Taiwan concerned over African ally leader's upcoming 'private' visit to China

Taiwan concerned over African ally leader's upcoming 'private' visit to China

TAIPEI, Taiwan - The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday expressed the nation's grave concerns over a scheduled visit to China by the leader of Taiwan's African diplomatic ally Sao Tome and Principe.

In a released statement, MOFA said the R.O.C. government had expressed its grave concerns over an upcoming visit to Shanghai by Sao Tome and Principe President Manuel Pinto da Costa.

Though the Santomean leader stressed that the visit will not be made in his capacity as president and the tour will be a private one, MOFA said the ministry must still express its concerns.

MOFA said that under the principle of flexible diplomacy, Taiwan has always held the position that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should co-exist peacefully on the international stage.

However, a visit by a president of one of Taiwan's allies to China is too politically sensitive.

Taiwan's government asked Sao Tome and Principe to cherish the long-term friendship between the two countries and not engage in activities that will affect two-way relations again in the future, it noted.

To make its stance clear, Taiwan's Embassy in Sao Tome and Principe expressed the nation's concern to the African ally after it learned of the upcoming trip. MOFA officials also met several times with the Santomean ambassador to Taiwan, Antonio Quintas do Espirito Santo, to inform him of their position.

According to MOFA, President Pinto da Costa told Taiwan's embassy that the trip is meant to attract Chinese investment in a construction project on a deep water port in Sao Tome and Principe.

The president stressed that he will not engage in any official activities during his tour in China and noted that the visit will not harm bilateral ties between the R.O.C. and his country, according to MOFA.

Ally Leader Promises to Visit Taiwan

The Santomean president sent a letter to President Ma Ying-jeou on June 4 to inform him of the visit and reiterated his government's stance that the Shanghai tour will not harm bilateral ties, MOFA said.

He also promised that he will be leading a delegation on a state visit to Taiwan before the end of this year or early in 2015 in a concrete move to solidify ties, the letter added.

MOFA did not say when President Pinto da Costa will be visiting Shanghai.

A diplomatic source who prefers to remain anonymous yesterday told the Apple Daily that the African leader may embark on the trip in a day or two.

The source said that President Pinto da Costa had summoned Taiwan's ambassador in Sao Tome and Principe a week ago to give information about the trip and pledged that it will not affect ties.

The deep water port that is reportedly going to be built in Fernao Dias, located 17 kilometers north of the country's capital, would provide an economic lifeline; the Santomean president said it is therefore important for him to visit Shanghai.

According to the source, the project is expected to cost US$500 million (S$625.75 million), a huge sum that Taiwan could not afford to offer in support of the ally on the project.

Closer Ties between Ally and China

There have been earlier reports stating that the African ally is engaging in closer trade ties with Beijing. Santomean government officials and their Chinese counterparts signed an agreement last November to pave the way for Beijing to open a trade office in the country designed to promote projects.

Back then, Foreign Minister David Lin stressed that diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the African island country have remained stable and will not be affected by the ally's increasing trade with China.

President Ma visited the African ally this January and met with President Pinto da Costa during an eight-day state visit that also took him to Burkina Faso and to the inauguration ceremony of the Honduran president-elect.

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