• Kyodo

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Former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui has applied for an entry visa to Japan to undergo a medical checkup later this month, a source close to the former president and Japan’s visa office in Taipei said Tuesday.

But the application came as the government earlier in the day virtually ruled out a visit.

Lee’s application challenges China’s repeated warning to Japan and other countries against inviting Lee, claiming that he uses trips abroad to promote Taiwan independence.

The source close to Lee said he handed the application and Lee’s passport to Japan’s top representative Shintaro Yamashita in Taipei earlier in the day.

Hideo Tarumi, secretary general at the Taipei office of the Interchange Association, confirmed the application has been filed.

Tarumi said, however, that Lee’s application will not be processed for the time being.

Also filed with the application was a letter from Kazuaki Mitsudo, a heart surgeon from Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, underlining the need for a followup procedure to the angioplasty Lee had in Taipei in November, the source told Kyodo News.

According to a tentative itinerary, the former president would arrive at Kansai International Airport, near Osaka, on April 21 or 22. He would have the checkup in Kurashiki on April 24 and return to Taiwan before Japan’s Golden Week holiday season starts April 28.

Lee was mum earlier in the day when asked to comment on his reported plans to visit Japan.

Asked whether he would apply for a visa following Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s indication that one could be issued for humanitarian reasons, Lee told reporters, “There is no need to talk about this now, you’ll know when the time comes.”

However, Lee’s visa application apparently came just as Tokyo once more changed its tune, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda earlier in the day virtually ruling out a visit.

Asked about the possibility of Lee applying, Fukuda told reporters in Tokyo: “It will not happen. The case has been settled.”

Fukuda’s statement came after Japanese government sources said Mori instructed Foreign Minister Yohei Kono to issue a visa to Lee if applies to visit for a medical checkup.

Kono, who has to take into account sensitive relations with China, has denied Mori gave the instruction.

Japanese surgeon Mitsudo observed the surgery when Lee had angioplasty to widen clogged heart arteries at National Taiwan University Hospital in November. During the procedure stents were introduced into the blood vessels to prevent them from closing up again.

Usually, stents are removed about half a year after surgery and Lee hopes to have Mitsudo perform the operation.

Mitsudo would violate Taiwan law if he performed the procedure in Taipei.

The 78-year-old Lee, who has shunned the limelight since retiring from politics in May after 12 years in power, was mobbed by the media when paying respects to late former Vice President Shieh Tung-wen, who died Sunday.

He was originally expected to visit his U.S. alma mater Cornell University in late April and planned to visit Japan on his way back to Taiwan.

Having recently suffered from an irregular heart beat, he has been advised to postpone the U.S. visit until after returning from his checkup in Japan, the source said.

Lee studied at Kyoto Imperial University, predecessor to Kyoto University.

Lee, a declared Japan lover, has long hoped to visit Japan again. He planned to come last fall to attend a symposium in Nagano Prefecture, but canceled, partly due to protests from China.

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