One day after news that New Southbound Policy Coordination Office head James Huang (黃志芳) is to become Taiwan’s representative to Singapore, reports emerged on Friday that the Office, a major initiative of the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration, was to be absorbed by the Executive Yuan. Later on Friday evening, a spokesman for the Presidential Office added precisions to the initial reports.

Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政), director of international affairs at the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), told reporters on Friday that the Office was to be merged with the EY. The EY was to work with trade negotiators from the Ministry of Economic Affairs to implement the New Southbound Policy.

Since Tsai’s inauguration on May 20, the Office had operated on reduced staff due to budget constraints, with some officials loaned part-time from other units.

Tsai first unveiled the New Southbound Policy during a DPP anniversary event with foreign diplomats in 2015. The policy aims to reduce Taiwan’s economic reliance on China by diversifying its trade with countries in South and Southeast Asia. The creation of the office under the Presidential Office had high symbolic value and was regarded as a signal that the Tsai administration intended to make the southbound shift a major policy initiative.

Lo said the decision to merge the Office with the EY came after the role and functions of the policy had become better defined.

Later on Friday evening in an apparent damage-control move, Alex Huang (黃重諺), spokesman for the Presidential Office, denied that the Office is to be closed altogether, and said that regardless of personnel reshuffling, it is to remain as the president's related policy consulting unit. Huang added that the role of the EY in the New Southbound Policy would be announced at an approproate time.

▶︎ See also: “Tsai and the Southbound Policy: Window Dressing or the Real Deal?”

(This article was updated on Sept. 3; 12:04am: PO denial.)