TAIPEI (Reuters) – Eric Chu will take over as leader of Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang (KMT) on Saturday, inheriting an unpopular party seen as favouring big business and the mainland at a time of growing scepticism about ties with Beijing.
Chu, 53, faces a balancing act – being seen to distance himself from the mainland to win back domestic support but not so much as to alarm Beijing’s leaders and damage burgeoning commercial ties.
Mainland China and Taiwan have been at odds since the end of China’s civil war when the KMT fled to the island leaving the Communists running the mainland.
But the old enemies have always agreed upon “one China” and Beijing would rather see the KMT ruling the US-allied island than the pro-independence opposition.
Chu, a former KMT lawmaker, appears to be trusted by China.
But if he cannot improve the KMT’s image and convince young and middle-class voters that cross-strait ties do not just benefit the wealthy, the party’s candidate for the presidency, who could well be Chu, faces defeat in an election next year when President Ma Ying-jeou steps down.
“China is comfortable with Chu taking charge of the KMT … It has been trying to build mutual trust,” said Tung Chen-yuan, a professor at the National Chengchi University and former vice chairman of Taiwan’s China policy-making body.