TONGA DUMPS TAIWAN, LAUNCHES TIES WITH BEIJING

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By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (October 30, 1998 -AFP)---Taiwan lost its oldest Pacific ally Friday when it was revealed that the Kingdom of Tonga is to cut ties with the nationalist island and establish diplomatic links with its rival China.

The move, made by the new Foreign Minister, Prince ‘Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, ends a long running dream of his father, King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV, to be the only state to achieve diplomatic ties with both China and Taiwan.

The battle for Tonga's loyalty has been intense and expensive. Last year China presented the king with a larger-than-life statue of himself.

And in February the king opened Taiwan's lavish 2.5 million pa'anga (US$ 1.9 million) embassy set on an acre of beach front land belonging to then foreign minister Crown Prince Tupouto‘a who came up with the glittering concept.

He said he favored a strong look, adding it should be "something that should last for at least 100 years."

Diplomatic ties were established in 1972 and Taiwan was the only country to have a full diplomatic mission in Nuku‘alofa.

Tonga's move, which comes into effect on Monday, reduces the number of Pacific countries recognizing Taiwan to just three, among a total of 26 nations worldwide still linked to Taipei.

This year South Africa, the Central African Republic and Guinea-Bissau have all been wooed into the Chinese camp.

The minister sent a letter to China's foreign ministry earlier this month confirming the kingdom would establish diplomatic ties with China.

He said Tonga would abrogate all agreements signed with Taiwan.

"The government of the Kingdom of Tonga undertakes that the Kingdom of Tonga will not maintain or develop any official relations in whatever form with Taiwan after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Tonga and the People's Republic of China," the prince said.

The letter noted that China "has no objection to the economic, trade, cultural and other relations of a non-governmental nature between the Kingdom of Tonga and Taiwan."

The curious nature of Tonga's diplomacy was illustrated last year when the King went to China and met President Jiang Zemin. Jiang gave the king a statue "25 percent larger than life size."

The King then flew to Taiwan for a reception with President Lee Teng-hui. Taiwan's Premier Vincent Siew in July flew to Tonga for the king's 80th birthday.

Tonga played a key role in supporting Taiwan's access to the South Pacific Forum, the region's key 16-nation body, demanding a post-forum dialogue session with Taipei.

At its most successful level in Papua New Guinea three years ago Taiwan held dialogue sessions with the countries that then recognized it, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu with observers from Fiji and PNG.

But China has always protested strongly at the dialogue sessions within the Forum context and threatened to cut aid.

Beijing has regarded Taiwan as a renegade province since their split in 1949 at the end of a bitter civil war, and angrily reacts to any step it sees as promoting the island's independence.

TAIWAN DECLINES IMMEDIATE COMMENT ON TONGA DIPLOMATIC SWITCH

TAIPEI, Taiwan (October 30, 1998 -AFP)---Taiwan declined to make immediate comment Friday on reports that Tonga would switch diplomatic recognition to Beijing.

"We have been trying to confirm the report through Tonga's ambassador here," foreign ministry spokesman Roy Wu said.

"If and when the Tonga government makes a formal announcement, we will respond," he said.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Jason Hu was on its way to an unnamed African state that maintains official ties with Beijing instead of Taipei, reports said.

Wu declined to disclose Hu's destination.

Visits to non-allies by top-ranking Taipei officials are usually low-profile to avoid angering China, which considers the island a renegade province.

Hu said recently China would never ease its efforts to isolate Taiwan in the international community.

"We must continue our fight," he said.

Michael J Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: (64 21) 694-035 E-Mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz WWW: http://www.afp.com/english/

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