Wed, Nov 17, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Opponent to diplomatic ties moved

SHUFFLE A spokesperson said the Vanuatuan foreign minister had lost his post, and did not deny that his criticism of newfound ties with Taiwan was a factor


Vanuatuan Foreign Minister Barak Sope, an outspoken critic of the nation's decision to establish diplomatic ties with Taiwan, recently lost his position in a move designed "to consolidate the Cabinet," according to government spokesman Kalvau Moli.

Sope's position was swapped with that of former Minister of Comprehensive Reform Program Pipite Marcellino on Monday, Moli told the Taipei Times yesterday. Sope was in Australia yesterday and could not be reached for comment. Moli cited allegations of selling diplomatic passports lodged against Sope as one of the reasons for removing him from the senior Cabinet position overseeing foreign affairs, but stressed that the allegation was only a partial explanation.

He also said that the other reason would be made clear today, but did not deny that the reshuffle was linked to a recent controversy regarding diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Moli suggested that the South Pacific nation had been "bombarded with questions from the media" and had moved "to reconsider the opposition" -- presumably to Prime Minister Serge Vohor's decision to back ties with Taipei. At the center of a closely-watched tug-of?war between Taipei and Beijing, Vohor declared late Monday during a televised statement that it would ratify diplomatic ties with Taiwan, honoring an agreement signed in Taipei on Nov 3.

He further added that if his Cabinet failed to approve the deal with Taiwan, a "major reshuffle" could follow, according to an Associated Press report.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that "Vohor said Vanuatu had signed numerous agreements with China, but that promised aid had not materialized. Without naming China, [Vohor] said it was no use asking for a carton of Coca Cola and getting a [single] can."

While China has not broken off ties with Vanuatu, the Central News Agency reported from Beijing yesterday that Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhang Qiyue (章啟月) reiterated during a routine press conference that Vanuatu had vowed to adhere to the "one China" principle and to avoid engaging in official ties with Taiwan when diplomatic relations were established with China in 1982.

"China hopes and trusts that Vanuatu will continue to uphold the `one China' principle," Zhang said.

"Our position is that we are begging China to stay ? [we will] wait and see," Moli said yesterday, adding that Vanuatu had not yet received any further response from Beijing.

While the matter has yet to be resolved, Taiwan's Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Michel Lu (呂慶龍) seemed optimistic: "Vohor's statement [on Monday] has made clear that there has been no change to ties between Vanuatu and the Republic of China."

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