Thu, Nov 04, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Vanuatu signs on as newest diplomatic ally

COMMUNIQUE The nation established ties with Vanuatu yesterday, which has pledged to help Taiwan participate in international organizations

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen yesterday toasts Vanuatu Prime Minister Serge Vohor after the two signed a Joint Communique to establish diplomatic relations between Vanuatu and Taiwan.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced yesterday that Taiwan and Vanuatu have established diplomatic ties after 12 years of intense effort.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen (陳唐山) and Vanuatu Prime Minister Serge Vohor signed a Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the Republic of Vanuatu and the Republic of China (Taiwan) in Taipei at 9:30am yesterday.

Fifteen minutes later, Chen and Vohor announced the news at a hastily called press conference. Fearing interference from China, the ministry has kept Vohor's visit to Taipei and the two countries' preparations to forge ties strictly secret.

Taiwan and the South Pacific island nation signed an agreement to recognize each other in 1992. Vohor was the foreign minister of Vanuatu at that time. In 2000, the two countries' plan to establish official relations was reportedly aborted due to premature media exposure.

"Vanuatu does not mean to provoke China by establishing diplomatic ties with Taiwan. We hope we can still be China's friend. Nevertheless, I have no power to predict or stop China's reaction to this [Vanuatu's official relations with Taiwan]," Vohor told reporters through an interpreter.

27th ally

Vanuatu, which becomes Taiwan's 27th ally, still maintains diplomatic relations with China. Beijing had made no official response to the development as of press time yesterday.

Vohor said Vanuatu wanted to establish official relations with Taiwan after the two sides recognized each other in 1992, but had encountered some "obstacles" along the way.

"Now I have become the prime minister. It is the will and hope of the people of Vanuatu to establish diplomatic ties with Taiwan ? Vanuatu is a sovereign country and has the right to make its own decision," Vohor said.

The Joint Communique said Taiwan and Vanuatu will forge closer bilateral cooperation in the areas of agriculture, aviation, tourism, fishery, aquaculture, education, culture, cattle farming, capacity building, medical cooperation, and the development of small and medium enterprises in the years to come.

Strong support

Vohor committed Vanuatu to giving strong support for Taiwan to participate in international organizations, including the UN, the World Health Organization, APEC and other regional organizations such as the Pacific Islands Forum and the South Pacific Tourism Organization, the document said.

Chen, who gave a general introduction to Vanuatu in a presentation, commended the country's stable political system and said he wished Vanuatu could soon become a popular destination for Taiwanese tourists.

Taiwan's diplomats have started working in Vanuatu and the two sides will deploy ambassadors as soon as possible, Chen said.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) met with Vohor at the Presidential Office shortly after the press conference concluded.

A senior official involved in preparations to establish ties with Vanuatu said the country's negative economic growth over the past few years and limited foreign aid from China, Australia and New Zealand were among the main factors motivating it to seek help from Taiwan.

Vanuatu's determination to establish official ties with Taiwan was further strengthened after witnessing the fast economic development in neighboring country Kiribati, which forged diplomatic relations with Taiwan last November, the official said.

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