New York Times

Taiwan Chief Heads to U.S., Stirring Both Pride and Fear

May 21, 2001

By Mark Landler

Taipei, Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian left today for a brief but precedent-setting visit to New York City, stirring equal measures of pride and fear in this politically sensitive capital.

People here are pleased that the Bush Administration is granting Mr. Chen the freedom to meet public officials and take in the sights on this stopover, which comes before he makes a two-week tour of Latin America.

When Mr. Chen last passed through the United States, stopping in Los Angeles last August, the Clinton Administration sequestered him in his hotel and discouraged members of Congress from visiting him.

"The Bush Administration sees Taiwan as an asset, not a liability, the way President Clinton did," said Parris H. Chang, who advises Mr. Chen on national security issues and is traveling with him.

Other people fear China will react with fury to Mr. Chen's busy schedule, which includes a meeting with Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and visits to the New York Stock Exchange and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

China's silence today did not soothe the nerves of these critics, who noted that Mr. Chen would be meeting with some of the most anti-China voices in the Congress. On his way home on June 2, Mr. Chen plans to spend a night in Houston, where he will be treated to a meal at a steakhouse by Rep. Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican not known for his warm feelings toward the Chinese leaders.

"China is going to respond very strongly to Chen's visit, and they're going to do it with words and deeds," said Andrew Yang, the secretary general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, a research group here.

Mr. Yang said he hoped Mr. Chen would not make any bold statements during the visit, since they could inflame the already raw relations between Beijing and Washington. China views Taiwan as a renegade province and believes that Washington, by allowing these visits, legitimizes its leader.

The last time a Taiwanese president visited the United States, in 1995, China lobbed missiles into the waters off Taiwan.

This time, however, China has been subdued. A Foreign Ministry spokesman criticized President Bush's decision to let Mr. Chen come, saying it "firmly opposes" such visits, even if they are unofficial, transit stops. Given Beijing's past vehemence, that seemed almost perfunctory.

Some analysts here contend the Chinese government has not responded fully because it is developing a consensus on how hard a line to take. Others say Beijing is wary of the Bush Administration, after the standoff over the surveillance plane and Mr. Bush's ringing defense of Taiwan.

"They are probably confused," said Shaw Yu-ming, the publisher of The Central Daily News, a newspaper owned by the former governing Nationalist Party. "They may feel that if they make a fuss, they will gain nothing because the new team in Washington is a bunch of tough guys."

Mr. Shaw, whose party was defeated by Mr. Chen last year after half a century in power, said people were grateful for Mr. Bush's support. But he warned that the high-profile nature of Mr. Chen's trip — including a stop in Mr. Bush's home state and a dinner in New York tonight with 20 members of Congress — could lead some in China to view Taiwan as increasingly an American outpost.

"We don't want Taiwan to be perceived as a foot soldier in America's foreign policy," Mr. Shaw said.

Supporters of Mr. Chen dismissed these concerns, saying the White House was merely according Taiwan's president the respect he deserved as the elected head of a democracy. They speculated that Beijing was keeping its anger in check because its earlier outbursts had backfired.

China's missile tests in 1995 were intended as a rebuke to Taiwan's president at the time, Lee Teng-hui, and to intimidate people into voting against him in the 1996 election. But Mr. Lee was elected in landslide.

Beijing protested angrily last month when Japan granted Mr. Lee a visa to get medical treatment there. Mr. Lee, 79, went ahead with that trip and clearly savored asserting his independence yet again.

"The Chinese expended great political capital opposing Lee's trip, and they got egg on their face," Mr. Chang said. "Each time they make a lot of noise, they serve as P.R. agents for Taiwan."

Still, Mr. Chang said the president would work hard not to ruffle feathers, either in Beijing or Washington. Mr. Chen will not give speeches, issue statements or hold news conferences. When he visits the New York Stock Exchange, he will not ring the opening bell — an honor accorded visiting dignitaries.

Mr. Chen did not allude to these tensions when he boarded his chartered 747. "Taiwan is a sovereign, independent country," he said in a standard explanation of Taiwan's diplomatic policy. "To let the international community acknowledge it, we must stand up and go out frequently."

Critics of Mr. Chen said he was leaving at a time when the economy is collapsing. In an effort to stimulate exports, the central bank today allowed Taiwan's currency, the New Taiwan dollar, to fall against the United States dollar. But the Taiwanese stock market still plunged nearly 3 percent.