President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) trip to Pope John Paul II's funeral is an unprecedented opportunity for Taiwan's president to stand alongside other state leaders on the world stage at an international event, political analysts said.
"Chen's visit to the Vatican is a great diplomatic breakthrough for Taiwan," said Ruan Ming (阮銘), an adviser at the Taiwan Research Institute's strategic and international studies department.
"Despite China's incessant hostility [and attempts] to squeeze Taiwan's breathing space in the international community, a president from Taiwan is able to, for the first time, set foot on European soil," Ruan said.
Not only Chen was the first sitting president from Taiwan to make a trip to Europe, his attendance at the pope's funeral today marks the first time that a president from Taiwan has been able to visit the Holy See since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1942 between the two countries, political commentators said.
Noting the approximately 200 state and religious leaders, including US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan are expected to take part in the papal ceremony to pay their final tribute to the late Pope, Ruan said, "Chen's attendance at the papal ceremony not only allows Chen a rare chance to meet with heads of state, it also provides an opportunity to enhance Taiwan's visibility on the world stage. Against the backdrop of China's enactment of the `Anti-Secession' Law, Chen's visit could help bring Taiwan's plight to light in the international community," he said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Su Chi (蘇起) hailed the trip as well, saying it will be one of Chen's most important overseas trips as president.
Thomas Hung (洪茂雄), a graduate research fellow in international relations at National Chengchi University said the visit suggested that Chen had a keen diplomatic sense, in that he was able to seize the opportunity to make the trip a reality. Hung noted that during the Cold War era, "funeral diplomacy" was a common practice among western countries.
"The funerals of heads of state offer a rare opportunity for world leaders to come together and meet one another as they pay last respects at the passing of a leader," Hung said. "One classic example of `funeral diplomacy,' Hung said, was the funeral of German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, which brought together US President Lyndon B. Johnson and his French counterpart Charles de Gaulle a venue to converse despite a grudge between them.
"China's failure to send a representative to Pope John Paul II's funeral [to protest Chen's presence] is a diplomatic slap in its own face," Hung said. "This would not go unnoticed by members of the international community," Hung said, adding that "China's conduct at time like this when the whole international community is paying tribute to the Pope ... exposes its evil nature to the world."
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