CHINA / Taiwan, HK, Macao

Chen's 'transit diplomacy' snubbed
(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-05-06 06:13

Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian's new attempt to promote "transit diplomacy" has suffered as his trip to Latin America turned out to be what the island's media dubbed "a journey to nowhere."

The start of Chen's eight-day visit to Paraguay and Costa Rica two of just 25 countries that recognize Taipei was marred by his plane changing its flight plan in mid-air and making an unscheduled landing in the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands.

Taiwan's TVBS television reported on Friday that Chen's plane left Taipei early Thursday morning with the intention of landing in Beirut, Lebanon, on its way to Asuncion, Paraguay.

But it landed in Abu Dhabi instead after Lebanese authorities denied it permission to land.

The plane was then forced to land in Amsterdam on Friday for a second refuelling stop although it had planned to head to the Dominican Republic, another country that recognizes Taipei.

The TVBS report said that the plane was unable to take on enough fuel in Abu Dhabi to allow for a flight to the Dominican Republic due to technical reasons, forcing the plane to land in Amsterdam.

The unusual moves came after Chen unexpectedly dropped plans to stop in the United States only hours before starting his visit on Thursday. The move was to show his displeasure at a US decision not to allow him a higher-profile transit.

In Taipei, opposition Kuomintang "lawmaker" John Chiang doubted whether Chen's plane took off without knowing where it would make a stopover.

"If it was the case, I think 'the president' took the tactic of 'transit diplomacy' too far," he reportedly said.

Local media went further to mock Chen's flight as "a journey to nowhere" in a bid to achieve the so-called "diplomatic breakthrough" through "transit diplomacy."

Chen has been engaging in attempts to raise Taiwan's profile by passing through countries that have no diplomatic relations with the island, especially the United States.

Media reports said the island's "foreign ministry" had hoped that Chen would be able to stop in San Francisco and New York en route to Latin America, but Washington rejected the plan.

Instead, US authorities insisted that Chen could only make refuelling stops in Hawaii or in Anchorage, Alaska, rather than in the mainland United States.

The American counteroffer, widely seen in Taiwan as a personal snub for Chen, prompted him to completely drop plans to transit in the United States.

The US State Department said on Wednesday that the offer to Chen was "consistent" with similar arrangements by the United States in the past.

"He was offered transit through the United States, as is customary with our policy when he chooses to travel," spokesman Sean McCormack said.

He added that the offer was "consistent with our previous policy and actions with regard to requests from him to travel."

"I understand ... that he has chosen not to travel," he said. "That's his decision."

(China Daily 05/06/2006 page1)