President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) canceled a meeting with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega on Monday after Ortega twice postponed the meeting, raising concerns over bilateral ties.
Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦), who is accompanying Ma on his Central America trip, said the meeting had been scheduled for 4:30pm but was postponed until 6:30pm.
When the Taiwanese delegation learned that Ortega would not wrap up his earlier engagement until 9pm, they decided to cancel the meeting, Wang said.
Wang said the meeting was called off because a suitable time could not be found, dismissing speculation the government was trying to bring an end to an era of “checkbook diplomacy.”
As Ma is scheduled to visit Central America again later this month or early next month, Monday’s cancelation was not a problem, Wang said.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Henry Chen (陳銘政) said yesterday that ties with Nicaragua remained strong, adding that it was not uncommon for Latin American officials to be late.
“Sometimes they schedule a dinner appointment for seven but by nine you still haven’t seen anyone at the dinner table,” he said. “Minister [of Foreign Affairs Francisco] Ou [歐鴻鍊] made it very clear that as Ortega couldn’t meet with Ma on this trip, they would set up a meeting when Ma visits the region again in July.”
The Nicaraguan government switched diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing in 1985 only to re-establish ties with Taipei in 1990 after former president Violeta Chamorro took office.
While campaigning for the 2006 presidential election, Ortega said he would resume ties with Beijing if elected.
After he won, however, then- president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) attended his inauguration in January 2007 and Ortega promised that Nicaragua would maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
He also said he hoped his country could have “good relations with both sides of the Taiwan Strait.”
Chen visited Nicaragua again in August 2007, when Ortega said he would maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan if re-elected in 2011 but was not against establishing official ties with China as long as Beijing did not demand that Managua cut ties with Taipei.
Then-foreign minister James Huang (黃志芳), who accompanied Chen on the August 2007 trip, dismissed accusations that Taiwan bought Managua’s loyalty.
Huang said US$1.1 million in financial aid that Taipei gave Managua to help it combat poverty was nothing new and that US$830,000 had been given to Nicaragua since 2006.
Statistics show that Taiwan had invested more than US$230 million in Nicaragua by 2006 and created more than 25,000 jobs.
Other projects promised to the region during Chen’s presidency included a US$5 million low interest loan to Honduras and 500 motorcycles for police in El Salvador.
Meanwhile, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers accused Ma of being a “diplomatic ignoramus” and marring Taiwan’s image by calling US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton “Mrs Clinton” rather than “Madame Secretary” or “Secretary Clinton” when they met at a banquet for outgoing Salvadoran president Elias Antonio Saca on Sunday.
The 24-second meeting was the highest level of exchange between a Taiwanese and US official since Washington switched ties to Beijing in 1979.
“This goes to show that Ma is completely ignorant when it comes to diplomacy and international etiquette. What he did embarrassed not only himself, but also Taiwan,” said DPP Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯), a member of the Foreign and National Defense Committee.
Ma’s “flexible diplomacy” policy has not gained points for Taiwan but trapped it in a “diplomatic coma,” Tsai said.
DPP caucus whip Lee Chun-yi (李俊毅) said referring to the US secretary of state as “Mrs Clinton” was just as denigrating as Ma referring to himself as “Mr Ma” instead of “President Ma.”
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators, however, said Ma’s conduct was in line with diplomatic protocol.
KMT Legislator John Chiang (蔣孝嚴), a former foreign minister, said Ma had not been impolite by not using Clinton’s title since the US and Taiwan do not have official relations.
Henry Chen said it was fine for Ma to use “Mrs Clinton” because their meeting took place in a casual setting and the exchanges were part of a private conversation.
Ma and his delegation are scheduled to return to Taipei today after an overnight stopover in Seattle, Washington.
While in Seattle on Tuesday, Ma told American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Raymond Burghardt that the cross-strait detente had expanded Taiwan’s diplomatic space and had a positive impact on Taiwan-US relations.
Burghardt likened Taipei-Washington ties to the weather, saying it had rained during two previous visits to Seattle, but this time around it was sunny, which symbolized a sound relationship between Taipei and Washington.
Ma also met Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and spoke with Washington Governor Chris Gregoire and several members of Congress.
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