The time has finally come for President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration to announce Representative to the US King Pu-tsung’s (金溥聰) long-rumored appointment to the post of National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general.
The rumors started circulating just one year after King, a long-time confidant of Ma’s, assumed his duties in Washington on Dec. 1, 2012.
Almost none of King’s predecessors have made it as apparent as he has that they took the job to fulfill a short-term mission.
Political analysts familiar with the “inner workings” of the Ma administration have predicted that King’s next step in the corridors of power is to be appointed Ma’s chief adviser on national security affairs, a post whose holder — if trusted enough by the president — is able to enjoy considerable autonomy and power without being subject to legislative supervision.
The chief adviser is also exempt from the ban prohibiting officials in the highest echelons of the government from visiting Washington.
Moreover, they preside over the annual high-level strategic meetings between Taiwan and the US, and are given a “free pass” to deal directly with the White House and senior US officials.
It is common knowledge among Taiwanese diplomatic experts that the US has a vital say in every major policy concerning the Taiwan Strait, including the issue of arms sales to Taiwan.
By placing King as NSC secretary-general, Ma is entrusting him with all of the government’s dealings with the US.
During King’s time in Washington, he attended a fundraiser held by former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton and participated in a “two-track” dialogue between Taipei, Beijing and Washington.
These gatherings were not aimed at making King a seasoned diplomat, but rather at helping him build connections in Washington, to gain a better understanding of the White House’s policymaking process and to familiarize himself with bilateral communication channels between Taiwan and the US.
Ma has made enforcing cross-strait policies and increasing Taiwan’s participation in international organizations the top priorities of his second term.
Currently, almost every official tasked with handling cross-strait affairs is inside Ma’s so-called “inner circle” and can work well with King.
It seems that Ma is hoping King’s history with the White House can help reduce its skepticism about Taipei holding political talks with Beijing.
King has been characterizing himself as a “key player,” which is probably why he has pushed himself to make public speeches and hold routine dialogues with journalists.
The job is demanding, especially for someone who is as afraid of “being wronged” by Taiwanese at home as King is.
The representative is insistent on correcting each news report he thinks has made false, malicious or unsubstantiated accusations against him.
This type of approach has exhausted not only himself, but also his subordinates at the news division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the US.
Although Taiwanese media mostly regard King as manipulating how information is spread and shunning any questions he does not feel like answering, some foreign diplomats and journalists have been impressed with his “soft side.”
They have described King as “charming,” which is a description that may surprise his political rivals.
The 57-year-old King served as Taipei deputy mayor from 2004 to 2006, when Ma was the city’s mayor.
In 2009, King was appointed secretary-general of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), of which Ma is chairman, one year after the latter was first elected into office in 2008.
He later served as executive director of Ma’s campaign office when the president was seeking re-election in 2012.
With about two years left in Ma’s second term, it remains uncertain whether King will live up to the high expectations of him and be able to accomplish the mission bestowed upon him by Ma.
Only one thing is certain — that King’s power to do whatever pleases him is unusual in a nation where Cabinet members are replaced as often as bedsheets.
Translated by staff writer Stacy Hsu