Mon, Jul 14, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Newsmaker: Koo still harbors hopes of cross-strait reconciliation

NO WAY OUT The Straits Exchange Foundation chairman recently tried to resign because of ill health but President Chen quickly got him back on board

By Sandy Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

When local media reported last week that Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) had intended to resign from his post for health reasons, the news drew not only the public's concerned gaze upon Koo's feeble health state, but also led the public to realize how 86-year old Koo, with every year passing by, has been racing against time hoping to meet with his 89-year old Chinese counterpart Wang Daohan (汪道涵), president of China's Association of Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS).

Koo was never shy expressing his wish of wanting to meet with his old friend -- as Koo likes to address Wang. Given the present cross-strait situation however, one wonders as to when the meet between the two elderly men could be realized and thus marking another break-through in cross-strait relations.

Presidential Office spokesman James Huang (黃志芳) confirmed that during a meeting with Koo earlier this month, Chen had asked Koo to stay on in his post to continue leading the foundation.

Koo, courtly and soft-spoken, was re-elected last Dec. 2 as the foundation's chairman, a post he has held since 1991.

"President Chen met with Koo, who is also a senior advisor to the president, at the Presidential Office on July 3 and asked for his advice on cross-strait relations and the international situation," Huang said.

"The president was very concerned about Koo's health," Huang added, "saying that the government needs his incomparable experience in cross-strait communication. The president asked him to attach importance to national affairs to therefore continue to lead the foundation."

Koo accepted Chen's opinion, Huang said.

Koo's reported intention to resign had also drawn media speculation that Legislator Chang Chun-hung (張俊宏), who also serves as SEF vice chairman, desired for the SEF chairmanship.

Dismissed the rumor, Chang said he is in full support behind Koo's leading of the foundation.

Koo went to the US earlier this year for a routine kidney check-up though his health has reportedly not improved significantly.

In addition to concern over his health, family business is reportedly another issue that prompted Koo's intention to resign.

Koo, aside from his role as a veteran cross-strait negotiator, is also the head of his family's powerful business empire, the Koo's Group

Koo may face a challenge ahead in cleaning up the mess left behind by his deceased eldest son, Chester Koo (辜啟允) -- who died of gall-bladder cancer at the age of 48 in 2001 -- at Taiwan Cement, which has a liability of NT$50 billion.

The Koo family business recently split into two groups, one headed by Koo himself and the other by his 69-year-old nephew Jeffrey Koo (辜濂松), chairman and chief executive officer of Chinatrust Financial Holding Co.

Financial expert Hsieh Chin-ho (謝金河) said the Koo family's split-up had nothing to do with a family feud. Instead, it is based on the business practice of "minding your own business."

Hsieh added that the family appears to have retained a good working relationship among its members, though Jeffrey Koo's business outperformed Koo Chen-fu's ill-performing China Life Insurance in December 2001.

Koo is known for his passion in Beijing opera. During his visit to china Shanghais in 1998, Koo's hosts catered to his love of Beijing opera by arranging the Shanghai Beijing Opera Troupe and others to perform, during which Koo joined in at one point.

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