Former official in charge of China policy appointed Taiwan's new vice premier

Tsai Ing-wen, former head of a Cabinet-level agency in charge of China policy, will be appointed Taiwan's new vice premier, the premier-designate said on Friday.

The selection of Tsai was announced by Su Tseng-chang, former chairman of Democratic Progressive Party who was appointed premier by President Chen Shui-bian on Thursday.

A DPP lawmaker, the 49-year-old Tsai was former head of the Mainland Affairs Council, and played a key role in advising President Chen Shui-bian on China policy. She has a doctorate from the London School of Economics and is widely regarded as a cool-headed strategist.

A legal expert by training, Tsai can be expected to fill in some major gaps for Su, who has keen political skills, but little experience in international affairs or cross-Strait relations.

As MAC chairman between 2000 and 2004, she reportedly made several secret trips to Washington to help ease American worries about Chen's independence-leaning stance.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, and the volatile question of cross-straits relations remains the key issue on the self-governing island of 23 million people.

Chen and the ruling DPP favor strengthening Taiwan's status as a self-governing entity, a stance that has earned them widespread scorn _ and an official boycott _ from the mainland leadership. By contrast, the opposition Nationalist Party supports eventual unification, and wants an immediate expansion in cross-Strait trade and transportation links.

Taiwan's current premier, Frank Hsieh, is scheduled to lead his ministers to resign on masse on Monday to pave the way for a Cabinet reshuffle, the AP reports.

Addressing a business gathering on Friday, Hsieh for the first time confirmed that he disagreed with Chen for refusing to lift a 57-year-old ban on direct air and shipping links with China.

A.M.