El Salvador ties remain firm, minister says

STATUS QUO: The government will keep an eye on El Salvador, as the country’s president-elect has expressed an interest in ties with Beijing, the premier said

By Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Wed, Mar 18, 2009 - Page 3

Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco Ou (歐鴻鍊) yesterday reaffirmed that the nation’s ties with El Salvador remained firm after left-wing Salvadoran president-elect Mauricio Funes ended two decades of conservative rule in a historic election on Sunday.

Ou reassured Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Justin Chou (周守訓) during a legislative question-and-answer session that Taiwan’s consulate officials in El Salvador had been working to build relations with Funes’ aides since the charismatic former TV ­journalist launched his presidential bid.

The minister said Taiwanese officials had provided Funes’ office with information that would help the president-elect gain a better understanding of the collaboration between the two nations.

Ou said he believed Funes had come to understand the importance of Taiwan’s collaborative projects with El Salvador.

He was responding to Chou’s concerns that El Salvador might consider switching recognition to China, as Funes had previously expressed interest in building ties with Beijing.

Funes, leader of the former rebel movement Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), overturned almost 20 years of rightwing rule in El Salvador with 51.3 percent of the vote after more than 99.4 percent of ballots were counted late on Sunday. He defeated Rodrigo Avila of the ruling conservative Arena party.

Asked if Taiwan and the Latin American country had reached any consensus regarding their diplomatic ties, Ou said that, in a speech after the election, Funes only mentioned wanting to strengthen ties with the US.

Funes has not publicly expressed any new stance on Taiwan, the minister said.

Ou added that the ministry was planning for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to attend Funes’ inau­gur­a­tion.

Ma could visit El Salvador on June 1 and attend the inauguration of the next Panamanian president on July 1, Ou said.

Panama is also one of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies.

Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) said at the question-and-answer session that the government would “closely monitor” the situation in El Salvador and prepare for all possible scenarios.

The ministry presented Ma’s congratulations to Funes soon after his election, the Presidential Office said yesterday.

Speaking at a separate event, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Henry Chen (陳銘政) said Paraguayan President Fernandez Lugo had accepted an invitation to visit Taiwan later this year.

Ou had personally extended the invitation to Lugo during the foreign minister’s trip to Latin American last week.

Lugo, a former Catholic priest who was elected in April, said during the Paraguayan presidential campaign that he would consider establishing ties with Beijing if elected.

The ministry has on several occasions sought to dispel suspicions of shaky ties with Paraguay by saying that Lugo was not able to visit Taiwan because he was too busy dealing with domestic matters.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JENNY W. HSU AND MO YAN-CHIH, WITH AGENCIES