Sat, Aug 23, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Ties with Panama are solid, foreign ministry declares

By Sandy Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH AGENCIES

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) says that the presence of Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso in Taipei this week for the signing of the Taiwan-Panama free trade agreement proves that relations between the two countries are good.

"Ties between Taiwan and Panama are solid," MOFA spokesman Richard Shih (石瑞琦) said yesterday.

Shih had been asked whether an upcoming visit to China by Panamanian Vice President Arturo Vallarino signaled a possible change in relations.

Beijing said yesterday that it was doing its utmost to normalize relations with Panama -- one of only 27 countries in the world which recognize Taiwan -- and that the Central American nation's vice president would visit China this month.

"We believe if Panama can correctly handle the Taiwan problem, the normalization of ties between China and Panama can be realized," the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.

Panama would have to break its formal ties with Taiwan before China would agree to diplomatic relations.

The Chinese foreign ministry said that Panamanian Vice President Arturo Vallarino would visit China from Aug. 30 to Sept. 7 at the invitation of a government-funded think-tank.

"More and more Panamanians have appealed for China and Panama to establish diplomatic relations," the statement said.

MOFA officials said Taiwan would keep a close eye on Vallarino's visit to China.

The number of countries recognizing Taiwan and not China has dwindled in the past decade. They now consist mostly of Third-World nations in Africa, Latin America and the Pacific.

In related news, Shih yesterday denied that MOFA had made political donations to Costa Rica.

Shih made the comments in response to La Nacion, a newspaper in San Jose, Costa Rica. The paper reported on Wednesday that Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco had been accused of receiving from Taiwan a mysterious political donation of US$500,000 during his 2002 election campaign.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) had said on Thursday that all of Taiwan's foreign aid is sanctioned by the Legislative Yuan and approved by recipient governments.

The money, Chien said, is used for infrastructure or other livelihood-related projects -- not political campaigns.

Shih dismissed any ties between the story and the recent resignation of Wang Fei (王飛), Taiwan's ambassador to Costa Rica.

"Wang resigned because of personal issues," Shih said. "His resignation had nothing to do with the report."

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