Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) announced yesterday that Taiwan had established diplomatic ties with Kiribati, an island country located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. \nKiribati, a nation consisting of a group of 33 coral atolls, straddles the equator. It becomes Taiwan's 27th diplomatic ally and the first one added since President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) took office. \nThe Kiribati Foreign Ministry made the same announcement earlier than its counterpart here, stating that it will "continue to recognize the government of [the People's Republic of China]" and expressing the hope that its relations with China "will continue to prosper in the future." \nNevertheless, China is expected to cut ties with Kiribati within a fortnight, as it has to several previous allies that opted to also recognize Taiwan, Chien said. \nIn the Pacific, Kiribati joins the Marshall Islands, Palau, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands in having ties with Taiwan. \nKiribati said it will support international recognition of Taiwan, which is not a member of the UN and many other international organizations because of China's opposition. \nChien said diplomats from Taiwan had been visiting Kiribati in secret since the middle of last year and that the diplomatic achievement was the result of a "long, nervous, tortuous and complicated" negotiating process. \nKiribati provides one of three Chinese space-monitoring stations overseas and played a role in China's first manned space mission. Financial aid from China is a critical supplement to Kiribati's income. \nAccording to Chien's description, an intense tug-of-war between diplomats from Taiwan and China had been running on the arena of tiny Kiribati, with 811km2 of land -- three times the size of Taipei City. \nSome high-ranking Chinese officials were present in Kiribati last week, said Chien, to make last-minute efforts to stop the country from forging diplomatic ties with Taiwan. \nChien refused to give any details of aid packages offered to Kiribati by either China or Taiwan but said that one of the reasons for establishing ties with Taiwan was that China had failed to make good on many of its promises of aid to the island nation. \nChien stressed that Taiwan will cooperate with Kiribati on agriculture, fisheries, health and education. \nAnote Tong, Kiribati's part ethnic-Chinese president, played "a significant role" in establishing the diplomatic ties with Taiwan, Chien said. \nChien said his first talks with Tong, which were conducted outside Taiwan, were very pleasant, and he praised the London School of Economics and Political Science graduate's views on international relations. \nTong and Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Tou Chou-seng (杜筑生) held talks over the past week that led to an agreement, Kiribati's Foreign Ministry said. \nTaiwan's embassy officially opened in Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati, yesterday. \nPresident Chen and Premier Yu Shyi-kun have been aware of the progress of negotiations with Kiribati, said Chien. \nChen, who just returned from a trip to the US and Panama on Thursday, lauded the ministry's performance, Chien said. \nReporters asked Chien whether the government intended to boost Chen's diplomatic credits by choosing to announce the new ties with Kiribati one day after Chen returned from his foreign trip. \nChien denied the timing of the announcement had anything to do with next March's presidential election. \nTarawa is about one-half of the way from Hawaii to Australia. Its islands were granted self-rule by the UK in 1971 and the country completed independence in 1979. It is a member of the Commonwealth. \nHome to a population less than 100,000, Kiribati's ethnic groups are predominantly Micronesian with some Polynesians. Kiribati has few natural resources. Tourism provides more than one-fifth of its GDP.
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