Tue, Feb 22, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Taiwanese ships to go on world tour

`GUNBOAT DIPLOMACY' Three naval vessels will travel around the world, the Ministry of National Defense said, making port-calls at diplomatic allies as they go

By Rich Chang and Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTERS , WITH AFP

This file photo dated Jan. 28, 1999, shows an SH-70C anti-submarine helicopter landing on the deck of a Lafayette-class frigate in a training exercise off the southern naval base of Tsoying.

PHOTO: AFP

A Taiwanese naval squadron is to undertake an unprecedented global voyage, including port calls in several countries which recognize rival China, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) and a newspaper said yesterday.

A French-built Lafayette-class frigate, a US-built Perry-class frigate and an Anchorage-class amphibious landing ship -- to be used for logistical support -- will leave the southern naval base of Tsoying next month, the China Times said.

It said the fleet would visit seven countries maintaining diplomatic ties with Taiwan -- Senegal, Gambia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Panama, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Palau.

The fleet, carrying 850 crew members, would also pay refueling visits to several countries in the Indian Ocean that recognize Beijing, the paper said.

"It would be a diplomatic breakthrough," the paper said while labeling the voyage Taiwan's "gunboat diplomacy."

MND spokesman Liou Chih-jein (劉志堅) confirmed the planned port calls at countries which have no diplomatic links with Taiwan, but declined to provide details.

"As in the past, we'll not reveal the planned route of the training voyage for safety considerations," he said. "Beijing would try to sabotage the port calls if the plan was unveiled in advance."

China scored diplomatic victories over the past few months when Vanuatu and Grenada switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

Twenty-five countries, mostly small states in Africa, Latin America and the Pacific, recognize Taiwan.

The squadron is slated to arrive in the Marshall Islands and Kiribati at the end of May or early June, the China Times report said. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who will visit the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu at around the same time, may stay a few nights on board one of the ships, as the countries may not have enough hotel rooms to accommodate the president's entourage, the report said.

"We do not exclude any possible way of arranging President Chen's overseas trip," Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Spokesman Michel Lu (呂慶龍) said in response to the report.

"MOFA will provide the MND the necessary assistance to complete the voyage. When the ships arrive at our diplomatic allies, we may invite allied government officials to visit the ships," he added.

The Presidential Office, meanwhile, denied that Chen would stay aboard the ships.

MOFA officials who requested anonymity said Taiwan's ambassadors in the seven diplomatic allies would hold banquets on board the vessels for local officials.

Meanwhile, the ships might make port calls at some countries in the Indian Ocean to refuel, even if the countries do not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

"It would be inconvenient to reveal who these countries are," Lu said.

The voyage will mark the first time that Taiwanese naval vessels have crossed the three major oceans of the world: the Pacific, the Indian and the Atlantic. The ships would travel over 30,000 nautical miles during the 101-day voyage.

Officials at the MND, who requested that their names be withheld, said the navy has proposed a supplementary budget of NT$30 million to support the tour. In addition, the navy is working on a back-up plan regarding logistics, in the event countries that have proposed accommodating the ships change their mind due to China's interference.

"If there is one harbor that refuses to berth the ships, the vessels will travel to the next harbor to get supplies," the MND said.

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