The Mystery Of Air Force One
(TVBS via Yahoo! News) November 17, 2006.
The APEC team of representatives led by Morris Chang departed this afternoon for Vietnam. Special attention is given to the fact that they will be taking the President's special airplane Air Force One to fly directly to Hanoi. Since Taiwan and Vietnam do not have formal diplomatic relationships, Air Force One with the national flag has a high symbolic value for national sovereignty. Thus, Morris Chang's trip representing the President will now have greater political meaning.
Air Force One glided towards the airplane parking area. This time, it was not carrying the President. It was carrying the APEC team of representatives led by Morris Chang to Hanoi, Vietnam.
Acting as the APEC special envoy for the President, Morris Chang also enjoyed presidential treatment. He took Air Force One leaving from Shanshang Air Base and arrived at Hanoi International Airport at around 3pm. Special attention was drawn not only to the fact that this was the first time that an APEC team of representatives took the President's special plane but also the symbolic value for national sovereignty when the Air Force One flew to Vietnam (which has no diplomatic relationships with Taiwan) carrying the national flag of the Republic of China.
(ETToday via Yahoo! News) November 17, 2006.
Following President Chen's trip to Palau, Air Force One successfully traveled outside of the country today (November 17). Representing Taiwan at the APEC conference, Morris Chang traveled today in Air Force One to arrive in Vietnam. This was the first successful landing by Air Force One in any country without diplomatic relationships with Taiwan. Since the passenger was the President's special envoy, the diplomatic action is quite obvious.
The airplane arrived successfully in Vietnam. The special plane carrying Morris Chang is President Chen's Air Force One. It was the first time that Air Force One, which carries the national flag, landed in Vietnam, which has no diplomatic relationships with Taiwan.
(ETToday via Yahoo! News) November 18, 2006.
The President's special plane Air Force One with the national flag carried APEC special envoy Morris Chang to Vietnam. According to information, this action caused the Beijing authorities to be unhappy. As a result, Morris Chang may have to return to Taiwan a day earlier. Government officials emphasize that he will attend the full conference, but they have made contingency plans.
Morris Chang became the special envoy for President Chen at the APEC conference. Of course, this had to be done in a high profile way with Air Force One being assigned to carry the team there. When he got off the airplane, everybody noticed that the airplane carried the national flag of the Republic of China. Obviously, the Beijing authorities saw that too. According to information, under pressure from the other side of the strait, Morris Chang may have to return to Taiwan a day earlier and thereby miss the final day of the conference. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has made contingency plans, including having Morris Chang take a civilian airline for the return trip.
(TVBS via Yahoo! News) November 21, 2006.
APEC team leader Morris Chang was originally said to have take Air Force One to Vietnam, and the President claimed that this was a diplomatic breakthrough. But when the airplane returned to Taiwan, people found out that the national flag on the tail of Air Force One was missing!
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the national flag was missing due to pressure from mainland China. According to information, the national flag was covered up before the airplane left Taiwan. Therefore, when Air Force One landed in Vietnam, there was no national flag on the tail wing.
Holding Morris Chang's hands tightly, President Chen thanked the APEC team for accomplishing their mission. He especially mentioned the special plane. President Chen: "This time Chang led the team and took the President's special plane to attend the conference in Vietnam. This is a historical first, so it is especially significant."
While the President is issuing praises from one side about the diplomatic significance of the President's special plane landing in a third country, there is talk elsewhere that Air Force One, which used to have a national flag on it tail wing, returned back to Shanshang Air Base without the national flag on the tail wing.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Morris Chang took an administrative special plane to Vietnam. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it had never emphasized that this was the President's special plane carrying the national flag.
(China Times) November 22, 2006.
On the evening of the day before yesterday, Morris Chang led his APEC team back to Taiwan. Yesterday morning, he went to the President's Office for a work report. Afterwards, the members of the APEC team held a press conference. The media kept asking, When did the national flag on the President's plane disappear? All those government officials present, including President's Office Secretary-general Mark Chen, looked shaken up and the atmosphere was quite embarrassing.
Minister of Foreign Affairs James Huang was not president. John Chen, director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Department of International Organizations, said under repeated questioning: "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not lie" and "We were not looking to get ourselves into trouble."
When John Chen and other officials responded, they were evasive at first. They only said, "The national flag did not appear because we have no diplomatic ties with Vietnam" and they avoided the issue of when the national flag disappeared. Finally Morris Chang stepped in with the crisp and clear answer: "There was no national flag going out and there was no national flag coming back."
When the reporters pursued further that since the national flag on the President's special plane was covered up going out, then why did the government not issue any corrections after the Central News Agency and other media reported that the President's special plane landed in Vietnam with the national flag on it. John Chen said: "At the time, we wanted the team leaders to concentrate on the meeting so we did not clarify the related reports."
(China Times) November 22, 2006.
When APEC team leader Morris Chang traveled in the "President's special plane" to Hanoi, was the national flag on the tail wing when it landed? Referring back to what government officials said at the international press conference on November 17, it showed that the Government Information Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs deliberately created diplomatic space and misled the outside world.
Morris Chang together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the President's Office said that "Air Force One" arrived in Hanoi. Morris Chang and the Government Information Office said that "if the President is not on the plane, then it is not Air Force One." But the Government Information Office offered a tape to the media showing Morris Chang getting off the airplane and the accompanying Government Information Office deputy director William Yih also told the media publicly that "this is President Chen's special airplane."
The media asked William Yih whether the national flag was covered up. An Agence France Presse reporter asked at the press conference whether this was a national carrier and also about the political significance of the national flag on the plane coming to Vietnam, which has no diplomatic ties. William Yi neither admitted nor denied, but he only emphasized that there is a special understanding with the Vietnamese government and he would not go into the details.
