01/03/2008, 00.00
TAIWAN – CHINA
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Beijing trying to “buy” Malawi away from Taipei

The African nation is being wooed with an offer of up to US$ 6 billion. Taiwan’s foreign minister slams the mainland, saying it is only interested in natural resources. He pledges trust and unwavering friendship.

Taipei (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Taiwan’s Foreign Minister James Huang (see photo) hurriedly left on a mission to Malawi to cement relations with the African nation amid reports rival China is seeking to attract it as a diplomatic ally with hefty financial aid. Both mainland China and Taiwan have been engaged in “chequebook diplomacy” among some of the world’s poorest countries. The former seems to be winning for only 24 countries now recognise Taiwan instead of the People’s Republic of China.

Relations between the island nation and the southern African nation have existed for 41 years with Malawi as one of Taiwan’s oldest ally. However, two Malawian ministers have travelled to Beijing perhaps to prepare the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Some reports also indicate that the southern African state would sign a memorandum of understanding with the mainland to pave the way for the establishment of diplomatic missions by the two countries.

News reports also said Beijing has offered Malawi a US$ 6 billion mining deal.

“Hardly any country would be able to resist such a lure,” Mr Huang said.

However, for the minister it was up to Malawi to choose whether it wanted a "reliable partner" or a "jewellery flaunting partner" that was not dependable. He added though that he had received reassurances that existing ties would continue.

Currently, on average Taiwan extends US$ 400 million annual foreign aid to Malawi.

The minister denied reports that his country would increase that amount to counter Beijing’s money offer.

China demands that countries that want to establish diplomatic relations must end all ties with Taiwan and recognise that the island is not a sovereign nation but a part of its territory.

Beijing is also exerting strong pressures on Central American countries, especially Panama due mainly to the fact that it is a key regional state because of the strategically important Panama Canal.

“There shouldn't be any change in our relations with Panama in the short term,” Mr Huang said.

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian or his envoy is also set to travel to Guatemala for the inauguration of President Alvaro Colom Caballeros, then to Saint Lucia.

China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi announced that he will visit South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Ethiopia next week.

Admitting that his job was one of the toughest in the world, “I like challenges,” Mr Huang said.

Regardless of how hard the mainland squeezes the island diplomatically, he insisted that it was preferable to just “sipping cocktails and meeting foreign guests.”

He explained that Beijing was casting its covetous eyes on Malawi's natural resources, whilst relations with Taiwan offered trust, dependability and unwavering friendship that take the improvement of the living standards of Malawians into account.

 

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