Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega Saavedra said on Monday he was not against establishing ties with China but would never accept severing relations with Taiwan as a precondition.
In response, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said he was not against dual recognition, saying that Ortega would make a great contribution to the world as a democracy fighter if Nicaragua became the first country recognizing both Taiwan and China.
"Our position is clear: We hope to make friends with the world but we don't want to see any of them be forced to sever ties with any country simply because they want to be friends with us," Chen said.
Chen and Ortega made the remarks in response to a question by the Taipei Times at a press conference.
The press conference was held to announce a joint communique signed by the two leaders, in which both countries agreed to promote effective and reciprocal cooperation, a free trade agreement and further democratization.
Ortega said on Monday the Nicaraguan government had switched diplomatic allegiance to Beijing in 1985 as a result of US pressure. The Nicaraguan government resumed diplomatic ties with Taiwan after Violeta Chamorro came to power in 1990.
During his presidential campaign last year, Ortega said he would switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing if elected. He changed his mind after his victory in the election and after Chen attended his inauguration in January, when he vowed that Nicaragua would maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
However, Ortega expressed the hope that Nicaragua could maintain "good relations with both sides of the Taiwan Strait."
Since regaining the presidency, he has reaffirmed on many occasions his determination to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan and continued to do so even after Costa Rica switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in June.
He said he would maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan if re-elected, but that he was not against establishing official ties with China -- as long as the latter did not request that Nicaragua sever ties with Taipei.
While Nicaragua does not enjoy friendly relations with the US, Taiwan, for its part, sees the US as a close ally. Ortega assured Chen that he would never ask it to side against the US.
Chen said it is not ideology that binds Taiwan and the US but rather their belief in freedom, democracy, human rights and justice.
Meanwhile, Minister of Foreign Affairs James Huang (
Huang, who accompanied Chen on the trip, dismissed allegations that the US$1.1 million in financial aid Taipei gave Nicaragua to help it combat poverty was a scheme aimed at securing diplomatic ties with the Central American country.
"The president did not bring any checkbook on his trip, nor did he mention writing any checks," he said, adding that the US$1.1 million was nothing new and that US$830,000 has already been paid out since last year.
That project -- and others -- would continue even if Chen had not come to Nicaragua, Huang said. Other projects include the US$5 million low interest loan to Honduras, the US$300 million hydroelectric power station Taiwan intends to help Honduras construct and the donation of 500 motorcycles to police in El Salvador.
Taiwan also reached an agreement in May to help Nicaragua resolve its power shortage problem, Huang said.
With the arrival of power generators, Huang said the problem was expected to be solved by next year.
Huang dismissed speculation that the equipment had come at a cost of US$30 million.
Despite Ortega's harsh criticism of free trade, Huang said he did not see any problem with the implementation of the Taiwan-Nicaragua free trade agreement as the pact signed between the two countries represented "fair trade."
Ortega argued that 100 percent free-trade between a bigger and smaller economy benefits only the stronger economic power.
Statistics show that Taiwanese investment in Nicaragua exceeded US$230 million as of last year and created more than 25,000 jobs.
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