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Washington snubs Taiwan president in a move sure to please China

BEIJING—Taiwan's president was forced Wednesday to delay a trip to Latin America for a day after Washington snubbed his request for a stopover in New York or San Francisco.

China claims the affluent and democratically governed island of Taiwan as part of its territory. The Chinese government makes no secret of its dislike for Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian because his support for the island's continued separation from China.

Chen surprised U.S. officials in March when he scrapped the National Unification Council, an inactive body in Taiwan that was founded to guide reunification with China. Chen's move enraged China's communist government, which holds that the island eventually must reunite with the mainland.

"The National Unification Council business was the primary reason for this" stopover dispute, said Alexander Huang, an international relations expert at Taiwan's Tamkang University. Huang said the Bush administration also is wary of offending China, which holds veto power on the U.N. Security Council, as it confronts Iran over its nuclear program.

Taiwan asked the Bush administration on April 21 for permission for a stopover. Such transit requests have been granted routinely for more than a decade, giving Chen and past Taiwanese leaders a chance to visit Los Angeles, New York, Miami, San Francisco and other major cities.

Chen delayed his scheduled departure to Thursday as Taiwanese and U.S. negotiators haggled over Taipei's demand that he be allowed to visit New York or San Francisco for an overnight stay.

Instead, Chen and his delegation were permitted only a two-hour refueling stopover in Anchorage, Alaska, on their way to Paraguay and Costa Rica.

But in a sign of the bilateral tensions, Chen decided to avoid the United States altogether. After Chen's airliner took off from Taiwan on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Michel Lu said, "He's not going to Anchorage." Lu declined to say where Chen's plane would refuel on the way to Paraguay but said it would not be in the United States.

Lu said "no decision has been made" on whether Chen's plane would stop in Alaska to refuel on his return May 11.

Chen is to visit Paraguay on Friday and Saturday and attend Monday's inauguration of President-elect Oscar Arias in Costa Rica. Those two nations are among only 25 small countries that recognize Taiwan. China diplomatically isolates the island by insisting that any country that establishes relations with China must give up formal ties with Taiwan.

Haiti, another longtime ally of Taiwan, told Taipei last week not to send Premier Su Tseng-chang to President-elect Rene Preval's inauguration May 14. Haiti said China had threatened to end the mandate of U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti if the Taiwanese premier attended. Chinese police are deployed in Haiti as part of the U.N. force.

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Chen Shui-bian

ARCHIVE GRAPHICS on KRT Direct (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): Chen Shui-bian

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