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Official portrait, 2016
|Chairman of the People First Party
31 March 2000
|Senior Advisor to the President
9 November 2016 – 2 May 2019
|Governor of Taiwan Province
20 December 1994 – 20 December 1998
as an appointed Governor
Appointed by Executive Yuan
20 March 1993 – 20 December 1994
|Minister of the Government Information Office
25 January 1979 – 24 August 1984
16 March 1942
Xiangtan, Hunan, Republic of China
|People First Party (2000–present)
|Viola Chen (1968–2011)
|National Chengchi University
University of California, Berkeley
Catholic University of America
James Soong Chu-yu (born 16 March 1942) is a Taiwanese politician. He is the founder and current Chairman of the People First Party.
Born to a Kuomintang military family of Hunanese origin, Soong began his political career as a secretary to Premier Chiang Ching-kuo (later president) and rose to prominence as director-general of the Government Information Office (GIO) from 1979 to 1984. Upon Chiang's death, Soong was instrumental in silencing conservatives in the KMT from blocking the ascendancy of Lee Teng-hui as KMT leader. Soong was the only elected governor of Taiwan Province from 1994 to 1998, before the streamlining of the provincial government. He placed second in the 2000 presidential election; his independent candidacy split the pro-Chinese unification vote between himself and the KMT candidate Lien Chan, leading to the ascendancy of Democratic Progressive Party candidate Chen Shui-bian. In the 2004 presidential election, he ran as vice president on the ticket of Kuomintang chairman Lien Chan; they narrowly lost to Chen Shui-bian. Soong ran again as a candidate in the 2012 presidential race, garnering 2.77% of popular support. Soong's third presidential campaign in 2016 formed a split ticket with Minkuotang chairwoman Hsu Hsin-ying and won 12.84% of the vote. His 2020 campaign with running mate Sandra Yu finished last, with 4.2% of the vote. As of 2022, his name appears in the Suisse secrets revelations.
- Early life and education
Early life and education
Soong was born in Xiangtan, Hunan province. His father, Soong Ta , was a career military officer staunchly loyal to Republic of China (ROC) President Chiang Kai-shek and rose to the rank of Major General in the Nationalist Army from an enlisted sailor. With the Nationalist defeat in the Chinese Civil War, the family fled to Taiwan in 1949. He earned his bachelor's degree in diplomacy from National Chengchi University in 1964.
Soong travelled to the United States for graduate school and received an M.A. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley in 1967 and an M.S. in library science from The Catholic University of America in 1971. He earned a Ph.D. in political science from Georgetown University in 1974.
While at Berkeley, Soong met his future wife Viola Chen (Chinese: 陳萬水). They later had a son and a daughter.
As he was finishing his doctoral studies, Soong was recommended by GIO Director Fredrick Chien to be the English secretary of then-Premier Chiang Ching-kuo. Soong served as Secretary to Premier from 1974–1977 and with Chiang Ching-kuo's accession to the presidency, the Personal Secretary to the President from 1978–1981 and 1984-1989. Soong gained his public fame when he addressed the nation following the Carter administration's decision to break ties with the ROC in order to switch diplomatic ties to the People's Republic of China on December 16, 1978 in which he gave a patriotic condemnation of the American position and a ringing defense of the ROC.
Soon afterwards, President Chiang promoted Soong to become the youngest Director-General of the GIO, in which he served from 1979 to 1984.
Rise of Lee Teng-hui
Upon Chiang Ching-kuo's death in 1988, Soong was seen as instrumental in consolidating the power of the new president, Lee Teng-hui. Soong was part of the Palace Faction (Chinese: 宮廷派) that included Chiang loyalists such as Hau Pei-tsun and Lee Huan and which sought to limit Lee Teng-hui and his native Taiwanese faction's role in the government. During the KMT's central standing committee on the day of Chiang's funeral, when the Palace Faction sought to delay Lee's accession to the party Chairmanship, Soong unexpectedly made an impassioned plea in favour of Lee, declaring that "Each day of delay is a day of disrespect to Ching-kuo." He also made a veiled criticism of Soong Mei-ling (no relation), implying that she had returned to Taiwan after her stepson's death to try to reassume power.
