China has decided to suspend visits to Japan by its senior officials for the time being to protest former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui’s visit to Japan that began Sunday, a Beijing-based Japanese source familiar with bilateral relations said Monday.

China has vehemently opposed Japan’s issuing an entry visa for Lee, who is scheduled to undergo a heart checkup today at a hospital in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture. He will stay in Japan through Thursday.

Since Tokyo issued the visa Friday night, Dai Bingguo, head of the Chinese Communist Party’s International Department, has already canceled a late-April visit to Japan.

Japan has allowed Lee’s visit on condition that he not engage in any political activities during his stay. Vice Foreign Minister Yutaka Kawashima reiterated Monday that the visa was issued for him “purely on humanitarian grounds” so he could receive the medical checkup.

The heart surgeon in charge of the Lee’s heart checkup today, Kazuaki Mitsudo, was present during Lee’s angioplasty operation in Taipei in November.

Lee has so far complied with the no-politics condition, although it was clear that he was also making no effort to avoid publicity about his presence.

In Osaka, Lee told well-wishers and supporters waiting outside his hotel that he is thrilled to be in the city. He shouted, “I feel great” as he left the Imperial Hotel Osaka for a short walk along the nearby Okawa River with his wife, Tseng Wen-hui.

Thronged by reporters and photographers, however, the 78-year-old was barely able to take more than a few steps between questions about China’s reaction to his visit.

Apparently frustrated after being repeatedly asked if he cares about China’s protests, Lee said, “No,” and walked on.

Lee, who studied at the predecessor of Kyoto University, had long sought to visit Japan again. He was last in Tokyo as vice president while en route back from a trip to Central America in 1985 on a short stopover that did not require an entry visa.

After Monday’s walk, the former Taiwanese president and his entourage returned to the hotel for coffee before heading to a local restaurant for lunch. However, because of the media crush, Lee’s afternoon visit to the Mint Bureau blossom arcade was canceled.

Earlier Monday, he had breakfast in his hotel room, then was visited by two former classmates from his alma mater.

Lee also told reporters his greatest wish is to someday retrace the route across Japan taken by the poet Basho to prepare his masterpiece, “Oku no Hosomichi” (The Narrow Road to the Deep North). Basho has been one of Lee’s heroes since his days at Kyoto Imperial University.

Execs steer clear

OSAKA — Leaders of Osaka’s five major business groups kept their distance Monday from former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui for fear of damaging ties with China.

“It’s not appropriate for executives of business associations with relations with China” to play with fire by meeting Lee, said an official with the Kansai Economic Federation (Kankeiren).

The five groups plan to send a joint business delegation to China in March 2002.

“We don’t have any reason to meet with (Lee) at the risk of (irritating China) at this time,” a Kankeiren official said.

Lee is staying at Imperial Hotel Osaka following his arrival at Kansai International Airport on Sunday. The former Taiwan leader does not have personal connections with many Japanese business leaders.

But Masao Kamei, an adviser to Sumitomo Electric industries Ltd., has a relationship with Lee. Kamei has been engaged in efforts to deepen academic and business ties between Japan and Taiwan. A SEI spokesman said, however, that Kamei does not have any plans to go to Osaka.

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