• Kyodo

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A record number of Diet members are flocking to Taiwan during the legislative recess this year, eager to get to know the movers and shakers in the administration of President Chen Shui-bian, the first non-Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), administration in more than half a century.

In all, almost 40 Diet members from the ruling coalition and opposition parties will have set foot on the island, which does not have diplomatic relations with Japan, before the end of the month.

One of the most prominent visitors is Koichi Kato, former secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, who is scheduled to give a lecture on “Security in East Asia in the 21st century” in Taipei on Aug. 30.

Kato, a longtime ally of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, is known for having close connections with leaders of mainland China.

Taiwan officials, somewhat surprised at the sudden surge in interest from Japan, say the rush is unprecedented and are juggling to arrange meetings for the lawmakers with Taiwan President Chen and former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui.

The visiting lawmakers are keen on building personal contacts with Chen’s administration, taking advantage of a communication void that emerged after the KMT lost last year’s presidential election to the Democratic Progressive Party.

Well-established bilateral channels such as a pro-Taiwan parliamentarians league in the Diet that groups mainly LDP legislators and other conservative politicians lost their significance after the KMT’s ouster because it had focused on KMT-LDP contacts while failing to cultivate ties with the former opposition party.

With the old boys network between the KMT and LDP sidetracked after the government change and the arrest of one of its key figures, former House of Councilors member Masakuni Murakami, in the KSD bribery scandal, new players are jockeying to fill the void.

Many lawmakers visiting the island this month are in their 30s and 40s — much younger than Murakami’s peers. Twenty-four Diet members, including many first-time visitors and “30-something” opposition politicians such as Lower House independent Hiroshi Nakata, arrived in Taipei earlier this week for a privately organized bilateral security forum.

They will be followed by a 12-member bipartisan delegation of lawmakers, led by the LDP’s Koki Kobayashi, that plans to launch a new bilateral Diet group on Friday.

Kobayashi was one of the Diet members who helped realize Lee’s visit to Japan in April, which stirred up controversy.

The supraparty group will have 28 members from Japan and 44 from Taiwan. The Taiwan side will be lead by DPP legislator Lin Chung-mo, while Parliamentary Speaker Wang Jin-pyng of the KMT will be its honorary chairman.

The group’s establishment comes after the DPP last week launched its own body to liaise with Japan, the Taiwan-Japan Goodwill Association, which includes mainly officials from the party headquarters and the Presidential Office.

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