Soong established himself as one of the few mainlanders who were also loyal to Lee. In support of Soong, Lee coined the term "New Taiwanese" to describe a person born in mainland China, raised in Taiwan, who calls Taiwan home. Lee moved swiftly to promote Soong to KMT Secretary-General, a position Soong held from 1989 to 1993. In 1993, Lee appointed him Governor of Taiwan Province.
In June 1993, Soong opened a Credit Suisse account, three months after he had stepped down as KMT secretary-general, and it closed in 2010. In 2007 he held over 13 million Swiss francs in it, which is incompatible by his official salary as a public servant. The account is one of a number of things which have led to implications of his involvement in the Taiwan frigate scandal.
In 1994 Soong was elected and became the only directly elected Governor of Taiwan Province. He was widely perceived to be an excellent campaigner and his excellent showing in the governorship ended hopes by the DPP of a "Yeltsin effect", by which an elected governor would have more legitimacy than the national government, due to the President being still elected by the National Assembly at that time.
Despite his Mainlander background, Soong proved to be a popular politician among all ethnic groups on Taiwan, in part because he was one of the first KMT politicians to attempt to speak in Taiwanese Hokkien in political and formal occasions.
After Premier Lien Chan was elected vice-president in 1996, the premiership was vacated in 1997 after the Judicial Yuan ruled out that the person could not serve both vice-president and premier. Soong felt that as Governor of Taiwan, he was the natural successor to Lien, but President Lee believed that Soong should serve out his term. President Lee appointed Vincent Siew, whom Soong considered a subordinate, and this act led to the split between Soong and Lee.
The position of Governor of Taiwan was eliminated in December 1998 following a National Development Council meeting in 1996, when it suggested that the administrative structure of the Taiwanese government be streamlined. Soong and his supporters believe this to have been a political move by President Lee to cut off Soong's power base, but proponents of the downsizing called it a pragmatic move to eliminate administrative redundancies. Soong tendered his resignation on December 31 of the same year, but President Lee did not accept it.
2000 presidential election
After losing the KMT presidential nomination to then-vice president Lien Chan, Soong ran as an independent in the 2000 Presidential elections. Soong advocated a gradual union between Taiwan and the mainland by first signing a non-aggression pact followed by the formation of a cross-strait union similar to the European Union. His platform called for the characterization of relations between the Mainland and Taiwan as neither foreign nor domestic. Although widely seen as the candidate most friendly to Mainland China, Soong took particular effort to counter the perception that he would "sell out" Taiwan.
The KMT responded by expelling Soong and his supporters from the party. In the final months leading to the 2000 elections, the KMT, then under Lee Teng-hui's leadership, sued Soong for theft, alleging that as party Secretary-General, he stole millions of Taiwan dollars in cash intended for the family of the late President Chiang Ching-kuo and hid the money in the Chunghsing Bills Finance Company. In defense he stated that the money in those bank accounts was in fact all from the KMT, and he insisted that the money transfer was authorized by then-KMT chairman, Lee Teng-hui. These statements have been substantiated by an internal KMT memo signed by Lee which were published by the court many years later.
The scandal hurt Soong's clean image. Initially leading in the polls, Soong narrowly lost the election with 36.84% of the vote to Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party with 39.3%. Lien came in a distant third with only 23.1%. One common belief from the pro-blue camp in Taiwan is that Lee Teng-hui favored the unpopular Vice President Lien Chan over the highly popular Soong in a deliberate effort to sabotage the Kuomintang and was secretly supporting Chen, even though Lee is supposed to favor Kuomintang's own nominee Lien. Some believe Lee feared Soong would expose the corruption in his administration, and undermine his legacy.
