Taiwan’s Premier Su Tseng-chang has tendered his resignation, leaving President Tsai Ing-wen to make a crucial appointment for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party as it seeks an unprecedented third straight term in power in next year’s presidential election.
Su, Taiwan’s longest-serving premier since its first democratic elections in 1996, requested the president form a new Cabinet in a statement Thursday, just hours after the legislature had approved the government’s 2023 budget. Epidemiologist Chen Chien-jen, who served as Tsai’s vice president during her first term between 2016 and 2020, is expected to take up the post of premier, United Daily News reported last week.
In a statement, Su said his appointment as premier in 2019 had come unexpectedly and the opportunity to serve the public over the past four years had been “the greatest honor of my life.”
Tsai expressed her thanks to Su, according to a statement from the Presidential Office, and assured the public the government would assemble a new Cabinet over the coming Lunar New Year holiday.
The reshuffle comes as Tsai attempts to rebuild public faith in her government after her party’s major losses in local elections last November.
The choice of who to will run the cabinet ahead of next January’s election will likely have a major bearing on the outcome of the race. No political party has managed to hold on to the presidency for more than two consecutive terms since democratization.
Tsai, who is unable to run again having already served two terms, will seek to ensure her party, which asserts Taiwan is an already de facto independent nation, maintains its hold on power in the face of increasing military and economic pressure from China. Beijing views the island as a part of its territory and threatens to take control of it by force if necessary.
The new premier will be tasked with continuing the Tsai administration’s significant expansion of ties with the US as both governments seek stronger partnerships in the face of an increasingly assertive Beijing. US lawmakers last month agreed to a spending bill that included $2 billion in weapons funding for Taiwan next year and as much as $10 billion through 2027. Visits to Taipei by US lawmakers also surged to their highest in at least a decade last year, including a high-profile trip by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August.
Officials from the US and Taiwan also concluded trade talks in Taipei this week.
China has reacted furiously to the increasingly frequency and seniority of engagement between Washington and Taipei, accusing them of “military collusion.” The Chinese military sent some 1,700 of its warplanes into Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone last year, and more than 660 ships into nearby waters, according to data from the Defense Ministry in Taipei.
The outgoing Premier Su is notable for holding onto the normally high-turnover post for more than four years, providing a rare period of relative domestic stability in Taiwanese politics.
Whoever ends up succeeding Su would become Tsai’s fourth premier since coming to power in 2016. Before Su took on the post, the average duration of a premier’s term since the first democratic elections in 1996 was 16 months. –BLOOMBERG