Sun, May 04, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Taiwan gets new envoy to Seoul

VETERAN Lee Tsai-fang has spent a total of more than 15 years in Seoul and got to know the region exceptionally well in his capacities as both journalist and diplomat

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

National Policy Adviser Lee Tsai-fang (李在方), tipped as Taiwan's new representative to South Korea, yesterday vowed to boost Taipei-Seoul relations when he comes on board this summer.

"We should not only enhance relations with South Korea, but also boost our ties with Russia and members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)," Lee said after a seminar yesterday morning.

Lee's remarks yesterday was the first time he talked to the press since he had been reportedly handpicked to succeed veteran diplomat Lee Chung-ru (李宗儒) as Taiwan's top representative in Seoul since the incumbent's resignation last month.

Lee said it might take up to a month and a half for both Taipei and Seoul to concurrently announce his formal appointment.

When asked whether to resume the regular air link between Taiwan and South Korea would be at the top of his agenda once he's stationed in Seoul, Lee said the ball is in Seoul's court.

Lee said South Korea has established direct air links with 21 cities in China, with the exchange of visitors between the two sides reaching over 2.5 million every year.

The figure for visits between Taipei and Seoul remained at a level of less than 200,000 visitors per year.

The key to breaking the stalemate in transportation talks between Taiwan and South Korea lies in Seoul resisting pertinent pressure from Beijing, Lee argued.

Seoul and Taipei severed regular air links in 1992 following South Korea's decision in August that year to shift diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

On the current nuclear crisis in North Korea, Lee said Pyongyang has in his eyes, since the end of the Cold War, attempted to enhance ties with the US while top leaders in North Korea have regarded Beijing with suspicion.

The longstanding Korea watcher said North Korea has perceived China -- instead of the US, Japan, South Korea and Russia -- as the key regional power that poses a threat to its national security.

Lee said it remained unclear how the US would endeavor to bring the current North Korean nuclear crisis to an end, although he argued that the longer it took for the crisis to be resolved, the more uncertain the situation in Northeast Asia might become.

Lee, born in 1939, is expected to carry with him to Seoul experience in dealing with Korean affairs that stretches back to the 1960s.

Lee, a Korean-major at National Chengchi University, was first in South Korea in 1963 as an exchange student for a 14-months stay, before he joined Taipei's embassy in Seoul in 1967 at the age of 27 for two years.

Saying his decision to leave the embassy in 1969 was because he found his work as a young diplomat rather "boring," Lee then returned to Taiwan to join the Central News Agency as a news translator.

In 1970, Lee was handpicked by his news agency as its correspondent in Seoul, thus beginning his ten-year stay in the city as a news wire journalist.

In 1990, the news agency appointed Lee as its Northeast Asia bureau chief. Lee was once again based in Seoul, overseeing until 1993 the agency's news coverage of the region that included Mongolia, Northern China and the Korean Peninsula. Lee formally retired from the news agency in 1994.

Lee established his ties with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) when Chen served as the mayor of Taipei, he said. He had also accompanied Chen on his visits to Russia, South Korea and Mongolia, he added.

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