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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Taiwan's president pays brief O'ahu visit

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

The president of Taiwan made a stopover in Honolulu yesterday, greeted by a gathering of about 200 from Hawai'i's Taiwanese community — a mix of supporters and sign-waving protesters.

President Chen Shui-bian

President Chen Shui-bian, riding in a black sedan flanked by several black vans and accompanied by his entourage and a police escort, made a quick stop at the Hilton Hawaiian Village before making a visit to the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

During his brief visit, Chen was greeted by U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai'i; Attorney General Mark Bennett, representing the state administration; and City Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz, representing the city.

Dozens of supporters standing along 'Ena Road wore vests proclaiming that "Taiwan Is an Independent Country."

"We want to become a member of the United Nations," said Scott Lu, a member of the welcoming committee.

Lu served as a kind of cheerleader for the greeters, shouting "Taiwan! Yes!" and "Aloha!" in a portable microphone. The colorful banners, printed in Chinese, declared friendship from Chen's "overseas family," he said.

Hotel staffers said the president's party used a back entrance into the hotel to maintain security — a particularly sensitive issue for Chen, who was shot on the eve of his March 20 election, which he won by a slim margin.

Among the protesters yesterday were members of a Honolulu-based Truth Finding Committee, who echo questions about the shooting expressed by Chen's political opponents.

Committee member Bill Li pointed to research by a Taiwanese researcher that suggests the shooting was staged in an attempt to drum up sympathy votes.

U.S. forensics expert Henry Lee also has been called into the case, but prosecutors have not released his report.

The Honolulu protest group also cites a recount that alleges voter irregularities and questionable ballots.

"We ask for an official response to the recount of votes," Li said.

It seemed doubtful that the group would get one yesterday during Chen's brief visit. His itinerary concluded with an invitation-only dinner at the Hilton before the presidential party returned to the airport to resume its trip to Panama and Belize.

The U.S. stopovers have long been a contentious point with China because Chen has used them to meet U.S. defense and other government officials. China opposes any Taiwan official traveling overseas because it believes the trips confer diplomatic legitimacy on an island that China claims as a province.

Gov. Linda Lingle is attending the Republican convention in New York and was not able to meet with Chen.

She recently acknowledged that the visit here put Hawai'i officials in a "delicate" situation, especially considering the state has just secured a rare business license with the Chinese government. That license opens the way for Hawai'i to do more aggressive tourism marketing and trade promotion in China.

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053.