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Taiwanese Nobel Laureate Visits Mainland China - 2002-06-17

Taiwan's top scientist is visiting Beijing in what Taiwanese media call a breakthrough in deadlocked ties with China. But China is downplaying the political significance of the visit.

Lee Yuan-tseh, Taiwan's sole Nobel laureate, is attending an international science conference at Beijing's Qinghua University. Mr. Lee is president of Taiwan's top research center, Academia Sinica, and won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1986.

Scholars on both sides of the Taiwan Strait regard Mr. Lee with great respect, and believe he may play a role in easing strained relations between Beijing and Taipei.

Wu Nengyuan is head of the Taiwan Research Institute at the Academy of Social Sciences in China's southern province, Fujian. Mr. Wu says Mr. Lee's week-long visit to Beijing should have a positive effect on cross-strait relations. He says Mr. Lee's presence here will allow China to better understand his views, and promote communication between mainland Chinese and Taiwanese academics.

But Mr. Wu stresses that Mr. Lee is in Beijing purely as a scholar, not as Taipei's official representative. Mr. Wu says as long as Taiwan refuses to recognize the one-China principle, the political deadlock between Taipei and Beijing will remain. He adds it is unlikely the Taiwanese chemist will participate in unofficial talks to set up direct trade links across the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan has banned direct links with the mainland since 1949, when Nationalists fled China after their defeat by Communist troops. China considers Taiwan its own territory, and has threatened to attack the island if it declares independence or drags its feet on reunification.

Some Taiwanese media call Mr. Lee's trip to China a major political breakthrough, because Beijing has condemned the scientist for supporting Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's pro-independence party.

Mr. Lee will give a lecture at the chemistry department of the prestigious Beijing University. He will also visit the Chinese Academy of Science before returning to Taipei Saturday.