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APRIL 21, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 15 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK

The Trouble With Annette
Why the vice president-elect is under fire
By ALLEN T. CHENG

China doesn't mince words when it dislikes you. Taiwan's vice president-elect Annette Lu Hsiu-lien found that out when Beijing called her "the scum of the nation" for describing Taiwan as a "sovereign state" and saying that though "Taiwan and the mainland were geographically close," history had made the two "distant relatives." But Lu, 56, is a big girl, firing right back that Beijing was "unprepared" to address Taiwan's democracy.

At a time when president-elect Chen Shui-bian is trying to play the peacemaker role with China by appearing as conciliatory as possible, his deputy is taking the opposite tack. From as early as victory night on March 18, it was clear that Lu wasn't willing to follow the efforts by Chen and Democratic Progressive Party chairman Lin I-hsiung to tone down the party's once-ardent pro-independence stance. Despite a warning from Lin, Lu handed to the media a speech that attacked the DPP's losing rivals as well as the mainland for trying to interfere in Taiwan's second direct presidential election. Party officials took one look at the speech and immediately ordered Lu not to read it.

Lu wasn't happy. In an interview with local media, she later complained that Chen was treating her like a "flower vase," and was keeping her out of major decisions. "Why does society expect the vice president to play dumb and mute?" she asked rhetorically. DPP chairman Lin immediately counter-attacked: Lu doesn't understand Taiwan's Constitution, which places the powers of governance in the hands of the president, with the vice president only a leader-in-waiting. "It is Lu's style of running things in her own way," says commentator Andrew Yang. "She is famous for her independent approach and often is an unguided missile in her comments. She will be a liability for president Chen as well as the DPP."

It's clear that an internal power struggle is taking place within the DPP to decide how to deal with mainland China. "Annette Lu's days aren't long," says a business tycoon close to Chen's camp. "He'll find a way to get rid of her." Actually, it's unlikely that Chen can get rid of Lu given that she is, after all, his elected running mate. Instead, Chen, a pragmatic politician, will maneuver behind the scenes to rein in his vice president. Lu, for her part, denied any bust-up with Chen: "I do not have any personal problems with the president."

Born in 1944 into a poor, traditional Taiwanese family in Taoyuan county near Taipei, Lu was an unwanted daughter. Her parents tried twice to put her up for adoption when she was a little girl but were convinced by her older brother to keep her in the family. Lu excelled at school, graduating with honors in law from National Taiwan University in 1967 and later earning a master's degree before completing her studies at Harvard. Her harsh background as an unwanted daughter laid the groundwork for her to launch Taiwan's feminist movement in the late 1970s. Her cause later propelled her into politics as a fighter for Taiwanese democratic rights. Lu was one of the founders of the anti-Kuomintang opposition, part of which coalesced into the DPP. It was her involvement in the opposition that landed her in jail for five years in the early 1980s and made her a rising star within the DPP.

But from early on Lu also exhibited a dominant personality and always tried to blaze her own path, say people once close to her. "She's overly ambitious and uses the feminist issue to hit male politicians," says Linda Gail Arrigo, the ex-wife of onetime DPP chairman Shih Ming-teh and a former confidante of Lu's. "She's a one-woman show." Arrigo, however, believes Lu will fall in line over time. "She is by no means in the Taiwan independence camp," she says. "She's just ambitious and wants publicity for herself." Which may cost her. Says Wei Wou, a senior KMT member:"Just watch, she will be ostracized within the DPP over time."

Wei, who also is an academic with close ties to leaders in Beijing, adds that China hasn't given up hope on Chen. "Annette Lu's words don't count," he says. "Chen Shui-bian's do. China will watch what he says on May 20 [inauguration day]. If he doesn't say anything accommodating then, relations will sour into conflict down the road." Beijing wants Chen to adhere to or at least mention some variation of the "one-China" principle, which it says is the pre-condition to future cross-strait talks. So far, Chen is only willing to discuss one China as an issue. Beijing is also pressuring Chen on this front by warning the Taiwan business community that their investments on the mainland could be affected if they back independence for the island.

As for Lu, her cry for a bigger role is likely to go unheeded. Chen's premier is Tang Fei, who is a KMT member, was defense minister in the Lee Teng-hui government, and is against independence. It is Tang, not Lu, who will work with Chen to drive cross-strait peace talks. The scenario illustrates how quickly and dramatically the DPP has changed its China stance since being voted into power - to the ironic point that Lu is now out of place within the very party she helped found.

Write to Asiaweek at mail@web.asiaweek.com

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