Mon, Feb 10, 2003 - Page 3 News List

`Old Kang' a political war-horse

CONSTANCY A household name in the 1970s and a leader of the democracy movement, Kang Ning-hsiang has shown the country his discipline and endurance

By Lin Mei-chun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Kang Ning-hsiang, once the head of the country's opposition movement, is now National Security Council secretary-general.


At 64, Kang Ning-hsiang (康寧祥) was recently appointed to head the National Security Council (NSC). As one of the most senior opposition leaders during the martial-law era, Kang has seen a lot during his political career.

Doyen of the opposition movement in the 1970s and early 1980s, Kang now finds himself back on the political frontline after two decades in which he was shunned by mainstream members of the DPP as the party grew and prospered.

Unknown to most of the younger generation, Old Kang (老康), as he was known then -- an affectionate label reflecting his stature within the opposition movement of the time -- was a household name some 30 years ago.

In 1975, Time magazine named Kang as Asia's rising political star. He helped to nurture the careers of many current DPP politicians and served as an inspiration to many others.

Initially planning to stay on as a member of the Control Yuan until retirement, Kang was persuaded to serve as vice minister of national defense in June last year.

After only half a year at the ministry, Kang had to be moved -- not because he was unfit for the job, but because he was outshining his boss, Minister of National Defense Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明).

Under the policy of civilian control, Tang had attempted to resign twice because he seemed uneasy with Kang's company.

Kang is the fourth secretary-general of the NSC since President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) took office, succeeding incoming Presidential Office Secretary-General Chiou I-jen (邱義仁).

Chiou's predecessors were the former director of the National Security Bureau, Ting Yu-chou (丁渝洲), and the late admiral Chuang Ming-yao (莊銘耀).

Ups and downs

The changing fortunes of Kang's career reflect the dramatic changes in Taiwan's political development, from the exciting and precarious opposition movement to the process of democratic consolidation.

Kang earned a bachelor's degree in public administration from National Chunghsiung University in 1957. Growing up in Wanhua (萬華), one of Taipei's least developed districts, and having worked at a gas station, he was elected as a Taipei City councilor in 1969. Three years later, he was elected as a legislator, holding his seat for 10 years.

A charismatic figure and passionate orator with a distinctly husky voice, Kang was a popular politician from the beginning. Many people were moved by his speeches and inspired by his strong sense of Taiwanese awareness to join the opposition movement.

Hard-working and someone who lives modestly, Kang was the first tang wai (黨外), outside the party, politician to foster close ties with liberal mainland intellectuals and KMT dissident faction leaders. He also had close contact with Japanese-educated Taiwanese intellectuals.

Partly through his experience in the legislature and partly through the influence of liberal scholars and senior politicians, Kang developed his well-known philosophy that, to gain power, "one should demonstrate one's wisdom in the legislative chamber, rather than showing one's strength on the street."

When Taiwan was under martial law, this strategy was unpopular among his more radical young comrades.

Kang was the first tang wai leader to focus on national budgets, government organization, national defense, cross-strait issues and international affairs.

Push for democratization

He was also the first to develop coordinated action between overseas Taiwanese and activists within Taiwan to push for the nation's democratization. That made him a leader of opposition movement.

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