Sat, Aug 02, 2003 - Page 1 News List

MOFA coy over Nauru's possible return

ONCE BITTEN The Pacific island nation ditched Taiwan for China's largess last year, now that Beijing's purse has remained closed, it may want to return to the ROC's embrace

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH REUTERS

Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) yesterday declined to comment on the future development of ties between Taiwan and its former ally of Nauru, following some reports saying the tiny Pacific state was considering switch diplomatic ties back to Taipei.

Chien was speaking after a Reuters report from Beijing said Nauru has closed its embassy in Beijing due to financial difficulties, while citing a source saying the closure was to pave the way for the re-establishment of diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

"The national interest will be the top principle for us when contemplating our future relations with Nauru. But I can't comment on how future ties will unfold," Chien said yesterday afternoon.

The reports said that the cash-strapped Nauru government was split between a faction rooting for China and another seeking financial assistance from Taiwan.

A Nauru diplomat in Beijing confirmed that the mission, which opened in April, was shut on July 29 due to "funding problems."

He quoted Nauru President Ludwig Scotty as saying the closure did not reflect a "cooling of relations" between China and Nauru.

But a Beijing-based source said officials belonging to one faction of the Nauru government have been in contact with their Taiwanese counterparts and were seeking financial aid with an eye on eventually re-establishing diplomatic relations.

"The closure is the first step towards Nauru and Taiwan re-establishing diplomatic relations," said the source, who asked not to be identified.

Reuters obtained a copy of an official document which showed Nauru had sought funding from Beijing based on what Taipei had provided -- housing and transport for Nauru's UN ambassador and rent for Nauru's New York mission worth nearly US$10,000 a month.

But Beijing decided recently not to provide funding, the document showed. It was unclear if China had given any money.

The tiny Pacific island state switched ties from Taipei to Beijing in July of last year, reducing the number of Taiwan's diplomatic allies from 28 to 27.

"China used its `cash diplomacy' to obstruct our diplomatic work when Nauru cut ties with Taiwan back in July of last year. And this severance of diplomatic ties hurt the feelings of the Taiwanese people," Chien said.

"We'll need to assess in detail as to whether the reestablishment of ties between Nauru and Taiwan would be in accord with our national interests," Chien said.

The foreign minister failed to clarify what he meant by "national interest."

Taiwan's embassy in the neighboring Fiji has been in charge of secret communications with the authorities in Nauru since the severance of ties between the two countries last year, sources said.

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