President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday said that Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) will attend APEC's informal leaders' meeting in his place, because of his desire not to put South Korea in a difficult diplomatic situation.
Even though Chen had several times expressed the hope of joining the APEC summit on Nov. 18 and 19, his request was rejected by South Korea early last month.
Chen told special South Korean envoy Yun Hai-jung that he didn't want to vex the South Korean government or President Roh Moo-hyun if there were difficulties in granting the request, despite stressing that he had the right to take part in the meeting.
"Taiwan's participation in the APEC summit should be no different from other members. If I am unable to attend, it would be with great regret, and it would discriminate against the 23 million people of Taiwan," Chen said.
Chen said that the Chinese government had no right to decide whether he could attend the summit or not, and had no right to vet Taiwan's representative.
The US, which supports Taiwan's participation in the APEC summit, responded positively to Chen's actions, saying it was a "creative move" to send the legislative speaker, Presidential Office Deputy Secretary-General James Huang (黃志芳) said.
In line with long-established protocol, the 2005 APEC summit organizing committee sent a special envoy to Taipei in July to forward an invitation to Chen.
While APEC is one of the few international organizations that admit both Taipei and Beijing, the president has been unable to attend previous APEC informal meetings because of opposition from Beijing.
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"As Lee has modestly declined to the president on account of his attendance in previous years, Chen decided to name another person to be his envoy," Huang said.
Chen said Wang had agreed to attend the summit, which is to be held in Busan, South Korea, in November.
Presidential Office Secretary-General Yu Shyi-kun praised Wang as a suitable delegate.
"As a speaker of the Legislative Yuan, the highest representative body in the nation, Wang reflects a majority of public opinion. He is also an experienced politician and very respectable person," Yu said.
Meanwhile, Wang yesterday said he was duty bound to represent Chen if everything was "appropriately arranged," and that he would report to Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) at an "appropriate time." He said that Chen asked him to consider representing him in August.
Wang yesterday hesitated to specify whether he was willing to take up the job, but said that anybody should be happy to make a contribution to the country when the opportunity arises.
Wang said he believed Ma would "respect the nation's overall interest," and added that the official invitation extended by the host country yesterday was just the beginning of the matter, and that the Presidential Office would inform Ma of the arrangements when the time is right.
In response, Ma said he did not know of the news until yesterday morning.
"I will discuss the issue with Wang, and inform the public about my decision after I understand the whole situation," he told reporters yesterday after receiving a group of visiting Republicans from the US.