Fri, Mar 24, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Pacific allies to shun summit with China's premier

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER

The diplomatic tussle between China and Taiwan in the South Pacific is set to escalate in April as Taiwan's six island allies have decided to boycott a meeting hosted by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) when he tours the region next month, Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials said yesterday.

Wen is scheduled to visit countries including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Cambodia, from April 1 to April 8 and is expected to hold the China-Pacific Island Countries Economic Development and Cooperation Forum Ministerial Conference 2006 with the island countries during his visit.

"The six countries we have official ties with in the region will not participate in the conference. China is doing everything possible to gain their favor, but there will be no problem with our ties with these countries given our efforts," said Donald Lee, director general of the ministry's Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Taiwan's six diplomatic allies in the Pacific are Kirabati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

China's Fiji meeting

The China summit, to be held in Fiji on April 1, will be attended by six other island countries that recognize China -- the Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and the Federated States of Micronesia.

The conference was a result of an initiative proposed by China's Vice Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (楊潔箎) at last October's Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) meeting to promote China's cooperation with Pacific island countries in the areas of environmental protection, health, tourism, education, agriculture and fishing industries, according to a report in Hong Kong's Takungpao.

Lee said China originally wanted to tie in the conference with the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the largest regional political club of which Taiwan is also a donor, but the PIF secretariat put the brakes on the plan to co-host the China summit after Taiwan protested.

China has been working hard to compete with Taiwan for political influence in the region. It has offered US$1.7 million to the government of Fiji to sponsor the one-day conference and Fiji has received up to US$13 million in grants from China so far this year, the official said.

"The money China spent in squeezing Taiwan's diplomatic space is actually 10 times higher than [what we've spent]," Lee said.

Import workers

Meanwhile, Lee said the government is working on a project to bring workers from the nation's six Pacific allies to Taiwan.

"Currently, Taiwan has an intake of 320,000 foreign workers from Southeast Asian countries. The Pacific island countries are relatively small and have very low populations. If we introduce, say, 500 workers from each of these countries, I think this number can easily be absorbed by Taiwan's market and in the mean time, it will significantly benefit our small Pacific allies," Lee said.

The official said the details of the proposal are still being coordinated with the Labor Affairs Council and no specific timetable is available yet on when the worker scheme might begin.

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