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Japan is likely to issue an entry visa to former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui if he agrees to a condition set by Tokyo that the visit be solely for medical treatment, government sources said Thursday.

Japanese officials have started negotiating the matter with Lee’s representatives via the Interchange Association’s office in Taipei, Japan’s unofficial mission in Taiwan, the sources said.

However, a source close to Lee in Taipei told reporters Thursday evening that the Japanese side is demanding that the former president sign a written pledge regarding the conditions of the visit, which Lee was refusing.

“If forced to accept such humiliating demands, I would rather not go,” Lee was quoted as saying.

Lee, 78, has expressed a desire to visit western Japan, beginning Sunday, to undergo a heart checkup at a cardiology center in the city of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture.

Japanese diplomatic sources said the visa could be issued as early as today after a meeting between Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Foreign Minister Yohei Kono to formally start the process. The approval, however, would be conditional on Lee agreeing not to take part in any political activity whatsoever during his stay and that he would only visit Kurashiki.

Japan’s decision to start negotiations ends days of wrangling over the politically sensitive issue.

With both Beijing and Taipei having pressurized Japan on the issue through various statements and comments, Japan has been torn between the diplomatic consequences of its actions and calls for a humanitarian response to the situation.

Kono has repeatedly indicated that the visa should be withheld, given the possibility that Japan-China ties may be soured.

Mori has remained adamant, however, that the request should be considered from a humanitarian viewpoint, given that Lee is ill.

According to sources close to Mori, the prime minister has been prepared to actively work toward the visa’s issuance since Lee underwent heart surgery in Taipei in November with a Japanese doctor in attendance.

The sources said that “A person in a position of responsibility in the Japanese government had promised last fall” to work toward the issuing of a visa for Lee.

The former Taiwanese leader had expressed his desire to visit Japan last fall to attend a symposium in Nagano Prefecture and undergo surgery at the cardiovascular facility in Kurashiki. However, he abandoned the idea after it became clear that Tokyo believed issuing an entry visa could jeopardize ties with China.

At the time, the Japanese side explained to Lee’s representatives that “there is a chance of being able to visit Japan as a humanitarian move if the purpose of the trip is for a post-surgery checkup,” the sources said.

China, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan, furiously opposes overseas visits by any Taiwanese leader, including the retired president.

Earlier on Thursday, Chen Jian, Beijing’s ambassador to Japan, visited Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence and directly conveyed his government’s concern over the possible issuance of a visa.

“We are at a crucial point that will decide whether China-Japan relations will make progress or take backward steps,” Chen reportedly said.

Fukuda replied that Japan is carefully considering Lee’s request while taking into account issues such as the international environment and domestic opinion.

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