Thu, Oct 13, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Memories of Lee's American visit

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

The entourage went to a large tent on campus for the welcoming speeches. Cornell students from Taiwan were lined up at the entrance to the tent, excitedly waving flags and placards, to meet their president.

One I did recognize -- a non-student and a Taiwan-independence advocate who had used his radio station in Taipei to incite cabdrivers in the city to disrupt traffic as a protest against the Lee government. He was sought by the police there, had bolted to the US, and somehow was in the welcoming line with a large placard, cheering as loudly as any of the students in welcoming Lee.

The visit was launched and the entourage began two full days of meetings and speeches.


One issue that was causing the State Department much anxiety was a scheduled press conference that traditionally followed the annual Olin lecture being given by Lee. The Taiwanese side would have liked to have it, and the media -- both Taiwanese and US -- were expecting it. Cornell was insisting on it. The State Department, however, insisted it had to be scratched. I talked with Lee's principal adviser who then agreed to ask Cornell to cancel it. It avoided what could have been an ugly public disagreement.

The Olin lecture was the high point of the visit. Lee spoke in English, with excellent timing and pronunciation. For those of us witnessing the speech, with all the drama that had preceded it, the moment was memorable. But the speech became an event that the State Department and then secretary of state Warren Christopher, in his memoirs, considered a pivotal issue. The secretary's view was doubtless based on the analysis he received from his department at that time, but it is a view that continues to be held by many.

When the speech was concluded, however, I called in my view to the State Department that it had not been a "political" speech. I was told that the State Department had read it and on the contrary judged it to be very "political." A few minutes later, however, I received a call back telling me their assessment would be retracted. Higher authority apparently did not find the speech "political." I thought that that would put to rest the speech and its impact. To my surprise though, it seems the view that the speech was a major irritant of the visit has persisted.

After several meetings and speeches, and a walk around the campus the next day, we went back to Syracuse and departed for Anchorage. The next morning my wife and I went on a private tour of Anchorage with Lee and his wife. From his arrival in Los Angeles to the return departure from Syracuse, we had used English (Lee had wanted to practice). Thereafter, always in Mandarin. Though aware of the problems this trip might bring, as usual he was looking far ahead of that. The world had been reminded of Taiwan -- and that was Lee's ultimate purpose.

missile exercise

The impact of earlier important constitutional changes in Taiwan (that is, the direct election of the president), the trip and the missile crisis carried over into 1996. The missile exercise conducted by China in 1995 -- generated by the direct election of the Legislative Yuan, and the forthcoming direct election of the president, did not get as much attention. In the US, most experts still place the blame for the second missile crisis almost entirely on the trip to Cornell. It meshed nicely with the charge that the trip was "bought." Placing more blame on the beginning of direct elections was difficult as we are supposed to support democracy.

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