Fri, Nov 23, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Palau lawmakers eyeing China: envoy

INVESTMENT Ambassador Lydia Ngirablosch said legislators from her country had recently visited China and Macau, but had not made a formal proposal to shift ties

AGENCIES , TAIPEI

Some lawmakers in the tiny South Pacific nation of Palau are suggesting it break links with Taiwan and recognize China instead, the archipelago's ambassador to Taiwan said.

Taiwan is recognized by just 24 countries around the world.

Some members of Palau's 16-seat House of Delegates, speaking after visits from Chinese Foreign Ministry "scouts," had said ties with Beijing would offer more business opportunities to the archipelago of about 20,000 people, Ambassador Lydia Ngirablosch said.

"Over the past three months there was noise coming out of the House, though not so much recently," Ngirablosch said. "The [legislators] say China has a booming economy and that it's better to do business there."

Ngirablosch said some lawmakers had traveled recently to China and Macau, and Chinese officials had twice visited Palau.

One of those visits coincided with a summit between Taiwan and its six South Pacific allies.

One Palau lawmaker favoring ties with Beijing is running for president next year, Ngirablosch said. But she also said the pro-China legislators had made no formal proposals to change allegiance.

Palau has attracted Taiwanese investment in fishing and tourism since the two governments established ties in 1999 after the archipelago emerged from US control.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Deputy Spokesman Phoebe Yeh (葉非比) said yesterday that the ministry was aware that there were some lawmakers in Palau who wish to establish diplomatic ties with China, but that diplomatic ties with Taiwan remain strong.

A few Palau lawmakers visited China in June and expressed interest in the huge Chinese market, but soon after that, Palauan President Tommy Remengesau reaffirmed the country's firm friendship with Taiwan, she said.

Yeh said the ministry was also aware of the visit made by "two Chinese officials" to Palau in June, saying that they work at an affiliated association with China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and that the leg of Palau was part of their trip to South Pacific countries.

MARSHALL ISLANDS

Meanwhile, early results yesterday from the Marshall Islands' general election showed the opposition heading towards a victory which could see the tiny Pacific nation shift allegiance to China.

Five ruling party lawmakers in the 33-seat legislature were in danger of losing their seats with 25 percent of the votes counted.

If these results are reflected in the final count, along with the defection last week from the ruling United Democratic Party of Speaker Litokwa Tomeing, the opposition Aelon Kein Ad party could win 19 seats.

Aelon Kein Ad party leader Imata Kabua -- a former president -- said yesterday that a victory would see Tomeing become the next president.

Once in power in January, the new government could recognize China, ending a nine-year relationship with Taiwan, Kabua said.

Kabua, a paramount chief for Kwajalein Atoll where the US Army operates a missile test range, was president when the Marshall Islands switched diplomatic ties from China to Taiwan in 1998.

Despite their earlier support for relations with Taiwan, both he and Tomeing said it was time to adopt a "one China" policy and recognize Beijing.

If the opposition cements its lead in the final results, President Kessai Note will lose power after eight years as the first commoner president.

Vote counting continued at a slow pace in Majuro, with only one-third of the capital's 31 ballot boxes counted as of yesterday.

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