President Chen Shui-bian (
During the past four years, Chen often took such trips as an opportunity to promote "stopover diplomacy" by visiting major US cities to break through China's diplomatic blockade. But this time he has planned a relatively pragmatic trip that mainly focuses on Taiwan-Panama relations.
The diplomatic ties between Taiwan and Panama have been shaken as China has constantly tried to lure it to over recently. Therefore, the inauguration ceremony of Panamanian President-elect Martin Torrijos tomorrow is a diplomatic battlefield where the nation must fight.
This is also why Chen is visiting Panama instead of sending an envoy. His personal visit may have a significant impact on whether Taiwan-Panama relations can be improved.
Apart from the interaction between Taiwan's and Panama's leaders, the push for a free trade agreement between the two countries also serves as a key index to the friendship.
It has been a year since the nations signed a free trade agreement, and no clear progress has been made since then. Perhaps Chen can examine the situation personally and push for the free trade pact.
The free trade agreement was the first of its kind signed by Taiwan and an allied nation so it has a symbolic meaning, and is crucial to the nation's future global economic and trade arrangements. The government must cautiously push it forward.
Chen will give Belizian President Said Musa a ride when he flies to Belize on Sept. 2. This will be a new diplomatic move, showing that Taiwan and Belize are old friends not restricted by formalities. This arrangement will benefit the friendship of the two countries and their leaders.
During Chen's weeklong trip, there are only three days on which he will be able to sleep in a real bed, and his schedule is packed to the limit. This trip seeks to achieve routine diplomatic objectives of consolidating the nation's relationship with its allies.
Although the focus of this trip will not be on Chen's transit in the US, numerous members of the Senate and Congress have said they could pay their respects and overseas Chinese will come out to show their welcome.
Despite these gestures, it is a wise decision for Chen to keep a low profile and avoid political controversy while passing through the US during the campaign season.
Putting aside the hype of stopover diplomacy and returning to the realities of the diplomatic battlefield, the gatherings Chen will attend in Panama and the behind-the-scenes negotiations that accompany them are all ways of furthering the interaction of nations and winning diplomatic points through friendships with other heads of state.
Chen's trip to Panama is also a chance for the president to walk out from the shadow of the 319 shooting incident and confidently achieve diplomatic goals.