. After her victory, Tsai revisited these industrial sites to update her knowledge of their business situation.

Since Lin has a solid background in economics, Tsai’s appointment of Lin shows the priority she is giving economic issues. Appointing Lin at this stage also creates an opportunity for industry to start exchanging ideas with the new government and to enlist its help. Once the Tsai’s administration assumes office in late May 20, they’ll have a head start in addressing economic issues.

In another move, Lin Si-yao will serve as Lin Chuan’s deputy. Lin Si-yao is a founding member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). He was the deputy of Taipei County (today’s New Taipei City) magistrate Su Tseng-chang from 1999. When Su became the head of the Executive Yuan in 2004, he served as acting magistrate for one year. His governing ability is deemed invaluable in making the wheels of government turn. After all, one lesson from the DPP’s prior rules under Chen Shui-bian from 2000-2008 is that implementing policies is the key to any policy reform.

‘The Dining Group’

Tsai has also assembled a so-called “Dinning Group” which meets weekly to have dinner with Tsai while discussing current situations. They discuss issues, seek solutions and then decide who and how to implement these solutions.

According to the DPP, since the party has its origin in the street culture, discussions at Tsai’s dinner table are not hierarchical. There are usually heated debates at these sessions, which is an efficient approach to problem-solving. The dinning/debating culture is popular among various levels of the DPP.

As the president elect, Tsai announced Lin Chuan the head of the Executive Yuan of the new government. By Xu Shuquan/ Initium Media

As the president elect, Tsai announced Lin Chuan the head of the Executive Yuan of the new government. By Xu Shuquan/ Initium Media

The dining group at the highest level consists of Fred Hung, Jason Liu, Lin Chin-chang, Chen Jun-lin, and Yao Jen-to. Jason Liu and Chen Jun-lin are said to have been appointed deputy secretary generals of the Office of the President and National Security Council. The most senior member in terms of prestige is Chiou I-jen, who joined the dining group late in the campaign. He was the Secretary General of National Security Council, Office of the President and the Executive Yuan during the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian era.

People from the opposition Kuomintang gripe that these appointments represent a return of the Chen Shui-bian team. But the DPP argues that under Tsai, the DPP has transformed itself into a different party from Chen’s era. At the same time, it has been noted that Tsai was also part of Chen Shui-bian’s team.

As for Chiou, despite Tsai’s repeated requests, he refused to stay in the front line and only accepted the post of the head of New Frontier Foundation, which aims at training talents for the new government.

Prior to the election, Chen Jun-lin carried out research on what issues Taiwanese were most concerned about. He found out that the top three issues were the economy, food security and long-term care for the elderly. Cross-strait issues were not even in the top five concerns. Thus, the Tsai campaign downplayed the cross-strait relationships issue, despite the Kuomintang’s stress on it.

Tsai is also an expert at negotiations. Since her proposal of four principles for dealing with cross-strait relationships after the election, she hasn’t touched on the issue. Though mainland Chinese leaders and scholars have pushed for Taiwan’s acknowledgement of “the 92 consensus” and “One China,” Tsai’s strategy is one of no response. Instead, she purposefully shows her focus on economic issues.

Tsai’s men at the Mainland Affairs Council

Another group of people in the new administration’s staff are Tsai’s underlings at the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), which she oversaw between 2000 and 2004. They include Chiu Tai-san, Deng Chen-chung, Zhan Zhi-hong and Fu Don-cheng.

Chiu Tai-san was an attorney before entering politics. Apart from the Vice President of MAC, he served as the Vice Mayor of Kao Hsiung and Taoyuan City. Tsai has asked him to take up the position of Minister of Justice.

Zhan Zhi-hong is said to be in line to assume the post of Director of Tsai’s Office. During his time at MAC, he made great contributions to cross-strait relationships, such as promoting direct transport links between Taiwan and China. His expertise in negotiations will be useful for Tsai who faces enormous pressures from Beijing.

Fu Don-cheng is expected to assume the post of consultant for the National Security Council. He will be among the highest aides to the president. He was formerly in charge of cross-strait economic and trade relationships at MAC.

Deng Chen-chung is an economics and trade hand. He formerly served as the deputy representative to the WTO, and was appointed Minister of Economics during the last days of Ma’s administration.

There is a widespread belief that Tsai will work to join Washington’s TPP and RCEP, or trade negotiations with China. Deng’s expertise is expected to be highly valuable in both of these cases.

According to some DPP members, Tsai has a comprehensive plan on cross-strait relationships in her back pocket. Her first goal after taking office is said to be maintaining stability. But she’s clearly not willing to show her cards on this issue at this point of time.

This article was originally published on Mar. 17, 2016 by The Initium Media, a Hong Kong-based digital media company. Asia Times has translated it with permission with editing for brevity and clarity.

Translated by Jiawen Guo for Asia Times



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