- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

TAIPEI, Taiwan Taiwan's feisty first lady says she has no plans to mention the island's sovereignty dispute with China during a visit to Washington that begins this week unless someone asks her about it.

But if reporters in the United States bring up the matter, Wu Shu-chen said in an interview, she will argue that Taiwan is a sovereign nation.

"If we're not an independent nation, how could I be a first lady?" she said in the palm-tree-shaded presidential residence in southwest Taipei.

Mrs. Wu, who will leave tomorrow, will be the first Taiwanese first lady to visit Washington in about a half-century. The U.S. capital has long been off-limits to Taiwanese leaders and other prominent figures from the island because of intense pressure from China.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan reiterated the Chinese view that the United States should abide by the "one-China principle" it agreed to in three bilateral communiques.

Beijing still regards self-ruled, democratic Taiwan as part of China. The communist government insists that the island's leaders should not be allowed the diplomatic privileges accorded to other international leaders.

Beijing reacted with fury when former Taiwanese leader Lee Teng-hui met members of Congress and made several prominent statements during a visit to the United States in 1995. But its reaction was much more restrained when Mrs. Wu's husband, Chen Shui-bian, the president of the Republic of China (Taiwan), made a lower-profile visit to the United States last year.

Mrs. Wu acknowledged that her visit might cause tension between the United States and China but said Americans would support her and her husband.

"World leaders should have the freedom to visit other countries, and I think Americans will be able to agree with this," she said.

If she has an opportunity to meet Chinese President Jiang Zemin's wife, Mrs. Wu said, she would invite her to Taiwan to "experience the air of freedom."

The first lady plans to speak at the National Arts Club in New York on Friday. She also will speak at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington on Tuesday and attend a congressional cocktail reception in her honor on Sept. 25.

Mrs. Wu said her speeches would focus on Taiwan's success in evolving from authoritarian rule to democracy. She sees no need to mention the island's contentions that it is not part of the communist People's Republic of China.

"I don't need to keep repeating this. It's just like I don't have to keep emphasizing that I'm a woman," she said.

Traveling abroad is difficult for the frail, wheelchair-bound Mrs. Wu, paralyzed from the waist down since a truck hit her in 1985 during Taiwan's repressive martial-law era.

The driver, a farmer, said it was an accident, and he was not charged with a crime. But Mrs. Wu is convinced that the incident was a politically motivated murder attempt, noting that the truck ran over her three times.

"The driver said he was just returning home, but that road absolutely wasn't the road to his home," she said.

The last Taiwanese first lady to visit Washington was Soong May-ling, wife of the late Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. The glamorous and urbane Mrs. Soong, better known as Madame Chiang, was one of her husband's most important emissaries as she lobbied for U.S. support in fighting Japan during World War II.

Later, while Chiang's China-based Nationalist government battled communists in a civil war, the U.S.-educated Madame Chiang frequently went to Washington seeking support. Chiang lost the war, and his government fled to Taiwan in 1949.

Mrs. Wu said she and Madame Chiang, who is 105 years old and lives in New York, are poles apart.

"I heard that her English was better than her Chinese," said Mrs. Wu, who speaks little English.

Another big difference, Mrs. Wu said, was that Madame Chiang's husband was a dictator but that her husband is a democratically elected president.

She also recalled how Madame Chiang was often called a "first lady for life." Mrs. Wu said she would never accept such a title.

"When my term as first lady is over, that's it," she said. "I'm going to be an ordinary person again."

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