Wed, Jan 22, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Thai PM says he will not risk relations with China

AP AND CNA , BANGKOK AND TAIPEI

Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra declared yesterday that his government will not issue diplomatic visas to Taiwanese politicians out of respect for China.

Thaksin said his country would not risk jeopardizing its ties with China under any circumstances.

However, Foreign Minister Surakiat Sathirathai said Taiwan-ese politicians would be granted business or tourist visas.

Thaksin's comments came in response to an outcry from Taiwan after the Thai government last week refused to grant visas to 19 Taiwanese lawmakers, officially citing inadequate time for processing their applications.

It is believed however that the real reason for the denial was that their visit would have embarrassingly coincided with a trip to Bangkok by Chinese Vice Premier Li Lanqing (李嵐清).

"We consider Taiwan as an economic zone, so we have economic ties but not political [ties]," Thaksin said. Granting visas to Taiwanese politicians "would violate our agreement with China. We have to respect the deal. If we don't respect it, who would respect us?" he said.

Meanwhile, Surakiat said yesterday that the Taiwan delegation failed in its bid to visit Thailand because it had intended to mix politics with business.

"They had mixed up economics with a political agenda which contradicts Thailand's standpoint," Surakiat told reporters.

"We have no political or diplomatic relations with Taiwan -- that's our standpoint," he said. "We have only economic ties with Taiwan and we adhere to a one-China policy."

Surakiat's explanation contradicted the earlier one from his ministry that there was too little time to process and issue the visas.

He also said Beijing had not interfered in the row.

Thaksin said that tourists and businessmen from Taiwan were welcome. "But in the case of politicians, we have to remain cautious and look at it on a case-by-case basis," he said.

In Taipei yesterday Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) said Thailand will not reject visa applications from Taiwan officials "forever."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been communicating with the Thai authorities on the issue, Chien said, adding that it is a common wish that the two nations can engage in reciprocal visits by officials.

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