Thu, Sep 30, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Foreign minister defends comments

DIPLOMATIC UPROAR Mark Chen said he had simply tried to use slang that he thought his audience from the central and southern parts of Taiwan would understand

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen (陳唐山) yesterday defended his choice of words on Monday about Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo's (楊榮文) speech to the UN General Assembly.

Riled by Yeo's comment last Friday that a push for independence by certain groups in Taiwan will lead to war with China, Chen said that Singapore was a country no bigger than "a piece of snot" that holds China's "lan pa".

In Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), lan pa means testicles. Saying that someone holds another's lan pa means that he or she is fawning over that person.

Chen's remarks became headline news and a hot topic on TV talk shows and call-in programs.

At a press conference yesterday, Chen explained that he used the colloquialism because he was talking to a group of people from central and southern Taiwan -- members of a pro-independence group who had appealed to him to change the name of Taiwan's representative office in Japan to better express the country's sovereignty.

Chen said he felt great pain in his heart during the meeting.

"The people pleaded with me to change the name of our overseas representative offices, as if I have been doing nothing to rectify the names of these offices," he said.

"You all know my background. I was on [the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT)] blacklist for many years because of my support for Taiwan's independence and democratization. I couldn't return home when my parents passed away," he said.

Chen said he felt the group did not know him and the difficulties of his job. He said he mentioned Yeo's UN speech in order to explain Taiwan's diplomatic plight.

"I used the language that I learned as a child to explain to these people from the south, so they would understand my point better. I didn't mean to criticize Singapore," he said.

Chen said that if he really wanted to protest to Singapore, he would have called in its representative, Ker Sin Tze (柯新治).

He also lashed out at KMT officials who have said he didn't know diplomatic etiquette.

"I believe I know diplomatic etiquette. I was involved in congressional diplomacy when I was in the US," Chen said, referring to his 30 years in the US.

He said that he has never criticized the Singapore government since taking office.

"Singapore has been very good to us. It is our trustworthy friend in Asia. I wish it could be a diplomatic ally," he said.

However, he said, he would not remain silent when other countries bully Taiwan.

He also said that neither he nor the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is responsible for the nation's diplomatic difficulties -- it was the diplomats in the 1970s who are to blame because they did not act in the nation's best interests when Taiwan left the UN in 1971.

"I want the world to respect Taiwan. Day and night I ponder on how to achieve this," Chen said.

Cabinet Spokesman Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) said the minister's remarks on Monday were "inappropriate" and that he should exercise more prudence in his word choice.

"The premier telephoned Minister Chen this morning to express his wish to see the minister `appropriately respond' to the misunderstanding, which was caused by his misuse of words and improper judgment," Chen Chi-mai told reporters at the press conference held after the weekly closed-door Cabinet meeting yesterday afternoon.

The Cabinet official also criticized Yeo's remarks, which he called "unfriendly" and "interference in Taiwan's domestic affairs."

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