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    State Department Press Briefing about Chen's Transit

August 14, 2000 - STATE DEPARTMENT PRESS BRIEFING:

[...] QUESTION: President Chen Shui-bien of Taiwan was in LA transiting this weekend, and canceled plans to meet with several members of Congress, reportedly under pressure from this Department, which said that if he did so, he might not be allowed to transit the US again. Can you comment on those reports?

MR. REEKER: Well, I think as we discussed quite fully last week, Mr. Chen acted in accordance with our shared understanding of the private nature of his transit. They had requested a transit of the United States for travel purposes, and we agreed to that, considering his safety, comfort and convenience. This is a standard practice. We granted this transit stop through the United States for President Chen on his way to Latin America, and I believe to Africa.

We noted, on that basis, that our expectation was that Mr. Chen's activities while in the United States would be private and consistent with the purposes of transit, as has always been standard with transits in the past. We certainly welcomed the decision by Taiwan to act consistent with the purposes of transit.

I think we also discussed last week the fact that members of Congress travel to Taiwan regularly, and have an opportunity to meet with the president and other Taiwan officials when they are there. We welcome that. We often facilitate such contacts. I think many members of Congress understand and endorse the US government's approach on transits of Taiwan senior officials, and that his activities that are private and consistent with our longstanding approach to transit was what transpired on this visit as well.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) specifically accused the Administration or described the Administration as applying pressure. Did the Administration apply pressure on the president - the democratically elected president of Taiwan not to meet with members of Congress who have some authority under the Constitution to play a role in foreign policy?

MR. REEKER: I think again, Barry, I just indicated Mr. Chen acted in accordance with our shared understanding of what is a private transit.

QUESTION: How much (inaudible) did it take for him to come to that understanding?

MR. REEKER: You'd have to discuss that with him. We granted, at their request, a transit stop through the United States. That's what President Chen requested. That's what we granted. It's a standard procedure, a standard process. And we noted to Taiwan, as we always do, our expectation that the activities while in the United States would be in line with a transit, would be consistent with that, would be private in nature. And that's exactly what occurred.

QUESTION: One of the Congressmen says that he did meet President Chen last night.

MR. REEKER: I do understand that Congressman Rohrabacher did go uninvited to President Chen's hotel in Long Beach and visited briefly with Mr. Chen. At the time, Mr. Chen clearly stated that his limited time in Los Angeles precluded the possibility of meeting with members of Congress. I believe he greeted Mr. Rohrabacher briefly and returned to the private dinner that he was having. And as I said, many members of Congress understand and endorse our position, our longstanding approach on transits of Taiwan's senior leaders, that being that these transits are private in nature. And that's the purpose of the transit as requested.

QUESTION: But that didn't upset the Administration at all that Chen had violated any sort of agreement by meeting --

MR. REEKER: I think, as I just said again, that Mr. Chen himself clearly stated that his limited time in Los Angeles precluded the possibility of meeting with members of Congress. We granted a transit stop, which is what was requested, in accordance with standard practice. We noted to Taiwan our expectation that the activities would be in accordance with that standard practice. And we welcome very much the decision by Taiwan to act consistently with the purposes of the transit. And I believe he has already left the country to proceed with this planned trip.

QUESTION: Following up on the pressure question, or the understanding as you called it, Richard said last week that the transit is granted for the safety and convenience of the traveler. I think that's a phrase you also just used now.

MR. REEKER: Safety, comfort and convenience of the traveler, yes.

QUESTION: Sorry, I left out comfort. If the US is saying meet with these people and you won't be allowed to transit here again, that sort of belies the concern at least for his safety.

MR. REEKER: I don't recall having said that.

QUESTION: No, that was my --

MR. REEKER: And I don't recall having indicated that anybody said that. What I described for you was a request that was made for a transit. This is a fairly standard thing. We've granted permission for transits over a period of years to Taiwan officials. Again, transit for safety, comfort and convenience in terms of travel, in this case en route to Latin America and Africa. On the basis of that, we note to Taiwan our expectation that activities are consistent with the purposes of a transit; i.e., private in nature. And so any future requests for transit will be treated in the same way and the expectations of the activities involved in that transit will be the same.

