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2005-03-16 08:18:00
American Institute Taiwan, Taipei
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TAIPEI 001125 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/15/2015

REASON: 1.4(B/D).


1. (C) In an initial call by AIT/K Branch Chief on newly
appointed Kaohsiung Acting Mayor Chen Chi-Mai, Chen described
himself as a DPP moderate who sees expanded cross-Strait
economic ties as the best way to build confidence across the
Strait. Widely seen as a protege of President Chen, Mayor
Chen took office last month to serve out the remaining 22
months of now-Premier Frank Hsieh's term as Kaohsiung Mayor.
A former three-term legislator from Kaohsiung, Chen is the
son of former Presidential Office Deputy Secretary General
Chen Che-nan, himself a major powerbroker in Kaohsiung
politics. Chen saw Beijing's passage of an Anti-Secession
Law as a major mistake and said a Taiwan reaction was
inevitable, likely to include a freeze on progress in
cross-Strait flights as well as a major Legislative Yuan
debate and action. He believed a referendum would be
proposed and fail, but might lead the LY to lower the
threshold requirements for holding referenda in the future.
Surprisingly, Chen made a point of discounting the widespread
belief that he was appointed because of support from
President Chen, instead attributing his appointment to
Premier Hsieh's recommendation. Chen expressed optimism for,
and implicit support of, Hsieh's chances to win the
Presidency in 2008. End Summary.

2. (C) In an initial call by AIT/K Branch Chief on Chen
Chi-Mai, Kaohsiung's new Acting Mayor, Chen described himself
as a DPP moderate, especially with respect to cross-Strait
issues. He noted that cross-Strait relations were
characterized by both cooperation and competition, and he
believed the best approach was to identify and pursue areas
of mutual benefit. He acknowledged, however, that his
moderate approach on this issue might bring pressure from the
11-12 percent of Kaohsiung's population -- the highest of any
of Taiwan's cities or counties -- that supports the Taiwan
Solidarity Union (TSU) and Taiwan independence.

Taiwan Reaction to Anti-Seccession Law Inevitable



3. (C) Chen saw the expected passage of China's
Anti-Seccession Law as a major mistake. He believed
Beijing's pursuit of the law was primarily for domestic
political reasons, but it would unfortunately have extremely
negative repercussions for cross-Strait relations. Chen said
a Taiwan reaction was inevitable. He expected that at a
minimum, progress on direct flights would be frozen and
believed it could even last long enough to prevent a repeat
of Chinese New Year flights next winter. Chen also stated
that a debate and some action in Taiwan's LY would be
unavoidable. The TSU would likely propose a referendum and,

while it would likely fail, Chen believed the LY might end up
lowering the threshold for holding referenda in the future.
Overall, the TSU would likely take the opportunity to step up
its activities considerably and Chen worried that the result
would create new obstacles to making cross-Strait progress.

Criticism of Chen-Soong Meeting Will Not Last


4. (C) Commenting on criticism of President Chen for his
meeting with People First Party Chairman James Soong, Mayor
Chen said the President had little choice. President Chen
had no more elections to run and primarily was concerned with
his place in the history books. However, without a
legislative majority, he had to compromise to get through
legislation that would help ensure his legacy. Mayor Chen
saw the President's three priorities as boosting the economy,
improving cross-Strait relations and completing
constitutional revisions to make Taiwan's constitution
relevant and improve its political system. While Mayor Chen
understood those in the DPP who had criticized Chen for the
meeting with Soong, he did not believe the criticism would
last nor would it have much impact on future elections.
Looking at the year-end elections for county magistrates and
city mayors, Chen said he saw no reason for concern anywhere
in the South; all the DPP incumbents were safe.

Will KMT Elders Accept Ma?


5. (C) Chen, who worked closely with many Pan Blue
legislators during his 10 years in the LY, said he did not
believe Wang Jyn-ping had much chance to win the Kuomintang
(KMT) Chairmanship. Mainlanders in the KMT liked Taipei
Mayor Ma Ying-jeou and so did reformers. Wang has local
factional support in the South, but cannot match Ma for
charisma. The wild card, Chen believed, was whether KMT
party elders could accept Ma, who is seen by many of them as
weak and easily backed down. Chen believed if current KMT
Chairman Lien Chan decides to stay, Ma would not fight. For
the DPP, Chen noted, Lien continuing to run the KMT would be
the best possible result.

Looking at 2008 Presidential Race -- Hsieh will Beat Ma



6. (C) Turning to the next presidential race, Chen expressed
confidence that Premier Frank Hsieh would prove a formidable
candidate. Hsieh has strong DPP credentials, but is also
seen as moderate, safe and stable. He is more popular than
DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang, Chen opined. While Hsieh did
not have anything like Ma Ying-jeou's support in the North,
Hsieh would do very well in the central regions and of course
even more strongly in the South.

