Mon, Nov 10, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Public backs Chen's trip, poll shows

PRE-ELECTION BOOSTMost Taiwanese support the president's performance on his trip to the US and Panama, a poll shows, but the KMT found fault with the journey

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

The public is largely satisfied with President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) performance during his diplomatic trip to the US and Panama and believes Chen's visit to New York has substantially strengthened Taiwan-US ties, a poll showed yesterday.

The poll was conducted by the Foundation on International & Cross-strait Studies, a private think tank, immediately after Chen returned to Taiwan on Nov. 6.

Sixty-three percent of those interviewed said they were satisfied with Chen's performance during the trip and 61 percent of them said Taiwan-US ties have improved since Chen's visit.

The poll also showed that 65 percent believed Chen's trip has enhanced Taiwan's international image as a democratic, liberal country highly respecting human rights.

Commentators, however, had mixed interpretations of the poll results.

"Chen's foreign trip is not about diplomacy. It's about boosting his popularity at home," said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Kwan Yuk-noan (關沃暖).

"Chen had achieved nothing spectacular apart from shaking hands with US Secretary of State Colin Powell. His visit didn't even receive coverage from prestigious newspapers such as The New York Times," Kwan said.

Expressing unhappiness about what he called a flawed poll, Kwan said the think tank's questionnaire was not designed properly.

Chen's seven-day trip to Panama, with stopovers in New York and Alaska, received widespread domestic media coverage. The apparent relaxation in the rules of transit by the US had given Chen more freedom to get his message across.

Chen, who was honored with an award from the New York-based International League for Human Rights, delivered a 35-minute speech during the ceremony -- a lengthy public performance for a politically sensitive figure such as Chen.

The US also permitted the local media to cover Chen's activities, a gesture politicians here hailed as a major breakthrough in the Taiwan-US relationship. During his last visit to the US, Chen was prohibited from crossing a street to meet his supporters.

DPP Legislator Lee Wen-chung (李文忠) rejected Kwan's criticism of Chen's trip, saying Kwan used his "little eyes and little nose" to observe the achievement of the president's diplomatic mission.

Lee Wen-chung recalled former president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) first visit to the US, during which he was not even allowed to leave the plane, to highlight Chen's success in breaking through transit limitations.

Chen's approval rating has risen since the trip.

"The trip has a good effect on next year's presidential election," said Lee Wen-chung, "but we need to carefully observe whether the effect is a long-term or short-term one."

Chang Rong-kung (張榮恭), head of the KMT's mainland affairs department, said Chen's diplomatic breakthroughs are not necessarily the result of improved ties between Taiwan and the US.

It could be another evidence of the deepening China-US ties, Chang said.

"As the US-China relationship is on such good terms, China has felt it safe to let the US relax restrictions on Chen's New York transit," he said.

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