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[Diplomatic News] “No Neighboring Country Is Like Taiwan”

[Diplomatic News] “No Neighboring Country Is Like Taiwan”

Posted August. 12, 2005 03:04,   


Taiwanese Premier Chen Sui-bian had constantly confirmed the results of closed opinion polls on the Korean presidential elections. He had already ordered working-level officials to “make arrangements in advance so that his celebratory letter could be sent to Roh, the then-presidential candidate,” forecasting that Roh might “win by a margin of two or three percent.” Mr. L was the person in charge of the task.

Around 10:00 p.m. on that day, Mr. L visited Democratic Party headquarters in Yeouido, Seoul to deliver the premier’s celebrating letter through Yoo Jae-gun, head of the special advisory team on the party’s election polling committee. The letter read: “I hope that during the tenure of President Roh, the relations between Korea and Taiwan become much closer.”

After five months, Mr. L made a second visit to Korea, this time as the head of the diplomatic team which will materialize contents of the premier’s letter.

Li Tsai-fang, a representative of the Taipei Mission in Korea, is Mr. L. Dong-A Ilbo met with Li on the evening of August 10 at his office on the sixth floor of the Gwanghwamun Building, Sejongro, Jongno-gu, Seoul.

“Among 51 staffers at the mission, Korean employees (26) outnumber Taiwanese ones (25). Both the chef and the driver working at my official residents are Korean, and I recently hired another Korean as my secretary. It is my firm belief and conviction that there are no secrets between Taiwan and Korea.”

Due to such “love for Korea,” he said he has often been ticked off by Taiwan’s opposition party lawmakers who have said to him, “Are you a Taiwanese diplomat or a Korean government official?”

He asserted, however, that “Taiwan and Korea are destined to be close due to several reasons.” The two nations are both democracies, geographically close (a one-hour-and-fifty-minute flight away), and have complimentary, rather than competitive, trade relations.

The objective statistics also shows that Taiwan is “beneficial” to Korea. The number of Koreans who visited Taiwan in 2004 stood at about 130,000, while that of Taiwanese tourists visiting Korea is more than double the figure, or some 300,000. Every year, Korea enjoys approximately three to six billion dollars of trade surplus thanks to Taiwan.

Korea, from his viewpoint, has been coldhearted. Since the break-off of diplomatic ties between the two countries on August 24, 1992, the Korean government has been more faithful to the “One China” principle than any other nation. Under such circumstances, even a visit of high-ranking government officials to Taiwan has been prohibited. Naturally, Korea-Taiwan relations turned sour.

Representative Li, however, said, “I respect Korea’s position. The disappointment felt when the diplomatic ties broke off is all gone now.”

“Formality is not what is important. All we need is true friendship. Korea finds friends even in a distant place like Latin America. A good friend, however, is always by your side.”

Two and a half hours have passed since the beginning of the interview, but their talks hardly ended there. The interview continued over dinner.

“I don’t like interviews for form’s sake. I rearranged all my other schedules, as I prefer having enough time when meeting with someone. Meeting a Korean journalist is like meeting the entire Korean readership of a newspaper.”

On our way back from the interview, we had a feeling again and again that he has really been anxious for “Korea’s love.”

Hyong-gwon Pu bookum90@donga.com