Tue, Mar 19, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Newsmakers: Lin Hsin-yi proves to be a beacon for controversy

PROFILE Though 56-year-old Lin Hsin-yi never planned a political career, he's been at the center of several high-profile disputes in the years since taking public office

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Yesterday a friend. Today a foe.

Lin Hsin-yi (林信義), vice premier and chairman of the Council for Economic Planning and Development, is learning first hand about the Alzheimer's disease that sometimes affects Taiwan's politics.

Last week, TSU lawmakers called on Lin to step down from his posts. The pro-independence party of 13 legislators is upset with Lin for advocating allowing Taiwanese chipmakers to set up eight-inch wafer fabs in China.

They also say Lin -- while serving as minister of economic affairs -- was misled into believing that 12-inch wafer manufacturing is already the industry norm. (While many chipmakers are moving into the advanced technology, the bulk of wafers made today are still the eight-inch variety).

But while the TSU has taken Lin to task for his stance on the wafer issue, many of the group's members and ideological supporters found in Lin a savior on another contentious issue two years ago.

It was Lin who recommended that the proposed Fourth Nuclear Power Plant be scrapped -- a decision that landed the DPP government in hot water with the opposition-dominated legislature and led to a constitutional interpretation by the Council of Grand Justices.

The decision -- which later had to be reversed because of the council's interpretation -- earned Lin praise from the anti-nuclear movement and demands from the opposition that he resign as economics minister.

While the TSU doesn't speak for everyone in the anti-nuclear movement, there is some overlap between the environmentalists those opposed to allowing eight-inch wafer investment in China, such as the Taiwan Association of University Professors. Also, Shu Chin-chiang (蘇進強), TSU's former spokesman and now a member of the National Security Council, supported scrapping the power plant but opposes Lin on the wafer issue.

The TSU and the university professors say the government should wait until 12-inch fabs reach full speed before allowing eight-inch wafer technology to migrate to China.

But Lin says they should be allowed to set up shop now and has dismissed TSU allegations that he had been given incorrect information when weighing the issue.

"I don't think I've been fed with false information," he said last week. "Besides, the information [provided by Industrial Development Bureau] is purely for reference purposes and doesn't represent the government's final decision."

The government is expected to announce its policy on the eight-inch wafer issue by the end of this month.

Taiwan's Iococa

Dubbed "Taiwan's Lee Iococa," Lin, 56, is the first entrepreneur to become a Cabinet official in Taiwan's history.

During his five years as president of China Motor Corp (中華汽車), Lin helped save the automaker from going belly up.

He also put himself on the map by taking China Motor to China, establish its first car plant in Fujian Province during his three-year stint as the company's vice chairman between 1997 and 2000.

In establishing the plant, Lin brought along more than 30 downstream manufacturers of car parts -- making China Motor one of Taiwan's early successful investors in China.

His hands-on experience in the industrial sector and extensive political connections quickly won the attention and appreciation of the KMT and DPP governments.

In 1997, then premier Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) asked Lin to head the Cabinet's Central Personnel Administration. But Lin turned down the offer, bowing to pressure from his boss and wife.

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