Alaska warmly welcomes Chen

SURPRISE: At the end of a trip in which the president has been given unprecedented exposure, he received a red-carpet reception on his arrival in the northern US state

By Lin Chieh-yu and Fan Cheng-hsiung  /  STAFF REPORTERS , IN ALASKA

Thu, Nov 06, 2003 - Page 1

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was given red-carpet treatment on his arrival in Alaska yesterday as his new-found freedom in the US continued.

After flying from Panama, where he attended the country's 100th anniversary celebrations, Chen was greeted in Anchorage by Taiwan's representative to the US, Chen Chien-jen (程建人), American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairwoman Therese Shaheen, Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski, Alaskan House Speaker Pete Kott and overseas Taiwanese representatives.

Murkowski arranged for Chen to give a public speech on his arrival, an unusual privilege for a visiting Taiwanese president on a stopover visit in the US.

"Chairwoman Shaheen has witnessed this occasion and I hope the AIT can continue with their efforts," Chen said in response to the warm welcome. "Why is it that Alaska can but New York can't?"

When former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) returned to his alma mater, Cornell University, to give a speech in 1995, he also made a stopover in Alaska. But he was confined to his hotel and prohibited from engaging in any public activities.

Chen has enjoyed unprecedented exposure during his seven-day trip, beginning with a transit stop in New York last Friday.

Congressmen greeted him at the airport and he gave a 30-minute public speech when he accepted a human rights award. He was allowed to freely talk to the media and went on a cruise in New York harbor with 500 Taiwanese expatriates.

Chen expressed his appreciation for the way the US had treated him and emphasized that the US government had consented to all his activities.

Nevertheless, the public reception in Anchorage was a unexpected bonus. Chen found out about it only after he had taken off from Panama when Murkowski's office contacted Chen's aides.

In a speech during a banquet hosted by Taiwanese expatriates in Alaska, Shaheen said that Taiwan's economic performance had surprised the international community. She said it would be more appropriate for the so-called Greater China economy to be called the Greater Taiwan economy.

Her 20 years of experience as a businesswoman suggested that if Taiwan cooperated with China economically, the two sides could create a win-win situation, she said.

She said Taiwan had contributed a lot to the world in terms of promoting human rights and fighting terror and the world should value Taiwan more. Alaska understood this and was acting as a bridge between Taiwan and the world, she said.

Chen, comparing the current situation with the one that Lee encountered, said that the changes over the past eight years were a result of many things and people, including the US government, Murkowski and the improvement in Taiwan-US relations. He said that President George W. Bush was Taiwan's "guardian angel."

Chen said that he was quite satisfied with his trip and that its success was the achievement of all 23 million people in Taiwan.

Chen will arrive in Taiwan at 6pm tonight after going on a sightseeing trip around Alaska.

In contrast to the high-profile reception Chen received in Alaska, his return to Taiwan will likely be a low-key affair.

Presidential Secretary General Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) yesterday urged government officials, legislators and Democratic Progressive Party supporters not to arrange a welcoming party for Chen at CKS International Airport.

During his stopover in New York, Chen met one of President Bush's brothers at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, according to a source from an overseas Taiwanese association.

However, the Presidential Office refused to confirm the information and did not want to make any comment.

(additional reporting by Chang Yun-ping)