TAIPEI - The visiting UK transport minister yesterday said she is not offended by a remark made by Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, who said Monday that he might give away a gift the minister sent to him to a scrap metal dealer.
During a press event with local press yesterday, Baroness Kramer, the UK minister of state for transport, yesterday reiterated her regret over sending a pocket watch to Ko during the two's Monday meeting.
"I am aware that I had made a cultural mistake of lack of knowledge with the gift of a clock," Kramer told local press yesterday. "In my country we say time is precious. So I did not understand the implication here in Taiwan," she noted.
"Now I have learned something new. It has not in any way impacted the relationship, the conversation that we had with the city of Taipei," Kramer said, calling the conversation with Ko "very constructive."
Giving clocks or watches as gifts is traditionally seen as taboo in Chinese culture because the phrase "giving a clock" is read the same as "bidding farewell" to the deceased at a funeral.
After receiving the gift during a meeting with the UK minister, Ko said Monday that he was not worried about the implication when asked by the media if he felt uncomfortable with the gift, but then he added: "I can just regift it to someone or take it to a scrap metal dealer and sell it for cash."
The controversial comments were blasted by foreign affairs experts and lawmakers across party lines, who saw the remarks as rude and exposing the mayor's lack of knowledge about foreign affairs.
Asked by the media if she feels upset after Ko's comments, the UK minister yesterday stressed that she was not offended at all.
"I could never be offended by humour," she said.
UK-Taiwan Cooperation in Transportation
Leading the biggest ever UK rail mission to Taiwan, Kramer arrived Taiwan for a two-day visit on Monday and Tuesday.
This marks the highest-level visit to Taiwan by the UK's transportation authorities, according to the British Trade & Cultural Office (BTCO).
Also yesterday, the UK official witnessed the signing ceremony of two agreements, namely a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Taiwan's Railway Engineering Society of Taiwan and UK's Railway Industry Association, and a letter of intent between China Engineering Consultants, Inc. and the UK's National Rail Engineers Skills Academy.
During yesterday's press event, Kramer said the Taiwan trip was extremely fruitful as she found the UK and Taiwan have shared many similar challenges in terms of public transportation.
She said both sides have already shared plans and policies in transport and innovation in technology, and UK companies will continue to forge closer ties with Taiwanese businesses.