7. (C) On the Pan-Blue side, Chen said Ma Ying-jeou had both
strengths and weaknesses. He has star quality, but comes
across poorly at the grassroots level. Chen did not believe
he would do well in the South outside urban youth. While
Soong did well in the South five years ago in part because of
his "star quality", it was also because many still identified
with the KMT and identified him with the KMT. In addition,
Soong worked the grassroots well. Ma had none of these
advantages and would therefore not be able to repeat Soong's
success in the South.

Mayor Chen Sees Challenges in Next Year's Election



8. (C) Chen acknowledged that he had an uphill battle in
trying to establish himself well enough in Kaohsiung over the
next year and a half before he had to run for election. He
felt confident, however, given that the Pan Green and Pan
Blue split in Kaohsiung was fairly stable at 53 to 47
percent. Hsieh had suffered in his last election because of
the farmer's and fisherman association reform, which had been
badly handled by the Chen administration and came just before
Hsieh's re-election. On his deep-green flank, Chen noted, he
had to pay attention to the pro-independence vote. TSU LY
Caucus Leader and Chairman for Kaohsiung, Lo Chih-ming had
already indicated he might run against Chen.

Comment -- A Rising Star to Watch


9. (C) Chen is clearly tapped into the highest reaches of
Taiwan policymaking, both directly through his official
position (the Mayor of Kaohsiung has cabinet-level status)
and close contacts with the President, and through his father
who continues to play an important role behind the scenes.
His views on cross-Strait issues, including the
Anti-Seccession Law, are similar to what we have heard from
others and likely reflect internal DPP debate over how Taiwan
should react.

10. (C) While Chen claims to be a moderate, we have already
seen him act contrary to his own views for political
expediency; he insisted up until a day before the TSU's
anti-Anti-Secession-Law rally in Kaohsiung on March 6 that he
would not attend, only to reverse himself at the last minute
and appear as a featured speaker. While he was probably
encouraged to do so by President Chen in order to lessen
pressure on the DPP, the senior leadership of which opted
out, he also probably assessed it was important for his own
political future. With most local Pan-Green officials,
including the DPP caucus of the Kaohsiung City Council,
joining the rally, Chen likely realized that the 11-12
percent of Kaohsiung's voters supporting the TSU, would note
his absence. In local politics, unlike the LY, exhibiting
strong Party discipline does not necessarily win you points.
Without paying at least some lip-service to the deeper green
forces in Kaohsiung, Chen Chi-Mai may worry about his
election chances next year. TSU's Lo Chih-Ming, in
announcing early his interest in running for Mayor of
Kaohsiung, already has highlighted Chen Chi-Mai's potential
vulnerability with the deep green.

11. (C) Chen surprised us with his strong endorsement of
Premier Hsieh, something we never heard from him during his
years as an LY member. We suspect he needs to appear close
to Hsieh in order to ensure support from Hsieh's base in
Kaohsiung as well as the many of Hsieh's aides still working
in the Kaohsiung City Government. It may also reflect the
"party line" of the President's Justice Alliance Faction,
which clearly sees Premier Hsieh as the President's best bet
to build cross-party cooperation toward achieving President
Chen's legislative agenda. Finally, Chen Chi-Mai may just be
hedging his bets, seeing that Hsieh is a rising force and a
key contender for President. While Chen Chi-Mai almost
certainly remains a protege of President Chen, he may assess
that his future also depends on his ability to establish
credibility across factional lines.

Bio Note on Chen Chi-Mai


12. (SBU) Born February 23, 1965 in Keelung, Chen is the son
of Chen Che-nan, former Deputy Secretary General of the
Presidential Office and a key powerbroker on the Kaohsiung
political scene. Through his father and as a result of years
of working closely with President Chen, Chen Chi-Mai enjoys
direct access to the President and is a member of the Justice
Faction of the DPP, let by President Chen. In December 2002,
Chen Chi-Mai played a decisive role in the resolving
Kaohsiung City Council scandal when he successfully convinced
President Chen to intervene and distance the DPP from its
councilors that had been involved. President Chen's early
and direct intervention proved critical in minimizing the
negative fallout of the scandal on the DPP.

13. (C) Seen as one of the rising stars in the DPP, Chen
Chi-Mai maintains close relations with a range of
similarly-aged DPP stars, including Luo Wen-chia, Chairman of
the Hakka Affairs Council and a likely candidate this year
for Taipei County Magistrate, Chiu Tai-san, Vice Chairman of
the Mainland Affairs Council and a likely candidate for
Taichung County Magistrate, and Cho Jung-tai, the cabinet

14. (SBU) Chen is a medical doctor by training, with a M.S.
in Public Health from National Taiwan University, and a BS in
Medicine from Chung Shan Medical College. He is married --
his wife is an OB-GYN on staff at Kaohsiung Veteran's
hospital, and has two young children. He speaks some English
-- perhaps an FSI 2/2 level. Chen participated in an AIT
International Visitor program in 2001. He is surprisingly
quiet for a politician, almost shy, and takes a more
intellectual approach to issues than most Taiwan politicians.
This may change, however, as he pushes himself to establish
credibility among Southern Taiwan's traditional
constituencies that are more accustomed to colorful and
dynamic local politicians.