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Solomon Islands speaker leads delegation for regional meet in Taiwan

2019/08/06 19:33:40

Taipei, Aug. 6 (CNA) The Solomon Islands, one of Taiwan's 17 diplomatic allies, has sent an eight-person delegation to attend a three-day gathering of regional legislators in Taiwan, including their parliament speaker and foreign committee chair.

The annual gathering of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentarians' Union (APPU) was formally opened in Taipei Tuesday, chaired by Taiwan's Legislative Speaker Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全), with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) as special guest.

Over 100 dignitaries from 17 countries are attending the event, 48 of whom are legislators in their respective countries, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

Among the legislators, eight are from the Solomon Islands, led by Parliament Speaker Patteson Oti and the chair of its foreign committee, Peter Kenilorea, Jr., MOFA Deputy Director-General of the Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Chang Chun-yu told reporters on the sidelines of the gathering.

Oti was involved in the process when Taiwan and the Solomon Islands were negotiating the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1978.

MOFA considers the delegation to be a positive sign amid doubts that the island state might shift its diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing, according to a high-level MOFA official.

"This signals friendly relations between Taiwan and the Solomon Islands," the official said.

Beijing has stepped up its efforts to suppress Taiwan's international participation since Tsai took office in 2016. In the past three years, five diplomatic allies have switched allegiance to China -- Sao Tome and Principe, Panama, Dominican Republic, Burkina Faso and El Salvador.

Media in the Solomon Islands reported earlier that a Solomon Islands task force has visited four Pacific states that have diplomatic ties with Beijing from June 25 to July 20 -- Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, to assess the impact of Chinese aid.

"In addition to traditional aid in the fields of agriculture, health and medicine, green energy and education, Taiwan will enhance its assistance to the Solomon Islands in less-focused areas," he said, while admitting that Beijing has been luring Taiwan's diplomatic allies with promised infrastructure and business opportunities under its "Belt and Road" initiative.

The MOFA official said Taiwanese diplomats in the island state are still able to meet and communicate with high-level officials regularly, including Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, hinting that this is another indication of a stable relationship between the two allies.

"Taiwan will seek to join hands with like-minded countries to help the Solomon Islands and other diplomatic allies with more sustainable cooperation projects," he stressed, referring to Australia, which sees the Pacific as "the front and center" of its strategic outlook, and the United States, which is pushing its Indo-Pacific strategy amid China's economic and maritime expansion.

The MOFA official emphasized that Taiwan still enjoys majority support in the Solomon Islands. He also described the ally's re-assessment of diplomatic ties with Taiwan as a democratic process in response to the clamor of pro-Beijing politicians there.

(By Emerson Lim)
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