President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) embarked on a 12-day trip to Africa last night, visiting three ally nations in the continent for the first time since taking office in 2008.
Ma will visit Burkina Faso, Gambia and Swaziland.
However, his scheduled visit to Sao Tome and Principe was canceled because the ally nation said Ma’s visit coincided with Sao Tomean President Manuel Pinto da Costa’s visit to Cuba, raising concerns about the stability of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
The African tour marks Ma’s sixth foreign trip since becoming president. The last time a Taiwanese head of state visited the continent was when former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) visited the four African allies in 2002.
The delegation includes adviser to the president Steve Chan (詹啟賢), Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添) and Council of Labor Affairs Minister Jennifer Wang (王如玄).
Ma’s trip comes amid domestic disputes over a series of controversial policies, from US beef imports and avian flu to the tax system and the removal of a freeze on fuel price increases.
Saying that Taiwan, under Ma’s governance, has become a subsidiary of China, opposition lawmakers called into question the timing of the overseas trip, characterizing it as Ma’s attempt to escape various controversies, such as the issue of the “one country, two areas (一國兩區)” proposal by former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄), rising commodity prices and the planned relaxation of a ban on beef products containing ractopamine residue.
Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi (范姜泰基) -responded by saying the trip had been arranged some time ago, and that, as the nation’s leader, the president should take into consideration both domestic policy and diplomacy, adding that visiting African allies was part of efforts to deepen the nation’s diplomatic ties.
Consolidating diplomatic ties and expanding the nation’s international space did not conflict with handling national matters, he said.
The president trusts Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) to handle ongoing issues and to solve any -problems that arise, Fan Chiang added.
Ma visited Central and South America in 2009, and was originally scheduled to visit the four African allies in March last year, but the trip was postponed after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and mass protests in North Africa.
During the 12-day trip, Ma will visit hospitals, schools and factories that Taiwan has helped build and inspect cooperative projects in agriculture, medicine and education. He will also meet with Taiwanese businesspeople in the area.
Additional reporting by Tseng Wei-chen