By Faith Hung and Michael Gold
TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan's top financial regulator and its defense minister have stepped down, the premier said on Monday, as part of a reshuffle that analysts say is aimed at boosting President Ma Ying-jeou's increasingly poor popularity ratings.
Ma's economic and China policies have triggered widespread criticism while Taiwan's less-than-stellar economic performance and stagnant wage growth have also been a drag on his ratings which have hovered around the 20-percent mark for months.
Chen Yuh-chang, outgoing chief of the Financial Supervisory Commission, is widely seen as close to Ma but had been criticized by industry executives for being too conservative on allowing Taiwan's financial services firms to expand into China.
Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu resigned amid a public outcry over the death of a soldier after punishment for minor violations of military conduct.
But one analyst said the resignations, confirmed during a news conference given by the premier, Jiang Yi-huah, were not expected to help Ma's standing.
"It's too late for the president to save his ratings," said a chief investment officer of a local asset management house.
"His poor ratings will not improve just because two top government officials were replaced," said the officer, who declined to be identified.
William Tseng, a deputy finance minister, will become the top financial regulator, while deputy defense minister Andrew Yang takes over as defense minister.
Five other government officials were replaced in the reshuffle, said the premier.
Lin Cheng-yi, a research fellow in national security at the Academia Sinica think-tank, said the outcry over the death of the soldier had unexpectedly blown up into a major controversy.
"President Ma maintained a mindset much like the Defense Ministry: at the outset, no one ever thought this would be a huge issue," Lin said.
"Now, however, it's turned into a major challenge for the establishment."
(Editing by Robert Birsel)