Thu, Jan 29, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Top officials retaliate for Chirac snub

DIPLOMATIC ROWTwo members of the Cabinet have cancelled trips to France, a day after the French president said the March 20 referendum would be `irresponsible'


Two Cabinet members yesterday cancelled scheduled trips to France to show Taiwan's anger over French President Jacques Chirac's denunciation of the "defensive" referendum.

National Science Council (NSC) Chairman Wei Che-ho (魏哲和), on a trip to Europe, removed France from his itinerary and will stay only in Germany the following week to promote scientific collaboration between the two nations.

Council for Cultural Affairs Chairwoman Tchen Yu-chiou (陳郁秀) also canceled a trip to France scheduled for yesterday to Feb 8.

Tchen was originally set to confer awards on Taiwanese students studying in France.

Counselor to the chairwoman Chung Cha-pin (鍾佳濱) yesterday confirmed that the nine-day visit to France had been postponed, but declined to confirm that Chirac's statements were responsible for the cancellation.

NSC officials said that, in light of the political turbulence caused by Chirac's comments, it was not an appropriate time for high-ranking officials to visit France.

Three science and technology divisions under the council -- one each in Belgium, Bonn and Paris -- work on scientific collaboration with European countries. High-ranking officials of the council usually visit more than one of the divisions on trips to Europe.

According to NSC deputy chairman Shieh Ching-Jyh (謝清志), Wei cancelled the visit to France because of Chirac's talk.

"Scientific collaboration between Taiwan and France will continue, but whether more effort will be put into new projects remains uncertain at this moment," Shieh said.

"Terminating projects wouldn't change Chirac's stance, so we will consider long-term bilateral collaboration," Shieh said.

The NSC will continue to help academics build close relationships with their counterparts in France, Shieh said.

Taking the France-Taiwan Science Award -- given to outstanding scientists from both sides -- as an example, Shieh said that similar sponsorships would not be terminated.

In past decades, fields involving scientific collaboration have included biotechnology, agriculture, geology, nuclear engineering and electronic engineering.

Shieh said the ROCSAT-2 project, the nation's second satellite jointly built by Taiwan and France, would continue as planned and would not be affected by politics. The satellite is scheduled to be launched late next month in California.

The ROCSAT-2 project, which cost NT$4.7 billion, is one of several projects in which France can participate. France also hopes to persuade Taiwan to buy its Airbus products, Shieh said.

The satellite was built jointly by Taiwan's National Space Program Office and France-based satellite manufacturer Astrium, Europe's No. 1 space company.

The pan-European Astrium, established in 2000, is the result of a merger of Germany-based DASA, France-based Matra-Marconi Space and other European companies. Astrium is a joint venture of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, which owns 80 percent of Airbus.

According to Taipei Times' sources, scientific cooperation between Taiwan and France on ROCSAT2 in 1999 hurt the relationship between France and China, leading to a delay in Beijing's purchasing of Airbus products.

Since the early 1990s, there has been friction over French involvement in Taiwan's major national projects.

Failures included bids involving the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, Taipei Rapid Transit System, Taiwan High Speed Rail Project and the Lafayette frigate scandal.

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