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Taiwan's President Takes Over Leadership of his Party - 2002-07-21


Taiwan's president has taken over the leadership of his party, in a move designed to bring more political harmony and stability. This also could mark a shift in his government's strategy for dealing with Beijing.

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian officially became chairman of his ruling Democratic Progressive Party Sunday, after a day-long party congress.

Mr. Chen says he believes the new rules allowing him to serve in both positions will bring party policy in line with government policy. Factional fighting has plagued the president during the first half of his term, especially after the president gave key Cabinet jobs to members of the previous nationalist administration, rather than to pro-independence DPP party loyalists.

During the first two years in office, Mr. Chen adopted a public stance of political neutrality, since he won the presidency with only 39 percent of the popular vote, and his party does not have a legislative majority. But with less than two years until he must stand for re-election, President Chen needs to unite his often fractious party to address the faltering economy, political deadlock with the legislature and to improve relations with Beijing over Taiwan's status.

By taking over the helm of the DPP, Mr. Chen may be hoping that Beijing will be more willing to engage in party-to-party talks to bypass issues that have thwarted progress so far. Taiwan has been governed separately from China since the Chinese civil war ended in 1949. However, Beijing has continued to claim sovereignty over the island, and has threatened military action, should Taiwan declare outright independence, or fail to reunite with the mainland.

Interim steps - such as efforts to re-establish direct trade and transportation routes - have faltered. The main obstacle has been the Chen administration's refusal to agree to Beijing's demand that Taiwan acknowledge it is a part of China. Beijing has also been loath to talk with DPP politicians, until the party removes language in its platform advocating independence.

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