Agence France Press

Vanuatu PM defends his diplomatic recognition of Taiwan

Friday November 5, 2004

PORT VILA, (AFP) - Vanuatu Prime Minister Serge Vohor defended his surprise move to forge diplomatic links with Taiwan, saying the move need not jeopardise links with China.

Arriving back in his homeland after a diplomatic mission to Taipei that caught his own government and Taiwan's arch-rival Beijing off-guard, Vohors said he wanted both countries to give Vanuatu financial assistance.

"We want to work with both China and Taiwan together in our country in the Melanesian spirit of solidarity," Vohors told reporters. "Their fight has nothing to do with us and we want to be friends with both countries because we need the money."

Vohor did not give details on the financial assistance offered by Taiwan but his spokesman Kalvao Moli told the local Daily Post newspaper that Taipei had offered "up to three billion vatu (28 million US) next year with no strings attached".

On Wednesday Vohor joined Taiwanese officials in Taipei to announce his country granting Taiwan diplomatic recognition.

A senior foreign affairs official in Vanuatu told AFP he was shocked by the announcement as his country had a "One China" policy, and at the time Vohor was believed to be travelling to Sinapore and Australia.

Vohor's action sparked claim and counter-claim from Beijing and Taipei over who had legitimate diplomatic ties with the tiny Pacific nation.

Only two months ago, on September 10, Vohor visited China and met President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao to reaffirm that Vanuatu would continue to recognise Beijing.

China considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification despite the fact that Taiwan has not been part of China for more than a century: it was Japanese territory from 1895 through 1945, and was occupied by the losing side in China's Civil War in 1949.

Vohor was elected less than three months ago and has reportedly said Vanuatu is too dependent on Australian aid and he wants to find alternative sources of money.

On his return from Taipei, Vohor voiced concerns about delays receiving promised funds from Beijing over the years and said he wanted to maintain ties with both China and Taiwan.

He said he would provide details of his diplomatic plans to Vanuatu's Council of Ministers over the next week.

"The government must sit down and discuss the political considerations and work out what is best for Vanuatu," he said. "We do not want to lose friends with China but we want to tie up a friendship with Taiwan also to assist us as we have a budget shortfall."