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Taiwan’s First Lady Visits Europe

October 22, 1998

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) _ Tseng Wen-fui, the wife of Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, is visiting Europe on behalf of her husband, who is unable to travel there because of China’s diplomatic pressure.

The China Times newspaper labeled Tseng’s trip ``first lady-diplomacy,″ suggesting she would carry out political contacts on Lee’s behalf. But a Foreign Ministry spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the visit was ``entirely innocent.″

Many western countries bar visits by Lee, fearing it would upset their relations with mainland China.

Tseng departed Wednesday to present a prize on behalf of Taiwan at a cultural awards ceremony in Paris and to make private visits in the French capital, the Foreign Ministry said today.

She will then visit the Vatican, Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in Europe, to present Lee’s congratulations to Pope John Paul II on his 20th anniversary in office and do some sightseeing in Austria.

Similar visits by ranking Taiwanese officials routinely provoke angry responses from China, which claims Taiwan as a breakaway province with no right to international relations.

Under unrelenting Chinese diplomatic pressure, just 27 countries recognize Taiwan, most of them impoverished nations in Africa, Central America and the Caribbean. Taiwan and China divided politically during China’s 1949 civil war.