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Seeking to Keep Taiwan Secure

Politics: Taiwanese Americans in the Southland contribute $1 million to establish foundation linking the island to the U.S.

September 27, 2002|K. CONNIE KANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Southern California's large Taiwanese American population has raised $1 million to help endow a new foundation aimed at promoting Taiwan's image in the United States.

The money makes up the biggest share of $2.3 million raised nationwide for the new Formosa Foundation at a series of fund-raising events. The effort will culminate tonight with a banquet honoring the wife of Taiwan's president. First Lady Wu Shu-chen is winding up a 10-day visit to the United States in which she became the first Taiwanese first lady to visit Washington, D.C., in nearly half a century.

The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 when it established relations with the People's Republic of China. The Chinese government considers Taiwan a renegade province.

Taiwan went through half a century of authoritarian rule under the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, which fled to Taiwan in 1949 after being defeated elsewhere in China by the communists. The island had its first democratically elected president in 1996. Four years later, Wu's husband, Chen Shui-bian, an opposition party candidate with a large following here, won the presidency.

Los Angeles banker Li-Pei Wu, who uses the honorary title of "senior advisor to the president of Taiwan," is the founding head of the nonprofit foundation. Wu, chairman of General Bank, based in Los Angeles, gave $500,000 of his own money to the foundation and pledged another $500,000 before the end of the year.

Wu has spent half of his 68 years in the United States, but his homeland still tugs at his heart, he said. "On one hand, I appreciate being a U.S. citizen," he said, "but on the other hand, I have a sentimental love for Taiwan."

It's an emotion shared by many Taiwanese Americans. The Los Angeles area--and the San Gabriel Valley in particular--is home to the nation's largest concentration of people of Taiwanese heritage.

For many years, Wu, like many fellow immigrants, devoted money and time to the effort to topple the Nationalist government. Now that democracy has been established on the island, Wu says he wants to do what he can to ensure that Taiwan remains free.

That the Formosa Foundation could raise $2.3 million at five dinners within a week is evidence of the widespread support for the idea in the Taiwanese American community, Monterey Park attorney Wendell K. Hu said.

"The future of Taiwan is a life-and-death issue with us," he said.

The visit by First Lady Wu is designed to thank supporters of her husband and to encourage Taiwanese Americans to be a bridge between America and Taiwan, said Michael Lin, a spokesman for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles. The office functions as the equivalent of Taiwan's consulate here.

The Formosa Foundation aims to foster good relations between the U.S. and Taiwan, which are critical for the island's future, Li-Pei Wu said. "Everything has to start from the U.S. because America is the champion of freedom in the world."

The foundation will sponsor international conferences and other public forums to present research and facilitate discussion, officials said. It will also underwrite fellowships and internships in government and the news media to encourage second-generation Taiwanese Americans to assume leadership roles in the U.S.

Wu said his hope is to see the United States eventually accept the idea of Taiwan as an independent country. Since the Nixon administration, U.S. foreign policy has been to not dispute China's claim that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it.

Wu admits some have told him that a fully independent Taiwan is a "mission impossible," but he and other Formosa Foundation supporters say they will persist.

"I will spend the rest of my life for the cause of Taiwan," said May Sing, a major fund-raiser in the San Francisco Bay Area. "Don't tell the Taiwanese to be Chinese."

During Taiwan's 2000 presidential campaign, Sing, an opera singer married to a physician from Fremont, Calif., helped raise $625,000 in one evening in San Francisco for Chen's candidacy.

Not all foundation supporters are immigrants or die-hard proponents of an independent Taiwan.

Don Lee, a second-generation Taiwanese American attorney in Los Angeles, said he believes the foundation can play an important role in the Taiwan-China debate by putting all the policy options out in the open for public discussion.

"Whether or not Taiwan is by law an independent nation, recognized in the international community, is an interesting issue. But to me, at least for the time being, I would like to see Taiwan continue to be a vibrant democracy and continue to have economic success," he said.

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