Tue, Jul 22, 2003 - Page 3 News List

First lady wins hearts and minds

ON TOUR Wu Shu-chen has managed to apply her humility and sense of humor to great effect on this and other trips to make Taiwan more visible

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER IN ROME

First lady Wu Shu-chen presents a letter from President Chen Shui-bian congratulating the pontiff on the 25th anniversary of his ascension during a general audience at Castelgandolfo, on the outskirts of Rome, on Sunday. The letter also asks the pope to pray for cross-strait peace.

PHOTO: CHU PEI-HSIUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

First lady Wu Shu-chen (吳淑珍), who has represented her husband several times on diplomatic trips during the past three years, nevertheless plays down her role as the face of Taiwan overseas.

"If I knew anything about diplomacy, then I would have asked the president to appoint me minister of foreign affairs long ago," she joked recently.

Wu has has become adept at complementing the conservative traditions of the foreign ministry's bureaucratic system with her straightforward and humorous style.

While President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) focuses on high-level visits to diplomatic allies and boosting ties with the US, and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) conducts her "guerilla diplomacy," the first lady uses her ability to travel to countries with no official ties with Taiwan to enhance the country's visibility abroad.

Former Government Information Office director Arthur Iap (葉國興) said that Wu also realized that the essence of a diplomat's humor is to make self-deprecating jokes to entertain the audience.

"She also knows how to create suitable news topics for the media, and play along with media requests," he said. She is also smart enough to know how far each side in a negotiation will give ground and has thoroughly mastered the art of crisis management, he said.

"When Wu Shu-chen visited the US last year and Europe this time, she always makes jokes about how she feels helpless during the long and complicated rituals of a diplomatic occasion," said Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), the deputy secretary-general of the Presidential Office.

"Like during a dinner party hosted by Taiwan's ambassador to the Vatican in Rome, when the soprano's performance lasted more than half an hour.

"Even though she sang really well, the exhausted and starving Taiwanese delegates were in no mood to appreciate her performance.

"In the end, Wu came to their rescue when she gave her speech, saying, `When the soprano was singing, my stomach was singing too.'

"Her joke immediately soothed the tension and gloom among the delegation," he said.

Wu also has a knack of dealing with the media, understanding their varying needs while maintaining her status.

On a visit to a part of the Berlin Wall with the words "A-bian will surely win" daubed on it, she cooperated with the photographers even though it was very hot.

But she spoke only about the Taiwanese people, mentioning nothing about the presidential election next year.

"And when she was in the presence of our international friends in Berlin, as well as stressing the importance of her visit in boosting the relationship between Taiwan and Germany, she also talked about future developments between Taiwan and Europe. She highlighted the role of her trip to Germany as `a key to Europe,' bestowing her visit with a deeper meaning," said Hu Wei-chen (胡為真), Taiwan's representative to Germany.

When it comes to her mastery of crisis management, her visit to the US last year provided an excellent example. After she was unexpectedly searched at Los Angeles airport, Wu's immediate response was described by an accompanying diplomats as "grabbing the US government by the throat and making them pay what they should diplomatically."

The diplomat said afterwards that the skill the first lady demonstrated when negotiating with the US officials could almost become a textbook example for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Wu was tough and soft at the same time, showing respect to the US officials but insisting on her bottom line.

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