Over fierce opposition from China, the United States granted Lee Teng-hui ’68 Ph.D., the former president of Taiwan, a “tourist” visa on Saturday. The visa will enable Lee to visit early next month, during which time Lee will make a private journey to Cornell.
The U.S. State Department said there will be no restrictions on Lee’s activities during his trip, scheduled for May 2-4, during which he will visit his granddaughter and attend ceremonies for the establishment of the Lee Teng-hui Institute in Duffield Hall.
“We consider him to be a private individual. Travel by private persons between Taiwan and the United States is a normal part of our unofficial relationship,” one State Department official said.
Later that same day, Japan also agreed to grant Lee a visa on condition that he refrain from political activity during his visit.
The visa to Japan is being granted solely on humanitarian grounds, and Lee, 78, will be restricted to seeking medical treatment for his heart condition, Foreign Minister Yohei Kono told reporters after meeting with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.
China had previously warned Japan against granting Lee an entry visa, for fear that he might try to promote Taiwan’s independence.
“Mr. Lee is a very influential person politically,” Kono said, admitting that it was a sensitive issue. “I think we are about to enter a difficult period in our relations with China.”
For years, however, the U.S. has maintained strong ties with Taiwan despite Beijing’s protests.
Students at Cornell have also expressed concerns about the political implications of Lee’s visit.
“I’m very disappointed about Cornell’s decision to invite him here,” said Ce Li grad, president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA).
“We reserve the right to take action,” Li said in an ad which he co-wrote with members from CSSA.
Lee’s last visit to Cornell in 1995, also a private one, severely aggravated U.S.-China relations and precipitated months of military tension with Taiwan.
Although Lee is not expected to give a public speech while visiting the University campus, some see his quiet visit as a disguised opportunity to assert his own political agenda.
“We will be watching Lee Teng-hui’s activities very closely,” CSSA members wrote in the ad.
Lee, a native-born Taiwanese, rose to lead the Nationalist Party and in 1996 became Taiwan’s first democratically elected president. Although he never openly advocated a declaration of independence from the mainland, he often enraged Beijing with his assertions that Taiwan was already a sovereign state.
Reuters contributed to this story.
Archived article by Jennifer Roberts