DPP's presidential contender on a mission of 'love and trust' to the US
Frank Hsieh Chang-ting, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's candidate in Taiwan's forthcoming presidential election, yesterday embarked on what he described as a journey of 'love and trust' to the US to win support from Washington.
His 10-day visit, however, came as the island's leader, President Chen Shui-bian, sought once again to join the UN in the name of 'Taiwan', a move certain to further provoke the mainland and displease the US.
Speaking before his departure, Mr Hsieh said his first US visit as a presidential candidate would take him to New York, Washington, Detroit and Los Angeles, where he would meet US officials and speak on his plans for 'reconciliation and co-existence'.
'I have defined my trip as a journey of love and trust because I want to bring love and trust to the United States,' he said.
Taiwan's ties with the US, its informal ally and largest arms supplier, have been chilled by Mr Chen's moves to promote the island's identity since becoming president in 2000. Washington is concerned whether the island's next leader will do anything drastic to change the cross-strait status quo, a move the US fears would trigger a cross-strait war.
Douglas Paal, former director of the American Institute in Taiwan, which represents the US in Taipei in the absence of formal ties, said the Bush administration would tell Mr Hsieh during his visit that Washington wanted a peaceful resolution of the cross-strait issue.
'It opposes attempts by either side to change the cross-strait status quo,' he told Taiwan's China Times.
Mr Paal also said Washington wanted to know Mr Hsieh's stand on various key issues.
Mr Hsieh, who will face opposition Kuomintang candidate Ma Ying-jeou in the March poll, said he would outline his 'reconciliation and co-existence' proposal, one of his major campaign themes, during two speeches in Washington. He says he wants reconciliation and better ties with the mainland and with the opposition in Taiwan.
His proposal has been questioned by the pro-independence camp, comprising the DPP and the Taiwan Solidarity Union, which opposes reconciliation with the mainland. Political pundits said this explained why Washington was keen to find out whether Mr Hsieh would follow the path of Mr Chen, whose term will end in May, and promote independence.
Shortly after Mr Hsieh left Taiwan yesterday, Chen Chi-mai, secretary-general of the Presidential Office, announced that Mr Chen had written a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Thursday, applying once again to join the global body.
Beijing reacted strongly against Mr Chen's UN bid. In a statement on its foreign ministry website, spokesman Qin Gang said Taiwan had no right to join the UN because it was not a sovereign body.
Mr Qin said Mr Chen's move was an attempt to split the island from the mainland and 'we strongly oppose it and will closely monitor further development'.
Mr Chen made a similar move in May, applying unsuccessfully to join the World Health Organisation as 'Taiwan'. Taiwan has applied in vain to join the UN for the past 14 years.