After losing the election, Soong's supporters protested in front of the KMT party headquarters and blockaded the building for a few days. They succeeded in pressuring Lee Teng-hui to resign as KMT Chairman in favor of Lien Chan. Within weeks, Soong and his supporters formed the People First Party (PFP), considered a spin-off from the KMT.
Prosecutors later dropped all charges against Soong in the Chunghsing Scandal. In 2003, the investigation was reopened, with former President Lee (now expelled from the KMT and the "spiritual leader" of the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union) testifying against Soong in court. However, with the KMT allied with the People First Party for the 2004 presidential election, the KMT aided Soong in his defence, providing documents signed by Lee. KMT Chairman Lien Chan claimed the KMT was misled into filing the lawsuit against Soong. The KMT dropped the charges and is still trying to collect the money that had been returned and deposited in the court by Soong.
2004 presidential election
Despite the personal rivalries between Lien, the KMT chairman after 2000, and Soong, the KMT and People First Party pledged to cooperate in future elections to prevent splitting the vote. Though losses in the 2001 legislative elections made the DPP the largest single party in the Legislative Yuan, the pan-blue coalition retained a narrow majority over the pan-green coalition.
Soong ran as a vice presidential candidate under Lien Chan in the 2004 elections. Some believe that the PFP's lack of experienced candidates in the December 2002 mayoral elections in Taipei and Kaohsiung (the PFP supported the KMT's candidates), and the PFP's poor performance the city council elections in those cities at the same time were major setbacks to Soong's chances of being the KMT-PFP candidate for president. There were widespread rumours that Soong agreed to take the Vice-Presidential post in exchange for a pledge by Lien to give him significant power, including the Premiership. Many KMT members opposed the linkage, considering Soong an opportunist and traitor. Soong's supporters pointed out that he was more popular than Lien, as consistently demonstrated by polls and the results of the 2000 presidential elections. Though both men garnered a combined 60% of the vote in 2000 (compared to Chen's 39%), they lost to Chen in 2004 by a mere 0.22% of the vote and never conceded.
After the 2004 Presidential election, Soong actively sought the merger of the KMT and People First Party. However, he ceased doing so after the ROC Legislative Election, 2004. Although the pan-blue coalition did well, the PFP did not, and Soong ended talk of a KMT-PFP merger. In February 2005, he signed a 10-point consensus program with President Chen Shui-Bian, which brought heavy criticism to Chen. The possibility of DPP-PFP cooperation ended in May 2005, when Soong visited mainland China to meet with General Secretary Hu Jintao of the Chinese Communist Party. Initially, Chen stated that Soong would deliver a secret message to the PRC leadership, but Soong denied this.
In the 2005 KMT chairmanship election, Soong, who retained a significant following within the KMT, despite initially instructing party officials not to support either Ma Ying-jeou or Wang Jin-pyng, endorsed Wang at the last minute. However, the endorsement appeared to backfire as Ma defeated Wang by a large margin of 72% to 28%. On July 22, 2005, Soong, unopposed, was re-elected chairman of the PFP.
On November 17, 2005, Soong was awarded NT$10 million in a defamation suit against former President Lee Teng-hui, who had alleged that Soong was playing mahjong while his supporters were protesting on the streets in April 2004. A three-judge panel of the Taipei District Court ruled that Lee must apologize and compensate Soong, saying that Lee's "groundless" remark had damaged Soong's reputation. In addition, the court ordered Lee to publish a half-page apology in major newspapers for three consecutive days.
