President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday made a stopover in Mumbai, India, en route to Africa, becoming the first Taiwanese president to make a transit stop in the South Asian giant.
The stop in Mumbai came as a surprise because the itinerary the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had released showed that Ma would make a stopover in Dubai.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添), who is accompanying Ma on the 12-day trip to three of Taiwan’s African diplomatic allies, said the ministry did not announce the stopover until the last minute because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Ma’s plane landed yesterday morning at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai for refueling, and Ma was greeted at the airport by Taiwanese representative to India Philip Ong (翁文祺), officials of Taiwan’s representative office in India and local government officials.
During the 85-minute stopover, Ma stayed in the airport’s VIP lounge and did not meet any government officials from India, the ministry said.
Ma yesterday thanked both India and the United Arab Emirates for agreeing to the stopovers and said their purpose was for refueling.
“There were other countries that also agreed to let us make transit stops, and we cherish the diplomatic achievements,” he said.
Yang said India agreed to the stopover because of the Ma administration’s record of keeping its promises and as a result of Taiwan’s diplomatic efforts over the past three years.
He denied that pressure from China was behind the last-minute announcement of the stopover in Mumbai.
Yang said the ministry had contacted several other countries before choosing Mumbai as the refueling stop.
“All of them responded positively,” he said.
However, he declined to name which countries had agreed to stopovers, saying that anonymity was part of the agreement.
Ma and his delegation will visit Burkina Faso, the Gambia and Swaziland during his first trip to Africa since taking office in 2008.
A scheduled visit to Sao Tome and Principe was canceled because 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 trip to Africa marked Ma’s sixth official trip overseas since 2008. He has made stopovers in the US during his previous five foreign trips.
He visited India in 2007 shortly after announcing his presidential bid.