Tue, Nov 21, 2006 - Page 3 News List

NewsMaker: Envoy's wife a hit at APEC

By Jewel Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER IN HANOI

While government officials considered Morris Chang's (張忠謀) appointment as President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) representative at APEC this year a "brilliant choice," the informal diplomacy of his wife, Sophie Chang (張淑芬), was also a surprise bonus.

Because of China's diplomatic blockade, APEC is one of the few international organizations that Taiwan is able to participate in. However, since 1991, when Taiwan entered the economic forum using the name "Chinese Taipei," APEC has never allowed Taiwanese presidents to attend the leaders' summit. Therefore, how the president's envoy performs at the forum with the other heads of state becomes a focus from Taiwan's perspective.

This year, the president selected Chang, chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, to serve as his proxy, a choice described by Foreign Minister James Huang (黃志芳) and other officials in charge of Taiwan's APEC participation as "creative and brilliant."

Although Chang had never previously been involved in political affairs, his performance at the two-day leaders' summit was impressive judging from his frequent and active interactions with US President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤).

But Sophie Chang's performance all but matched that of her husband during the summit as she enjoyed close interaction with Laura Bush and the spouses of other leaders at the events APEC arranged for them.

Viewing her trip to APEC as a diplomatic mission, Sophie Chang told reporters that she had done a lot of homework and research on the various spouses and made notes on their personal background to take with her.

"Since I viewed this trip as a task, I tried to perform it perfectly," Sophie Chang said.

Sophie Chang, 62, speaks fluent English, since she studied in the US after finishing senior high school in Taiwan. Thanks to her linguistic ability, she was able to chat with the other spouses without the need of a translator, shortening the distance between them.

In order to highlight Taiwan's features, she also wore colorful cheongsams by Taiwanese designers, and her elegant and cordial attitude won praise from all corners.

Knowing that the relationship with the US is an important one for Taiwan, Sophie Chang spent much of her time finding common topics to discuss with US first lady Laura Bush. She discovered that both their daughters are living in New York and working as volunteers at a non-profit group that promotes Laura Bush's "First Book" project.

Laura Bush has been promoting the project, which aims to give children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own brand new books, in the US.

Sophie Chang showed her an e-mail written by her daughter, and Laura wrote "with thanks to First Book" on it as a gift to Chang's daughter.

Sophie Chang even suggested that Taiwan could provide the organization with Chinese books for language learners since she believes Mandarin will become a major world language in the future. Laura Bush welcomed the idea and suggested they "could do that together."

Meanwhile, Sophie Chang also took time out to socialize with the Chinese president's wife, the wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin's wife. They were all extremely friendly, she said.

Reviewing the trip, Sophie Chang stressed that she acted like herself and did not pretend to be another person.

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