Fri, Nov 05, 2004 - Page 3 News List

MOFA says no confusion over Vanuatu links

DIPLOMATIC SIDESTEP The ministry said Prime Minister Serge Vohor was simply trying to avoid any interference from Beijing in his plans to forge ties

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said yesterday that Vanuatu Prime Minister Serge Vohor did not inform his Cabinet in advance of his plan to establish diplomatic ties with Taiwan, in order to prevent China's interference.

Confusion over ties with Vanuatu arose shortly after Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen (陳唐山) and Vohor announced the ties in Taipei on Wednesday.

Vanuatu's Foreign Affairs Department Director-General George Manuri said he was unaware that Vohor had gone to Taipei because he was supposed to have gone to Singapore and was due in Australia on Wednesday.

Manuri said he was "surprised and shocked" at the announce-ment, calling the move "a complete reversal" of the country's policy of recognizing Beijing.

An unnamed spokesman for acting Prime Minister Ham Lili told the Associated Press that the meeting in Taipei denied the government had established diplomatic ties with Taipei. The spokesman said the two countries had signed agreements on trade and economic relations which had nothing to do with bilateral relations.

MOFA refused to comment on the spokesman's comments.

Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Kau (高英茂), one of the diplomats negotiating the establishment of ties with Vanuatu, said Vohor has personally explained the move to Ham Lili after announcing the news in Taipei.

Vohor has asked Ham Lili to inform other Cabinet members of the development. Vohor's party holds the majority of seats in the parliament and he is confident the newly forged ties with Taiwan will be accepted, Kau said.

Vanuatu has tried to establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan twice in recent years, but was forced to give up the plan due to China's opposition, Kau said.

To prevent the same thing from happening, Vohor had kept his trip to Taipei absolutely secret, Kau said, which is why officials in Vanuatu's Foreign Affairs Department were unaware of his schedule in Taipei.

In Beijing yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue (章啟月) said the Vanuatu government had clarified that it will stick to its "one China" policy.

MOFA spokesman Michel Lu (呂慶龍) said China's embassy in Vanuatu has orchestrated the doubts about ties between Taiwan and Vanuatu, adding, "We understand why China did this."

"Twelve years ago, Vohor, who was then the foreign minister, firmly backed plans to establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Since the two sides signed an agreement to recognize each other [in 1992], he has sought an opportunity to realize the plan," Lu said.

"Vanuatu, as the prime minister has said, is a sovereign country and has the right to make its own choice. China should respect Vanuatu's decision," Lu said.

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