Thu, Jan 23, 2003 - Page 3 News List

US says it did not put a stop to official visit

CROSSED LINES Vice Minister of Defense Chen Chao-min's visit to Washington had been a ``foregone conclusion,'' but US officials now say that he was never supposed to visit the city during his visit in the first place

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

The US has denied that it has blocked a visit to Washington next month by Vice Defense Minister Chen Chao-min (陳肇敏) in retaliation for press reports about the planned US presence at upcoming annual military exercises.

They say Chen was never supposed to visit Washington during his US visit in the first place.

While US officials concede that Washington was "ticked off" at the Taiwanese press leaks and the inability of Taiwanese legislators and officials to keep secret what Washington wants kept secret, the George W. Bush administration was questioning whether a visit by Chen to Washington would serve any purpose.

Chen is scheduled to travel to San Antonio, Texas next month to attend a defense conference organized by the US-Taiwan Business Council, a private organization of US and Taiwanese business executives heavily weighted toward defense contractors and US-Taiwan military relations.

It had been a "foregone conclusion" that Chen would visit Washington after the Texas conference was completed, one US official noted. But, he said, such a trip will not occur "for a variety of reasons."

These include the Bush administration's obsession with Iraq and the possibility of a war and the fact that a Washington visit would serve no purpose, since Chen will discuss the gamut of military issues with Pentagon officials during the Texas meeting.

The Pentagon was officially mum on any Chen trip to Washington.

"We understand that Vice Minister Chen may visit the US to attend the US-Taiwan Business Council function in San Antonio next month. No follow-up trip to Washington is scheduled at this point," is all that Pentagon East Asian spokesman Jeff Davis would say.

He referred further queries to the Business Council and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Relations Office in Washington.

The San Antonio meeting is the second to be held by the business council. The first, held last March in St. Petersburg, Florida, was attended by Minister of National Defense Tang Yau-ming (湯曜明) and marked the first time the top defense official was granted a visa to visit the US.

The visa, and Tang's meetings at the conference with US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, brought howls of protest from Beijing, whose foreign ministry called in US Ambassador Clark Randt to warn of harm to US-China relations.

This year's meeting will be more low-key, with Chen heading the Taiwanese delegation and Peter Rodman, the US Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, being the top US official to attend. But even Rodman's presence is in doubt, since his portfolio also includes Iraq, with which Washington may be at war by the time of the conference.

There had been some discussion about Chen visiting Washington, US officials conceded. But no decision was made, and nothing was formally scheduled, officials say.

Washington's newly cozy relations with Beijing also likely played a role in keeping Chen from Washington, US officials said.

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