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    Jan 16, 2015

    New leader of Taiwan's KMT walks tightrope


    ERIC Chu will take over as leader of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang (KMT) on Saturday, inheriting an unpopular party seen as favouring big business and China at a time of growing scepticism about ties with Beijing.

    Mr Chu, 53, faces a balancing act - he needs to distance himself from the mainland to win back domestic support, but not so much as to alarm Beijing's leaders and damage burgeoning commercial ties.

    China and Taiwan have been at odds since the end of China's civil war, when the KMT fled to the island, leaving the Communists to run the mainland.

    But the old enemies have always agreed on "one China" and Beijing would rather see the KMT ruling the United States-allied island than the pro-independence opposition.

    Mr Chu, a former KMT lawmaker, appears to be trusted by China. But if he cannot convince young and middle-class voters that cross-strait ties do not just benefit the wealthy, the party's candidate for the presidency - who could well be him - faces defeat in an election next year, when President Ma Ying-jeou steps down.

    "China is comfortable with Chu taking charge of the KMT...It has been trying to build mutual trust," said Tung Chen-yuan, a professor at the National Chengchi University and former vice-chairman of Taiwan's China policy-making body.

    Mr Chu was the only top politician whom two high-level visiting Chinese officials met last year, a sign that China is betting he will be the island's leader.

    "Xi Jinping is very happy to meet Chu and he is waiting," said a KMT source with knowledge of the situation, referring to China's President. Mr Chu was not available for comment.

    China was alarmed when Taiwanese students occupied the legislature last year, in protest against a service trade pact which they said would make the island over-reliant on the mainland.

    Weeks later, protests forced China's top official for Taiwan ties to cancel some meetings while visiting the island.

    Many in Taiwan also voiced support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, and the KMT's drubbing in November's local elections underscored voters' suspicion of China. Beijing will be hoping Mr Chu can turn things around.

    "China has not been pleased with President Ma because his China policy has led to the Taiwan people's discontent towards the mainland," said Tuan Yi-kang of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party. "Now, Eric Chu needs to consider how to deal with the impressions that the KMT is overly leaning towards China."