The chief sponsor of a US congressional resolution welcoming President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to the US next week has called on the Bush government to allow Chen to travel to Washington to receive a human-rights award from the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.
But the Bush administration might object to the way the award is presented in view of China's expected opposition.
Chen will overnight in Miami on Tuesday en route to Central America and the Caribbean.
There, he will be presented with the award by the caucus, an important congressional group which consists of some 150 House of Representatives members, a majority of the total House membership.
But the US State Department demanded that there be "no public or media events" during Chen's transit, raising the possibility of a clash between the congressional backers of Taiwan and Chen on the one hand, and the administration on the other.
On Wedenesday, caucus staffers said they could not yet give details of plans for the ceremony, since the day of Chen's arrival is a working day for Congress, making it difficult for members to be out of Washington.
As a result, it is not clear whether there will be a formal ceremony, who the participants will be, and whether Chen will have an opportunity to make a public speech.
According to one congressional staffer, the award will read: "The Congressional Human Rights Caucus presents the Human Rights Award to His Excellency Chen Shui-bian, President of the Republic of China on Taiwan, in recognition and appreciation of his outstanding dedication to internationally recognized human rights and the promotion of political freedom and human rights throughout the Asia-Pacific region."
The State Department on Wednesday said that: "We understand that President Chen's activities will be private and unofficial, consistent with the transit ... We understand that there will be no public or media events."
A department spokesman noted that the Bush administration approved Chen's transit "based on the criteria we've used for past transits -- safety, comfort and convenience -- while respecting the dignity of the traveler."
Pressed about the Human Rights Caucus' plans for the ceremony, a department spokesman said only that, "I was told that it was our understanding that there were to be no public events. As far as whether there is something like that, I cannot say."
Republican Representative Steve Chabot, a co-chairman of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus who last week introduced a resolution in the House welcoming Chen's visit, said that the awards ceremony should be in Washington rather than Miami.
"I feel strongly that President Chen should be able to come here to Washington, DC, just as high-level officials from other countries do," Chabot told Taiwanese reporters after attending a signing ceremony for agreements in which Taiwan will import billions of dollars worth of US farm products.
"I think it's unfortunately long overdue that President Chen should be able to come right here to Washington," he said, noting that members of Congress had to go to New York when Chen transited through that city en route to Panama in October 2003, and would now have to travel to Miami.
During that New York trip, Chen received a human-rights award from the International League for Human Rights. The award was presented at a gala dinner where Chen delivered an address that incurred the wrath of China and ushered in a period of frosty US-Taiwan relations.
The House International Relations Committee scheduled a vote on Chabot's resolution for yesterday, and it was expected to be approved overwhelmingly. It will then go to the full House, where it may be taken up as early as this Tuesday, the day that Chen arrives in Miami.
After Miami, Chen will visit five Caribbean and Central American allies. He will stop in San Francisco on Sept. 28 on his way home.
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