President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday awarded former Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori the Order of the Brilliant Star with Special Grand Cordon in recognition of his contributions to Taiwan-Japan relations.
Chen said that he was most impressed by the fact that Mori had convinced his foreign minister in 2001 to grant a visa to former president Lee Teng-hui (
Mori also made great efforts in pushing visa-free treatment for Taiwanese tourists and supporting Taiwan's accession to the WTO and the WHO, Chen said. Last September, the Japanese government finally offered visa-free status to all Taiwanese in a bid to promote tourism.
Statistics show that more than 1.3 million Taiwanese tourists visited Japan last year and in excess of 1.1 million Japanese visited Taiwan. Bilateral trade was recorded at US$60 billion last year.
Mori was deeply unpopular in Japan as prime minister, with single-digit approval ratings toward the end of his term. After a series of embarassing gaffes, he left the post after little more than a year in office. However, he has long been a senior figure in Japan's ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party, and is still a member of the lower house of the Diet.
The president emphasized the similarities between Taiwan and Japan, saying both countries appreciate the ideals of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law. But Chen said that there was still a lot of room for the two countries to improve cooperation in matters of economy, forestry, fishery, culture, environmental protection and education.
"I am counting on you to help enhance the mutual understanding and cooperation between the two countries and their peoples," Chen told Mori after the award presentation ceremony.
Chen invited Mori and his wife Chieko Mori to attend the inauguration ceremony of the high speed railway system on Dec. 7 so that they can experience first-hand the comfort and convenience of the Taiwanese version of Japan's Shinkansen.
Accompanied by friends and family members from his native Ishikawa Prefecture, Mori said yesterday was the most honorable day of his political career.
He said he remembered his first visit to the Presidential Office about 35 or 36 years ago, when he was first elected to the Diet.
"The relationship between Taiwan and Japan was delicate then," he said. "Then president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) met me and my colleagues at the Presidential Office. While he always addressed foreign guests in Mandarin, he greeted me in Japanese."
Mori said that he told Chiang he would do his best for the benefit of Japan and the future development of the Republic of China.
"I will continue to work for a better relationship between the two countries," he said.
Mori said that his relationship with Chen went back many years, adding that he first met Chen at a dinner party in Tokyo before the presidential election in 2000.
"I did not think he stood a chance of winning the election," he said. "However, he did, and I became prime minister."