First Private to U.S. Completed, Taiwan President Mulls Trip to Alaska

Daniel Southerland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 11, 1995

ITHACA, N.Y., JUNE 10 -- Over objections from China, Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui completed a triumphal first private visit to the United States this weekend, and it may not be his last.

Some of Lee's supporters in Congress say that they will press the Clinton administration to grant Lee a visa to attend a conference in Alaska in September and a few senators and House members even envision an "unofficial" visit by Lee to Washington some day.

According to a senior official in Lee's entourage, the Taiwan president will "seriously consider" an invitation to travel to Alaska on another private visit to attend a U.S.-Taiwan economic conference scheduled for Sept. 23-25.

Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska), prime author of recent resolutions supporting Taiwan, has been pressing for the Alaska trip.

But some of Lee's other congressional supporters say they would like at some point to go further and invite the Taiwan president to Washington, which would have been inconceivable before Lee made his just-completed visit to a reunion at Cornell University.

"The Taiwan genie is out of the bottle," said Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.), a supporter of Lee, who, along with several other lawmakers, met with him today at Cornell.

China, which has canceled a series of meetings with the United States in retaliation for Lee's visit to Cornell, regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that eventually will come under its control.

The United States, which accepts the concept that there is only one China, does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country. The United States broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan in the late 1970s after it recognized China and established formal links with Beijing.

But under heavy congressional pressure, the Clinton administration agreed to grant Lee a visa to attend his university reunion as long as it was handled as a private visit. As a result, Cornell did not arrange a news conference for Lee while he was here and barred the press and public from most of his meetings at the university.

China specialists say that Beijing has been loudly protesting Lee's visit to Cornell in part because it does not want the visit to set a precedent for future trips to the United States or to other major countries, such as Japan, which recognizes only one China but which has strong economic and trade ties with Taiwan.

"China has an ability to read the worst into these things," said Frank Lavin, a China specialist who is executive director of the Asia Pacific Policy Center, a nonprofit research institute in Washington. "And they don't want Lee to show up in Tokyo."

In addition to doctoral degree that he obtained in 1968 from Cornell, Lee holds a degree from Kyoto University in Japan. His advisers make it no secret that Lee would like to be able to visit his Japanese alma mater and would like to attend a meeting of an Asian regional economic organization in Japan.

A senior official in Lee's entourage, who asked not to be named, said that a September trip to Alaska probably is more likely than a visit to Japan.

"The president will give Alaska serious consideration, because Senator Murkowski has worked so hard on the issue of his visit here," the official said. He added that another reason for attending the USA-Republic of China Economic Council Conference set to be held in Anchorage in September is that it is "a very important meeting."

The council brings together businesspeople and economic specialists from the United States and Taiwan to discuss economic and trade issues.

"I don't think Washington is the next stop for President Lee," Ackerman said. "We have to evaluate where we stand after the Cornell trip. But would I like to eventually see a Washington visit? Absolutely yes."

"The right of free association is one of the United States' most cherished values," Ackerman said. "For China to dictate who may visit this country is not acceptable." CAPTION: Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui presents Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean David Call, right, with a reproduction of a Ming vase yesterday during Lee's attendance at a Cornell graduates' reunion.

© 1995 The Washington Post Company