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TAIPEI, Taiwan (July 23, 1999 – Reuters/AP/AAP/The National)---Taiwan said yesterday it would not sever diplomatic ties with Papua New Guinea despite the South Pacific state's decision to revoke ties with Taipei to preserve its longstanding relations with Taiwan's rival, China.

"We will not of our own volition sever ties with Papua New Guinea," Taiwan Foreign Minister Jason Hu said just hours after PNG Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta announced in Port Moresby that a July 5 deal to recognize Taiwan had been scuttled.

Mr. Hu said he was not surprised at the reversal, which followed the collapse of the government of Sir Mekere's predecessor, Bill Skate.

He nevertheless expressed a glimmer of hope for some form of relations, noting that Sir Mekere had not explicitly mentioned the withdrawal of his economically troubled state's ties with Taipei and had called for continued cooperation with the rich island democracy.

In Beijing, China congratulated Papua New Guinea for scuttling plans to open diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

"The Chinese government expresses a high degree of appreciation for the wise decision," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said.

"The Taiwanese authorities' plots to split the motherland are bound to fail completely," she said, accusing Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province, of using its economic clout to try to win over diplomatic allies.

In Canberra last night, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer insisted that China did not ask Australia to persuade Papua New Guinea to withdraw its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.

Mr. Downer would not comment directly on Sir Mekere's decision but explained that he had discussed PNG's recognition of Taiwan during meetings last week in Beijing with Chinese officials.

"We had some discussion about the issue but they simply asked for my assessment of the situation in PNG, and that was two days before the final resolution of who was to be the prime minister," he told journalists here.

"I told the Chinese at the time it was very hard to predict how it would turn out.

"They didn't ever lobby me or ask me to do anything for them and that was a matter they've had to deal directly with PNG not through a third country."

A former central bank governor, Sir Mekere was elected by Parliament last week by an overwhelming majority after a coalition assembled by Mr. Skate in hopes of holding on to government fell apart at the last minute.

Welcoming Sir Mekere's move to reinstitute discussions with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Mr. Downer said: "We're very encouraged by the Prime Minister's commitment to doing that," he said.

"But other than that we don't want to really add anything to the debate about the Taiwan-China recognition."

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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