Former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui departed for the United States on Tuesday on a trip certain to be scrutinized by rival China. Accompanied by his wife, Wen-hui, Lee waved to reporters at the Taipei airport without making comments to the media.
Since leaving office in 2000, he has become a strong supporter of Taiwan's formal independence, a stance that has earned him scorn from China's leadership.
Taiwan split from the mainland amid civil war in 1949. Since then Beijing has repeatedly threatened to use military force against the self-governing island if it takes concrete steps toward independence.
Lee's last visit to the U.S. in June 1995 sparked a fierce protest from China. Beijing accused him of using a reunion at his alma mater, Cornell University, to advance a campaign to win international recognition for the democratic island.
Weeks after his return, Beijing test-fired several missiles off the island's coast in what analysts said was an attempt to intimidate it. During a stay in Washington between Oct. 17 and 20, Lee is scheduled to deliver a speech at the prestigious National Press Club and meet with congressmen. He will also visit New York, Los Angeles and Alaska, his aides said, reports the AP. I.L.