The participation of Sao Tome and Principe — which has official diplomatic ties with Taiwan — in a just-concluded meeting of a Beijing-initiated forum to stimulate China’s cooperation with Portuguese-speaking countries has stirred up concerns over Taiwan’s diplomatic relations with the West African nation.
Sao Tome and Principe was early last week dropped at the last minute from the itinerary of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) upcoming visit to Africa.
Representatives of Sao Tome and Principe attended a meeting of the Forum for Economic and Trade Cooperation Between China and Portuguese-speaking countries, or the Macau Forum, held on Wednesday in Macau, the Macau Daily Times reported.
The Macau Special Administrative Region, which serves as the forum’s permanent secretariat, announced that an initial capital injection of US$200 million — out of a total of US$1 billion promised by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) in 2010 for financing the economic and social development programs of Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa and Asia — will be made this year, the Macau Daily Times said.
The Macau Forum was initiated and sponsored by China, and established in Macau in 2003. It includes China and all major Portuguese-speaking countries: Portugal, East Timor, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique — except Sao Tome and Principe, which has recognized Taipei over Beijing since 1997.
Asked about the participation of Sao Tome at the forum, the director-general of the Department of African Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hsu Mien-sheng (徐勉生), said yesterday that the ministry was aware of the event and would closely monitor its impact on Sao Tome’s ties with Taiwan.
The forum has held three ministerial meetings in Macau, in 2003, 2006 and 2010, with officials in charge of trade and economic affairs brought together for discussions with Chinese officials to deepen and widen linkages between China and the Lusophone nations.
However, the ministry was unable to confirm whether the attendance of Sao Tome at Wednesday’s meeting was the first time it had participated in the forum.
Wen unveiled the plan to grant the countries the funds, to be managed by the China Development Bank, at the forum’s third ministerial conference.
He said the fund was created to assist Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa and Asia with economic development through the provision of preferential loans, as well as projects to assist those countries in the training of 1,500 officials and technical staff, with a training center set up in Macau for that purpose.
The relationship between Sao Tome and Taipei was cast into doubt earlier last week as the ministry announced on Monday that Ma would not visit the country because of a conflict of schedules with Sao Tome and Principe President Manuel Pinto da Costa, who would be on an overseas visit at the time and would not be able to host Ma.
According to the ministry, the cancelation happened purely because of a conflict in Ma’s and Pinto da Costa’s schedules and did not indicate any trouble with bilateral ties.
Ma and a delegation of about 100 are scheduled to embark on Saturday on a 12-day visit to Burkina Faso, Gambia and Swaziland — Taiwan’s three other African allies.
It will be the first time that a Taiwanese president has visited the nation’s allies in Africa since 2002.