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Chen denied right to Mexican airspace

Action is result of 'despicable' PRC pressure on Latin American nation, president says

Chen denied right to Mexican airspace

The government of Mexico canceled permission for a chartered Chinese Airlines Boeing 747-400 carrying President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to cross into the Mexican air control zone on its way back to Taoyuan International Airport after a two-day state visit to Nicaragua.
The CAL passenger jet departed Managua International Airport at approximately 12:30 p.m. local time (2:30 a.m. Taipei time) en route to a refueling stop at the Los Angeles International Airport.
During his two-day visit, President Chen and other Taiwan officials attended the inauguration of new Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation and the celebration of the inaugural by hundreds of thousands of Sandinista supporters gathered at Managua's Plaza de la Fe.
More importantly, Chen received personal assurances from Ortega that the incoming leftist FSLN government would "maintain and strengthen relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan)" and met with the heads of state or government of all six of Taiwan's official Central American allies.
Speaking to reporters on the presidential charter CAL passenger jet about one hour after takeoff from Managua International Airport, Deputy Presidential Secretary-General Liu Shih-fang (劉世芳) said the action was due to put pressure on the Mexican government by Beijing and described the PRC action as "despicable."
Word of the decision by Mexico City was received just as Taiwan Foreign Minister James Huang (黃志芳) and new Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santos were signing a memorandum of understanding witnessed by President Chen at the airport which described general directions for bilateral economic cooperation in the coming five years.
Liu stated that the Nicaraguan foreign minister expressed bafflement over the incident and attempted to contact his Mexican counterpart to see whether the Mexican government could reconsider its decision, but had yet received any response even after being airborne for over an hour.
"Nevertheless, we are very grateful to the Nicaraguan foreign minister for his efforts," Liu said.
Liu recalled that the CAL Boeing 747-400 had flown through Mexican air control space and over Mexico itself on the way to Managua.
She added that Taiwan's diplomatic representatives in the United States had asked Washington for its assistance and related that Mexican government could consider Washington's position of the United States and that President Chen and his entourage were effectively guests of the United States.
As a result, Liu told reporters that the flight from Managua to Los Angeles would be extended by four and a half hours to 10 hours and 15 minutes and that the CAL flight would therefore arrive in Los Angeles at 9:00 p.m. local time (1 p.m. Taiwan time).
Flight information available to passengers indicated that the CAL passenger jet had been forced to turn southwest after leaving Managua and could only turn northwest after an hour and a half to skirt the Mexican coast on the way to Los Angeles.
As a result of the detour, Liu said that plans for Chen to hold meetings in an airport VIP room with local government leaders and scholars might be canceled. The president was however still expected to meet American Institute for Taiwan Chairman Raymond Burkardt and Taiwan representative in Washington D.C. David Lee.
She added that there were no plans to request an overnight stopover in Los Angeles in the wake of the change in flight plans.
After a two-hour refueling stop, the CAL jet is expected to fly directly to Taoyuan, where it will arrive at approximately 6 a.m. January 13 instead of late in the evening of January 12.
"Since the United States is our friend, we do not want to make trouble for them," the deputy presidential chief-of-staff stated.
However, Liu related that the U.S. government had contacted the Mexican government and had told the Mexican government that the Taiwanese president and his entourage were making a transit stop in Los Angeles as Washington's guests and urged Mexico City not to cause trouble.
She said that the PRC's action was evidently in response to the success of President Chen's visit, especially the announcement by Ortega during a meeting in the FSLN headquarters on the eve of the January 10 inaugural that his government hoped to maintain and strengthen all aspects of relations with Taipei.
Since Ortega had broken ties with Taiwan in 1985, many observers expected the new Sandinista government to restore official links with Beijing, expectations which were upset by Ortega's decision.
Liu stated that Beijing's actions "will let the Taiwanese people understand that China will ruthlessly and relentless suppress Taiwan's international space."
"If such normal interaction between countries with official diplomatic relations can be suppressed by the Chinese government using such a shameful method will only spark further anger from the Taiwan people," Liu stated.
Shortly before landing at Los AngelesInternational Airport at about 9:00 p.m. (local time) for a three-hour refueling stop, President Chen expressed "regret and pain" over the actions of the Mexican government.
"China saw that we made transits through two important cities on the U.S. west coast and they protested without effect," related Chen.
"They also witnessed the announcement by new Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega that he would maintain diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) and they made a severe protest without effect and finally adopted this very bad boycott and obstruction," related Chen.
"We are very regretful and pained that such a simple state visit to attend the inaugural of the president of a diplomatic ally could be subject to suppression on the way back home," Chen stated.
Besides causing a delay of several hours, Chen said, the detour forced the president to cancel plans to hold telephone discussions with several members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, including some congressional leaders.
The president noted that a similar event had occurred last September, when the Philippines, also under PRC government pressure, reversed its earlier approval to allow the transit of Taiwan's Air Force One Boeing 737-800 carrying the president and forced Chen's plane to make a detour through U.S. air space in the Guam Air Traffic Control area.
In a separate incident, Presidential Public Affairs Department Director Lee Nan-yang told reporters that the embassy of the PRC in Madrid had attempted to block an exclusive interview between Chen and the Spanish news agency EFE.
President Chen was interviewed by Agencia EFE Latin American Bureau Director-General Alejandro Varela at 9:30 a.m. to 10:05 a.m. (local time), sandwiched between bilateral meetings with the presidents of Guatemala and the Dominican Republic before departing Managua Thursday.
Lee related that Varela said that the PRC embassy in Madrid had pressured EFE headquarters not to hold the interview with the Taiwan president and that President Chen had expressed admiration for EFE's capability to reject the pressure and to uphold news freedom.
Chen also told the EFE reporter he could see from this affair how Taiwan was subject to unfair international treatment, while Varela described the action as "unimaginable" and told the president that the PRC pressure tactics had "left a poor influence," according to Lee.