Thu, May 11, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Solomons PM pledges to stick with Taiwan

ALLEGIANCE Two days after being elected prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare visited the Taiwanese envoy to assure him that his country would not switch sides to Beijing

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER

Newly elected Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has paid a personal visit to Taiwan's ambassador in the Southern Pacific nation to pledge that his country would maintain diplomatic relations with Taipei, ending weeks of uncertainty over ties between the two countries.

Antonio Chen (陳俊賢), the nation's top envoy to the Solomon Islands, yesterday confirmed to the Taipei Times that Sogavare had paid him a visit last Friday to give the assurance that the Solomon Islands would remain firm as a diplomatic ally.

Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands yesterday sent a formal petition to the WHO in support of Taiwan's bid for observer status at the World Health Assembly's 59th annual meeting from May 22 to May 27.

Personal message

Chen said that Sogavare visited him on May 6, two days after being elected prime minister, to deliver the message that his country would not switch its diplomatic allegiance to China, as had been speculated in the media.

Sogavare was elected prime minister on May 4 after his predecessor, Snyder Rini, resigned amid graft allegations over his election, which caused widespread riots targeted at the ethnic Chinese community in the capital, Honiara. Opponents of Rini accused him of accepting money from China and Taiwan to bribe parliamentarians to vote for him.

Maintaining ties

Sogavare had sent two of his Cabinet members to see Chen immediately after he was sworn in as prime minister.

However, Chen then asked Sogavare to make a personal visit or a public statement to reaffirm his promise of maintaining ties with Taiwan.

"The uncertainty over whether the Solomon Islands would switch diplomatic recognition to China is now over," Chen said.

Sogavare has also publicly pledged that his administration has no immediate intention of switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

In an interview with Radio New Zealand International, Sogavare said that Taiwan had always been very supportive of the Solomon Islands and that his government would not consider severing ties with Taiwan.

"They came in to assist us during the ethnic crisis when no one else came, so really the country owes them a lot," Sogavare was quoted as saying.

Chen said that Sogavare had expressed his appreciation for Taiwan's aid to the Solomon Islands, as opposed to China's one-off infrastructure investments focused on cities.

The Taiwanese enoy added that China's investment was not as comprehensive as the Taiwanese aid projects, which reached out to local villages with medical, agricultural and technical support.

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