Ex-South Korean leader arrives for high-level exchange

The China Post staff

Former South Korean President Kim Young Sam arrived in Taiwan yesterday in the highest-level political exchange since the two countries broke diplomatic relations in 1992.

Kim, invited by President Chen Shui-bian to visit the country, reportedly is seeking to discuss with Taipei the resumption of direct air links.

Kim and his wife, Sohn Myoung Soon, were greeted at Chiang Kai-shek International Airport by Eugene Chien, deputy presidential secretary-general, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Feng-hsi, and other officials.

Kim, who leads a 17-member delegation for the five-day visit, is expected to meet Chen today and tomorrow, and also call on Foreign Minister Tien Hung-mao and other high-ranking officials.

He will give a press conference after meeting Chen on Friday, the state-funded Central News Agency said.

Taiwan cut off direct aviation exchanges with South Korea in 1992 in retaliation for Seoul’s recognition of Beijing. Seoul has been seeking to reopen air routes to Taiwan since 1995 and President Kim Dae Jung had expressed his desire to improve bilateral relations.

But aviation talks have stalled over Taipei’s demand that South Korea dispatch a high-level government delegation to Taiwan.

Seoul’s concerns over mainland China’s reaction to the air link restoration is also a major stumbling block to the talks.

A chartered South Korean passenger jet made one flight from Seoul to Taipei in November last year in the first direct air exchanges since the two countries broke ties.

The top goal of Kim’s visit is to seek discussions that lead to the resumption of direct air links between Taiwan and South Korea, according to Park Chong-ung, a lawmaker of Kim’s Grand National Party who is among the 17-member entourage.

Although Kim remains influential as head of the largest party in South Korea’s legislature, it is unclear whether he has been authorized by the government to discuss the aviation issue.

Foreign Ministry officials said that aviation talks have been hampered by South Korea’s reluctance to recognize the ROC’s sovereign status for fear of offending Beijing.

The Cathay Airways flight taking the Kim delegation to Taiwan was delayed for some 20 minutes after a dispute between crew members and Kim’s bodyguards who had tried to carry hand guns on board to protect their former leader, the China Times Express said.

The crew had insisted the guns be turned in and kept by flight attendants during the flight but the security guards refused, the paper said.

The incident was finally defused when the security guards relented, the paper added.

Foreign Minister Tien Hung-mao was scheduled to host a dinner yesterday evening in honor of Kim and his entourage, which is comprised of several Grand National Party lawmakers, academics and some former officials.

Kim, an opposition leader who became South Korea’s first non-military head of state, has been lauded by former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea James Lilley as a pioneer in South Korea’s political democratization.