President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) arrived in Miami early yesterday morning, where he was scheduled to meet former high-ranking US officials in a bid to further improve relations between Taiwan and the US.
However, with Hurricane Rita heading across the Gulf of Mexico, Chen's plans to meet with US officials seemed likely to be disrupted. The president is scheduled to receive former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage and former deputy assistant secretary of State Randy Schriver in the hotel where he is staying.
After bad weather in Florida prevented congressmen friendly to Taiwan, including Democratic Representative Tom Lantos and Republican Representative Steve Chabot, from going to Miami, Chen held a video conference with members of the Taiwan Caucus in the US Congress.
Due to the hurricane, a planned dinner for about 1,000 overseas Taiwanese yesterday was to be downsized, as Chen wanted to keep a low profile during his US transit stop.
Chen is scheduled to depart from Miami for Central America today, where he will visit five of Taiwan's diplomatic allies -- the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
He is scheduled to return to Taipei on Oct. 1.
Meanwhile, the Taiwan Caucus' plan to give Chen an award for his long-term devotion to the promotion of human rights has been canceled.
The cancellation of the award ceremony in Miami does not mean that Chen will not receive the award. Lantos might visit Taiwan in the near future to present the award to Chen in person to further highlight the Taiwanese people's devotion to the promotion of democracy, freedom and human rights.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday denied a claim that the government had "bought" a human rights award for Chen.
Ministry spokesman Michel Lu (呂慶龍) responded to an allegation by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Su Chi (蘇起), who claimed that the government had paid US public relations firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers US$1.5 million per year or more in order for Chen to be awarded by the Congressional human rights caucus.
Lu said that the president is being honored on behalf of Taiwan's 23 million people, because the US recognizes their efforts in improving human rights and entrenching democracy, a move that has nothing to do with the PR firms who are hired to lobby for Taiwan.
He said that the PR firms are part of the communications channels between Taiwan and the US, and that the firms' major tasks include smoothing communications between Taiwan and the US Congress and government, and enabling the US to better understand Taiwan's interest in promoting democracy, human rights and peace at home and internationally.
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