The Leaderboard: Su Tseng-chang

The Leaderboard profiles the people behind the policies of the Asia-Pacific.
Who is he?

Su Tseng-chang is the current chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan, the primary opposition to President Ma Ying-jeou’s Kuomintang (KMT). Su has been on the front lines of DPP politics since helping launch the party in 1986. A lawyer by trade, he gained prominence as a defense counsel for high-profile activists in the early days of Taiwan’s democratization movement. Su served as a county magistrate before taking posts in former president Chen Shui-bian’s administration, topping out at Premier in 2006.

Su Tseng-chang

Su Tseng-chang. Source: Yu Chih-Wei’s flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Su has made a play for the DPP presidential nomination in the past two elections, finishing second in primaries to eventual nominees Frank Hsieh in 2008, and Tsai Ing-wen four years later. When Tsai resigned the DPP chairmanship after her defeat in the 2012 elections, Su emerged as the top contender to replace her. Following a campaign that emphasized the need for party unity, Su defeated four other candidates in a landslide in May 2012.

Why is he in the news?

May 2013 marked the halfway point of Chairman Su’s term, and under his leadership so far the DPP has revamped its strategy to prioritize extending the party’s reach across the Taiwan Strait and across the Pacific. A new China Affairs Committee met in Taipei in early May, underscoring Su’s push to “convert passiveness to initiative” in codifying the DPP’s vision for Taiwan’s relations with China. On June 14, Chairman Su inaugurated a new DPP Liaison Office in Washington.

What can we expect from him?

Su and his party are positioning themselves to be a credible threat to the KMT in 2014 local elections, and eventually in the 2016 presidential race. Showing that the DPP has a blueprint for cross-strait relations and dictating an ambitious national defense policy are part of the party’s plan to attract more American support given that Washington has approved multiple arms sales since Ma took office. “Even though we are in opposition now, the DPP is serious, and I am serious, about Taiwan’s defense,” Su said in an address at a Brookings-CSIS event on June 13. “For sure, we ask not what the United States can do for Taiwan, but ask what Taiwan can do to earn the U.S. support.”

The close proximity of a DPP liaison office to Congress is likely an attempt to repair DC-DPP ties that deteriorated significantly during President Chen’s second term, and to prove that the DPP could be an effective steward of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship. Though Su has claimed that securing a presidential nomination is “the furthest thing from his mind,” we can expect that he will continue to spearhead initiatives aimed at modernizing the party platform and amplifying the DPP’s voice both to Taiwanese voters and American supporters.

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