Beijing protests planned Lee speech to press club

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Fri, Oct 14, 2005 - Page 3

The Chinese Embassy in Wash-ington has complained to the National Press Club about the club's decision to invite former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) to speak there next week, but its bid to get the club to drop the invitation was unsuccessful.

The deputy chief of mission, Zheng Zeguang (鄭澤光), telephoned the head of the club's speakers committee, Peter Hickman, earlier this week, urging him to drop the invitation, but Hickman said that he refused to do so.

Lee is scheduled to speak at the club next Thursday morning at the end of a four-day visit to Washington, one of four cities he will visit during his two-week trip to the US.

He will address a so-called Morning Newsmaker program and answer questions from the media.

Lee will be the guest of the press club, although the lobbying organization, Formosan Association for Public Affairs, has been handling the arrangements.

The topic of Lee's speech will be, "From Taiwan to Washington: A Journey for Democracy and Mutual Understanding."

Hickman described Zheng as "nice and polite" during the phone conversation, in which he said the diplomat "bent my ear" against Lee's club appearance.

"He said the press club `should not be involved in this and neither should you. I hope it's not and you're not.' I said, `well it is and I am,'" Hickman said.

Zheng did not respond when Hickman told him the club believes in "freedom of the press, freedom of expression and freedom of information," Hickman said.

The envoy also remained silent when Hickman told him the club would welcome somebody from the embassy or Beijing to address a later newsmaker breakfast.

The embassy has regularly protested when the club has invited officials from Taiwan to speak, and has regularly objected to the presence of Taiwan's national flag in the main lobby of the National Press Club building when Chinese officials are scheduled to appear at the club.

Hickman has regularly rejected those demands.

During his stay in Washington, Lee will also be the guest of members of Congress at a special reception on Capitol Hill. He will also speak to a number of think tanks and will attend a dinner hosted by the Taiwanese-American community in the Washington area.

It is not known whether he will meet with Bush administration officials, although administration spokesmen have said only that there will be "no meetings."

Whether that phrase would include casual or unofficial sessions with senior officials is not clear.

The US State Department has said that the administration considers the former Taiwanese leader a "private person" on a private trip, and has kept its hands largely off the trip.