"How do you wear a decorative honor? I read the instructions and I still haven't figured it out," said former US congressman Stephen Solarz, opening the box containing the sash and decoration given by President Lee Teng-hui (
So how do the KMT leaders feel about the foreign policy expert who may be responsible for putting them out of a job next month?
"A number of party leaders have said to me that whatever they may have felt about me in the 1970s and 1980s, in retrospect, they appreciate the role I played in encouraging the government here to respect the human rights of its own people and to move in the direction of democracy," Solarz says.
However, "It remains to be seen whether the relatively charitable view in retrospect of my efforts will remain if the KMT loses the election," he joked.
An enemy to former authoritarian governments and a friend of opposition parties in Asia, the respected Democrat from New York has been a prime mover behind US legislation condemning the suppression of political dissent under totalitarian regimes everywhere.
He was a staunch supporter of Taiwan's tang wai ("outside the party,"
Shortly after a Taiwanese-American professor, Chen Wen-cheng (陳文成) aligned with the tang wai movement and was allegedly beaten to death by security agents during a trip to Taiwan in 1981, Solarz drafted an amendment to the Arms Export Control Act that prohibits arms sales to countries that engage in a "consistent pattern of intimidation and harassment" against the people of the US.
In a September 1985 article in the Los Angeles Times, Solarz condemned the government-directed 1984 Daly City, California assassination of Henry Liu (
Liu was a journalist critical of the KMT regime and Solarz said this was a "frightening example of the long arm of Taiwan martial law tearing at the fabric of American democracy."
"The KMT needs to be reminded that the state of California is not a province of Taiwan," he added.
DPP lawmaker Parris Chang (
"He knew a lot of people in Washington and made connections for us," Chang says.
"Also, we shared the same kind of values -- such as respect for democracy and human rights," he said, adding Solarz was lobbying on Taiwan's behalf for the passage of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA) in the Senate.
Having served nine terms in the US House of Representatives, Solarz was the chairman of the Asian and Pacific Affairs and African Affairs subcommittees, but his interest in foreign affairs ranged far beyond these regions, to the Middle East and Central America.
Two key players in Washing-ton's Taiwan policy -- Stanley Roth, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Richard Bush, Director and Chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) -- were Solarz's former staffers.
It is said by both his friends and foes that he is "more international than national" -- one of the factors that cost him his re-election in 1992.
"Solarz is an extremely intelligent person," said one high-ranking official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"Maybe he doesn't carry the weight he once did in DC, but he is still very influential internationally."
Recalling an incident with the then government-controlled media during a high-profile speech in Taipei during the early 1980s, Solarz says it shows how much the KMT has changed since then -- to the point that he believes the party is prepared to face a possible defeat in the election next month.
"I was making a case for democracy as diplomatically as I could, so I juxtaposed one sentence on Taiwan's great economic achievements with another on how the government needs to reform," Solarz says.
"But I noticed how the lights on the TV cameras would go off when I mentioned democratic reforms and rolled when I praised the economic miracle," he laughs.
Returning from a DPP rally in Chungli (
"Nobody dared to say they were voting for Chamorro, but the level of enthusiasm you saw at the rallies was incredible," he recalled.
Even so, Solarz declined to say which candidate he would like to see as Taiwan's next president. "My commitment is to Taiwan's democracy and not to a particular candidate," Solarz said.
"I'm sure as much as the KMT want to win, they recognize that if not in this election, in some future election, the chances are that an opposition candidate will win -- that's the way of democracy," he said.
Carrying several different frequent flyer mileage cards in his wallet, it is clear Solarz has not slowed down since his globe trotting days as a member of the US Congress.
"He has a very energetic and dynamic personality," said Chang, who also attended Columbia University in New York.
Solarz, who is 59-years old, said people often take him for someone in his 40s. Having visited the Philippines last month and scheduled to visit and speak in Seoul next month, Solarz looks at his diary and asks the date of the presidential inauguration.
When told the date he says: "I'm free on that day," hinting that he will be back for the inauguration.
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