Thursday, October 8, 2009

Taiwan Appoints New Defense Minister

Defense News


Taiwan Appoints New Defense Minister

By Wendell Minnick

Taipei - Taiwan Premier Wu Den-yih named Kao Hua-chu, 63, as national defense minister Sept. 9.

The appointment is part of a Cabinet reshuffle following criticism of the government's slow response to Typhoon Morakot, which killed more than 500 in southern Taiwan on Aug. 7-9.

Kao, the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Commission and a former Army general, has a reputation for being both a maverick and a good bureaucrat who knows how to get things done, a Taiwanese defense official said.

Kao is expected to conduct "business as usual in carrying out defense reform," said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of Chinese Advanced Policy Studies (CAPS), a think tank based here. "He will follow … orders [from President Ma Ying-jeou] to conduct necessary reforms and maintain good relations with the Legislative Yuan to get a sufficient budget."

Kao replaces Chen Chao-min, 70, as national defense minister. Chen resigned after drawing criticism for bungling the military's response to the typhoon. Chen, a former Air Force officer, held the position since 2008. He also had been the center of a recent political scandal when former president Chen Shui-bian filed a slander case against him after comments made during a legislative hearing.

In the rescue efforts, Kao is seen as a hero for his early on-the-ground leadership in areas devastated by Morakot. Kao was then appointed as the leading deputy executive officer of the Executive Yuan's Post-Disaster Reconstruction Commission.

Kao earned his spurs in disaster management during the Sept. 21, 1999, earthquake that killed more than 2,400 people in central Taiwan. At the time, Kao, the commander of the 10th Army Corps, led search-and-rescue efforts after the earthquake. Under Kao's command, the Army also took the lead in reconstruction efforts in disaster areas.

Kao's reputation for toughness and "grace under pressure" began when he survived a 1974 helicopter crash involving two Army UH-1H helicopters that killed 13 soldiers. Kao is credited with saving Yu Hao-chang, the Army's commander in chief, by pulling him to safety despite breaking both his feet.

Since graduating from the Republic of China Military Academy in 1968, Kao has held a variety of command positions, including chief of the 10th Army Corps, deputy commander-in-chief of the Army, and commanding general of the Combined Logistics Command. However, Kao is only one of three defense ministers who have not served as a commanding general of the Army, Navy or Air Force.