To mend fences, Ma to keep stops low key in the US

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 August, 2008, 12:00am

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou's decision to make his US stopovers as low-profile as possible is seen as an important step in rebuilding the mutual trust his predecessor damaged.

Opposition politicians have said Mr Ma's decision would hurt the island's dignity. But Taiwan's former top envoy to the US, Joseph Wu Jau-shieh, yesterday said it was necessary for his transits to remain low key.

'The US has set rules for visits by Taiwanese leaders, and there are several important principles, such as no public activity, no public meeting, no public speech and even no media reports,' Dr Wu said at a seminar.

It was necessary for the island's leaders to observe those rules during their transit stays in the United States, he said.

'It is an important step for Taiwan to rebuild trust with the US,' said Dr Wu, who was made the island's top envoy to the US by then president Chen Shui-bian two years ago.

Mr Ma, of the mainland-friendly Kuomintang, which used to have good relations with Washington, is to make three US stopovers on his way to Paraguay and back from the Dominican Republic in an eight-day trip beginning on Tuesday.

He is to stay overnight in Los Angeles before flying to Paraguay for the inauguration of president-elect Fernando Lugo on August 15. On the way, he will stop in Panama and meet President Martin Torrijos.

Mr Ma will attend the inauguration of president-elect Leonel Fernandez in the Dominican Republic on August 16, and then stop in Austin, Texas and San Francisco on the way back to Taiwan.

Instead of trying to use the visits to promote himself and the island as Mr Chen had frequently done, Mr Ma's spokesman, Wang Yu-chi, said the president did not intend to meet US officials, congressmen, scholars or even Taiwanese living in the US.

Mr Wang said Mr Ma hoped that Taiwanese journalists covering his trip would not file news reports from the United States. That comment prompted harsh criticism from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which accused Mr Ma of belittling the island in order to please both the mainland and the US.

DPP spokesman Cheng Wen-tsan said that instead of forbidding the media from reporting, Mr Ma should highlight the mainland's suppression of Taiwan's diplomatic space and the difficult situation Taiwan faced because of that pressure.

Mr Chen angered the US several times by using his transit visits to highlight the island's world presence and by making pro-independence comments provoking the mainland.

Dr Wu said there was a misconception that US-Taiwan relations would automatically fare better when the KMT returned to power.

'There are many structural factors in terms of US-Taiwan relations - for example, Washington needs China's help to deal with certain international issues and naturally does not want the cross-strait issue to shift its focus.'