Fri, Oct 17, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Picking an envoy is a balancing act

By Graham Norris

The leaders of APEC members, including US President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), will meet Monday in Bangkok, and once again Tai-wan's president won't be there. The reason: persistent pressure from China on APEC members not to allow any of Taiwan's leaders to attend.

But rather than refuse to participate in an organization that treats it differently than other members, the government will once again choose compromise over confrontation.

"It's in Taiwan's interests to participate in this kind of regional organization," said Philip Yang (楊永明), associate professor of political science at National Taiwan University. "Taiwan gets more channels and opportunities than before to improve bilateral relations with other members of APEC."

Prevented from attending themselves, presidents have traditionally sent an economics official as their envoy. But for the second year in a row, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is sending a chemist -- Nobel laureate and Academia Sinica President Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲).

"APEC is not just about economic cooperation anymore. It is now more political," said Deputy Secretary-General to the Presidential Office Joseph Wu (吳釗燮).

"So we have been trying to work out how to upgrade our representation. We needed to find someone higher in status than economics officials," Wu said.

But finding someone who is worthy of representing the country at such a meeting and is also acceptable to China has been a troublesome, and sometimes insurmountable, task.

Taiwan joined APEC in 1991, along with China and Hong Kong. Previously, APEC had been a grouping of member "states," but this was altered to "economies" to allow in Hong Kong and to appease Chinese demands about Taiwan's status.

Until then, the highest level of contact at APEC was the foreign ministers' meeting. Because China regarded a foreign minister as a symbol of statehood, Taiwan had to sign a memorandum of understanding with South Korea, which was hosting that year's ministerial meeting, agreeing that it would not send its foreign minister or vice minister.

The West's increasing interest in Asia elevated the status of APEC so that, in 1993, arrangements were made for the first informal meeting of APEC's leaders. China then demanded that host countries not allow Taiwan's president, vice president, premier or vice premier to attend these meetings. Countries hosting the meeting have always heeded China's demands, even though the limits on Taiwan's representation were never formally agreed or written down.

"The nature of APEC is not like any other institutionalized, legalized international organization," Yang said. "There's no constitu-tion, no standard procedures. So it's all based on understanding, consensus and practice."

One understanding was that as a member "economy," Taiwan could send economics officials, so then president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) sent Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), then head of the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD), to represent him at the first two leaders' meetings.

For subsequent meetings, Lee picked Straits Exchange Foundation chairman Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) and then CEPD head Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤).

When he first came to power, Chen struggled to break prece-dent. For the 2000 meeting, Chen had wanted Lee Yuan-tseh to go, but China regarded him as persona non grata because of his support for Chen during the election. Chen then turned to Siew, but the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), of which Siew was a vice chairman, refused to let him attend, and Chen settled for central bank Governor Perng Fai-nan (彭淮南).

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