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Saturday, 21 April, 2001, 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK
China demands US visa U-turn
Former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-Hui
Mr Lee: Heading for Japan and the US
China has demanded that the United States revoke its decision to grant a tourist visa to the former Taiwanese president, Lee Teng-hui.

A foreign ministry spokesman, Zhu Bangzao, urged Washington to "correct its mistakes" to prevent further damage to relations between the two countries, already hurt by the US spy plane row.

He said Mr Lee's attempt to visit the United States as a tourist was simply a cover for his political aims and would boost attempts to split China.

China has also formally protested to Japan at its decision to allow Mr Lee into the country for medical treatment. The two visas were announced within hours of each other on Friday.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono
Yohei Kono: Sino-Japanese relations "difficult"

Mr Lee is planning to go to the US between 30 April and 6 May and he is hoping to visit Cornell University, where he studied in the 1960s.

"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," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said.

1995 crisis recalled

But the Chinese spokesman denounced the former Taiwanese leader's claim that he simply wishes to see relatives and visit his old university - saying that there was no way Mr Lee could be seen as an ordinary citizen.

This is another mistaken action by the United States on the Taiwan issue

Chinese foreign ministry
A report on the website of the official People's Daily newspaper noted that Mr Lee's last visit to the US, also as a private citizen, in 1995, caused significant upheavals in Sino-US relations.

Beijing's furious response at the time included a series of military exercise off the Taiwan coast.

Beijing has said there could be devastating consequences for bilateral ties if President Bush decides next week to sell advanced missile defence systems to Taiwan.

BBC Washington correspondent Philippa Thomas says the new Republican administration is eager to promote Taiwan's ability to defend itself without signalling any support of the island's aspirations towards independence.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province.

Japanese controversy

Japan says it approved a visa for Mr Lee's visit on humanitarian grounds. It has warned him not to engage in any political activity during the trip.

Mr Lee says his trip has no political motives, but has refused to sign an written agreement confirming this.

The issue has proved divisive in the Japanese Government, with some cabinet members reportedly voicing their opposition to the trip, which comes at a time of growing tension between China and Japan.

Sino-Japanese ties are already strained by disputes over trade, and a history textbook which critics say glosses over Japan's wartime aggression.

Mr Lee, who retired a year ago, is expected to arrive in the western city of Osaka on Sunday for treatment for a serious heart condition.

The BBC's Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai
"China sees Mr Lee not as a retired politician but as the leading advocate of Taiwanese independence"
Specialist in Int. relations in Beijing Xue Mou Hong
"There is no question that China will react strongly"

Key stories:


Spy plane row



See also:

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