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Taipei May 21, 2002 - Arrive in Taiwan, Sightsee and Meet with Public Officials

By Bob Van Leer

  TaiwanPresident(TAIPEI, TAIWAN - Tuesday, May 21, 2002) - We spent our first full day in Taiwan sightseeing and meeting with public officials.

  We arrived in Taipei yesterday evening after a 12 hour, 35 minute flight from San Francisco aboard a United Airlines Boeing 777. The plane took the great circle route and went directly over Medford where I started. We continued on towards Alaska and then across Japan to Taipei.

  The tour was organized by the National Newspaper Association and 32 persons, including myself, are on the trip. It is sort of an old home week. Of the 31 others along, I was already acquainted with 22. The group is from across the United States - North Carolina, Louisiana, Minnesota, Oregon and points in between.

   The trip is for almost two weeks and includes stops in Hong Kong and Beijing in mainland China.

  Betty elected not to go on this tour because of the great amount of walking involved.

  In Taipei the weather was hot and muggy. This is subtropical country and the Tropic of Cancer runs through Taiwan.

 We are staying at the "Grand Hotel" and it really is grand. Everything is red and gold and Chinese.

  Today we started off in a light rain for our first stop, the National Revolutionary Martyrs' Shrine. The shrine honors soldiers and civilians who died for their country A precision military ceremony is celebrated daily reminiscent of the ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

  From there we went to the National Palace Museum. The museum has on the order of 650,000 pieces of which 7000-8000 are on display at any one time. We were told the museum is a sore point between Taiwan (Republic of China) and the mainland (Peoples Republic of China). When Chiang Kai Shek was pushed off the mainland to Taiwan in 1949 he took the whole national museum with him and it still remains in Taiwan.

  China is the oldest civilization on earth and the museum shows it. There are 5000 year old bronze pieces so well done they would be classified as fine art if they were made today.

  The patience of the Chinese is shown by one hollow ivory ball about the size of a baseball. Inside it are 16 other moveable balls, each smaller and within the larger ball, all carved through three-fourth inch holes in the outer ball and larger inner balls.

  Lunch was at our hotel. It was traditional Chinese food served on "lazy Susans" on round tables. Small serving plates are in front of each person and we take a serving of what we want from the rotating table. Between each course a new serving plate is provided. At our table we all made it through using chopsticks. At some other tables some of our brethren wimped out and called for knives and forks.

  After lunch we visited with Wang Ming-lai, Director General, Department of International Cooperation, Council for Agricultural Affairs.

  There is not a whole lot of agricultural land in Taiwan after subtracting mountains and it produces just 3.3% of the Gross Domestic Product but Wang said Taiwan, in economic terms, is self-sufficient in food. There are 790,000 farm households in this country of 22.2 million people, we were told, but only 13% are full-time farmers. Of these farms, 90,000 average only one hectare (2.2 acres) in size.

  Wang said Taiwan is one of the major deep sea fishing countries. We next went to the Legislative Yuan building to meet with Pin-kung Chiang, vice president of the Legislative Yuan.

  He said the country has been averaging 8% growth, but this past year growth was in negative territory. The U. S. is Taiwan's largest trading partner. He said Taiwan's relationship with the U. S. is much closer than that with Europe. A legislator, Dr. Sun Kauo-Hwa, said the legislature is one house of 225 persons chosen by complicated methods, but all are elected by someone. One fourth are women and half are in their 30s or 40s. Half have doctor's or master's degrees, mostly from the U. S.

  Sun discussed some of the tricky relationships between Taiwan and the mainland. He said the U. S. asks Taiwan not to provoke the mainland Communists by declaring independence. The Taiwan Relations Act passed in the U. S. enables the U. S. to sell arms to Taiwan. Everyone agrees there is "one China". The disagreement is whether it is Taiwan or the mainland. In a refrain we heard all over Taiwan, Sun said Taiwan is "Truly grateful to the U. S."

  When I asked Sun about newspaper reports in Taipei about protestors burning the U. S. flag, he said this was a very small minority and Taiwan law allows anyone to demonstrate.

  He said we have to recognize there is one China with different interpretations. To work within this policy, "creative fuzziness" is used. Unofficially, local governments on the mainland invite Taiwan investment and he estimates there is $50 billion of Taiwan money invested on the mainland. (In our stay we received a number of different figures on this amount of investment ranging from $20 billion to $100 billion.)

  But politically, the government on the mainland is still hostile to Taiwan. Sun said they invite us to a dialog but threaten us with missles.

  At some point Sun thinks there will be political changes on the mainland but he wouldn't hazard a guess as to when. He said mainland China's entrance into the World Trade Organization may help make political changes. We had dinner on the 42nd floor Howard Skyline Restaurant. Tomorrow we are to continue with sightseeing and meeting with government officials.

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