When the airplane landed, it was in the restricted area and the media were not allowed to meet the airplane. When the reporters asked the senior government officials there, they referred all questions to William Yih or John Chen who is director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Department of International Organizations.
Throughout the entire press conference, from Morris Chang, William Yi and others, they never directly answered the questions from the reporters. They carefully created a certain diplomatic space, leaving all those present to infer that Air Force One was in Hanoi with a certain tacit understanding with the Vietnamese government. Thus, they cannot state it openly; they can only do so in a low profile manner.
Morris Chang's response was open and sincere. The media could also believe that it was a national carrier with a national flag. But he could not say so explicitly, and he could only maintain a low profile in order not to infuriate China.
(China Times) November 22, 2006.
For the President's special plane to have the national flag covered up before undertaking a mission is a major event. The government covered up the truth beforehand and then deliberately packaged it as an "important diplomatic breakthrough." The entire sequence of events can be said to be an absurdist drama.
Morris Chang and the team of representative left on November 17, a day before the APEC meeting began. In previous years, the team of conference attendees traveled by civilian airline and so the public did not pay any attention to this detail this year. When President Chen met Morris Chang on November 16, he had mentioned the President's special plane and the flight plan. But the government did not announce those details to the public.
After the team of representatives departed after 2pm on November 17, Ministry of Foreign Affairs director-general Michael Lu explained the travel arrangements of the APEC representative team in a press conference. He emphasized that this was the second overseas mission for the President's special plane. On that day, the Central News Agency press article emphasized that Morris Chang went to Hanoi to attend the APEC summit meeting in the President's special plane.
The suspicious point is that although the government described this as an important breakthrough, the media were not allowed to cover the departure of the team of representatives from Taipei and their arrival in Hanoi. The Government Information Office only provided the photographs taken by the official photographer for the media to use. Those photographs deliberately omitted showing the tail wing. Yesterday, the Central News Agency news report pointed out: "It is an indisputable fact that the special plane carrying the national flag landed in the airport of Vietnam, which dooes not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan."
During the APEC meeting, the government did not deny that the team of representatives took the President's special plane. Only Morris Chang was more open and told the reporters repeatedly that only an airplane with the President in it can be called the President's special plane. This was consistent with what he said yesterday at the press conference.
When the special plane returned after 5pm on November 20, the reporters found out that the national flag on the airplane had disappeared. When they raised questions, the officials hemmed and hawed. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs only said: "The special plane did not look any different going and returning." They did not dare to admit that they covered up the national flag before they left.
Even at the press conference yesterday morning, the officials were still going around in circles. Finally, Morris Chang spelled out the truth: "There was no national flag when it went out, and there was no national flag when it came back." That cleared up the mystery for the media.
Compared to the low profile kept by Morris Chang and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, President Chen was still saying yesterday that the team of representatives traveled in the President's special plane. "This is a historical first, and it obviously has special significance." These versions are completely different, so who is telling the truth?
The President's special plane is a symbol of national sovereignty. If you want to call this plane an Air Force administrative special plane, it is still a symbol of national sovereignty. But the government insisted on creating the illusion that there was a diplomatic breakthrough. They covered up the national flag and emasculated their national sovereignty. If the team had taken a civilian airline to attend the meeting, there would not be any points deducted. But after the disclosure of the fact that the national flag was painted over on the President's special plane, plus the multiple narratives coming from President Chen, Morris Chang and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the losses are greater than any wins.
Concerning to the "disappearance" of the national flag, the government officials are asking the media to appreciate their diplomatic hardships. But the sad thing is not the diplomatic hardships; it is about how the government can try to deceive both themselves and the people.
(China Times) November 22, 2006.
... According to information, the government dared to cover up the national flag because they thought that the absence of the President on the plane would make it a smaller target. The President's Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Government Information Office rehearsed the scenarios to see how they can prevent the media from finding out. They believed that if they do not permit the media to be present and they supply the official photographs, then the media will not be able to find out.
... According to information, our representative applied to the host country Vietnam in late October for a landing permit for a "special plane" carrying our APEC team leaders. But the Vietnamese government insisted that whether this was a special or chartered plane, under international customs concerning countries with no diplomatic ties, no planes carrying markings of national sovereignty will be allowed to land. The negotiations then went into a countdown phase and the APEC conference was about to begin. So our side decided not to embarrass the host country and covered up the national flag on the special plane. This action was classified as top secret.
(China Times via Yahoo! News) November 23, 2006.
Yesterday afternoon, the media journalists waiting at the airport caught a glimpse of Air Force One. The national flag that was just painted was glistening brightly.
KMT legislator Lee Jih-Chu was part of the delegation that attended the APEC conference in Hanoi. She said that even before Morris Chang arrived in Hanoi on November 17, she learned from Vietnamese officials that the special plane did not carry a national flag. At the time, she reminded officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Government Information Office to focus on the economic issues and not hype up the business about the airplane. She did not expect that things would end up this way.
Lee Jih-Chu said that she arrived in Hanoi on November 14. On November 15, Vietnamese officials told her about the airplane. At the time, she did not comment publicly because she did not to lose the focus of the meeting in the interest of Taiwan. But she made three requests to government officials: First, please come out and clarify the matter; second, please let Morris Chang know; third, please do not manipulate the airplane issue.
Lee Jih-Chu also disclosed that after she found out about the special plane affair, she asked officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs why they did it. The officials explained that they did not do anything, but the reporters wrote the reports "based upon their own guesses." Some other officials told her that their orders about the special plane affair came from above "at a level far higher than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs." Later on, Lee Jih-Chu learned that the orders came from the President's Office.