Sat, Mar 27, 2004 - Page 3 News List

MOFA asserts its Dhaka office not cause of scandal

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH DPA

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday denied allegations that Bangladeshi Commerce Minister Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury's resignation was related to his role in permitting Taiwan to open a representative office in Dhaka.

The ministry also dismissed media reports that the Bangladeshi authorities recently asked Taiwan to wrap up its office.

The Bangladeshi government "never asked Taiwan to close the office," an official at the ministry's Department of East Asia and Pacific Affairs said yesterday.

Chowdhury's resignation "has absolutely nothing to do with the Taipei office," either, the official, who is responsible for the Dhaka office's affairs, stressed.

The official refused to comment on causes of Chowdhury's resignation. It is for the Bangladeshi government to explain why the commerce minister stepped down, the official said.

Bangladeshi diplomats said the establishment of the Taiwanese office in Dhaka angered Beijing, which considers Bangladesh one of its most dependable allies in Asia.

Bangladeshi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Reaz Rahman also resigned overnight from his office as the diplomatic row embarrassed the Nationalist-Islamic coalition government in a country that is officially a supporter of Beijing's "one China" policy.

China protested against the increasing Taiwanese presence after Taipei's Dhaka office allegedly issued visas to Bangladeshi businessmen traveling to Taiwan.

However, the MOFA official said since the office officially started operation on March 1, it has not been able to issue any visas to Bangladeshi businessmen.

"This is because the office is still setting up facilities, such as its Web site. It is a technical problem," said the official.

The official declined to say whether the office will be closed, but admitted the office has been under "enormous pressure" since it opened.

Nevertheless, the official added Taiwanese representative offices in other countries have always been under the same pressure because of China's opposition.

The ministry once said Bangladesh would set up a representative office in Taipei, but gave no definite date.

Bangladeshi Foreign Minister and business tycoon Morshed Khan also came under a cloud of suspicion for his reportedly supportive role in the Taiwanese affair. Khan, however, denied the allegations.

Bangladesh reportedly recalled its ambassador to Beijing, Ashfaqur Rahman, earlier this month as a consequence of the establishment of the office. But the ministry later said that Rahman returned to Dhaka for personal reasons.

An official of the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry told a Bangladeshi newspaper the New Nation that the country "stood for the `one China policy,' and that was the mainland [China]."

Bangladesh's business with Taiwan, however, was a different matter. Anyone was free to trade. Even China was doing business with Taiwan worth billions of dollars, said the official.

The newspaper said: "In any case, it is clear that with the maintenance of complete friendly relations with China, the Bangladeshi government is trying to tap business opportunities with Taiwan."

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