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China protests as Lee wins Japan, U.S. visas

Lee Teng-hui
China says granting Lee a Japan visa is not a humanitarian but a political issue  

BEIJING, China -- China lodged a "strong protest" on Friday night over Japan's decision to grant a visa to former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, state television reported.

Lee has also been granted a visa to visit the United States, which may also put further pressure on U.S.-China relations.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Japanese Ambassador Koreshige Anami Tokyo's decision to give Lee a visa violated diplomatic agreements and "undermined the basis of bilateral relations," China Central Television reported.

"China has stated many times through diplomatic channels the grave political nature of Lee Teng-hui's visit to Japan and demanded that the Japanese government . . . prevent the visit," Wang was quoted as telling Anami.

Japan's Foreign Minister Yohei Kono told reporters in Tokyo Friday evening that the former Taiwanese leader was being allowed entry for "humanitarian reasons," but only on the condition that he not engage in any political activites while in Japan.

Lee had requested permission to enter Japan for treatment of a heart ailment. He will arrive on Sunday and leave on Thursday.

His request poses a diplomatic dilemma for Japan because of China's view that Taiwan is a renegade province whose government should not enjoy international recognition.

Taiwan welcomed Japan's decision, saying the move would boost bilateral ties.

Taiwan "believes this move will have a positive significance on friendly bilateral relations," government spokesman Su Tzen-ping said.

In Washington a senior State Department official said Friday that Lee had been issued a U.S. tourist visa "based on relevant laws and regulations."

Since he finished up his term in office last year, Lee is now a private citizen and travel of private persons between the U.S. and Taiwan is a "normal part of our unofficial relationship," the official explained.

Lee was reported to be planning a private visit next month to Cornell University in New York State, where his grand-daughter is studying.

On Thursday, the Chinese Embassy in Washington, in a flashback to the mid-1990s, again voiced strong opposition to Lee's latest desire to travel to the United States.

"Lee Tenghui is not, let me repeat, is not just another civilian or another private citizen," said embassy spokesman Zhang Yuanyuan.

"He is the inventor of the infamous and notorious two-states doctrine that rendered the cross-straits relationship anything but -- it's almost non-existent right now. And he was a troublemaker. And he was I think the principle source of support for the separate forces in Taiwan."

On his trip to Japan, Lee is expected to undergo a heart examination in a hospital in Kurashiki, about 600 km (370 miles) west of Tokyo.

He underwent an operation in Taiwan last year to clear a clogged artery, shortly after retiring from government service.

The Kyodo news agency quoted sources as saying the decision followed an agreement between Japan and Taiwan on conditions for Lee's visit.

Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda denied speculation that Lee was asked to sign a document imposing restrictions on his visit. "I don't think we have made such a request," Fukuda said.

Foreign minister threatens to resign

Foreign Minister Yohei Kono earlier threatened to resign if Lee is granted a visa.

He had advised Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori against approving the visa request at a time when Sino-Japanese ties are already strained by disputes over trade and a history textbook that critics say glosses over Japan's wartime aggression.

Trade spats over surging imports of cheap Chinese vegetables and textiles are exacerbating friction between Beijing and Tokyo.

But three of the four candidates running to replace Mori as the ruling party's leader next week have expressed support for Lee's visit.

China says Taiwan is a renegade Chinese province and accuses Lee of encouraging Taiwan's movement toward declaring independence.

Lee, 78, vilified by China for trying to ease Taiwan out of diplomatic isolation during his term, applied for the visa more than a week ago.

Lee's last visit to the United States in 1995, when he was Taiwan's president, resulted in an especially angry response from China.

Beijing had believed the Clinton administration was not going to approve Lee's application and was caught by surprise.

The following year, China staged massive military maneuvers off Taiwan's coast ahead of Taiwan's 1996 presidential election, in which Lee was running for re-election. During those maneuvers the United States sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the Taiwan Strait -- forcing the first military face-off between the United States and China.



RELATED STORY:
Japan risks Beijing's wrath over Lee visa
16 April 2001

RELATED SITES:
Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Republic of China Government Information Office
Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the U.S.

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