TAIWAN president's NYC stopover includes plenty of political hobnobbing

Wednesday, May 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Taiwan's president took advantage of a stopover in New York and hobnobbed with a host of politicians, a move that rankled Chinese leaders who believe the visit represents a sign of a harder U.S. line toward their country.

President Chen Shui-bian planned to depart New York on Wednesday to visit several countries in Central America. While his visit did not include plans for any public events, Chen and his wife both smiled and waved enthusiastically to journalists after his arrival Monday and again Tuesday.

Chen visited with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on Tuesday before touring the New York Stock Exchange and hosting a cocktail reception for about 200 community leaders.

He also met privately with former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, described as an old friend, and magazine publisher and two-time presidential candidate Steve Forbes. And late in the afternoon, he met with about 50 Taiwanese who live in the New York region.

The New York stopover was approved by the Bush administration, but was opposed by Beijing.

Mainland China sees Taiwan as a province lost amid civil war in 1949. Chinese officials believe granting Taiwan's presidents visiting rights violates the U.S. one-China policy, which recognizes only one Chinese government, the mainland, but insists that unification must be done peacefully.

Chen appeared to try to head off any criticism by China, explaining parts of his New York stopover that could anger Beijing.

During a Tuesday banquet speech, Chen, who frequently refers to himself by his nickname, Abian, explained that he consulted with U.S. officials in his car before he began working the crowd.

``Everyone waited in the rain for hours, so I couldn't let them down,'' Chen said in the speech, videotaped by someone at the banquet and shared with Taiwan's ETTV cable news. ``They wanted to see Abian not because Abian is handsome but because of the great symbolism of my visit.''

Chen also said that as soon as he arrived at his hotel, members of Congress began calling him to arrange meetings.

Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., was among the lawmakers who met with Chen.

``President Chen's visit represents an incremental step forward in American-Taiwan relations,'' Wexler said. ``Chen is committed to stability and Democracy and human rights and his next visit should be to Washington. This should not be seen as antagonistic to China. It is simply a maturing of our relationship with Taiwan.''

The visit, the first by a Taiwanese president to the city, is the latest potential stumbling block in relations between the United States and China.

In China, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao criticized Washington's decision to let Chen make his stopover in New York.

``This act violates the commitments that the U.S. side has made,'' Zhu told reporters. ``This act will inevitably harm China-U.S. relations.''