Lee's 1995 visit to Cornell
The crisis began when President Lee Teng-hui accepted an invitation from his alma mater, Cornell University to deliver a speech on "Taiwan's Democratization Experience". Seeking to diplomatically isolate the Republic of China, the PRC opposed such visits by ROC (Taiwanese) leaders. It argued that Lee harbored pro-Taiwanese independence sentiments and was therefore a threat to stability in the region. A year earlier, in 1994, when President Lee's plane had stopped in Honolulu to refuel after a trip to South America, the U.S. government under President Bill Clinton refused Lee's request for a visa. Lee had been confined to the military airfield where he landed, forcing him to spend a night on his plane. A U.S. State Department official called the situation "embarrassing" and Lee complained that he was being treated as a second-class leader.
After Lee had decided to visit Cornell, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher assured PRC Foreign Minister Qian Qichen that a visa for Lee would be "inconsistent with [the U.S.'s] unofficial relationship [with Taiwan]." However, the humiliation from Lee's last visit caught the attention of many pro-Taiwan figures in the U.S. and this time, the United States Congress acted on Lee's behalf. In May 1995, a concurrent resolution asking the State Department to allow Lee to visit the U.S. passed the House 396 to 0 with 38 not voting, and the Senate 97 to 1 with 2 not voting. The State Department relented on 22 May 1995, and the PRC condemned the U.S. for "ruining" Sino-American relations.
Lee spent June 9–10, 1995, in the U.S. at a Cornell Alumni reunion as the PRC state press branded him a "traitor" attempting to "split China".