President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) returned from a 12-day trip to Africa yesterday, defending the visit’s achievements in deepening ties with allies against criticism of the journey.
Ma concluded his first visit to three of the country’s African allies — Burkina Faso, the Gambia and Swaziland. Upon arriving at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport yesterday morning, he also dismissed concerns about China’s constant suppression of Taiwan’s international participation and said the improvement in cross-strait relations had had a positive impact on the nation’s diplomatic efforts.
“Cross-strait relations used to be a liability for our diplomatic relations because of previous confrontations between the two sides. Now, with the improvement in cross-strait relations, we are able to expand our international space,” Ma said.
“Our allies in Africa are happy to see positive developments across the Taiwan Strait and want to continue trade relations with the mainland while maintaining diplomatic ties with Taiwan,” he said.
The 12-day trip marked Ma’s first visit to Africa since taking office in 2008. He had also been scheduled to visit Sao Tome and Principe, but the visit was canceled because the allied nation said Ma’s visit coincided with Sao Tomean President Manuel Pinto da Costa’s visit to Cuba.
The opposition camp has questioned the effectiveness of the trip and lashed out at Ma for conducting “checkbook diplomacy” and “aerobics diplomacy” by making large donations to the allies and competing with heads of state in doing exercise during the visits.
Ma shrugged off criticism of the trip and said the government was making an effort to improve its foreign aid programs in allied countries.