20131115 China opens trade office in Sao Tome
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China opens trade office in Sao Tome

ALLY ANGLING: A foreign ministry official said the Chinese office would not affect Taipei’s ties with Sao Tome and Principe, which has been a diplomatic ally since 1997

By Shih Hsiu-chuan / Staff reporter

China has set up a trade mission in Taiwan’s diplomatic ally Sao Tome and Principe, Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂) said yesterday, adding that the establishment of commercial ties with Beijing would not affect the country’s diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Lin confirmed media reports from Sao Tome that the Chinese trade mission was opened after the two countries signed an agreement on Tuesday in the former Chinese embassy in the capital, Sao Tome.

The agreement, a reflection of China’s increasing presence in Africa, made Sao Tome and Principe the first of Taiwan’s four diplomatic allies in Africa to have a Chinese trade mission.

“I do not see the possibility of [Sao Tome restoring diplomatic ties with China] at the present,” David Lin told Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) at a meeting of the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not kept in the dark about the situation,” he said. “We have been keeping tabs on that and they [Sao Tome officials] told us in advance.”

Sao Tome and Principe became a diplomatic ally of China after the island nation became independent from Portugal in 1975. It switched recognition to Taiwan in 1997. A Portuguese-speaking country, it is a member of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, which has strengthened its links with China after Beijing’s establishment of the Forum for Economic and Trade Cooperation between China and Portuguese-speaking countries — the Macau Forum — in 2003. The forum reviews Chinese investments in those countries.

Liberato Moniz, who represented Sao Tomean President Manuel Pinto da Costa at Tuesday’s signing ceremony, was quoted by Reuters as saying: “The islands of Sao Tome must be open to the world, making friends and partnerships.”

Sao Tomean Public Works Minister Osvaldo Abreu said Chinese businesspeople and industrialists would soon arrive and a planned US$400 million deepwater port could be a target for potential collaboration.

Sao Tome and Principe’s economy is heavily dependent on cocoa exports, but its location at the center of the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea has raised interest in its potential as a possible future oil and gas producer, Reuters reported.

Another media report said China has appointed Zhang Hanwu to head the new trade office.

Zhang said that the mission would promote trade involving Chinese businesspeople with investments in Sao Tome and Principe, Angola and Portugal.

According to the Reuters report, Sao Tomean officials did not say whether the deal with Beijing would affect ties with Taipei.

Sao Tomean Ambassador Antonio Quintas, who took office early last month, did not respond to inquiries from the Taipei Times.

Department of West Asian and African Affairs Director-General David Wang (王建業) yesterday said that Pinto da Costa’s administration “has given its word to Taiwan both in his country and in Taipei” that the plan to develop ties with China was economic in nature and has nothing to do with the country’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Taiwan is not opposed to its diplomatic allies developing economic and trade relationships with China because it understands that having such relationships brings economic advantages, but it hopes the relations will not spill over to the political front, Wang said.

China has established trade missions in three of the nation’s diplomatic allies: Panama, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

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