Taiwan set for collective rule

Taiwan appears to be set for a period of collective leadership, as its ailing President, Chiang Ching-kuo, prepares to transfer power to a younger generation. With the political caution that is his trademark, President Chiang appeared to designate his successor during a meeting of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT, or Nationalist Party) that ended this week. At the same time, Chiang is preparing for a decentralized administration in which presidential power will be distributed among a number of senior party and government officials, analysts say.

This solution to the island's succession crisis marks a significant departure for the KMT, which has traditionally been centered around a single powerful personality. In this, some KMT sources liken Taiwan's current political direction to China's.

``With Chiang and Deng [Xiaoping, China's top leader], it's the same thing,'' one party cadreman says. ``In the future we want to change the type of leadership we have -- away from a strong central figure.''

In promoting Vice-President Lee Teng-hui to third-ranked member of the party's Central Standing Committee, Chiang has confirmed him as the presidential heir-apparent, analysts say. Mr. Lee was ranked 10th on the committee.

But Chiang failed to indicate who would replace him as party chairman -- a post that is the key to power in Taiwan's hierarchy. Many observers expected Lee to be given the additional title of party vice-chairman, which would have put him in line to succeed Chiang in both of his major capacities.

As a native of Taiwan, Lee's elevation is also intended as a symbol of Chiang's campaign to bring more Taiwanese into senior posts in the party and government -- both of which are dominated by ``mainlanders,'' people who fled from the mainland with Chiang Kai-shek in 1949.

Through a series of retirements and appointments announced during the plenum, two more native Taiwanese officials were added to the 31-member Standing Committee, bringing their share of seats to nearly half. But analysts say island-born officials have not been given positions of real influence.

``They have no personal power, which is the essence of Chinese politics,'' says David O'Rear, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Business International and the author of a recent study of Taiwan.

The plenum was also a display of Chiang's determination to replace aging party officials with younger ones. But the gradual promotion of younger leaders has not yet led to significant change in the island's long-standing conservatism -- particularly in its policies toward the mainland.

The party plenum did, however, adopt a newly activist policy toward furthering Taiwan's relations with other countries, even if they are limited to unofficial ties. The effort clearly reflects increasing anxiety as China develops into a diplomatic and economic power. Party sources said the new initiative will be aimed partly at improving ties with the United States and Japan. The campaign is also a response to gains Peking has made in enlisting support for its modernization drive among overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. But any new flexibility in foreign policy, analysts say, is likely to hinge on the retirement of more senior KMT members.

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