Tue, Jan 04, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Koo one of the nation's most important figures

ACHIEVEMENT Hailing from one of the most influential families in Taiwan, Koo Chen-fu excelled as an industrialist and helped build the framework for cross-strait relations

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Koo Chen-fu, a lover of Beijing opera, performs the role of Wu Tzi-hsu, a great statesman and soldier and the subject of many stirring operas. The photo was taken May 22, 1996 at the then newly constructed Novel Hall for Performing Arts in Taipei.

PHOTO: CNA

"With Koo's passing, we lose a well-respected proponent of peace. It is a great loss for both sides of the Taiwan Strait," Mainland Affairs Council Chairman Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said yesterday while paying his respects to Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) after he passed away. He was 88.

"Acting as the Straits Exchange Foundation chairman, Koo took on the important task of cross-strait negotiations in 1990 with the establishment of the foundation, and in 1993 and 1998 he successfully opened an era of cross-strait dialogue," Wu added, highlighting Koo's achievements in the thorny area of cross-strait affairs.

Just last month, Koo's three daughters and son, asked the public to submit pictures of their well-known father. Koo's eldest daughter, Koo Huai-chun (辜懷群), explained the family's documentary project in a statement, saying that her father had been not only a witness to history but a maker of history as well.

Indeed, while Koo Chen-fu never officially held public office, he will be remembered as one of the nation's most influential civic figures.

He wore many hats: The nation's de facto envoy to China, high-profile business tycoon, associate of former President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), presidential advisor and a renowned patron of Chinese opera and the traditional arts. His achievements also span a wide spectrum, from his success in establishing cross-strait negotiations to appearing on Forbes magazine's list of the world's richest people, and the reconstruction of the Novel Hall for Performing Arts in Taipei.

Born in Taipei and raised in Changhua County, the fifth son of a well-to-do merchant, Koo attended National Taiwan University (known as the Taipei Imperial University during the Japanese colonial period) to study politics.

His business career was given a jumpstart when his father died in 1937 while he was in his sophomore year in college, leaving the 20-year-old in charge of seven companies.

Koo completed his degree in 1940 before pursuing graduate studies in Japan and later in the US. While Koo is known to be fluent in Japanese and English, he is also known for his stubborn insistence on Mandarin.

As a businessman, Koo proved to be insightful and successful, building a business empire of over 90 firms.

When the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) claimed Taiwan after World War II, the Koo family had already established itself as one of the largest and most prominent families in Taiwan. They were known as the "Koos of Lukang" (鹿港辜家).

During the KMT government's land reform project, the Koo family bolstered their assets, accepting stocks in exchange for land, a trade-off that eventually proved to be very valuable. He was later put in charge of Taiwan Cement Corp in 1973.

It was around the same time that Koo founded the Koo's Group (和信集團) and built it into one of Taiwan's top ten businesses.

When the group split into two independent business groups in 2003, it controlled key units, such as Taiwan Cement, Taiwan Polypropylene, China Synthetic Rubber and KG Telecommunications Co, Chinatrust Financial Holding Co, KGI Securities, China Life Insurance and Chailease Finance Corp.

However, Koo did not seem content with his success in the business world, and took steps to influence politics as well. One of his earliest stints in politics landed him into jail for 19 months -- but this did not deter him from returning to become a key figure in national affairs.

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