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Thu, Jan 10, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Tang Yao-ming to get defense post

NEW BROOM While the appointment to the Ministry of National Defense does not put a civilian in the job, it does give it to a Taiwanese for the first time in 53 years

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Chief of the General Staff General Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) will succeed Wu Shih-wen ( 伍世文) as the next defense minister, sources said yesterday.

While an official announcement has yet to be made, the leaking of the information puts an end to weeks of feverish speculation about which dignitary will occupy the post after a Cabinet reshuffle expected at the end of this month.

While President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) appears to have backtracked on his previously stated intention to put a civilian in charge of the ministry, General Tang's accession to the post is not uncontroversial, marking as it does the first time a native Taiwanese has occupied a post hitherto exclusively given to mainlanders.

Tang was also the first Tai-wanese to be the chief of the general staff three years ago.

Tang will enjoy considerably more power than any of his predecessors, since under the new military command structure to be introduced on March 1 the general staff will fall under the remit of the defense ministry and the Executive Yuan. Previously it was autonomous, answering only to the president.

The chief of the general staff is to be downgraded to chief of staff to the defense minister.

The increasing stature of the defense ministry, from acting as little more than a commissariat for the general staff, to being the highest authority in defense planning, has made the appointment of a new defense minister the subject of wild speculation.

Over the weekend, during a interview with a US delegation, the president said that while he still wanted to see a civilian in the defense ministry post, the time was not yet ripe for such a transition.

Defense sources say that the president had already decided last week to offer the post to Tang, who accepted.

The sources also said that Chen has decided that navy commander-in-chief Admiral Li Chieh (李傑) will succeed Tang as chief of the general staff.

Tang's appointment is expected to be formally announced on Jan. 20. At the same time it is expected that details of a major reshuffle of the military top brass -- at and above the ranks of lieutenant general or vice admiral -- will also be announced.

This will be the largest reshuffle of the military leadership since Chen became president two years ago. It is to cover the leaders of all branches of the military and is widely seen as an important chance for Chen to consolidate his control of the military for the rest of his presidential term. Factionalism in the armed forces however, is seen as preventing the president from purging all the generals whose loyalty he finds suspect.

When Chen was first elected in 2000, there was considerable opposition in the officer corp -- dominated by mainlander unificationists -- to serving a DPP government.

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