Fri, Feb 07, 2003 - Page 4 News List

From policeman to spokesman

TURNS The career path of the new foreign ministry frontman Richard Shih has taken him to Grenada, New Zealand and the US, but he admits his latest role will be his toughest test to date

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

New foreign ministry spokesman Richard Shih is ready to take on the challenges of his new job.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

When Richard Shih (石瑞琦) dropped his admission to Fujen Catholic University to study at Central Police College in the 1970s, it marked the start of his dream to become a police officer. But that dream only came about after his mother dissuaded him -- the only son in the family -- from joining the military.

However, three decades and numerous career twists and turns later, Shih emerged this month in his new role of foreign ministry spokesman, saying that in hindsight he's still following his distant dream of serving as a soldier -- though a soldier of a different sort.

"It's been my aspiration to become a soldier to defend my nation and safeguard the people. To work as a diplomat, in a way, serves that purpose -- although the task takes place at the diplomatic front," the 46-year-old Shih said.

Recalling his past leading up to his 20-year career as a diplomat, Shih said was his two and a half years working as as a security officer for former premier Sun Yun-suan (孫運璿) that inspired him to become a diplomat.

"I accompanied the former premier during his trip to Central and South America, South Korea and Indonesia. All the three overseas trips made me think the world outside was so vast," Shih said.

The son of late Colonel Shih Lien-shan (石連三), Shih then passed a standard test for his recruitment by the foreign ministry in 1982.

Shih's first overseas post was in Seattle from 1986 to 1991, followed by his work at Taiwan's embassy in Grenada from 1991 to 1994. In 1996, after working for a few years in Taipei, he was elevated to lead the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Auckland up until 2001.

Before serving at his previous post as the deputy director of the ministry's non-governmental organization affairs committee, he was deputy director general of the ministry's department of Asian and Pacific affairs.

Reviewing his career as a diplomat, Shih said was a "meaningful" task to be able to represent Taiwan when he served overseas, although China's continuous battle to frustrate Taiwan has made his work even more challenging.

"Even when I was serving at the non-governmental organization affairs committee, all we dealt with everyday was China's obstructions in one way or another," Shih said, while adding the pressure from Beijing has perhaps forced Taiwanese diplomats to seek imaginative solutions for the sake of Taiwan's national survival.

But when Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) notified Shih at the New Year that he was handpicked to succeed Katharine Chang (張小月) to act as the ministry spokesman, Shih did not hide his misgivings.

"I was very surprised when I was notified of the job as the spokesperson is in charge of the ministry's external work," Shih said, sitting in the foreign ministry's restaurant one afternoon before the Lunar New Year.

Shih said although this year marks his 20th year at the ministry, he has never taken up any post at the ministry's department of information and cultural affairs.

"But now that the minister has assigned me to take up the post, I'll do my best," Shih said.

But when the word of his new assignment reached his family -- wife Sophia Shih (宋勇輝) and his two sons -- they did have some reservations about his new job.

"My wife simply said to me, `Are you sure you are up to the task? Do you really look like one [a spokesman]?'" Shih said, grinning.

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