Taiwan president rejects U.S. offer

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry on Thursday said President Chen Shui-bian would not fly through the United States during his trip to Latin America, signaling a rift between Taipei and its longtime ally Washington.

Taiwan's Foreign Minister James Huang had said on Wednesday that Taiwan was "not satisfied" with an American offer to allow Chen to make transit stops in Anchorage, Alaska, while going to and from Paraguay and Costa Rica. But he gave no indication at the time that Chen would reject the offer.

On Thursday, the Foreign Ministry said Chen would not travel through the U.S. at all. Taiwanese media had reported that Chen had asked to make stops in New York and San Francisco.

Chen, while departing from Taipei's international airport on Thursday, slammed rival China for applying pressure on the United States to resist transit stops by the Taiwanese leader.

"They sought brutally and savagely to block the transit stops and foreign trips of our senior officials," Chen said. "We will not be defeated but will become bolder. The more we are suppressed, the more we will try to walk out."

China considers self-governed Taiwan as part of its territory and frowns on any visits by its leaders that might imply Taiwanese sovereignty.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry had no comment on what route Chen would take on his flight to Paraguay, the first stop on his two-nation Latin American tour.

However, local media reported that he would pass through either Libya or the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East.

This is Chen's fifth trip to Latin America since becoming president in 2000. On all of his previous visits he had transit stops in the United States, including in New York, Los Angeles and Houston.

In his comments to reporters Wednesday, Huang said Chen was bowing to America pressure on the transit stop issue because he wanted to avoid "making difficulties" for the United States, the island's longtime ally.

Huang appeared to be referring to a U.S. desire to gain support from China in combating nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, and in addressing the continuing refugee crisis in Sudan's Darfur region.

"We understand that America has a leading role (on these issues)," he said.

Beijing last week urged Washington not to approve Chen's reported request to make a stopover in New York.

Although Taiwan and the United States have no formal relations, Washington remains the self-governing island's most important ally, providing it crucial backing against China, from which it split amid civil war in 1949.

Chen has used transit stops during previous Latin American forays to meet with U.S. leaders and raise the island's profile in the American media, part of his efforts to counter Chinese efforts to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, reports the AP.

I.L.