Sat, Jan 10, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Embassy opens in diplomatic ally Kiribati

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER, IN TARAWA, KIRIBATI

A Taiwanese embassy formally opened yesterday in Kiribati, the tiny Pacific island nation that is Taiwan's newest diplomatic ally.

Attending the event were Kiribati President Anote Tong and Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新). Chien, along with officials from his ministry, arrived on Kiribati yesterday morning.

Taiwan established diplomatic ties with Kiribati -- the first country each day to greet the sun -- on Nov. 7 last year.

Tong held a closed-door meeting with Chien prior to the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the embassy to discuss cooperation programs.

Having received President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) invitation to visit Taiwan next month, Tong thanked Taiwan for its participation in the cooperation programs.

"We are very much a developing country," Tong said. "Nevertheless, we also hope to offer something [to Taiwan] in return."

Tong said he hoped Taiwanese businesspeople would find investment opportunities in Kiribati and that the two countries can carry out cultural exchanges.

Home to less than 100,000 people, Kiribati became independent from the UK in 1979.

The country until recently was home to a satellite station owned by China, which severed ties with Kiribati several weeks after Taiwan and Kiribati established diplomatic relations.

Chien, in his speech at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, thanked the Kiribati government for its generosity in choosing to locate the embassy in an area that is home to important government buildings.

The embassy is situated only hundreds of meters away from the former Chinese embassy. Chinese officials have left the country. Only a few caretakers remain in the embassy, one of the nicest buildings in Kiribati.

Tong said the site for the Taiwanese embassy is a historical one. It used to be the site of the British High Commission. It is also located close to the Kiribati government's headquarters.

Tong said he hoped that living arrangements close to the Taiwanese Embassy could be procured for embassy staff.

Tong and Chien both expressed appreciation of the efforts of Samuel Chen (陳士良), Taiwan's ambassador to Kiribati, who was set with the challenging assignment of building the embassy from the ground up within two months.

Chien also said it is a good thing that Samuel Chen's wife, Leigh Chen (陳麗珍), will accompany her husband to Kiribati to help with the embassy's work.

Samuel Chen, who worked non-stop through the Christmas and New Year's holidays to supervise construction of the embassy, said that he had gone through considerable hardship in getting accustomed to life in this remote land.

Although a one-way trip from Taiwan to Kiribati takes nearly 24 hours, Samuel Chen said he did not feel particularly lonely or homesick on the island, which currently has no Taiwanese immigrants.

The ambassador said his greatest challenge is getting used to the weather.

"It is very hot here," Samuel Chen said. "I often sweat profusely.

"The work is hard here. But I feel very proud when I realize that the hard work has cemented Taiwan's ties with Kiribati," he said.

Samuel Chen also said that Taiwan had dispatched business and agricultural teams to Kiribati to help with cooperation programs.

"It is a very special and rare experience to open a new embassy," the ambassador said.

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