Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添) jumped to the defense of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday after reporters questioned the propriety of Ma giving a Solomon Islands tribal chief a state-of-the-art smartphone as a gift during his visit last week to the South Pacific nation.
Chief Stanley Tapeva raised about 1,000 Solomon Islands dollars (US$120) in donations for victims of Typhoon Morakot, then spent hours in a boat and on foot traveling the 38km to the capital Honiara from his home in Kava, Isabel Province, to deliver the money.
Ma gave him the phone as a gesture of appreciation for all his hard work.
PHOTO: LO PEI-DER, TAIPEI TIMES
In a press conference detailing the government’s achievements during Ma’s state visit to the nation’s six Pacific allies, Yang showed reporters copies of English letters written by Tapeva to the press and Ma.
Yang said Tapeva was considered an intellectual in his country, and the chief knew a lot about cellphones.
Tapeva had written a letter to Taiwanese journalists saying that he had been using a cellphone for three years and that he owned three phones. Ma said Tapeva had thanked him in the letter for giving him the gift because he could use it to contact his sons, Taiwan’s technical mission and the Ministry of Agriculture, which has an office in Honiara.
Yang called the press conference after local reporters and legislators criticized the president for giving the chief a 3G HTC smartphone.
Media reports had questioned the appropriateness of the gift, suggesting it disregarded the needs of the chief and the mobile communications infrastructure of the islands.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Justin Chou (周守訓), a member of the Foreign and National Defense Committee, said the gift did not meet the needs of people of that country and that the government needed to review the decision to choose the cellphone as a gift.
However, Yang said the president “understood” the reason why the ministry chose the cellphone as a gift and considered the gift “appropriate.”
To prove that the chief knew how to use cellphones, Yang dialed one of the numbers during the press conference. Someone answered the phone, but did not identify himself and the call was cut off shortly afterwards because of bad reception.
Yang said reporters who wished to call the chief should wait until May because the Pacific nation is upgrading its international phone lines.
Ma also defended the gift of the phone yesterday.
“Even I don’t know how to use that phone,” Ma said. “It’s the latest model.”
“The Solomon Islands is not an underdeveloped country and Chief Stanley is not an uneducated man. In fact, he has had training in Australia and Kaohsiung,” Ma said. “He even told me that he felt like a minister because the cellphones I gave out were usually reserved for ministers.”
Ma said that when he was little, he went to a church in Wanhua to collect powdered milk, butter and old clothes donated by other countries. Now that Taiwan has become better off, it is time to pay back the generosity of the international community, he said.
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