Sat, Dec 04, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Vanuatu's China-Taiwan relations tested

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH AFP

If ties with Vanuatu fall through, it will look bad for the South Pacific nation and not for Taiwan, according to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday.

Faced with unexpected difficulties securing ties with Vanuatu as relations remain tenuous a month after an agreement was inked, MOFA head Mark Chen (陳唐山) admitted that they had expected China to cut ties with Vanuatu after ties with Taiwan became public.

"At first we did not think it would be so difficult because we thought that if Vanuatu established ties with us, China would have given up their ties with Vanuatu. They would have gone home," Chen said, however, that Taiwan was not playing a zero sum game and would be happy with an arrangement that allowed "all to live peacefully."

"If we fail to establish ties with Vanuatu in the end, it will reflect badly on Vanuatu and not on us. They already had ties with China when they established ties with us. It is not as if China stole the ties from us," Chen said.

He added Taiwan was however in a good place to be "optimistic but cautious." "We will not squander an opportunity to make a new friend. Vanuatu is willing to establish ties with us, and they have vowed that they have the ability to do so," Chen said.

In response to media reports that Taiwan's flag was no longer flying outside of the temporary Taiwanese consulate in Vanuatu, Chen said that the flag was still to fly at a different location.

Ties with Vanuatu will depend on whether the court decides the Parliament can depose the South Pacific nation's leader. However, reports yesterday indicated that Vanuatu's government appeared near collapse Thursday, with a group of lawmakers joining the opposition.

Vanuatu Prime Minister Serge Vohor was to face a no-confidence vote in Parliament after 16 lawmakers deserted his administration, leaving 37 of the legislature's 52 members opposing him, according to media and diplomatic sources in the capital, Port Vila.

Parliament Speaker Josias Moli would not allow a motion for the vote in the legislature, since the constitution prevents a prime minister from being challenged during his first year in office. Vohor has led the impoverished island country for six months.

Moli adjourned Parliament until the Vanuatu Supreme Court decides whether the motion is legal. The court was expected to hear the case Thursday night or Friday, but sources said yesterday that the hearing would be postponed to Saturday.

If Vohor is toppled, lawmakers would likely choose a new prime minister rather than calling elections. The next polls are not due until 2008.

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