- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2001

The State Department said yesterday that Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian will be encouraged to meet with members of Congress when he visits the United States this month — a sharp break with Clinton administration policy that is likely to worsen relations with China.
"We do believe that private meetings between members of Congress and foreign leaders advance our national interests, so he may have meetings with members of Congress… . We assume that some of those will take place," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday confirmed that a transit visa would be granted to Mr. Chen, who was elected president of the Republic of China on Taiwan in November 1999.
"We will try to reassure the authorities in Beijing that there is nothing in the presidents transit that they should find disturbing or in any way modifying or changing or casting any doubt on the policy that exists between us and [China]," Mr. Powell told CNN.
He was referring to three communiques issued after U.S. normalization of relations with mainland China in 1979 in which the United States accepts that there is only one China, whose capital is Beijing.
Mr. Boucher said Taiwan and U.S. officials had reached an "understanding" that Mr. Chens "activities would be private and unofficial."
He later told The Washington Times: "We encourage congressmen to meet with foreign leaders."
Since 1979, the United States has recognized only mainland China as a country and kept informal relations with Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, said he, along with several other members of Congress, planned to meet Mr. Chen in New York.
"We have not been discouraged by our State Department from meeting this democratically elected leader," he told The Times by telephone from California. "That is a 180-degree turn from the last administration.
"Its nice to see that our State Department is no longer at war with democratically elected leaders who are friendly to the United States."
Visits by senior Taiwanese officials to other countries typically draw strong protests from China, which fears recognition of Taiwan as an independent country.
Beijing gave no immediate reaction, and the Chinese Embassy in Washington declined to comment.
Mr. Chen is slated to arrive in New York Monday and depart for Latin America two days later.
One Taiwanese press report called the visit a "very big breakthrough."
"This time, the U.S. side extended the Taiwan side a lot of courtesy."
When Mr. Chen last visited the United States in August, he spent just 15 hours on the ground with his movements limited to the airport and a Los Angeles hotel where he spent the night.
The State Department blocked Mr. Chen from attending a reception sponsored by 15 congressmen.
This time, Mr. Chen will be permitted to move freely. While in New York, he plans to meet Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, observe the New York Stock Exchange and visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, according to Taiwanese press reports.
On his return trip, he will spend a day in Houston and plans to attend an Astros baseball game.
In between, Mr. Chen plans to visit El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay and Honduras.
A June 1995 visit to Cornell University by Taiwanese leader Lee Teng-hui sent U.S.-China relations on a downward spiral.
China began shooting missiles off Taiwans coast the following March and the United States responded by sending two aircraft carriers to the region.
U.S. relations with China remain strained after a Chinese jet was lost at sea April 1 after colliding with an American surveillance plane, which then made an emergency landing.
China held 24 U.S. crew members for 11 days. It continues to hold the plane.
Mr. Powell said yesterday he was confident that the U.S. Embassy in Beijing would resolve differences over the plane within a few days so it could be returned to the United States.
Mr. Boucher raised a technical point yesterday, saying Mr. Chens entry permit would be "a transit without visa."
* Bill Gertz contributed to this report.


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