In the air on his way to visit allies in Africa and South America, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said yesterday that the Republic of China (ROC) offers financial support to allies only for specific plans and only to the extent that Taiwan is able to help.
Ma, who is on an eight-day visit to San Tome and Principe, Burkina Faso and Honduras — all of which maintain official ties with Taiwan — made the remark in response to media inquiries asking whether he had “brought checks” along for the trip.
While he acknowledged that the ROC’s diplomatic allies “are all in need of aid,” the president countered that the nation’s giving of aid is “regular” in nature, and the government maps out its aid programs annually to correspond to allies’ planned projects.
“Our diplomatic relations are difficult,” Ma said, adding that Taiwan, which was recognized by 68 countries in the 1960s, has lost most of its diplomatic allies since losing its UN seat.
The ROC is currently recognized by 22 countries.
Ma has made nine overseas trips since taking office in May 2008.
After he visits the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe during this trip, he will have visited all of the nation’s allies.
“These visits were not made just for the sake of making visits,” Ma said, adding that the trips played a role in promoting longstanding relations based on reciprocity and mutual prosperity and promoting the government’s flexible diplomacy policy.
“In this process, foreign aid is an extremely important part,” he said, adding that his administration has abided by principles of appropriate goals, lawful procedure and efficient administration in its foreign aid endeavors.
He said the approach has made allies understand Taipei’s position of flexible diplomacy, thereby avoiding competition with Beijing to win over allies and ultimately winning trust from the 135 countries and regions that now grant visa-free status to Taiwanese passport holders.
Ma said that Taiwan is an advanced country and therefore has a duty to help developing countries, adding that when Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member states were at the nation’s level of development, they were contributing around 0.7 percent of GDP in foreign aid.
“There is still some distance before we reach that goal,” but the nation has done its best to share with allies to the extent that it can, he said.
Ma set out on his eight-day visit late on Thursday, flying northward over Russian airspace before arriving yesterday morning in Frankfurt, Germany, for a refueling stop.
His first destination is Sao Tome and Principe, off Africa’s northwestern coast.
Flying northward over Russia is a quicker way to reach Africa than the one used by presidents in the past, which took them south over India and the Middle East, according to sources familiar with the matter.
It is the first time that a Taiwanese president has gained permission to fly over Russian airspace, an arrangement that resulted from Ma’s “low-key, zero surprises” diplomatic policy, the sources said.