With the appointment of Deputy Presidential Secretary-general James Huang (黃志芳) as Minister of Foreign Affairs, doubts have arisen over whether the 48-year-old official has the credentials and adequate experience to handle the complex diplomatic affairs of Taiwan.
Opposition Kuomintang Legislator John Chiang, who was a foreign minister under the former Kuomintang government, said that Huang is very poised and is someone who merits career advancement. Chiang said that he got to know Huang around 20 years ago when he was a deputy foreign minister and Huang was secretary to Chen Chien-jen (程建人), the incumbent R.O.C. envoy to Belgium and the European Union.
Huang began his service in the foreign ministry in 1985 and served in Taiwan's representative office in Washington in 1991 before returning to Taiwan in 1996 when he was appointed section chief of the ministry's North American Affairs Department.
Huang began working for the Mainland Affairs Council in 1999 and was promoted to the post of deputy director of the MAC's Department of Information & Liaison in 2001. When he was appointed as a presidential aide in 2002, it was reported that the appointment came on the recommendation of then MAC chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).
Huang, who is now the DPP government's youngest foreign minister, also worked as a Presidential Office public affairs director and was appointed as Deputy Presidential Secretary-general in May 2004.
Chiang said that Huang's age might prove to be a problem in commanding the seniority-hierarchical foreign ministry, and warned that Huang's lack of relevant experience could have a detrimental impact on the ministry's morale.
Stressing that he has nothing personal against Huang, Chiang said that the political appointment might not necessarily be beneficial to Huang. Instead, he added, the Democratic Progressive Government's excessive eagerness to push Huang could actually hurt his political career.
When asked about expectations regarding the incoming foreign minister, Chiang said only that he wished Huang "fortune and longevity."
"In this rather difficult situation, he would need luck to do his job," he added.
One of Huang's former colleagues at the MAC said that Huang could experience temporary difficulty in gaining a comprehensive grasp of the country's foreign policy, as he lacks senior administrative experience in the ministry. However, the official noted, this shortcoming could be overcome by assistance from the ministry's administrative team.
The question of Huang's lack of seniority, however, was viewed in a different light by DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴).
Hsiao said that Huang's experience in a wide variety of government organizations could foster more innovative approaches to diplomacy in the traditionally conservative foreign ministry.
"Considering Taiwan's special circumstance in the international community, we need non-conventional alternatives to handle Taiwan's foreign affairs," Hsiao said.
Noting that Huang will inevitably face challenges in the conservative diplomatic circle, Hsiao said that she has faith in Huang's capability and believes that his relatively young age could rejuvenate the ministry and further boost morale among local diplomats.
In relation to the criticism regarding his credentials, Huang yesterday said that although he had not served for a long period in any of his political posts, he is equipped with all the necessary experience and training. Citing his visits to more than 60 countries and overseas representative offices and his participation in a number of top-level overseas visits and the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum, Huang said one or two terms of ambassadorship in foreign countries is no substitute for his professional experience.
Huang played a crucial role in President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) visits to a number of non-allied countries, including Fiji and United Arab Emirates and proposed the "co-prosperity" project that supplements purely financial assistance with technological collaboration to secure Taiwan's diplomatic ties with allies in Central and South America.