Soong's visit to mainland China followed quickly on the heels of the trail-blazing visit of KMT Chairman Lien Chan. Beyond a sentimental visit, the important political aspect of his tour came from his visit to Beijing. There, he shook hands with Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, and exchanged presents with him; Soong gave Hu a work of glass art from Liuli Gongfang, and received a piece of Jingdezhen porcelain from Hu. Soong was only the second major political figure from Taiwan ever to do so. The carefully scripted red carpet ceremony was identical to the previous greeting for KMT Chairman Lien Chan. The key outcome of the meeting was the publication of a shared political platform between the Communist Party and Soong's People's First Party. Finally, Soong lectured at Tsinghua University, an echo of Lien's lecture at Peking University four weeks prior.
Soong's visit was designed to emphasize his belief in the common shared roots of the Chinese people, reflecting his pro-unification sentiment. He specifically chose to honour the historical ancestor of the Chinese people, the contemporary father of the Republic of China, and then his own direct ancestors in that precise order. His public comments also addressed this continuous theme, receiving rapturous support from his mainland audience. The political consensus borne of the visit between the PFP and the CPC called for practical actions towards establishing links between Taiwan and mainland China while firmly resisting Taiwanese independence.
2006 Taipei mayoral election
On August 17, 2006, Taiwan's Administrative Supreme Court handed down a ruling against Soong in a tax evasion case. He was charged gift taxes by the National Tax Administration from events in 1994 when he wired NT$42 million from his election campaign account to that of his daughter-in-law in the United States. Soong argued that he had wired the money to his daughter-in-law to pay off remaining campaign debts and to establish a Foundation and that he was not simply "gifting" the money to her. The Court, however, found that the first money was not given to the Foundation until December 2001 and ruled that the money had been used as his private assets and that, therefore, gift tax was payable. He was assessed NT$13 million in gift tax, with a fine of NT$13 million, for a total sum of NT$26 million.
On October 18, 2006, Soong formally announced and registered his candidacy for the Mayoralty of Taipei City, Taiwan's capital and largest city, in the local government elections to be held in December 2006. Soong registered as a "non-partisan" candidate without a party affiliation, declaring that he had taken a leave of absence from his post as Chairman of the PFP.
After his defeat in Taipei Mayoral Election on the 9th of December, 2006, he won only 4% of cast ballots, James Soong announced that he would retire from politics, which entailed giving up the chairmanship of his party, the PFP. With this announcement and no clear goal, the PFP face an uncertain future, which could speed up any merger with the Kuomintang.
Claims made by former president Chen Shui-bian
Chen Shui-bian claimed in an interview with a cable TV channel in May 2005 that Soong met Chen Yunlin in the United States in February of that year.
Following this claim, on February 15, 2007, Taipei District Court ruled Thursday that President Chen Shui-bian must pay James Soong NT$3 million (US$91,183) in damages and apologize in the top three newspapers for his allegation that Soong met secretly with China's State Council Taiwan Affairs Office Director Chen Yunlin in 2005. The court said President Chen failed to carry out necessary verification before making his allegation.
PFP spokesman Lee Hung-Chun said the ruiling "gave justice to Soong", but said that it had come too late. Chen's counsel said that he would appeal the ruling.
2012 presidential election
After a petition, Soong, for the first time as a People First Party presidential candidate, ran the 2012 presidential election together with Lin Ruey-shiung, a National Taiwan University professor in public health. Soong described the "Blue-Green rivalry" in Taiwanese politics as an epidemic and stated that Lin, as a doctor, was his partner to cure this "disease". He contended that Taiwanese people wanted a third party other than the KMT and the DPP and that the PFP was their choice.
2016 presidential election
Soong announced his intention to join the 2016 Taiwan presidential election on 6 August 2015 with running mate Hsu Hsin-ying of the Minkuotang. The Soong–Hsu ticket finished third.
2020 presidential election
Soong contested the 2020 Taiwan presidential election, beginning his campaign on 13 November 2019. He had promised that this campaign would be his last attempt for the presidency. Soong and Sandra Yu formed the People First Party ticket. The pair registered their candidacy with the Central Election Commission on 18 November 2019. Soong and Yu finished third in the presidential election, with 4.2% of the vote.
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