Thu, Jul 08, 2004 - Page 3 News List

New MOFA official dodges controversy over reporter flap

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Vigorously denying his rumored contempt for journalists, the incoming Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokesman, Michel Lu (呂慶龍), said that if his career as a diplomat has taught him anything, it is respect for people -- regardless of their job.

Earlier this week, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen (陳唐山) confirmed Lu, currently vice chairman of the ministry's Non-Governmental Organization Affairs Committee, will succeed Richard Shih (石瑞琦) as the ministry's spokesman and director-general of the Department of Information and Cultural Affairs.

Interacting with reporters will be one of Lu's daily tasks after he officially becomes the spokesman. In a telephone interview yesterday, Lu denied he once called for the ministry to ban reporters from eating in the ministry restaurant, which offers meals at cheaper prices than outside stores.

He also dismissed a rumor that he complained about a reporter sending him a marriage banquet invitation.

Lu was said to have called this extortion, because he felt compelled to give the reporter the traditional red envelope filled with cash offered to grooms and brides at wedding ceremonies.

"These rumors are impossible. I never opposed reporters eating in the ministry's cafeteria. If people really know my personality, they would not say things like this," Lu said.

He described himself as a devout Buddhist, who treats all human beings equally.

"People familiar with me say I am very open and easy to get along with. I am a Buddhist. I wish we could have a fair society ... I will not keep these rumors in my mind. I can honestly face my conscience," the diplomat said.

Lu, who obtained his doctorate from University of Paris, is fluent in French. In 1998, Lu, who has long been involved in the annual bid to enter the World Health Organization (WHO), set up the Taipei Cultural and Economic mission in Geneva, where the UN body's headquarters are located.

From 2000 to 2002, Lu served as the country's ambassador to Haiti.

"Taiwan always hopes to gain the international community's respect. We cannot look down upon poorer and smaller countries, when we ourselves strive to earn the international community's recognition," Lu said.

Disapproving of some people's contempt for Taiwan's allies, most of which are poor and tiny countries, Lu said under Taiwan's difficult diplomatic climate originating from its poor relationship with China, Taiwan's diplomats would do almost anything to retain allies.

People should treat all countries equally no matter whether they are rich or poor, Lu said, adding people in all walks of life should be fairly treated.

Lin Shih-chia (林世嘉), executive director of the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan, a private group that lobbies for Taiwan's entrance into the WHO, said compared with other diplomats, Lu's personality is "more open and active."

"Taiwan's diplomats are very conservative because of their training. Lu gave people the impression that he is outspoken and flexible," said Lin, who worked with Lu in the past preparing WHO applications.

An official familiar with both Lu and Shih, however, said Shih, who has been appointed as the representative of the Taipei Liaison Office in the Republic of South Africa, is more "sincere and pragmatic" than Lu.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official described Lu as a "slippery man" who "knew how to further his career."

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