President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) will be coming to Washington -- albeit electronically -- at the end of the month to talk about Taiwan's democracy before an audience of US and foreign journalists and others with an interest in East Asian affairs.
Chen will be the guest speaker at the National Press Club in Washington through a videocon-ference from Taipei on May 29, the club announced on Friday.
The event will be a "Morning Newsmaker Breakfast," in which Chen will make a speech followed by a press conference.
Unlike similar functions, which are usually held in regular meeting rooms, Chen's speech will be beamed into the club's main ballroom, indicating that the organizers believe the speech will draw a large attendance.
Chen's address will be titled "Democratic Taiwan: Challenges and Perspectives."
China has already objected to Chen's appearance, said Peter Hickman, the chairman of the speaker's committee at the club, which organized the event.
After hearing of the plans for the event about two weeks ago, the Chinese embassy's press counselor Chu Maoming (朱茂名) invited press club president Jerry Zremski for lunch, where he expressed his complaint, Hickman told the Taipei Times.
Hickman also attended the lunch.
Chu complained that the press club was "supporting [Taiwan's] position by giving them a prestigious forum," Hickman said, adding that Chu had "repeated that over and over again."
"No, we're not," Hickman said in reply to Chu. "We don't support anybody's position. It's just about freedom of the press and freedom of expression."
But Chu "ignored what we said," Hickman said.
At one point, Chu said that "the people of China are very concerned about this," which the two press club officials thought was a rather "funny" comment.
The Chinese embassy has regularly complained when Taiwanese speakers are invited to the club and always objected to the flying of the Taiwan flag in the club lobby along with the flags of other countries when a Chinese speaker is invited to the facility.
The Taiwan flag has been a fixture of the flag display for as long as anybody here can recall.
Chen's videoconference was arranged "quite a few weeks ago," said Stanley Gao, deputy representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO). All the arrangements were made by the press club, he said.
"They believe that President Chen is definitely a newsmaker," Gao said.
However, Hickman said that TECRO initiated the event by asking the press club to hold it, and that TECRO will be paying for breakfast in the ballroom, which can hold several hundred people.
"We believe this is a wonderful opportunity for Chen to personally address [Taiwan] issues before an American audience, even an international audience, taking advantage of IT and high-technology developments," Gao said.
Regarding China's objections, Gao said: "We think they are making the wrong case. After all, we're talking about the freedom of the press. And the host organization has every right to invite anybody they believe is newsworthy."
"So I think they [Chinese officials] keep barking up the wrong tree," he said.
It will be Chen's first appearance in Washington electronically since September 2005, when the Congressional Human Rights Caucus presented him with its annual human rights award.
Caucus chairman Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, presented Chen with the award on behalf of the group's 250 House members, via closed circuit TV as Chen was in transit in Miami after returning from a trip to Latin America.
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