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After 40 years, Taiwan recovers plaque of former embassy

After 40 years, Taiwan recovers plaque of former embassy

Taipei, Feb. 8 (CNA) A plaque from Taiwan's former embassy in New Zealand that had fallen out of official hands for more than 40 years was recently recovered by Elliot Charng, representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Wellington. The plaque had gone missing since the Republic of China, Taiwan's official name, and New Zealand broke off diplomatic relations in 1972. After the severance of official ties, the plaque was dislodged from the building of the ROC's embassy in Wellington and drifted around for decades, eventually flowing to a flea market in Motueka on New Zealand's South Island. The plaque was discovered in 1997 by Chen Chia-chuan, who taught at National Taiwan University for over 10 years before moving to New Zealand in 1996 and now operates a bed and breakfast in Motueka and a stall at the flea market selling artistic objects made of paper. According to Chen, a friend told him about a tablet bearing Chinese characters being sold at another stall in the market, sparking his curiosity. After visiting the stall, he found it to be the missing plaque. The seller asked for NZ$20, or less than NT$200 (US$6.6), based on the exchange rate at the time. Chen said that although he could have bargained, he felt embarrassed to do so given the intangible value of the object. After buying the plaque, Chen had it installed in the farmhouse he runs as a bed and breakfast. The farmhouse became known among overseas Chinese visitors as the "ROC embassy," and Chen was referred to as "Ambassador Chen." Many people offered to buy the tablet, and others suggested that Chen put it up for sale online, but he decided to hold onto it. After Charng assumed his post as the director of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Wellington in 2011, he heard about the plaque's existence during a business trip to Christchurch but could not find out where it was or who owned it. He filed the information away in his mind, and it wasn't until Charng ran into Chen in the town of Nelson near Motueka that he entertained the idea of recovering the plaque. Two weeks after the encounter, Charng asked Chen to give up the plaque so that it could be returned to the country.
"I thought about it for a long time," Chen said. "If it was just going to be stored in a warehouse, then it would have been better off staying here with me. But Charng told me it was his duty and responsibility to take back the plaque." Chen eventually relented and turned the item over to Charng.
After reporting the situation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Charng visited Chen again and assured Chen and his wife that the ministry would treasure the "diplomatic relic" and keep it safe as an asset of his office. (By Lee Ming-chung and Evelyn Kao)