Sat, Apr 07, 2007 - Page 3 News List

MOFA terminates US PR-firm contract

EXPENSIVE Taiwan hired several public relations firms to help it communicate with Washington, but the Chen administration is reconsidering the necessity of the practice

STAFF WRITER , WITH CNA, WASHINGTON

The country's top representative in the US, David Lee (李大維), confirmed Thursday that the government has terminated a contract with US public relations firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers (BGR) one year before the three-year contract expires.

Unconfirmed sources have said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed a three-year contract with BGR in March 2005, under which the ministry was to pay US$4.5 million to the Washington-based PR firm from 2005 to 2008 for its lobbying efforts.

The outgoing envoy refused to disclose the reasons for the cancelation of the contract.

Lee said, however, that a report in the Chinese-language China Times yesterday was inaccurate.

Lee said the report's claim that the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington had rescinded the contract with BGR under pressure from the US State Department was untrue.

A source told the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister paper) that the request to terminate the BGR contract originated from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The administration had hoped that Robert Blackwell -- a BGR partner and former US ambassador to India, who was once the White House superior of Condoleezza Rice, now US secretary of state -- would facilitate contact between Lee and Rice, who would not meet with Lee due to the lack of US-Taiwan diplomatic relations.

The source said, however, that Blackwell did nothing to promote such a relationship, which Taipei found unsatisfactory.

In Taipei, Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) said yesterday it was essential for the government to launch a review of the practice of hiring US PR firms.

Several PR firms have been hired by Taiwan. The PR firms' tasks include smoothing communications between Taiwan and the US government and emphasizing Taiwan's role in promoting democracy, human rights and peace at home and abroad.

Referring to BGR, Lu said some PR firms were too costly, adding that she had told her opinion to President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

Lu said that US-Taiwan relations have been up and down over the past several years, and that "diplomacy is an extension of a country's domestic affairs," adding that diplomatic work would become smoother once domestic issues are settled.

Lu said the government should let the people be the government's diplomatic backup, adding that a full-fledged democracy with a developed and flourishing economy is the best diplomatic weapon that a country can have, instead of spending a fortune to hire certain individuals to lobby for Taiwan.

Additional reporting by Nadia Tsao

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