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Tue, Apr 11, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Tang Fei's right-hand man to assume post

APPOINTMENT Arguably, others might be more qualified, but Wu Shih-wen was chosen so that Tang Fei could keep the military under his influence, analysts say


The newly selected Minister of Defense, Wu Shih-wen


Although he surprisingly beat veteran military leader Ku Chung-lien (顧崇廉) in the race for the defense minister's post, vice defense minister Wu Shih-wen (伍世文) may not be the most qualified candidate.

He is, however, expected to be important to incumbent defense minister Tang Fei (唐飛) after Tang becomes premier, according to defense officials.

Wu's usefulness to Tang hinges mostly on the fact that he has been working as Tang's right-hand man for more than a year already. In addition, officials say, Wu is a hard-working man and disinterested in power struggles.

According to the rotation rules accepted by the three armed services, the post of the chief of the general staff (CGS) should have been given to Wu two years ago, the defense officials said.

Wu, then navy commander-in-chief, was due to succeed Tang Fei as the CGS after the previous two CGS's, Lo Peng-Li (羅本立) and Tang -- who were from the army and air force, respectively.

But the position was offered instead to army General Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明), who got the job mainly because President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) wanted Tang to become the first native Taiwanese to serve as the CGS, they said.

Deprived of the once-in-a-lifetime chance, Wu apparently accepted the arrangement without any grudges and took the vice defense minister post, which is normally reserved for retiring military leaders.

Now, however, Wu stands the greatest chance to win back what he had lost -- to become not only defense minister, but someone who will be for the first time in Taiwan's history more powerful than the CGS.

The status change was mandated by restructuring plans that are to coming into effect over the next few years.

Over the past year, Wu assisted Tang in lobbying for the passage of the landmark Defense Law and Organization Law for Ministry of National Defense (MND) by the nation's legislature.

Despite these efforts Wu never tried to steal the limelight and faithfully served as Tang's aide.

This, observers explained, was why others held the impression that Wu was a man of few words and couldn't be eloquent when answering inquiries from lawmakers.

In Chinese society, Wu is just the kind of person a political leader would want as a right-hand man, analysts say.

With a mild man such as Wu serving as the defense minister, Tang would be able to keep the military under his virtual control even after he becomes the premier, they say.

That's also one of the main reasons why president-select Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) chose Tang as the new government's premier, analysts say.

With unquestionable cooperation from Tang and Wu, Chen should face much less difficulty when pushing ahead on the military reforms required by law.

It is widely known in the military that Tang Fei was at odds with CGS Tang over the content of the two laws.

If CGS Tang became the defense minister, it would be much harder to promote military reform, analysts said.

But, maybe out of sheer politeness, Tang still recommended CGS Tang as his successor despite the fact that the move would not serve the best interest of the new government.

In addition, Wu's appointment would cause a reshuffle of Taiwan's high-ranking officers.

If Ku Chung-lien -- ex-navy commander-in-chief and now Taiwan's representative to Holland -- assumed the post of defense minister, the relationship between the minister and the premier might not have been as good as Tang would have expected, analysts said.

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