By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
Cheers and jeers met Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeoh when he arrived in Seattle on Tuesday, June 2. More than 100 protesters stood outside the Seattle Sheraton Hotel including those from Portland and Vancouver. They shouted, “Ma Ying-jeoh must go. Taiwan doesn’t need you!”
Inside the hotel, approximately 200 admirers chanted, “We love President Ma. We love sister Mei-Ching.” Mei-Ching is the first lady of Taiwan.
Late afternoon, Ma arrived at the hotel through a side door, avoiding the protestors. He quickly greeted his supporters waiting inside the lobby of Sheraton’s grand ballroom. He stated that he was delighted to see many of his longtime friends.
Carrying signs, protestors from Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party, the opposition party of Ma’s Nationalist Party, demanded for the release of the former Taiwan President Chen Shui-bui, currently held in prison for bribery charges.
Chen’s visit provoked much larger protests from both pro-China and pro-Nationalist parties years ago in Seattle.
Raymond Burghardt, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), which is equivalent to the U.S. ambassador to Taiwan, met Ma, the first lady, and hundreds of high-ranking Taiwan officials at Sea-Tac International Airport.
Ma and his wife stayed overnight in Seattle before heading home. His stop in Seattle was part of his trip through Central America, which started on May 26.
At the evening banquet organized by a local Chinese community, Burghardt said, in English, that the AIT was “created as an unique organization” to make “unique arrangements” so that Taiwan and the United States “can have full relations” and “continue to flourish.”
According to Burghardt, the desire to have a mutually beneficial relationship is pragmatic, not for the purpose of showing off or “scoring points.” He cited the latest accomplishment of U.S.–Taiwan relations: Taiwan has been invited to be an observant in the World Health Organization, a status that had been unavailable to Taiwan in the past. Another example of the relationship was the fact that the United States has sold $6.5 billion in arms to Taiwan.
Not all business, Burghardt, in Chinese, also spoke about how different the weather was in Seattle from what he is used to. Much of the ambassador’s message was to not antagonize China, but to work with it.
Ma stated that he wants to improve relationship with China so both can resolve issues and differences. Though a Harvard law graduate and fluent in English, Ma only spoke in Chinese.
His peaceful diplomacy agenda has satisfied many, he says. Enough so that “now everyone can relax,” he said, referring to tensions created between the two over the past 12 years due to former presidents’ who advocated independence. Under Ma, China and Taiwan now have established direct flights, sea routes, and postal services for the first time since 1949.
The Seattle stop showed that Ma is a man of his words. As the mayor of Taipei, Ma was in Seattle to attend the Seattle’s Asian Pacific mayoral conference in 2001. He said he would be back again during his second term as mayor, which he didn’t. However, Ma’s supporters predicted that if he ever set foot on Seattle again, it would be as the president of Taiwan. Ma was elected last year.
Ma knew how to please his supporters who came as far as Portland, Vancouver, B.C., and Spokane for the Sheraton banquet. He and his wife went to each of the 30 tables to toast and thank his guests. Later he posed for picture with everyone. Presidential photographers were on-site. All 300 guests received a gift — a scarf. By invitation only, each guest paid $50 for the dinner. ♦
Assunta Ng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.