Minor matters of diplomatic protocol often become controversial headline news in Taiwan because it is relatively isolated internationally.
This was the case yesterday, as local media and officials worked themselves into a lather over the airplane used to fly APEC envoy Morris Chang (張忠謀) to and from Vietnam.
Even President Chen Shui-bian (
Chen said that Chang's use of the plane -- a Boeing 737-800 that is reserved for the president's use -- had "a historic meaning," while the envoy said that his use of the plane was "not something special."
"This is the first time in history [the plane has been used to carry an envoy to APEC] and has a very special meaning," Chen said.
Chen then tried to bring the media's focus back to the results of the meeting:
"The trip was successful because Chang was a good choice. He is internationally renowned because of his outstanding achievements in the high-tech industry," the president said. "That is why the first thing US President George W. Bush said to him was `I know who you are.'"
Chen made the remarks to the press when meeting Chang, the chairman of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, at the Presidential Office yesterday morning.
Chang, who attended the two-day APEC leader summit on Chen's behalf, returned to Taipei on Monday and visited Chen at the Presidential Office yesterday morning.
During the press conference that followed their meeting, reporters again wanted to talk about the plane.
Chang said that he did not take a "presidential plane" or Air Force One to Hanoi.
"Whether the plane is a presidential plane depends on whether the president is on the plane, not on the plane itself," he said. "I have taken special planes many times over the years. This is not something special for me. However, the one I took to Hanoi was not a presidential plane."
When reporters asked why the national flag was not on the outside of the plane and when it had been removed, Chang said that so far as he knew, there had been no national flag to begin with.
John Chen (陳忠), director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Department of International Organizations, said that officials had never told the press that there was a national flag on the plane.
"We did not intend to deceive the media," he said. "We told them that we did not want to get into details, due to a mutual understanding with Hanoi."
John Chen said that the reason officials did not immediately correct the media reports was because "they wanted the delegation to focus on the summit."
"It was a special agreement, not an attempt at humiliation, as the two countries do not have diplomatic ties," he said. "We felt friendliness and respect extended to us through the treatment of the delegation, and during the negotiation process."