Chen may again shun Alaska stopover in return from Latin America

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 May, 2006, 12:00am

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian may again bypass the US when he returns from his two-nation Latin American visit, a move the opposition said would widen the rift with Washington.

'Based on the highest principle of [maintaining] our dignity, what we are planning is to transit through the continental US. But if there is no way we can do so, we do not rule out other plans,' said Foreign Minister James Huang Chih-fang, who accompanied Mr Chen on the visit to Paraguay and Costa Rica - two of Taiwan's 25 diplomatic allies.

The president, he said, would not 'rule out transiting through a non-diplomatic ally'.

The government-funded Central News Agency yesterday said Mr Chen had told reporters he had a 'back-up plan' .

Taiwan has yet to say whether Mr Chen will stop in Anchorage, Alaska, on his return from Costa Rica, although Washington has required confirmation be made 72 hours in advance, which is today. Washington rejected his request to stop in New York or San Francisco, but offered a two-hour refuelling stop in Anchorage, which Mr Chen turned down last week.

The rebuff apparently incensed Washington. It made the decision public hours before his departure last Thursday. That led Lebanon, which has diplomatic ties with Beijing instead of Taipei, to submit to mainland pressure and refuse to give permission for him to land.

The plane was forced to stop in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Amsterdam before arriving in Paraguay late on Friday night, after a 37-hour flight, which was made 12 hours longer because of the detour.

Mr Chen later was quoted as saying 'putting up with some inconvenience is alright for the sake of defending the nation's dignity'.

Mr Huang said Taiwan would do all it could to win the much-needed 'dignity' of transiting through the United States.

Mr Chen arrived in Paraguay for three days before heading to Costa Rica. He will return to Taiwan on Thursday.

But opposition politicians and major local news media said that if Mr Chen once again dropped plans to transit in Anchorage, it would worsen the US-Taiwan row and hurt relations.

'If he [Mr Chen] continues to feel wronged and choose not to [stop in Alaska], then it would be difficult to improve ties damaged by the decision,' said Kuomintang chairman Ma Ying-jeou during a visit to Singapore.

Mr Ma, who was warmly received by Washington during his high-profile US visit in March, asked Mr Chen to adhere to his original plan in order to ease the tensions between Taipei and Washington.