Fri, Jun 09, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Marshall Islands plays down China visit

AFP , MAJURO

The Marshall Islands government said yesterday it was worried about the impact on relations with ally Taiwan from a pending visit to China by a group of parliamentarians from the tiny western Pacific nation.

The Marshall Islands is one of six Pacific island states which recognize Taipei rather than Beijing. China and Taiwan have been competing for diplomatic recognition in the Pacific using generous grants and aid to win favor.

Marshall Islands Vice Speaker Ruben Zackhras is leading a delegation of legislators to Beijing next week, following an invitation by China's National People's Congress. Taiwan said earlier this month it was unhappy about the visit.

Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Gerald Zackios said yesterday he was extremely concerned because it had the appearance of a government-to-government visit.

The government could not intervene in what was a private visit, he said.

"But it is one with government implications, we have every right to be concerned," he said.

Zackios said the relationship with Taiwan had real benefits for the Marshall Islands and Taipei had shown it was committed for the long term.

The head of the foreign affairs ministry Viola Chong Gum said that the Marshall Islands remained committed to the relationship with Taiwan.

"The proposed visit by several members of the Nitijela [parliament] to the People's Republic of China does not convey, nor does it portray any faltering of the Marshall Islands' relationship and recognition of [Taiwan]," Chong Gum said.

Marshall Islands Speaker Litokwa Tomeing has defended the trip, saying the legislators were simply responding to an invitation from China's National People's Congress.

Commentators say the competition between Taiwan and China for diplomatic recognition has a destabilizing effect on small Pacific states.

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