More signs of instability in the relationship between Taiwan and Panama have emerged amid what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) is calling an unresolved “misunderstanding” about a senior Taiwanese official meddling in Panama’s internal politics.
The latest incident fueling speculation of a rift in ties was the absence of Panamanian Ambassador Jose Antonio Pereziranzo at President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) swearing-in ceremony on Sunday.
“As far as I know, he [Pereziranzo] was not feeling well,” Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tung Kuoyu (董國猷) told Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) at a meeting of the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee yesterday.
Pressed further, Tung denied that Pereziranzo had deliberately avoided Ma’s inauguration on the pretext of bad health, but promised to look into the matter.
Panama was the only one of the nation’s 23 diplomatic allies that did not send an official delegation to attend Ma’s inauguration.
Pereziranzo, who had initially agreed to attend the ceremony to congratulate Ma on behalf of his country, informed the ministry that he would be absent a few days before the inauguration.
Aside from struggling to account for the matter, the ministry also failed to explain why Diego Chou (周麟), the nation’s new ambassador to Panama, has been unable to deliver his credentials to Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli four months after taking up the position.
The ministry said Chou was the only ambassador among the diplomatic corps in the Central American country whose credentials Martinelli had yet to accept.
Tung admitted the existence of “irritants” in the relationship with Panama, adding: “We have the assurance of the Panamanian foreign minister [Roberto Henriquez] that there are no problems with bilateral relations.”
The cause of the tension was a private meeting between Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添) and Panamanian Vice President Juan Carlos Varela, leader of the opposition Panamenista Party, when they were in Guatemala for a presidential inauguration in January.
Martinelli and Varela have been on bad terms following a split in the alliance between the president’s Democratic Change Party and the Panamenista Party, which led to Varela’s dismissal as foreign minister in September last year.
Approached by reporters at the legislature, Yang described himself as “an innocent third party,” saying he could not turn down Varela’s request to see him when he asked to call upon him at his hotel to congratulate Ma on his successful re-election campaign.
Yang said there was no reason for him to apologize to Martinelli because he did not think he did anything wrong.
“We have been in talks with Panama over the issue. All cooperative projects are in progress. The misunderstanding is unnecessary,” Yang said.
Hsiao criticized the ministry, accusing it of using “dollar diplomacy” to appease Martinelli’s displeasure at the meeting between Yang and Varela, demanding that the ministry provide details of a suspended US$1.82 million project to build a hospital, a US$6 million program to build a vocational school and whether the luxury Embraer Legacy 600 jet donated to the Panamanian government in 2009 had been used for humanitarian operations, as the ministry has claimed, or for Martinelli’s personal use.
“The hospital project was widely reported as a scandal in Panama. The land was valued at US$230,000, but you paid US$1.83 million,” Hsiao said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) defended Yang, saying the DPP should be blaming Martinelli for being “intolerant” and “irrational.”
Martinelli suspended all aid projects negotiated during Varela’s stint as foreign minister when their relationship turned sour, one of which was the hospital project, Lin said.
“Why doesn’t the DPP criticize the irrational president of Panama, rather than MOFA? Yang didn’t ask to see Varela. I don’t believe a foreign minister in a DPP administration would have dared to decline to meet with Varela,” Lin said.
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