President of Kiribati Anote Tong yesterday invited visiting Taiwanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) to his native Maiana, an island located east of the country's capital Tarawa, for a festival attended by local village chiefs and tribal leaders.
Residents on Maiana, which means "land east of Tarawa," welcomed Chien and his delegation, consisting of ministry officials and reporters, with traditional dancing, singing and local delicacies.
Still preserving their primitive lifestyles, residents on Maiana swarmed into the seaside conference venue where men and women dressed in coconut leaves and traditional costumes performed for Chien and his delegation.
According to the Taiwan embassy in Kiribati, around 2,000 people now lived on the island, who made their living chiefly by selling dry coconuts, sea cucumber and taro. Money remitted home by their overseas relatives is another key economic pillar of Maiana.
The journey from Tarawa to Maiana, however, marked one of the biggest difficulties Kiribati faces in attempting to develop the country's transportation.
While Tong, Chien and high-level officials flew from Tarawa to Maiana in a helicopter, the rest of the Taiwanese delegation left Tarawa at 4:30am to take a boat to Maiana.
The Kiribati government dispatched the country's only patrol boat, RKS Teanoai, to ferry the delegation to Maiana.
The sea journey lasted about two hours.
As the immediate sea surrounding Maiana is shallow, the patrol boat had to anchor several kilometers away from the island. On the choppy sea, the delegates climbed down from the patrol boat via rope ladders to smaller boats that would carry them to the island.
However, even the smaller boats were grounded before they reached the shore. The delegates had to disembark the boats to wade hundreds of meters in knee-deep waters to get to the shore.
Inspector Tataai Tataa, commanding officer of the Teanoai, said that although transportation problems have not hampered Kiribati's communication with other Pacific island nations, it has severely affected the rest of the world's interest in visiting Kiribati.
Having traveled to many countries, including Taiwan, the 31-year-old inspector's main job is to hunt foreign ships that conduct illegal fishing in Kiribati waters.
Foreign ships cannot fish in Kiribati waters without obtaining licenses issued by the Kiribati government. Kiribati's rich fishing grounds have drawn a lot of illegal fishing, said Tataa.
Although Kiribati owns great fishing resources, its government finds it difficult to develop the country's fishing industry. "Our problem is that we are very poor," said Tataa.
The Kiribati government is trying to procure more patrol boats to guard the country's waters, added Tataa. Australia, he said, has been helping Kiribati train marine officers. While Chien praised Tong's commitment to developing Kiribati, Tataa said most people in Kiribati believed their government has made a right decision to switch ties from Beijing to Taipei last November.
Taiwan and Kiribati's cooperation programs are vital to the livelihood of the Kiribati people. "Developing our country is our goal. People here think establishing ties with Taiwan is a good plan," Tataa said.
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