Chien-jen Chen, who is completing his third tour as a representative of Taiwan here, views Washington as a school from which one never graduates.
"The learning process is never-ending," said Chen, who leaves the Taiwan mission in July. He said he has seen the city change from a simple, provincial capital to a global reference point. His two children were born in this country and are settled here.
"I love the place," Chen, 64, said over a lunch of tomato bisque and pan-fried trout on Wednesday, repeating the phrase more than once as he described his experience here and how it has changed him.
Known to friends as C.J., Chen has spent a total of 20 years in Washington, at different stages and in various roles. As the congressional liaison officer from 1971 to 1980, he was at what was then the Taiwanese Embassy in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter switched U.S. diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.
Chen returned to Taiwan, then came back to Washington as deputy chief of mission two years later, serving until 1989. He has been the head of the Taiwan representative office since 2000.
"D.C. is this big stage," Chen said. "You can see so many people performing here. And sometimes, you too are on the stage. You've got to be really good to be appreciated."
Recalling his time in Washington while Ronald Reagan was president, Chen said it was virtually impossible to have contact with Reagan, even though the president was considered a friend of Taiwan. Reagan had visited as an envoy of President Richard M. Nixon and as governor of California.
After Reagan left office, Chen led a delegation of Taiwanese legislators to the National Prayer Breakfast and then arranged for a meeting with the former president at his office at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. He recalled Reagan's observations about "Taiwan's economic miracle" and about his distaste for dictatorships.
Chen said he describes the capital to younger colleagues thus: "Washington, D.C. is like a market. You have got to have good commodities to sell, otherwise no one will buy them, no matter how great a communicator you are. Lobbyists and public relations firms can only help you open the door, but most people, you will find, want to listen directly to you."
When diplomats first come to Washington, he said, they can think only of their own national interests. "Then you reach a certain stage and you start looking at things differently. You come to see yourselves as bridges and messengers with a mission at both ends, and not only as responsible for promoting your own interest. One develops a kind of sense for working together to further common interests."
Chen said he will probably teach a course or two on his return to Taiwan. He also is thinking about writing. He said he would love to write a book about the United States, expressing his admiration for the classic "Democracy in America," by Alexis de Tocqueville.
Chinese speakers should have a greater understanding of the United States, he said. "As an Asian, I can introduce it to them through a special prism through which our people would love to discover it," Chen added.
Chen said he laments the lack of dialogue between Taiwan and China, the country where he was born. Eventually, Chen said, he would like to work on improving relations with China.
Preparing for Anti-Terror Post
Spain's ambassador, Javier Ruperez, leaves Washington on June 29 to take up a new post in New York as the executive director of a new U.N. panel on counterterrorism.
Ruperez has been considered one of the architects of unprecedented collaboration between officials in Madrid and Washington in the lead-up to the Iraq war. He served as a major liaison for former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, a key ally of President Bush.
Aznar's Popular Party lost national elections in March and was replaced by the Socialist Workers' Party, led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Zapatero has withdrawn Spanish troops from Iraq, following up on a campaign pledge. A large majority of Spanish voters agreed with the withdrawal, although it caused a chill in U.S.-Spanish relations.
Ruperez said the new government asked him to remain as ambassador for a while beyond his new appointment. But he chose to move on.
Having served as one of the shapers of last year's pro-war policy at home, Ruperez will be shifting gears. He described his U.N. role as assisting governments in their counterterrorism programs, including intelligence coordination, the fight against money laundering and advising on legal reforms that would further such activities.
"I want to do things right," Ruperez said. "It is somewhat overwhelming, but we have to face the challenge of becoming a global reference in this fight."