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Group of New Mexico lawmakers visits Taiwan

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A group of 11 state legislators recently returned from a week-long trip to Taiwan.

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, who was among those who made the trip, said Taiwan is interested in trade with New Mexico and that the Taiwanese government invited the lawmakers and paid their expenses.

During the session of the Legislature ended in March, state lawmakers unanimously approved a memorial asking Congress and the president to support Taiwan’s effort to be granted observer status by the United Nations and some other international organizations.

China opposes recognition of Taiwan by the United Nations, arguing that Taiwan is a part of a China and, therefore, has no right to U.N. representation on its own.

The United States recognizes Taiwan as part of China and maintains only unofficial relations with Taiwan, a group of islands off mainland China.

Taiwan has a democratic government, and some view it as a model for the future of all China.

The group of legislators and a member of Papen’s staff arrived in Taipei on April 14 and departed April 20. They stayed at the five-star Hotel Royal Taipei while in that city and also spent nights in Hualien and Chishang.

The trip included meetings with U.S. and Taiwanese government representatives and tours of a research park, a solar panels factory, the National Palace Museum, agricultural areas, a former prison for political prisoners, a handicraft promotion center and Taipei 101, once the world’s tallest building. There also were rides on Taiwan’s high-speed train and in hot-air balloons.

Papen, D-Las Cruces, called the trip productive and fascinating and said selling pecans from southern New Mexico to Taiwan was an example of possible future trade deals.

Papen said Taiwan has a hot-air balloon fiesta and the group extended invitations for Taiwanese pilots to take part in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

According to the memorial passed by the Legislature, New Mexico has had a sister-state relationship with Taiwan since 1985 and Albuquerque has had a sister-city relationship with Hualien since 1983.

Joining Papen on the trip were Sens. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo; Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque; Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque and Steven Neville, R-Aztec, and Reps. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland; Rodolpho “Rudy” Martinez, D-Bayard; Debbie Rodella, D-EspaƱola; Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque; Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, and Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque.

Papen said she didn’t know the cost of the trip, adding, “We were guests of the Taiwanese government.”

The senator said no spouses came along. “Matter of fact, they were uninvited,” she said. “They (the Taiwanese) said this was strictly a business trip.”

Lawmakers didn’t receive the per diem, or daily payment, that they traditionally get while on official travel.

New Mexico’s law restricting gifts to public officials excludes “reasonable expenses for a bona fide educational program that is directly related to the state officer’s or employee’s official duties.”

Some lawmakers in recent years also have made educational trips to Turkey and the Netherlands.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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