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Divisions within the government of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori deepened over whether to issue an entry visa to former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, with five Cabinet ministers urging the reluctant Foreign Ministry for a quick decision to issue the visa.

The pressure from the Cabinet members on Friday came the same day as a group of some 70 Diet members from across party lines urged Foreign Minister Yohei Kono to issue the visa.

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, who officially states that a visa application has not been filed by Lee, tried to keep the dissenters under wraps, urging the ministers not to air their views to the press, government sources said.

The government’s indecision apparently reflects its fear of angering China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province and has expressed opposition to Lee’s past attempts to visit Japan.

The issue also comes at a time when Sino-Japanese relations are sensitive over a Japanese history textbook issue and a farm trade dispute.

During informal discussions of the Mori Cabinet on Friday morning, five ministers said Japan should issue a visa for Lee, who wants to visit Japan on April 22 for a checkup by a heart surgeon in Okayama Prefecture, according to government sources with access to the discussion.

The five were Trade Minister Takeo Hiranuma, Transport Minister Chikage Ogi, Taro Aso, state minister for economic and financial affairs, Defense Agency chief Toshitsugu Saito and Takashi Sasagawa, state minister in charge of science and technology.

Ryutaro Hashimoto, state minister in charge of administrative reform, also said the Foreign Ministry should be flexible on the issue, the sources said.

In response, Kono said that the government will move cautiously.

But Hiranuma, a leading pro-Taiwan lawmaker within the Liberal Democratic Party, said a quick decision is needed because of Lee’s medical needs, according to the sources.

The government has not admitted that Lee has applied for a visa. In the day’s news conference, Kono reiterated that no application had been filed for Lee, despite his senior vice minister Seishiro Eto telling a news conference the day before that he confirmed with the top Japanese representative in Taipei that an application had been submitted.

Eto indicated that the visa should be issued because Lee is now a private citizen. Kono, however, is remaining cautious on the sticky matter in consideration of Japan’s relations with China. “I have not heard that the application has been filed formally, nor that we have accepted the application,” he said Friday.

Kono said Eto had reported to him before talking to reporters Thursday, but claimed that Eto’s stance is just one of various pieces of information that reached the foreign minister.

“I make the final decision of the Foreign Ministry as minister, after gathering various information,” he said.

Another ministry official on Friday defended the government’s official position, saying that a proxy for Lee merely “left” Lee’s visa application form at the Interchange Association, Japan’s unofficial mission in Taipei.

Lee has expressed a desire to visit a Japanese doctor who was present when he underwent heart surgery in Taipei in November.

On Friday, the 70 Diet members urged Kono to issue the visa, also emphasizing that Lee is now a private citizen. The group, led by Diet members including Yasuhisa Shiozaki from the LDP and Kiyoshi Ueda from the Democratic Party of Japan, submitted an emergency appeal on the matter to Kono on Friday morning.

The group says Tokyo should decide the visa question as a sovereign state — not in fear of criticism from China — and should do so swiftly from a humanitarian viewpoint as Lee wishes to receive medical treatment.

Speaking to reporters at the Foreign Ministry later in the day, Shiozaki criticized the ministry’s stance, charging that ministry officials are “distorting the fact that a visa application has been filed.”

Japan also has to take into account China’s relations with the United States, which have recently been strained because the standoff over the fate of a crippled spy plane and 24-member crew forced to land in Chinese territory after a collision with a Chinese fighter.

The political vacuum due to Mori’s imminent resignation has also complicated matters.

Mori, also known to be pro-Taiwanese, was initially positive toward issuing a visa for Lee, saying it is a humanitarian issue. But when he met with resistance from the Foreign Ministry and senior members of the LDP, Mori, who is set to replaced by a new LDP leader in late April, did not take further initiatives on the issue, according to the government sources.

Lee not dissuaded

TAIPEI (Kyodo) Former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui does not intend to withdraw his application for a visa to Japan despite Tokyo’s apparent reluctance to greenlight the trip, a source close to the ex-president said Friday.

“So far, the Japanese side has not said no,” Lee said earlier in the day when discussing with the source the mixed signals coming from Tokyo in recent days.

“Lee is resolved not to back down,” the source told Kyodo News, alluding to pressure from Japan to quietly give up his plan to visit the country later this month for a heart checkup. Lee is still hopeful Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori will give the go-ahead for the trip by Friday, the source said.

Lee is planning to leave for Kansai International Airport on April 22. He has a tentative appointment for an examination by Japanese heart specialist Kazuaki Mitsudo in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, on April 24. The examination is a necessary followup to an angioplasty Lee had in Taipei in November.

Meanwhile, Taiwan Premier Chang Chun-hsiung urged Tokyo to greenlight Lee’s trip. “Japan should respect Lee’s wish to visit Japan and issue him a visa,” Chang said in the legislature, adding “This is what a democratic country should do.”

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