Monday, May 21, 2001

NEW YORK Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian arrives this evening for a two-day stopover that will provide him unprecedented access to U.S. lawmakers and businessmen and despite Taiwans best efforts to play down the visits significance undoubtedly anger China.
Mr. Chen is transiting the United States on his way to Central America for a diplomatic tour of Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, Paraguay and Honduras. He is to spend a night in Houston on his way home to Taiwan.
Taiwanese officials insist the New York stop will be private and “low key.” The last private visit to the United States by a president of the Republic of China on Taiwan, when Lee Teng-hui visited Cornell University in 1995, provoked a furious response from Beijing and led to a temporary downgrading in U.S.-Chinese relations.
Relations between China and the United States are again at a low ebb following the forced landing in China of a U.S. surveillance plane and the announcement of a major U.S. arms sale to Taiwan.
Mr. Chens visit offers an opportunity to make a political point for just about everyone involved.
Mr. Chen on Friday marked his first anniversary in power amid sinking polls, a weakening economy and widespread concern over his ability to lead the prosperous island through the lean months to come.
For him, the visit is a chance to boost his standing with influential Americans, and possibly attract new business investment to Taiwan.
American politicians may hope by meeting Mr. Chen to emphasize their commitment to defending Taipei against Chinese aggression. Beijing will use the visit to stress the importance it attaches to the notion that world governments must respect its “one-China” policy.
The Bush administration, unlike its predecessor, has allowed Mr. Chen a two-day transit visa with virtually no restrictions. The Taiwanese leader will meet privately with congressional leaders and tour the New York Stock Exchange and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, Taiwans de facto embassy in the United States, has distributed no information about the visit.
“There are no public or media events, no itinerary will be released,” said Nelson Ma, the Taipei Office spokesman. “This is just a stopover. He is here to rest before going on.”
Mr. Chen, who is traveling with an entourage and 40 journalists, will be resting on the run.
Hours after his chartered flight touches down at Newark International Airport, he is to meet with a delegation of U.S. lawmakers including Republican Reps. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, Dana Rohrabacher of California, Peter T. King of New York and Benjamin A. Gilman of New York, along with Democratic Reps. Gary L. Ackerman of New York and David Wu of Oregon. All but Mr. Wu, who was born in Taiwan, are members of the House International Relations Committee.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, “probably” will be along, said one congressional staffer.
Taiwanese leaders have passed through the United States for decades, but this is believed to be the first time U.S. lawmakers have met one on U.S. soil since Washington switched its diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.
Mr. Chens visit approved by the State Department last week to ensure his “safety, comfort and convenience” en route to Central America has none of the restrictions imposed on transiting Taiwanese leaders in the past.
“We believe that meetings between members of Congress and foreign leaders have a positive benefit of advancing our national interests,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. “So we assume that some of these will take place.”
Perhaps as important for Mr. Chen will be his meetings with business leaders in New York. A spokeswoman for the New York Stock Exchange said that after Mr. Chen visits the trading floor, he has meetings scheduled with the exchanges top officials.
Tomorrow, Mr. Chen has a scheduled breakfast meeting with New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. The mayor has been “relatively diplomatic” about the visit, said one aide, probably in deference to the areas 400,000 residents of Chinese descent.
Later that day, Mr. Chen and his wife, Chen Wu-shu, are expected to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Officials at the Met, who in the past have sealed off the vast museum to accommodate high-profile visitors, have no such plans for Mr. Chens visit.
“It is an unofficial tour, and we have not made special arrangements” for security or receptions, said a museum spokeswoman.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide