Tue, Jan 09, 2007 - Page 1 News List

President departs on Nicaragua trip

DIPLOMACY The president left with a sizable entourage to attend the inauguration of the Nicaraguan president, while defending the nation's foreign affairs strategy

By Ko Shu-ling and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTERS

President Chen Shui-bian waves goodbye yesterday as he leaves Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport with Premier Su Tseng-chang, right.

PHOTO: AP

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday embarked on a five-day visit to Nicaragua with transit stops in the continental US.

Chen is to make a stopover in San Francisco en route to the Central American ally and in Los Angeles on the way back.

The last time Chen visited the mainland US was in September 2005, when he transited in Miami en route to Central America and in San Francisco on the way back. Chen is scheduled to return to Taipei on Friday.

Inauguration

Chen is traveling to Nicaragua to attend tomorrow's inauguration ceremony of Nicaraguan president-elect Daniel Ortega in a bid to cement diplomatic ties with the Central American ally.

Before he departed at 7pm last night, the president made brief remarks to the press.

Chen said the purpose of the trip was to congratulate Ortega, the president-elect of a country which he said has a "long-term friendship" with Taiwan.

"Nicaragua's hard-earned democracy is very much worth cherishing as that country has suffered through years of civil war," Chen told the press.

Responding to criticism that Taiwan routinely resorts to "checkbook diplomacy" to maintain relationships with its ever-dwindling number of allies, Chen defended the strategy by citing the threat posed by China.

The president said that Taiwan had to decide which strategy it wanted to use in the face of China's repeated attempts to limit the nation's international interaction.

"We only have two choices: either we sit still and wait for death or we reach out spontaneously and show the world that Taiwan exists," Chen said.

Chen said that Taiwan should monitor the outcome of its international aid programs, but could not afford to abandon its diplomatic strategy.

The president said he was grateful for US assistance in arranging a stopover for himself and his entourage in accordance with the principles of safety, convenience and dignity.

Large delegation

Chen is leading a 110-person delegation. Officials include Taoyuan County Commissioner Chu Li-lun (朱立倫), Kaohsiung County Commissioner Yang Chiu-hsing (楊秋興) and Tainan Mayor Hsu Tien-tsai (許添財). Democratic Progress-ive Party Chairman Yu Shyi-kun is also accompanying Chen on the trip.

Taiwan-Nicaragua ties have been at the center of speculation since Ortega's election.

Ortega said before the election that if he won, he would switch recognition from Taiwan to China to meet the needs of the Nicaraguan business sector.

A concerned Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent Vice Foreign Minister Hou Ching-shan (侯清山) to Nicaragua in November last year in an attempt to consolidate ties.

Nicaragua is one of 24 countries that recognize Taiwan.

Ortega was president of Nicaragua from 1985 to 1990. As one of the leading commanders of the Sandinista forces that ousted Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza in July 1979, he became head of the ruling junta in the subsequent leftist regime. In disputed elections in November 1984, he was elected president.

Nicaragua recognized Beijing in 1985 after Ortega's first election. However, former president Violeta Chamorro broke with Beijing and re-established ties with Taiwan after defeating Ortega in 1990.

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China slams US for allowing California stopover for Chen

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