Fri, Nov 12, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Claims of Vanuatu switching sides questioned

DIPLOMACY Although China insists Vanuatu has decided to withdraw from ties with Taiwan, MOFA denounced this as groundless claims by the island's opposition

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH AP

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday questioned China's claim that Vanuatu was withdrawing its recognition of Taipei in favor of Beijing.

Ministry spokesman Michel Lu (呂慶龍) denounced media reports about claims by China's foreign ministry that Vanuatu recently decided to withdraw the communique Prime Minister Serge Vohor had signed in Taipei last week.

"We have noticed the news was not announced in Vanuatu," Lu said.

China's official Xinhua News Agency quoted the country's foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue (章啟月) as saying that "Vanuatu will firmly adhere to the `one China' policy."

The decision was made at a Cabinet meeting in the Vanuatuan capital Port Vila on Wednesday, Zhang said.

"The government of China appreciates this stance by Vanuatu that there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China," she said.

Zhang said Vanuatu's apparent change of heart "proves separatist activities of the Taiwan authorities are not popular and are going nowhere."

Vanuatu's Foreign Minister Barak Sope said yesterday that its Cabinet had rejected relations with Taiwan, even as a spokesman for Vohor claimed he was sticking with the agreement to recognize Taipei.

Nevertheless, the prime minister was adamant that "the government is not asking China to leave. We cherish the long relationship we have with China," Vohor's spokesman Kalvau Moli said.

The Vanuatuan Cabinet met on Wednesday to discuss the country's budgets and its diplomatic relations with Taiwan, Lu said.

"However, it is not immediately clear what decision they have reached concerning Vanuatu's ties with Taiwan," he told reporters at a press conference.

Vohor, who was on another island while the Cabinet met on Wednesday, reaffirmed to MOFA yesterday that the communique he had signed in Taipei on Nov. 4 establishing diplomatic relations remains valid, Lu said.

Lu said Vanuatu's deputy prime minister had presided over Wed-nesday's Cabinet meeting.

"The decision [on relations with Taiwan] they made in the Cabinet meeting does not count, because Prime Minister Vohor was not there," Lu said.

"The prime minister told us yesterday that his Cabinet members hold different views about his decision to build official ties with Taiwan. He said he would continue communication with his Cabinet members," Lu said, adding that Vanuatu's foreign minister belongs to the country's opposition party.

Refuting speculation that the survival of Taiwan's newly forged ties with Vanuatu depends solely upon Vohor, Lu said that Taiwan's diplomats have also been building contacts with Vanuatuan political heavyweights.

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