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 (commonly known as Taiwan) leaders. It argued that Lee harbored pro-Taiwan 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".