Lee Teng-hui begins trip to US to visit `old friends'

OUTSPOKEN: The former president will travel to four American cities during his trip, and plans to meet with academics, businesspeople and other influential figures

AGENCIES , TAIPEI

Wed, Oct 12, 2005 - Page 1

Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) left for the US yesterday, vowing to urge the international community to help rein in what he called China's military threat to democratic Taiwan.

"[He] will urge the international community to pay attention to the threat and impact of China's rising military power on the Taiwan Strait, the Asia-Pacific region, the United States and the world," Lee's office said in a statement.

"On the grounds of defending the universal value of democracy, he will further call on the international community not to sit idly by and leave the ambitions of a dictatorial China to annex democratic Taiwan unchecked," the statement said.

However, the US Department of State has been careful to describe Lee's visit as a "personal trip," in an effort to depoliticize his tour and avoid criticism from China.

Meanwhile, chanting "Down with Taiwan's independence," a small group of pro-unification activists protested at the airport before Lee's departure.

Lee made no comment.

During his two-week visit to meet with "old friends," the 82-year-old Lee will visit four US cities -- Anchorage, New York, Washington and Los Angeles -- where he will meet with senior executives of major Taiwanese associations, as well as US politicians, think tank members and opinion leaders.

An outspoken critic of China's military threat and diplomatic suppression of Taiwan, Lee will take advantage of his visit to draw attention to the possible impact of China's rise on the peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, the Asia-Pacific region and the entire world, Lee's aides said.

Lee, often described as one of the spiritual leaders of the pro-independence movement, will also urge the international community not to condone China's increasingly evident attempts to annex Taiwan.

Meanwhile, his aides said, Lee will discuss with Taiwanese community leaders how to pool resources at home and abroad to defend Taiwan's national interests.

He will also exchange views with influential US congressional members, think tank researchers and social opinion leaders on the latest developments in the general international situation.

Lee retired in 2000, but Beijing still warns foreign governments against granting him visas, saying that he seizes any opportunity to advocate Taiwan's independence.

Lee will be in Washington from Oct. 17 to 20, during which he is scheduled to deliver a speech at the National Press Club.

During his tenure as president, Lee made a rare visit to the US in June 1995, which sparked a fierce protest from China.

Beijing was so outraged that it staged menacing war games and lobbed missiles into the Taiwan Strait.