Who Is He?
Here is a set of transcripts that is getting a careful reading (see, for example, Apple Daily, Cross-Straits Exchange forum, SCMP and there must be plenty of other instances). The transcripts are for the daily press briefings held by US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
Here is the transcript of May 3, 2006 with respect to Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian:
QUESTION: Just to follow up, just quickly on -- it may not be related, it may be related. But I understand the Taiwanese President is not being allowed to stop off, as he wanted to, in San Francisco or New York. Is this a sop to China at this difficult time in negotiations?
MR. MCCORMACK: My understanding is he had chosen not to travel on this trip. I think he's cancelled his trip. That's the latest information that I have. He was offered transit through the United States, as is customary with our policy, when he chooses to travel, but he has decided not to travel.
QUESTION: The Taiwanese press says that he was given Alaska but was turned down for San Francisco and New York. Are you saying that those reports are not true?
MR. MCCORMACK: What I'm saying is he was offered transit consistent with our previous policy and actions with regard to requests from him to travel. He was offered a transit through Anchorage, Alaska. I understand now -- the latest information I have that we've received from TECRO is that he has chosen not to travel. That's his decision.
Here is the translation of Apple Daily's take:
President Chen Shui-bian cancelled his transit through the United States. The US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday morning (Taipei time) at the regular press briefing that he found this out from Taiwan's representative in the United States. "That is his decision." It is noteworthy that McCormack did not refer Chen Shui-bian as the President of Taiwan, the leader of Taiwan or Mr. Chen as was customary in the past. Within the brief 30 second exchange, he used "he" for President Chen a total of ten times.
McCormack said: "My understanding is thta he has chosen not to travel on this trip. I think he' canceled his trip. As is customary with our policy, when he chooses to travel, he will be offered to transit through the United States. But he has decided not to travel."
When the reporter asked him about the Taiwan media reports whether Chen Shui-bian was turned down in his requests to transit through San Francisco and New York City, McCormack said impatiently: "He was offered transit consisted with our previous policy and actions. He was offered a transit through Anchorage, Alaska. The latest information from TECRO is that he has decided not to travel. This is his decision."
According how Chen Shui-bian was referred to only as "he" in the regular daily press briefing, Taiwan's official representative in the United States Davlid Lee said that this was a misunderstanding, because the State Department was only proving the latest news in response to questions from the reporters in Washington DC.
If there is a controversy about the use of the 'he,' then the easiest way to resolve this is to ask the Sean McCormack himself whether it meant anything. So here is the transcript of May 4, 2006:
QUESTION: Thank you, Sean. Do you have any updates on Taiwan's President Chen's transit through the United States?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I understand he will, on his outbound leg to his destination in South America, or destinations in South America, that he will not be transiting the United States. It is an open question whether or not -- whether on the way back he will transit the United States. As of this point, we don't have a request for that, but if we do receive the request we will certainly look at it consistent with our past practice on that question.
QUESTION: A follow-up. In the past, the U.S. has approved Taiwanese leaders to transit through other U.S. cities like New York, San Francisco, which were more preferable to the Taiwan side. Can you tell us why this time the U.S. put only stops in Alaska?
MR. MCCORMACK: There was an offer of transit through Anchorage, Alaska, which we thought was appropriate. We take each of these requests on a case-by-case basis. Each of them we take on their individual merits and beyond that I don't have any further comment on it.
QUESTION: One last follow up, sir. In your (inaudible) yesterday, you called Chen Shui-bian "he" and never once did you address his title and you are the spokesperson and a diplomat, I would assume your expressions are --
MR. MCCORMACK: "He" referred to Chen Shui-bian.
QUESTION: Excuse me, can I follow up on this President's transit issue? By rejecting the U.S. offer to transit in through Alaska, President Chen is obviously, you know, showing his displeasure with the U.S. arrangement. Do you think there will, you know, a chilling effect of current and future U.S.-Taiwan relations?
MR. MCCORMACK: First of all, I would refer you to his -- Chen Shui-bian's traveling party for a comment on why they chose not to transit through Alaska. And as for the second part of your question, I would expect that it would not have any effect.
QUESTION: The transit -- was that meant to be just to refuel for a couple of hours or was that supposed to include an overnight if the timing coincided or --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, you can talk to his traveling party about that.
QUESTION: Well, no, but wait a second. This is a serious decision -- was that -- what does transit mean? Does it mean 24 hours, less than 24 hours, 12 hours? What does it mean?
MR. MCCORMACK: It has meant different things at different times.
Please note that McCormack declined to respond to the question in the middle with respect to how spokespersons/diplomats use expressions. One would assume that the US State Department knows what the newspapers have been saying on this seemingly minor point, but McCormack still declines to clarify.