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Fri, Jun 01, 2001 - Page 3 News List

Taipei struggling to keep shaky Macedonian ties

DIPLOMACY Analysts fear Taiwan's inability to provide solid economic help, the Balkan ally's domestic instability and China's greater clout may soon lure Skopje to Beijing

By Monique Chu and Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTERS IN TAIPEI AND ASUNCION , PARAGUAY

When Taiwan established ties with Macedonia in January 1999, giving Taiwan its second ally in Europe along with the Vatican, some applauded the move, describing the country as a major foothold in Eastern Europe for Taiwan.

But ties between Taipei and Skopje have proved to be less than smooth during the past two years.

The final step in normalizing diplomatic ties has remained paralyzed as both Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski and his predecessor Kiro Gligorov refused to accept the credentials of Taiwan's ambassador to Skopje, Peter Cheng (鄭博久).

The diplomatic rift was recently highlighted by the visit of the director of Macedonia's presidential office to China to discuss the re-establishment of ties between Beijing and Skopje, and the new Macedonian Foreign Minister's statement over her preference for resuming ties with China. Foreign Minister Tien Hung-mao's (田弘茂) trip to Macedonia is also indicative of the shaky ties between the two countries, observers noted.

The recent row reflected two major elements underlying the fragility of ties between Taipei and Skopje, analysts said. These were Taiwan's perceived inability to make good on economic checks it promised to Macedonia in a timely manner, and Macedonia's fluctuating domestic politics which made it more difficult to maintain ties.

When former premier Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) visited Macedonia in August of 1999, he promised that the largely Taiwan-funded Skopje export processing zone would create 20,000 job opportunities. But the fact that not a single investor has yet to set foot there disappointed the Macedonians, sources said.

"The key problem is that Taiwan made this promise but was then unable to fulfill it," said Chou Yang-san (周陽山), a political analyst from National Taiwan University. "Macedonia is suffering from an unemployment rate of 32 percent, how can it wait a few more years? The country expected to get instant results."

"To set up these export processing zones required certain conditions," Chou said, adding that the case of Macedonia turned out to be less than desirable because the related fundamental factors in the country were not strong incentives for investors.

"The wages in Macedonia are higher than those in China and some Asian countries ... The culture gap and language barrier ... all dissuaded investors from setting foot there," Chou added.

Worse yet, according to a high-ranking official from Taiwan's Presidential Office who declined to be named, the current civil war in Macedonia made foreign businesses even less likely to invest there.

Besides, the promise made by former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) to offer US$300 million to the then war-torn Kosovo and the subsequent failure to keep the promise made the international community, including Macedonia, question Taiwan's credibility, analysts observed.

In addition to the export processing zone, Taiwan has been involved in other economic projects in Macedonia such as providing financial assistance to hospitals, the donation of computer equipment, and vocational training programs.

But to some Macedonians, the economic benefits from these programs seemed less than satisfactory. Cheng said that Trajkovski would consider accepting his credentials "at an appropriate time" after evaluating the benefits yielded by these projects.

An added difficulty in maintaining Taipei-Skopje ties is the fluctuating political situation in the former communist Balkan country, observers said.

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