Chen agrees to humiliating Alaska stopover

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 May, 2006, 12:00am

Taiwan has reluctantly agreed to abide by a humiliating US decision that the island's president be allowed to make refuelling stopovers only in Alaska en route to and from Latin America.

Critics have described the move as the biggest diplomatic setback for the island in 12 years.

Instead of leaving yesterday for official visits to Paraguay and Costa Rica, President Chen Shui-bian will now depart today after his plan to make overnight, high-profile stopovers in key US cities was rejected by Washington, the island's biggest informal ally and major arms supplier.

'Regarding the US transit arrangement for the president, although we are not satisfied with it, we still do not want to make things difficult for our friend, and after negotiations with the US, we decided to make brief stopovers in Anchorage on both the onward and returning flights,' Taiwanese Foreign Minister James Huang Chih-fang said yesterday.

He said Mr Chen would leave Taipei this morning and arrive in Paraguay tonight for a three-day visit after a brief stopover in Alaska. He said Mr Chen was scheduled to leave for Costa Rica on Sunday for a two-day visit before returning to Taiwan next Thursday.

The itinerary for Mr Chen's Latin American visit had not been finalised just hours before yesterday's planned departure, forcing him to postpone his journey by a day. Mr Huang blamed the mainland, saying Washington's concern over Beijing's reaction was the main reason that Mr Chen could only stop over in Alaska.

He said that as a global leader, the US had to pay attention to issues such as Iran's and North Korea's nuclear programmes. 'As a member of the global village, we support the peaceful resolution of the above issues and understand the US positions on these issues,' Mr Huang said. But he accused Beijing of using the complex world situation to blackmail the US and the international community.

On his previous nine visits to Latin American and other allies, Mr Chen has been allowed to stop over in cities within the contiguous US, which excludes Hawaii and Alaska. This time, the US insistence that he make refuelling stopovers only in either Hawaii or Alaska is seen by critics and Taiwanese media as the biggest retreat in Taiwan-US relations. 'This is the biggest humiliation to all people in Taiwan,' opposition Kuomintang legislator Lee Ching-hua said, adding that Mr Chen was to blame for the downgrading because he had surprised the US and provoked the mainland by scrapping the island's National Unification Council.

Mr Huang stressed that the treatment of Mr Chen was just a 'special arrangement at a special time'.