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Sun, Jan 14, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Forging stronger ties with the EU a priority for MOFA

David Lee, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, was recently designated Taiwan's representative to Brussels. Before he embarks to fill his new post, however, he spoke with `Taipei Times' reporter Monique Chu about Taiwan's efforts on the European Diplomatic front and what he hopes to accomplish. Lee said that while Taiwan's accession to the WTO might enable Taiwan's establishment of a representative office at the EU and for the EU to reciprocate by opening an office in Taipei, China's influence still remains crucial. Lee, a 52-year-old seasoned diplomat, said that Taiwan would continue to try and find some common ground with its European counterparts and build up its resources in the region.

David Lee, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times: Since Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) stepped into office, his administration has emphasized that Taiwan should strengthen its ties with the EU. Now that you have been designated Taiwan's representative in Brussels, what are the concrete measures you have in mind to help reach this foreign policy objective?

David Lee: (李大維) I just got this assignment a few days ago. So I am still in the process of trying to get familiar with it.

However, since I became the vice foreign minister three years ago, I have been supervising operations in Europe and also had several opportunities to travel to the region. I find that the growing importance of the EU has become a reality, and Taiwan has to cope with this reality.

But to be honest, in the past we have not put as many resources [as we should] in that part of the world. Now I think the government has some reorientation of its foreign policy goal.

TT: As the government has tried to reorient foreign policy goals to look to Europe, does this imply it will shift some of its financial resources, say in North America, to Europe?

Lee: As a matter of fact, when we are talking about strengthening ties between Taiwan and the EU, it does not necessarily mean that we have to reallocate financial resources.

Another way of strengthening the relationship is to try to beef up the representation of our personnel. I always consider human resources to be more important than anything else in diplomacy.

We have changed several representatives in European countries and you can find a trend, that the average age of these new representatives of various countries is younger than it used to be. In the future we'll try to increase the number of the personnel in some of the offices in Europe.

TT: Taiwan in recent years has dubbed the establishment of its representative office to the EU as one of its foreign policy goals, and Chen has emphasized that as well. As of now, what are the major obstacles to reaching this goal?

Lee: The establishment of our office in the EU should be conducted simultaneously with the establishment of the EU office here in Taipei. As I understand, the EU still has some budgetary problems for setting up more offices abroad.

However, the European Parliament has passed several resolutions to express its support for the EU to establish an office in Taipei. After Taiwan's accession to the WTO, I think it will be a better opportunity for this issue.

TT: So to what extent do you think that the European Parliament's support for Taiwan in this aspect can be transferred into greater political influence in the EU itself?

Lee: That's why I said we should make sure that the EU has the same interest as Taiwan has on this issue so that we can make things happen. That's the reason I said that we probably have to wait until Taiwan's accession to the WTO. In this game we all have to be patient, and I think that both the Europeans and Taiwanese are indeed patient people. We don't want to rush into something that will make some people feel uncomfortable.

TT: To break its isolation in the international arena, Taiwan in the past has utilized "multiple channels" of influence to expand its external relations. In the case of Taiwan's effort to set up its representative office in the EU, to what extent do you think the private sector can play a role here?

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