State-owned Central News Agency called it a “surprise,” but it was anything but. National Security Council (NSC) Secretary-General Su Chi (蘇起) announced his resignation today, stating “health” and “family” reasons. Of course, his role in the US-beef debacle late last year, added to immediate voting considerations for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), are the main reasons why he is leaving his post. As I argued in an analysis last month, though a close confidant to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Su’s image as NSC chief had become toxic for the administration. With calls for his resignation mounting, it no longer was a question of if, but when.
The timing, just one day before the nation goes on an 11-day Lunar New Year holiday, was perfect, as the story will be quickly forgotten and the blow to the image of the Ma administration will be minimal.
With Su’s resignation already approved by his former high-school buddy Ma, in comes Hu Wei-jen (胡為真) to replace him. Hu, a retired diplomat with 35 years of experience, was a first deputy director of the National Security Bureau, NSC vice chairman under former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and served as the nation’s envoy to Germany and Singapore. He resigned from his post in Singapore in 2007 in protest at the Chen administration’s “de-sinification” campaign.
“Since we are all clearly Chinese, I do not approve of some of the policies [adopted by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration],” he famously said upon his resignation.
After leaving Singapore, Hu went to Harvard University, where he served as a visiting scholar.
Hu’s critics said he had a tendency to put his personal views above his political duties, which explains why his tenure under the DPP government was not a smooth one. Based on his comments, it is clear that he is of the old KMT mentality of adherence to the Republic of China and that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are “Chinese.” In that respect at least, this will ensure continuity at the NSC, because this was also Su’s position. As Su fell out of favor with the US — which many sources in Washington confirmed — Hu’s presence at Harvard may have given US officials some time to get to know him. In other words, he might be “acceptable” to US officials who no longer wanted anything to do with Su.
We can also expect that Hu will play a less controversial, “back-seat” role at the NSC, as it has proven clear that Su’s publicity-attracting role caused Ma headaches and undermined the party’s image. His influence on Ma will certainly be less than Su’s, especially with King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) serving as KMT secretary-general, who was brought in fix the party’s image and address disunity.
For pan-green supporters who wanted Su to remain at the NSC because his presence made Ma’s life more difficult (and therefore further discredited the KMT), his stepping down might not be welcome. But we can look at it differently and breathe in relief, as this removes from the top echelon of government an official who had questionable ties with the Chinese Communist Party and who was a dangerous influence on the president. It does not appear that Hu’s ties with Beijing are as close as Su’s.
Here’s a little bit of background. Hu is the son of Army general Hu Zongnan (胡宗南), the “Eagle of the North-West,” who was one of Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) commanders. Historical documents show that Hu’s confidential secretary tipped off the Communist leadership before an attack on Yenan in the spring of 1947, giving them plenty of time to flee ahead of the operation. In their biography of Mao Zedong (毛澤東), Jung Chang and John Halliday claim that Hu father was a Communist “sleeper” who “engineered repeated disasters that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of KMT soldiers” (quoted in Fenby, 337). After the publication of their book, Hu Wei-jen asked Jung and Halliday to rewrite the part about his father.