Fri, Sep 30, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Chen gets warm welcome

DIPLOMATIC STOP Children sang Taiwanese songs as the president arrived in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which had given everyone a half day off to welcome him

BY CHIU YU-TZU  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN KINGSTOWN, WITH CNA, TAIPEI

A group of children yesterday wave Taiwan's flag to welcome President Chen Shui-bian at the airport in Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

PHOTO: CNA

Arriving in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the eastern Caribbean Sea on Wednesday, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was welcomed by military salute at the airport in the capital, Kingstown, and enthusiastic cheers as he became the first Taiwanese president to visit the small island country.

Greeted by school children chanting, "President A-bian, how are you? Welcome!" in Mandarin, Chen was also welcomed by all of the high-ranking officials of the country, which has a population of roughly 110,000.

A military band was even playing the Taiwanese folk song, Setting Out Happily (快樂地出帆), to please Chen.

The two countries have had diplomatic ties for 24 years, but a Taiwanese president had never visited the country until Wednesday. The country, which achieved independence from Britain in 1979, relies on exporting agricultural products, such as banana and coconut. Per capita GDP is about US$3,300.

When greeting Chen at a ceremony held near the airport, Governor-General Frederick Blallantyne said that both nations are multi-island countries but have different economic situations. He hoped to see the diplomatic ties eventually bring prosperity to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, one of the poorest countries in the world.

The ceremony had several programs which made guests from the other side of the planet feel welcome. Children sang a famous Taiwanese folk song, Looking Forward Spring (望春風). Professional dancers performed to the music of Taiwanese folk songs.

For Chen's arrival, the public was given half a day off and were encouraged to welcome him at the airport.

Chen, who left Taiwan 10 days ago, said the warm greeting made him less homesick.

"Such a big gathering reminds me of election campaign rallies I've been very familiar with. The sound of Looking Forward Spring eases my homesickness. The famous song is known to almost every Taiwanese. In a way, it's like our national anthem," Chen said.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said Chen's two-day visit was a big event for the entire country.

Chen's speech to the House of Assembly yesterday morning was to be televised live nationwide.

After the speech, Chen was to be taken to the Kingstown Vegetable Market to learn more about the country's agricultural products and people's lives.

Before Chen left yesterday, the two countries were to sign a communique to ensure continued friendship.

Elizabeth Chu (朱玉鳳), Taiwan's Ambassador to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, told the Taipei Times that the cultural gap between both countries was wide. However, Chu said, securing the diplomatic relationship, which is mutually beneficial, relies on being acquainted with the country's current national policies. At this time, what the country needs most is a solution to problems regarding its banana products, since the EU will set a new banana-import tariff.

"Taiwan's technologies regarding processing agricultural products or planting organic ones might help local farmers here to make their products more competitive," Chu said.

Meanwhile, in Taipei, in response to a local Chinese-language newspaper which reported that Chen would make an unscheduled transit stop in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to upgrade Taiwan's international profile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday said it has "no comment."

According to Chen's original itinerary, he was scheduled to make a transit stop tomorrow in San Francisco on his return from Latin America.

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