Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui was yesterday making final preparations to depart today on a 16-day trip to Latin America to bolster ties with the region amid increasingly aggressive overtures from China. Mr Lee's trip, taking him to Panama, Honduras, El Salvador and Paraguay, is also to include overnight refuelling stops in Hawaii. This is his first overseas trip since a private jaunt to the US in June 1995 for a reunion at his alma mater, Cornell University, a move which sparked China's fury. All stops on Mr Lee's itinerary are among the 30 countries that maintain official relations with Taiwan. Reports in Taiwan said Mr Lee would not conduct any public activities in Hawaii, in keeping with US requests to keep his transits low-profile. But he was expected to meet in Hawaii the ageing 'Young Marshal' Chang Hsueh-liang, architect of the 1936 Xi'an Incident in which Chiang Kai-shek was kidnapped. Taiwan media reports from Panama, where Mr Lee is to attend an international congress on the future of the Panama Canal, said the heads of state of Mexico, Argentina and Peru had cancelled their plans to attend the meeting, apparently due to Chinese pressure. Beijing had already succeeded in persuading French President Jacques Chirac and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan not to participate. Only the leaders of Panama itself and nearby Honduras were expected to show up. Mr Lee is expected to make generous aid offers to the region during his trip, to prevent Taiwan's friends from drifting to increasingly cash-rich China. Under consideration is an economic development fund to disburse US$10 million (HK$77 million) annually among five of Taipei's Central American allies - Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mr Lee is to meet leaders from the five countries and Belize at a regional summit in El Salvador on September 13.