Taiwan President to Stop in U.S.

The Associated Press
Friday, January 5, 2007; 10:44 PM

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian will stop off in the United States on his way to Nicaragua next week, officials said Saturday, in a trip that seemed certain to spark concern in China.

Chen's itinerary is likely to displease Beijing because it has tried to prevent Taiwan from developing foreign relations that indicate the acceptance of the self-ruled island as independent.

Last year, Washington refused requests for Chen to stop in San Francisco and New York, a move that Taiwanese officials said was designed to curry favor with Beijing.

Nicaragua, which is one of a handful of nations that gives diplomatic recognition to Taiwan, is also being actively wooed by China.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949, but Beijing still claims sovereignty over the island.

Chen is set to spend Monday night in San Francisco on his way to the ceremony in the Nicaraguan capital Managua on Wednesday, and will make a short refueling stop in Los Angeles on his way back Thursday, the office said in a statement. He is due to return to Taiwan on Friday.

The transit stops in the U.S. will be Chen's first since he turned down an offer to pass through Alaska on his way to Latin America last May. The U.S. had refused his request for stops in San Francisco and New York and Chen said the Alaska stop was a slight to Taiwan's dignity.

Taiwanese officials said the U.S. decision to shunt Chen to Alaska was part of U.S. efforts to enlist China's support in a U.N. Security Council showdown over Iran's nuclear program.

The island's rivalry with Beijing is likely to be the focus of attention during Chen's stay in Nicaragua, amid fears that newly elected President Daniel Ortega will break off official relations with the island.

Nicaragua recognized Beijing in 1985 after Ortega's first election as president. However, former President Violeta Chamorro broke with China and re-established ties with Taiwan in 1990.

Before his election on Nov. 5, Ortega said he plans to reopen diplomatic and commercial links with China. Taiwan sent its vice foreign minister, Javier Hou, to Managua later in November, and since then, Ortega has not made any official comments on relations with the island.

© 2007 The Associated Press