The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday confirmed a Pacific Magazine report that Taiwan helped to pay Kiribati’s debt to Air Pacific, but denied the figure was US$3 million as reported.
The bailout plan was a “one-time arrangement” based on certain conditions, said Victor Yu (于德勝), head of the ministry’s Department of East Asia and Pacific Affairs.
The width of Kiribati, if measured from the easternmost island to the furthest west, is almost the same as the width of the continental US, and the flight that links Kiribati’s capital, Tarawa, to Hawaii via Christmas Island was the country’s major connection to the outside world, Yu told the Taipei Times.
Pacific Magazine said the charter flight was halted because Kiribati had defaulted on its payments to the Fiji-based airline since February this year.
The report also said Taiwan paid more than US$3 million to help resume the service and that the funding included advance payments up to next January.
Yu refused to divulge the exact amount of the aid package, but said the figure was well below the reported number.
The suspension of the air route could deal a severe blow to Kiribati’s economy, he said.
Yu said Taiwan agreed to step in after a thorough review that concluded its ally was facing an emergency.
“Unlike what the report said, we did not pay off the entire debt for Kiribati. We only paid for some of the reserved seats to enable Kiribati officials to fly in and out of the island for the purpose of economic and commercial matters,” Yu said.
Yu said the bailout plan was part of the nation’s annual aid to the pacific island and that Taiwan had made it clear that this was a one-time deal based on the urgency of the situation.
Kiribati forged diplomatic ties with Taipei in 2003 after it switched allegiance from Beijing.