• Kyodo

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Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian on Saturday criticized Japan’s fear of reprisals from mainland China over its Taiwan policy and urged Tokyo to allow former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui to visit this fall.

“There are a few problems that Japan and the Japanese people worry about too much,” Chen said.

Chen, who has been a firm backer of a Lee visit to Japan, said Tokyo should have the guts to stand up to Beijing.

“I feel there are a few issues where one should not dance according to China’s wishes,” he said. “Japan is a sovereign independent country and should have its own national stance.”

Lee, who retired in May after 12 years in power, has been invited to and wants to attend a bilateral academic forum to be held in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, on Oct. 28-31, just after the planned visit by Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji.

On Friday, however, Masakuni Murakami, a legislator and head of a delegation of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told Chen in Taipei that he and other lawmakers have dropped plans to back the invitation to Lee.

Murakami, a member of the House of Councilors, argued that the current environment makes it difficult for Japan to accept the visit.

Speaking at his regular monthly news conference, Chen ridiculed Japan’s “fearful” attitude, saying it was not him who wanted to visit Japan but a retired president who is now a private citizen.

“If not even that (a private visit) is possible, I’m sure that a lot of Taiwan people will deeply disapprove,” Chen said.

He said Japan was trying to please China, which has voiced ardent opposition to a Lee visit, for the sake of commercial and economic ties with its huge neighbor.

“I have said that Taiwan needs to stand up. But we more ardently appeal to Japan and the Japanese people to have more self-confidence,” Chen said.

Lee’s invitation to the Asia Open Forum, which has been held annually since 1989 and will assess the Lee era during the October meet, has thrown Tokyo into a diplomatic dilemma.

Beijing has already warned Tokyo and other countries against allowing Lee to visit, arguing that he would take advantage of overseas visits to promote Taiwan separatism.

Lee remains hugely popular in Japan despite his retirement from active politics. His latest two books, which were first published in Japanese in Japan, were No. 1 sellers.

When Lee made a low-key private visit to Britain right after his retirement in May, Beijing reacted with its usual outrage and pressured a British university into canceling a luncheon with Lee.

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