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Sat, Feb 17, 2001 - Page 3 News List

Marshall Islands visit still on, says MOFA

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS Apparently flying in the face of an edict from the US government banning Taiwan's ally from receiving a visit from a naval flotilla, the government is confident the port call will proceed according to plan

STAFF WRITER WITH AGENCIES

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said yesterday that a Taiwan naval flotilla's plan to visit the Marshall Islands remains unchanged.

Taiwan's envoy to Washington on Thursday played down the significance of the position that the US has taken regarding a scheduled port call by a Taiwan navy flotilla to the US ally in the Pacific.

Apparently bowing to pressure from Beijing, the US has asked the government of the Marshall Islands not to allow the three-ship flotilla to make a scheduled visit to that country.

Chen Chien-Jen (程建人), Taipei's chief representative to the US, disputed a press report describing the move as an "unfriendly" gesture toward Taiwan on the part of the Bush administration. He added that the US position is in no way connected to on-going considerations about arms sales to Taiwan.

Chen also said that, under the security arrangement between the US and the Marshall Islands, the US can have its say on port visits by foreign military vessels to the island nation.

He added, however, that whether the ships do make the visit will ultimately depend on the position of the governments of both Taiwan and the Marshall Islands.

Shih Ting (石定), the director of MOFA's Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, made the remarks after the US Department of State confirmed Thursday that it had asked the Marshall Islands to reject a Taiwan flotilla's scheduled port call in May.

Shih told a routine news conference that the Marshall Islands has invited the Taiwan flotilla to take part in its May 1 Constitution Day celebrations in line with a practice set last year.

"The Marshall Islands has so far not changed its stance," Shih said, adding that the flotilla therefore has no plans to change the schedule of the trip.

Shih said the Marshall Islands is negotiating the issue with the US. According to the US-Marshall Islands Compact of Free Association signed in 1986, the US can veto any of the Pacific island nation's foreign affairs actions that "conflicts with US security interests."

Shih said Taiwan is not in a position to comment on relations and agreements between the Marshall Islands and the US, but added that Taiwan's representative office in Washington, DC, is explaining the issue to relevant US authorities.

The flotilla, made up of two frigates and a supply ship crewed by 380 officers, sailors and Navy Academy cadets, left southern Taiwan Feb. 5 for a personnel training voyage that would see it make goodwill port calls to seven of Taiwan's diplomatic allies.

Military sources said the flotilla visited the South Pacific island nation of Palau on Feb. 10 to Feb. 12 and is presently on its way to several of Taiwan's allies in Central America, including Saint Vincent and the Grenadies, the Dominican Republic, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

A total of five South Pacific nations have signed the Compact of Free Association with the US, and two of them -- Palau and the Marshall Islands -- maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Shih would not speculate as to why the US opposed the flotilla's planned port call to the Marshall Islands after the visit to Palau went off without a hitch.

Shih instead said that Taiwan had communicated with US and Palau authorities through similar procedures and channels before the flotilla visited Palau.

Taiwan established formal diplomatic ties with the Marshall Islands in 1998. Last year, the Taiwan navy included the island nation on the itinerary of its annual goodwill flotilla visit for the first time.

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