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TAIPEI, Taiwan (October 25, 1998 - Agence France-Presse)---Tonga is to switch recognition from Taipei to Beijing in another diplomatic blow for Taiwan, the China Times reported Sunday.

It said The People's Republic of China (PRC) and the South Pacific island had signed a joint communiqué on opening full diplomatic ties and planned to announce it on November 2.

The paper said Tonga would be the fourth country wooed away from Taipei by Beijing this year following South Africa, the Central African Republic and Guinea-Bissau.

Beijing took over Taipei's seat at the United Nations in 1971 and has since spared no effort to squeeze the island out of international bodies and win over its diplomatic allies.

Taiwan is now recognized by only 27 countries including Tonga.

Taiwan's foreign ministry declined to comment on the report.

"We do not confirm nor deny the report that there might be a change in the relationship between the two countries (Taiwan and Tonga)," spokesman Roy Wu said. "We have monitored the development very closely."

The latest reported diplomatic setback came only one week after the historic visit to the mainland by Taiwan's top envoy Koo Chen-fu, who met Chinese President Jiang Zemin and other high-ranking officials.

Both sides described the talks as "cordial" and helpful in easing cross-strait tensions.

But Taiwan's Foreign Minister Jason Hu has warned that despite the seemingly friendlier relations, China will never drop its efforts to isolate the island.

"We must continue our diplomatic fight," he said.

During his mainland trip, Koo urged Beijing to let Taiwan have its own international space before the two sides were reunified.

But China's Vice Premier Qian Qichen said: "It is a historic trend that Taiwan is suppressed in the international community ... it will continue."

Michael J Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: (64 21) 694-035 E-Mail: WWW:

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