Taiwan scores new US diplomatic coup

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Shanghai - Taiwan notched up another success in "transit diplomacy" at the weekend when the US announced the island's Vice-President, Li Yuan-zu, would be allowed two stopovers in Los Angeles later this month, despite earlier intimation from Peking that this could harm Sino-US relations, writes Teresa Poole.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday refused to comment on Washington's decision, but the transit visas for Mr Li are certain to provoke a hostile reaction towards both Taipei and Washington. Last June, a week-long visit to the US by the Taiwanese President, Lee Teng-hui, plunged Sino-US relations to their lowest point in years.

Mr Li's plane will be allowed to stop in Los Angeles on 11 January and 16 January as he travels to and from Guatemala for the inauguration of the new president there. Although such transit visas have been permitted since 1994 under President Bill Clinton's Taiwan policy, this month's stopovers come at a sensitive time. It was only towards the end of last year that Sino-US relations returned to an even keel, and Mr Li's passage will have added propaganda value in Taiwan ahead of March's first fully democratic presidential elections.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman in Taipei, Rock Leng, accused Peking of "over-reacting" to such stopovers. "Communist China's strong reaction to this matter is really incomprehensible. It is a simple stopover for Vice-President Li and there will be no public activity," he said.