Vincent C. Siew was born the third child in a family of five sons and two daughters on January 3, 1939, in Beishewei, a rural area of Chiayi City, Taiwan, Republic of China (hereinafter referred as ROC). Due to his charming character, he has been nicknamed as Smiley Siew in the political circle.
Siew completed his elementary and secondary education in his hometown before heading north for undergraduate studies in diplomacy at National Chengchi University in Taipei. Upon receiving his bachelor’s degree, he performed his compulsory military service. He then pursued graduate studies, earning a master’s degree in international law and diplomacy from NCCU. During his years in the civil service, he attended a leadership seminar at Georgetown University and was awarded an Eisenhower Fellowship for short-term studies in the United States.
After passing the Civil Service Special Examination for Diplomatic and Consular Personnel, Siew began his civil service career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in 1962. While with MOFA, he served as Vice Consul and Consul at the ROC’s Consulate General in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. When the ROC withdrew from the United Nations in 1971, Siew shifted his focus to economic and trade affairs, with the conviction that the nation should use its economic strength to expand its diplomatic space. He is credited with outstanding performance in his posts as Deputy Director-General and Director-General of the Bureau of Foreign Trade, Deputy Minister and Minister of the Council for Economic Planning and Development, as well as Minister of Economic Affairs.
Among Siew’s many achievements in these positions were the successful negotiation with the United States for most-favored-nation treatment and promotion of major investment projects that significantly boosted economic development, such as construction of Formosa Petrochemical Corporation’s sixth naphtha cracker plant and the Southern Taiwan Science Park. International trade cooperation expanded as, thanks in part to his efforts, Taiwan became a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and gained observer status in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, later renamed the World Trade Organization (WTO). Siew pushed forward an economic stimulus package to ensure steady economic growth for Taiwan at a time when the world economy was in a downturn. He also launched a program to transform Taiwan into an Asia-Pacific regional operations center, paving the way for Taiwan’s long-term development into the 21st century.
In November of 1993 and 1994, Siew represented President Lee Teng-hui at the APEC summit meetings held, respectively, in Seattle and Jakarta. Through discussion with the leaders of the APEC member economies, he helped further integrate Taiwan into the world economy and bring it into the international limelight.
Siew was appointed Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council in December 1994. To encourage the development of relations across the Taiwan Strait through economic activities, he proposed a series of liberalization measures. For example, an offshore shipping center was established in Kaohsiung to facilitate transshipment of goods between mainland China and third countries. In addition, Air Macau was permitted to operate flights from Taiwan to mainland China as long as its planes changed their flight numbers during a stopover in Macau.
In 1995, the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) asked Siew to run for a seat in the Legislative Yuan as a representative of his native city of Chiayi. Following a hard-fought campaign, he won the election. As a legislator, Siew organized a cross-party caucus to expedite financial and economic legislation aimed at facilitating the ROC’s entry into the WTO and the globalization and liberalization of Taiwan’s economy.
When the Executive Yuan underwent a reshuffle in August 1997, Siew, who comes from a farming family, was appointed Premier. His rise through the ranks of the civil service to the ROC’s highest administrative office earned him the nickname “commoner premier” from the media. In 2000, Siew was chosen as running mate to KMT candidate Lien Chan in the ROC’s tenth-term presidential election. Social changes and a split in the KMT, however, led to the first-ever change in governing parties on May 20.
During Siew’s tenure as Premier, the ROC emerged unscathed from the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis as he steered the country toward steady economic growth, winning international acclaim. On September 21, 1999, central Taiwan was hit by the most devastating earthquake in nearly a century. Siew led joint government and civic efforts in rescue, relief, resettlement, and reconstruction work in the disaster area, doing all he could to mitigate suffering and minimize the economic impact. He oversaw formulation of the Temporary Act for Reconstruction after the 921 Earthquake, laying a sound foundation for the difficult and massive reconstruction work.
After leaving the civil service, Siew lectured at National Chengchi University and Fu Jen Catholic University and devoted himself to public affairs. Inspired by the example of the European Union and in consideration of the complexity of cross-strait relations and their far-reaching influence on Taiwan’s economy, Siew founded the Cross-Straits Common Market Foundation to promote integration of Taiwan’s and mainland China’s economies as well as normalization of trade across the Taiwan Strait. After many years of advocacy, this concept was incorporated as an important aspect of the consensus reached in the 2005 meeting between then-KMT Chairman Lien Chan and Chinese Communist Party leader Hu Jintao. Siew’s initiative was also praised by the international media and scholars around the world.
In 2002, Siew was appointed Chairman of the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research in order to enhance the status and international reputation of the ROC’s top economic think tank. In 2003, with the SARS outbreak seriously hindering economic activities, Siew was recruited by President Chen Shui-bian to serve as convener of the Presidential Economic Advisory Panel. In that capacity, he undertook discussions with think tanks and business leaders and conveyed policy recommendations to President Chen. After more than six months of hard work and effort, Taiwan’s economy was finally stabilized. Seeing that his mission was complete, he stepped down in March 2004.
On February 13, 2007, Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT announced his candidacy for the twelfth-term ROC presidency. In consideration of concerns over economic development in Taiwan, Ma asked Siew, who had devoted half his life to the development of Taiwan’s economy and international trade, to be his running mate. Upon Siew’s acceptance, Ma held a press conference on June 23 to announce his choice, emphasizing that Siew would serve as chief architect for reinvigorating Taiwan’s economy. At the conference, Siew said he had decided to join the election campaign because, as an old hand in economic policy making, he could not bear to see Taiwan’s economy fall into difficulties and the people suffer economic hardship.
During the presidential campaign, Siew assisted Ma in drawing up economic policies consistent with “the spirit of putting Taiwan first for the benefit of the people.” He promised that in the next four years he would use his long experience to “light up” Taiwan’s economy. On March 22, 2008, Ma and Siew were elected President and Vice President of the ROC by a landslide. With this second transfer of power between political parties, a new era in the ROC’s history began.
From April 11 to 13, 2008, following his election as Vice President, Siew headed a delegation in his capacity as Chairperson of the Cross-Straits Common Market Foundation to attend the Boao Forum for Asia held in mainland China’s Hainan Province. Aside from conversations with prominent statesmen such as former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, he met with Hu Jintao. In the meeting, Siew shared with Hu his views on the future of cross-strait relations—summed up in the dictum “face reality, pioneer a new future, shelve controversies, and pursue win-win solutions.”
The Boao trip helped ease cross-strait tensions and paved the way for the development of constructive cross-strait interaction. The US and Japanese governments both expressed encouragement at the Siew-Hu meeting, described in international and domestic media coverage as “ice-breaking.”
Siew has high regard for family values. His wife, Susan Chu, a graduate of the Department of International Trade at National Chengchi University, and his three daughters have always been his strongest supporters. The two eldest daughters hold master’s degrees, are married, and live in Taiwan. The third has completed her studies and is now working.