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Wed, Mar 15, 2000 - Page 9 News List

The many faces of James Soong

By Bo Tedards  /  Contributing Editor of Taipei Times

As CCK's agent and messenger, Soong gained intimate knowledge of the workings of the sprawling party-state, as he moved throughout the power structure on behalf of his patron. However, he had little opportunity to develop true friendships with his peers, since he was assumed to be representing CCK at all time, and this situation suited the paranoid CCK perfectly. A symptom of Soong's isolation was his solitary pre-dawn golf practice.

However, those who also served CCK during these years formed the nucleus of what later became Soong's clique. None of the other second-generation KMT figures dared to form such tight-knit bands of personally loyal followers, traditionally seen as a mark of dangerous ambition. But Soong carried it off and used his "gang" to great advantage. For the legendary visits as governor to all the towns and villages of Taiwan, Hsia Lung (夏龍), formerly CCK's office director, carried out the meticulous preparation, including outfitting the "mobile office" with everything from computer databases to mud boots.

Personal touch

Another skill that Soong cultivated from the beginning was the art of empathy. His capacity in this regard is legendary. Even his foes frequently comment that, "when he talks to you, he makes you feel that you are the only person in the world." In addition to very careful preparation -- he researches every person he meets -- he looks into your eyes, he talks only about you, he "feels your pain."

This tendency explains his preference for individual or small-group meetings over large gatherings or public speeches, even as an election strategy. Soong measures his progress not by how many speeches he has given, but by how many hands he has shaken, how many people he has personally connected with.

Soong has also used this ability to defuse the fallout from controversial actions. For example, he habitually invited for dinner the editors or the producers of magazines or Hokkien television programs he had banned. Out of the public eye, he would turn on the charm, assuring his victims that his decision was "nothing personal."

Switch to Lee

When CCK passed away in 1988, Soong moved quickly and adroitly to align himself with Vice President Lee Teng-hui (李登*?/CHINESE>) in Lee's struggle to consolidate his power. Soong had previously been identified with the "Palace Faction" (宮廷派), the group of old guards surrounding the Chiang family -- including General Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村), former Premier Lee Huan (李煥) and then Premier Yu Kuo-hua (俞國華). This faction was determined to retain real power and reduce Lee to a figurehead or interim role.

An emergency meeting of the KMT's central standing committee was called the day after the funeral, when the "Palace Faction" maneuvered to delay the elevation of Lee to the party chairmanship. Suddenly, Soong stood up and shocked the assembled notables by making an impassioned plea that Lee be handed the chairmanship forthwith.

"Each day of delay is a day of disrespect to Mr. Ching-kuo," he declared, and stormed out of the room. Since no one wanted to be identified as being against CCK, the resolution passed unanimously.

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