Former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) is to leave for Japan today in the face of strong protests from China over the visit, officials said yesterday.
Lee, his wife Tsen Wen-hui (曾文惠) and two other relatives are slated to depart for Nagoya for a week-long stay in Japan which has angered Beijing which views the politician as "splittist" and an advocate of Taiwanese independence.
The Japanese government on Tuesday issued tourist visas to Lee and his family, defying a warning from China that the move would further damage tense Sino-Japanese relations.
Lee will stay in Nagoya for two days before travelling to Kanazawa city, said an official of the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU).
The 81-year-old Lee will visit Kyoto Imperial University as an alumnus on Thursday and Lake Biwako Friday. Lee and his family will spend their New Year in the ancient city of Kyoto before flying back from Osaka on Sunday.
No TSU legislators will accompany Lee in the low-profile trip which has still riled Beijing.
The Japanese government said it considered Lee, who left office in 2000, to be a private citizen. It told journalists and officials to stay away from him on his tour of historic sites in southern Japan.
Taiwan's foreign ministry welcomed the decision to grant visas. And a TSU spokesman called the trip "a breakthrough" against China's political blockade.
Lee last came to Japan in April 2001 for medical treatment to follow up on surgery he had undergone a year earlier in Taipei. That trip prompted Beijing to cancel a visit to Japan by its then-legislative chairman Li Peng.
Lee was president of Taiwan from 1988 to 2000. His "private visit" in 1995 to the United States, where he earned his doctorate, prompted China to lob ballistic missiles into waters off the country's two major harbors and hold military maneuvers facing the island.