- The Washington Times - Friday, October 14, 2005

Former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, who angered China by engineering his island state’s transition to a full democracy, is to visit the United States next week amid fears in the U.S. State Department he will harm U.S.-China relations.

Officially, the State Department says Mr. Lee is welcome to visit the United States.

But the department has reportedly urged Mr. Lee to tone down his calls for Taiwan independence from mainland China.

“It’s incumbent for the former president to consider the effect of his public rhetoric while he is in the United States,” Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA) quoted a senior U.S. official as saying.

“If, as having been suggested by some comments in the press in Taiwan, there were deliberately provocative [statements] that were at odds with the American government’s policy, the United States government would have to clarify its own policy,” the official said, according to CNA.

According to several scholars and former officials familiar with Mr. Lee’s plans, the State Department discouraged him from making the trip, saying “the timing was not right.”

China regards Taiwan as a rebel province, and it has threatened to attack the island if it ever declares independence from the mainland.

Mr. Lee, 82, served as president of the Republic of China (Taiwan) from 1988-2000.

His life has been devoted to pushing for a separate and protected Taiwanese identity. He openly calls Taiwan a sovereign and independent state, and rarely speaks without bringing up the subject.

He is to arrive in Washington Monday. During his stay, he will address the Heritage Foundation, the Taiwan Caucus in Congress and former U.S. government officials, including directors of the quasi-official American Institute in Taiwan.

Mr. Lee will also speak at the National Press Club Thursday morning, delivering a speech titled “From Taiwan to Washington: A Journey for Democracy and Mutual Understanding.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington made its objections know to the press club, calling Mr. Lee a “troublemaker,” said Peter Hickman, vice chairman of the press club’s news committee.

The embassy told the press club that it “should not be involved in hosting” Mr. Lee, Mr. Hickman said.

The National Press Club expects that there will be an anti-Lee demonstration led by the supporters of Taiwan’s opposition Nationalist Party.

Ironically, Mr. Lee led the Nationalist Party when he was Taiwan’s president, and his reforms paved the way for the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party to take power in 2000.

In 1995, Congress forced the State Department to grant Mr. Lee a visa for a public visit to his alma mater, Cornell University.

A series of public speeches by Mr. Lee so inflamed China that it fired missiles off the coast of Taiwan later that year and in early 1996, when Mr. Lee was running for re-election.

The United States, which is obligated by the Taiwan Relations Act to help Taiwan defend itself, responded by sending two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region.

Mr. Lee’s popularity among many Taiwanese remains high.

“Through his vision, he has made a permanent contribution to Taiwan’s democracy and its development in becoming a normal country,” said Paul Lin, a New York-based analyst who specializes in Taiwan issues.

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