Fri, Nov 15, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Give Lee a visa, Chen tells Japan

SHOW OF SUPPORT The former president is a private citizen and should be able to go anywhere, Chen said, although Lee's trip is unlikely to happen

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER, WITH AGENCIES

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday urged the Japanese government to issue a visa to former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) after Japan's foreign ministry appeared to rule out the possibility of Lee visiting the country later this month.

"Former president Lee is a private citizen and has the freedom to travel," Chen told a visiting Japanese lawmaker yesterday morning.

Japan's Senior Vice Foreign Minister Tetsuro Yano told a press conference yesterday morning in Tokyo that if Lee were to reapply for a visa, "at this stage the foreign ministry would find it difficult to admit him."

Yano's remark came a day after Katsuhisa Uchida, chief representative at the Taipei Office of the Interchange Association, Tokyo's de facto embassy in Taiwan, sent a similar message to Lee, according to a close aide to the former president.

"Uchida urged Lee to give up his plan to visit Japan and to defer his journey to a later date," the aide, who wished to remain to anonymous, told the Taipei Times.

"They are fearful of China," the aide said. "In view of the remark by Yano plus the message Uchida delivered the previous day, there is little chance that we can turn this matter around."

Lee had applied for a Japanese visa on Monday in order to make a speech at Tokyo's Keio University later this month. But he withdrew the application the next day after the university said the talk was not going ahead.

Although Lee decided on Tuesday evening to re-apply for a visa after the student organizers in the university decided to host the talk in a Tokyo hotel, the decision was put on hold following Uchida's visit on Wednesday morning, the aide said.

Lee, who retired in 2000 after 12 years in office, made his last trip to Japan in April last year for a medical checkup, triggering protests from Beijing.

Chen and a visiting Japanese opposition lawmaker yesterday voiced their support for Lee.

Chen told Naoto Kan, a member of the lower house of the Japanese Diet, yesterday morning that Lee was just a private citizen and should be allowed to travel freely.

"[The decision] should not be influenced by politics," Chen added.

Kan, a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, said the Japanese government could follow the formula set by the US in issuing visas to Taiwan's political figures to allow Lee to make the visit.

The US issued Lee a tourist visa in April of last year, setting no restrictions on his activities in the US. The US State Department at the time said the visa was granted because Lee, despite being a former head of state, was a private citizen.

Pro-Lee Japanese legislators have decided to protest the Japanese foreign ministry's apparent refusal to grant a visa to Lee, a Tokyo-based source told the Taipei Times.

"But now that the senior foreign ministry official has made it clear that it's unlikely Lee will get a visa even he re-applies, it's almost impossible for the ministry to change its mind even under pressure from pro-Lee forces in Japan," the source said.

But a foreign ministry official in Taipei said that it was too early to pronounce the matter dead, adding that public opinion in Japan could force the foreign ministry to think again.

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