President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) left on a 10-day state visit to Central America yesterday, along with first lady Chow Mei-ching (周美青) and a 159-person delegation, including local government heads, student representatives, college principals and a performance group.
Speaking at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport before his departure, Ma said he would continue a foreign policy that is “flexible and feasible.”
He said he would not make any public appearances during his transit stops in the US, or engage in any activity unrelated to the stopovers. He will stay in Los Angeles overnight on his way to Central America and stop in Seattle on his way back to Taipei.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that all meetings and telephone calls during the stopovers will be conducted at Ma’s hotels.
The government has billed the trip as “grassroots diplomacy” and “cultural diplomacy.” Ma will attend the inauguration of El Salvadoran president-elect Mauricio Funes on Monday, and will also visit Belize and Guatemala.
This is the first time Chow has accompanied Ma on a diplomatic mission since he became president. She will attend cultural and charity events during the trip.
Given concerns about swine flu, Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦), said any delegation member developing a fever during the trip would not be allowed to board the plane.
A female radio reporter who was supposed to cover the trip was barred from the plane after failing three temperature tests. She was not quarantined, however, because she had not traveled abroad.
Earlier in the day, Ma said the cross-strait detente would not affect long-term relationships with diplomatic allies and his administration was happy to consider extending or enlarging cooperation projects with allies if necessary.
“Cross-strait detente will not affect the country’s friendship with its allies because the friendships have historical meaning and the country and its allies appreciate the same values and ideas,” he said.
“The cooperation projects will not stop or be reduced. If bilateral evaluations conclude and it is necessary to extend or expand them, we will be happy to consider it,” he said.
Ma made the remarks while meeting senior military officials from six of the country’s diplomatic allies and their families at the Presidential Office.
Ma said his administration had worked to improve cross-strait relations and that tensions across the Taiwan Strait had eased tremendously.
“We have seen a glimpse of light in peace,” he said. “We hope to extend cross-strait rapprochement to the international arena so both sides no longer engage in fierce competition to lure each other’s allies.”
This would reduce tension, lay the groundwork for peace and advance the normalization of cross-strait trade, Ma said.
After 12 years of failed attempts, the country finally participated as an observer at the World Health Assembly this year thanks to China’s goodwill and the support of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, he said.
The country came to realize that “Taiwan needs the world and the world needs Taiwan, especially in medical care,” he said.
Taiwan has many experiences and resources to share, he said, including its health insurance system, which has been called one of the best in the world.
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