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Sun, Apr 09, 2000 - Page 3 News List

New minister of defense likely to come from navy

MILITARY BALANCE Analysts are predicting that ex-Navy Commander-in-Chief Ku Chung-lien will be Chen's pick for the defense minister post

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

In this file photo from 1995, President-elect Chen Shui-bian, left, shakes hands with Taiwan's representative in Holland and ex-Navy Commander-in-Chief Ku Chung-lien (顧崇廉), right, at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei when Chen was the Taipei mayor. It is reported that Ku is likely to become the next minister of national defense.

FILE PHOTO FROM THE LIBERTY TIMES.

With Chief of the General Staff, General Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) having refused to fill the defense minister position, it appears increasingly likely that Taiwan's representative in Holland, ex-Navy Commander-in-Chief Ku Chung-lien (顧崇廉) will take the position, defense officials said yesterday.

The likelihood that Ku would become defense minister increased after President-elect Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said yesterday that his main selection criteria is to keep a balance of power between the services.

Chen reportedly made the statement during a meeting with Ni Chang-yi (黎昌意), son of the ex-chief of the general staff (CGS), and with current strategic advisor to the President, Ni Yue-si (黎玉璽). Chen said he visited Ni to pay his respects and to seek advice from the retired admiral.

Ni, 86, is the second naval general and former-CGS that Chen has visited since winning the presidential election on March 18.

Previously, Chen visited former naval leader and ex-CGS Liu Ho-chien (劉和謙), to whom Chen promised a place in the presidential office as a consultant.

Chen's visits to the two retired naval leaders were the only visits he made openly to former military leaders. Analysts say that this shows Chen's preference for the navy in his plans for armed forces development in the next four years.

Chen's desire to maintain a "balance of power" between the services would be met if he appoints Ku as the next defense minister. Chen has already settled arrangements for the air force and the army leadership by selecting Tang Fei (唐飛), from the air force, as premier, and by keeping incumbent CGS army General Tang Yao-ming in his current position.

A high-ranking official with the Ministry of National Defense (MND), who declined to be identified, said Chen also has personal reasons for choosing Ku for the defense minister post.

The two developed good relations seven years ago when Ku was vice defense minister and Chen was a lawmaker for the opposition DPP, the official said.

"The relations between the two got even better after Ku took over the command of the navy from Chuang Ming-yao (莊銘耀), who stepped down because of the murder of subordinate captain Ying Ching-feng (尹清楓)," the official said. "Ku often invited Chen, who then was Taipei mayor, to attend naval ceremonies as an honored guest, a move which aroused complaints from the conservative military leadership."

Although Chuang is also a possible candidate for defense minister, his chances are slim because the Yin murder case remains unsolved, the official said.

Su Chin-chiang (蘇進強), a military analyst at Nanhua University, said that if Chen appoints Ku as the new defense minister, there will be two main implications.

"First, Chen appreciates and trusts Ku's ability and willingness to negotiate with and listen to opinions of people outside the military. It is this same quality that he values in Tang Fei and both Tang and Ku will be able to help Chen implement the new Defense Law and Organization Law for the MND," Su said.

Second, "the move indicates a new direction for arms build-up in the future. Taiwan will need a stronger air force and navy. No other island country puts so much emphasis on the army as Taiwan does now," he said.

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