The reason Sao Tomean President Manuel Pinto da Costa is not able to host President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on his upcoming visit to Africa is because he will be overseas.
Ma’s scheduled visit to the African island nation coincides with Pinto da Costa’s visit to Cuba, Sao Tomean Foreign Minister Manuel Salvador dos Ramos was quoted as saying on Tuesday by Diario Vitrina, a daily newspaper in Sao Tome and Principe.
The minister assured the daily that the cancelation of Ma’s visit was because of a scheduling conflict, the report said.
In Taipei, a government official, who asked to remain anonymous, said Sao Tome gave Taipei the same reason when explaining why Pinto da Costa would not be able to receive Ma.
The newspaper said Salvador dos Ramos denied that Pinto da Costa’s administration intended to rebuild ties with China, saying the country was on good terms with Taiwan and that he had reiterated to Taiwanese Ambassador Cheng Yu-tai (程豫台) its readiness to strengthen friendship and cooperation.
Sao Tome and Principe was dropped on March 27 from the itinerary of Ma’s 12-day visit to Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in Africa, which begins on Saturday.
The last-minute change came two weeks after the Presidential Office had made public an itinerary that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs began arranging earlier this year.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman James Chang (章計平) yesterday reaffirmed that bilateral ties with Sao Tome remain stable.
Asked for comment, Yen Chen-shen (嚴震生), a research fellow at National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations, said the unavailability of Pinto da Costa to host Ma has more implications for bilateral ties than just a scheduling issue.
That Pinto da Costa scheduled an overseas trip when Ma would be in Africa indicated he has some issues with Taipei, but a visit to Cuba was “an act of diplomacy,” Yen said.
It was a “reasonable arrangement” that Pinto da Costa opted to travel to Cuba when he apparently did not want to meet with Ma because Cuba has been on good terms with African countries that used to be Portuguese colonies, he said.
Yen said a visit to Cuba rather than another country would make the unavailability of Pinto da Costa to host Ma “less offensive,” but it was still a gesture of his intention to switch ties from Taipei to Beijing, especially when all other issues are considered — he is a left-wing politician who maintained diplomatic ties with China when he served as the first president of Sao Tome and Principe from 1975 to 1991.