Wed, Aug 31, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Lee scheduled for press club speech in US

FLAG FLAP The National Press Club displays the ROC flag in its lobby, but pro-independence groups don't want it there when Lee Teng-hui speaks


Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) is scheduled to hold a press conference in Washington in October, when he makes his first trip to the US since 1995. But a dispute over the placement of the Republic of China (ROC) flag may make for an unprecedented twist in the arrangements.

The US government is not planning to interfere with Lee's trip, allaying the fears of some pro-Taiwan independence groups, who were concerned that the Bush administration might bar him from visiting Washington, or the US at all, in deference to China.

A State Department official said the department it would not raise official objections to Lee's trip.

"He is a private person, and if he comes, he will be treated as a private person," the official told the Taipei Times.

A room has been reserved at the National Press Club in Washington for Lee's press conference on Oct. 6, said Peter Hickman, the head of the club's speakers committee. The event will be sponsored by the club itself.

The reservation was made at the request of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA), a leading pro-independence lobbying group in Washington.

"I'm delighted" Hickman said when told of the State Department's position.

Hickman, a staunch supporter of Taiwan, has battled many times in the past with the department and with the Chinese Embassy over Taiwanese leaders speaking at the club.

He has also repeatedly invited President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to speak, despite US government opposition.

"The Chinese Embassy will still bitch about [the Lee press conference]," Hickman said.

As is usual with any Taiwanese speaker at the club, the ROC flag is supposed to be flown during the event. The flag is prominently displayed in the club's lobby, along with the flags of dozens of other nations.

That has pitted Hickman against the Chinese embassy on numerous occasions. Each time a Chinese official speaks at the club, the embassy demands the removal of the ROC flag, a demand Hickman steadfastly rejects.

This time, the situation is curiously different.

This time, it is the pro-independence Taiwan groups who are objecting to the flag, which they consider the flag of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

They would prefer a different banner, but the only current alternative is the green-and-white Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) pennant, although Lee is not in the DPP.

"I'd like to have [the flag] there, but I guess I should respect my guests," Hickman says.

"If they want to bring a DPP flag, that would be alright with me. I don't care," he said.

However, Hickman said, "we don't have to have any flag there."

As a result, it is possible that no ROC flag will be flown as Lee speaks, a first for the club, Hickman concedes.

"I don't know what to do about it," he said.

Lee will visit Washington, and other cities, at the invitation of FAPA and other Taiwanese-American groups.

He is also planning to visit New York and his alma mater, Cornell University. The visit to Cornell will revive memories of Lee's 1995 trip, which was originally barred by the Clinton administration, but was allowed to proceed when Congress passed a resolution overriding the objections of the White House.

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