QUESTION: Do you consider although he did meet Rohrabacher that, in fact, he did act then in conformity with the practices you're talking about?

MR. REEKER: Well, as I indicated, my understanding is that Congressman Rohrabacher went uninvited to President Chen's hotel and briefly visited with him. Mr. Chen himself had stated that his limited time precluded the possibility of meeting with members of Congress, and after his briefing meeting with Congressman Rohrabacher he returned to the private dinner that he was involved in.

QUESTION: So that's not -- what you're saying is that's not a problem?

MR. REEKER: I believe he's already moved on and is continuing with his travels.

QUESTION: But it's not a problem for the Administration -- this meeting?

MR. REEKER: What I indicated to you was that we were very pleased that President Chen and Taiwan had decided to act consistent with the purposes of the transit, and I think that's exactly what President Chen did.

QUESTION: Any new statement or expression from China since last week on the subject?

MR. REEKER: Not that I'm aware of. I'd be happy to check into that, but you'd probably know before I would.

QUESTION: No, no. I just wondered if they told the US Government thanks for your efforts or something.

MR. REEKER: Thank you, Barry, for your editorial comment.

QUESTION: No, no. I mean --

MR. REEKER: Any more questions?

QUESTION: No, no, let's clarify. I'm trying to describe in a short way, we know how they feel about him trans-shipping. The thing that happened since was --

MR. REEKER: Trans-shipping?

QUESTION: Stopping in LA on his way for his comfort, convenience. But in the meantime, this meeting with members of Congress had been sidetracked, so I'm asking you in a shorthand way -- and maybe it wasn't clear, and I apologize if it wasn't -- whether the Chinese have weighed in with any expression of sentiment regarding the sidetracking or the shelving of this meeting. That's what I meant.

MR. REEKER: I'm not aware of any communications from the Chinese regarding the transit of Mr. Chen.

QUESTION: One quick one on this again. Was this, then, this whole incident over the meetings and the cancellation, perhaps the case of a "newbie" not understanding what goes on with the transit from your perspective, this guy being new and this is his first time transiting the US and he's thinking, well, I'll take a minute or two --

MR. REEKER: I'm guess I'm missing the gist of your whole point. We had a request for a transit. We reviewed, as we always do, the basis of what a transit is.

QUESTION: But was this a case of him --

MR. REEKER: And we welcomed the decision by Taiwan to act consistently in accordance with the purposes of a transit. And that is exactly what they did. So I don't see the premise of your question.

QUESTION: Well, just because they hadn't done it before, or he hadn't done it before. I mean, obviously Taiwan leaders have done it before, but this one hadn't, so maybe he thought --

MR. REEKER: This would in fact - I believe that is a fact that --

QUESTION: But, I mean, is this a situation maybe he just, from your point of view, didn't understand that he's allowed to basically, as long as he sticks to the hotel and doesn't see anybody, he's --

MR. REEKER: I think they did exactly -- they acted exactly in accordance with a transit, and I think it's you that were speculating on what might occur, and this was simply our position. This is a transit and this is what we expect to happen.

QUESTION: Phil, the same restrictions, did they apply when he had this visit of Lee Teng-hui, and obviously that was a little different situation because there wasn't just transit. But were they the same restrictions placed on the private nature of the visit, which of course was violated in that case?

MR. REEKER: You'll have to refresh my -

QUESTION: When he came to give a speech. I don't recall the details.

MR. REEKER: In 1995, I believe.

QUESTION: And it created a furor because --

MR. REEKER: I'm sure we covered it at the time there. I think that was not a transit, and I just don't have anything more to add on what happened in 1995.

QUESTION: Was it the same type of restrictions in terms of meetings with Congressmen and the like?

MR. REEKER: That was not a transit. That was a different situation. If there's a different situation in the future, I'll be happy to outline for you what that would be.

QUESTION: Could we move to the Middle East just for a minute?

MR. REEKER: Of course. [...] etc.

 
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