Envoy rejects claim of death threats against Nobel Prize laureate

SEF chairman says claim based on misunderstanding

SEF Chairman Tien Hung-mao.

SEF Chairman Tien Hung-mao. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Taiwan’s top official for talks with China, Tien Hung-mao (田弘茂), on Thursday denied allegations by Nobel Prize laureate Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) that he had implied death threats against the latter’s family during the 2000 presidential election campaign.

During the campaign, Lee, one of Taiwan’s most respected academics, unexpectedly voiced public support for the opposition presidential candidate, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who went on to win the election.

In a book, Lee alleged that on the eve of his declaration, a person close to ruling Kuomintang vice-presidential candidate Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) told him that he and his whole family might be killed if he supported Chen.

During a television show Wednesday, Lee named the person in the case as present Straits Exchange Foundation chairman Tien.

The envoy, who arrived in the United States Thursday noon, released a statement through the SEF denying Lee’s allegations.

Tien said that though the event was now almost 20 years behind him, he was absolutely clear that he had never uttered any threats. He called Lee a neighbor and a friend, and added that a misunderstanding must have been at the base of the allegations.

Tien said that he was willing to meet Lee face to face after his return from the U.S. to explain and discuss what must have been a misunderstanding. If there was any need, he would also be ready to talk to the media, his statement said.

Tien is a prominent academic and expert in Taiwanese and Chinese politics, and served as foreign minister in Chen’s administration. Lee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986 and went on to chair the Academia Sinica for 12 years.

During the period of martial law before 1987, some dissidents or their families died in suspicious circumstances, often thought to be government-inspired assassinations.