NEWSMAKER: King Pu-tsung takes on the role of presidential pitbull*



Mo Yan-chih  /  Staff Reporter


As President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) closest aide, King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) once again found himself at the center of controversy over comments he made on the possibility of Ma visiting China, forcing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) into a debate on cross-strait policies while the two were visiting the US last month.

During a trip designed to boost Ma’s momentum among Taiwanese in the US, King told Hong Kong-based Phoenix Satellite Television that “there is a possibility” that Ma could visit China if he wins a second term in January’s presidential election. Later at a press conference in Washington, he also talked about a possible cross-strait peace accord.

The comments immediately drew criticism from the DPP, which accused King of breaching government protocol by discussing cross-strait policies despite not being a government official.

Even critics who generally perceived as being more sympathetic to the pan-blue camp challenged King’s authority to make such comments.

Political commentator Huang Chuang-hsia (黃創夏) slammed King in a blog, saying he exploited his status as Ma’s closest aide to discuss the “taboo” subject of a possible Ma visit to China.

“Would Beijing ever recognize Ma as president of the Republic of China [ROC]? It’s ridiculous to come up with the idea that Ma could visit China as KMT chairman. As Ma’s closest aide, King should not touch upon such an issue and leave room for debate,” he said.

King’s patent ignorance of how government works and reckless discussion of cross-strait policies could only damage Ma’s re--election bid, Huang added.

The People First Party (PFP), once a close ally of the KMT, also raised doubts about King’s discussion of government policies.

“All we see recently is a heated war of words on policy platforms between Mr King and Chairperson Tsai, and it confuses many people because we do not know who is representing the KMT in running for the presidency,” PFP spokesperson Vivian Huang (黃珊珊) said.

Political analyst Wang Yeh-li (王業立) said that as Ma’s top aide and confidant, King’s words represent Ma’s intentions.

His rhetoric on cross-strait policies during the US trip was an election strategy designed to focus the presidential election campaign on cross-strait issues, and prevent Tsai from stealing the show on her first trip to the US as the DPP presidential candidate, Wang said.

“King’s comments on cross-strait policies met with harsh criticism, but strategically, he forced Tsai to discuss cross-strait policy and played down the significance of her US trip,” he said.

Tsai visited the US on Sept. 12 to drum up support for her presidential campaign and to establish communications with the US administration. Her trip was preceded by King, who left for a 13-day trip to the US on Sept. 2 to boost Ma’s overseas support.

Shih Cheng-feng (施正鋒), a political critic from National Dong Hwa University, said it was strategically understandable that King went to the US on behalf of Ma, who, as president, is unable to do so in person.

However, the real task for media-savvy King is the organization and mobilization of local factions for January’s presidential and legislative elections, Shih said.

“Ma’s problematic relations with the KMT’s old guard and local-faction legislators are old problems that are always a potential danger in elections,” he said. “Election mobilization and resource integration are two of King’s weak spots and he needs to work harder on those issues.”

King, 56, became one of Ma’s top aides after joining his campaign team and helping him win the Taipei mayoral election in 1997.

Often referred to as “King the knife,” he is known for his sharp attacks on Ma’s political rivals and has developed a close working relationship with Ma, having helped Ma win every major election during his political career, from the Taipei mayoral elections, to the KMT chairmanship and presidential election in 2008.

Now that Ma is seeking re--election, his campaign manager is up to his old tricks, Wang said. As Ma’s most trusted lieutenant, King will continue to be his spokesperson, playing a central role in Ma’s election campaign.

“Regardless of public reaction to what he says or does, King will remain the executor of Ma’s will,” he said.

Ma has defended King’s trip to the US as an opportunity to promote Taiwanese policies in that country. King, who is heading to Japan at the end of this month, dismissed the Tsai camp’s concerns that he would resort to the same tactics, saying that he would visit Japan after Tsai returned from her Japan trip early this month.

 * Taipei Times 2011/10/02