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SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, May 5) – Fiji has sparked a diplomatic row with China after a brief stopover in Nadi on Wednesday evening by Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian.

This was the first time Chen has set foot in a country, other than the United States, which does not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, the official Taiwanese news agency, CNA, said.

Sources said China's ambassador in Suva, Gai Jian Bau, strongly protested against a meeting between Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and President Chen although government officials say the meeting was an informal one.

There was no official acknowledgement from the Prime Minister's Office of the visit or of a meeting between him and the president. [Fiji1 News reported yesterday that Qarase had plans to meet Chen at the Sheraton Fiji Resort.]

But Ratu Ovini Bokini, the chairman of the powerful indigenous body, the Great Council of Chiefs, met Chen on his arrival and welcomed him traditionally.

Other prominent people who reportedly met Chen were senators, members of parliament, Chief Justice Daniel Fatiaki and other judges.

Chen was transiting through Nadi during his tour of some of Taiwan's allies in the Pacific - Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands.

He stopped over in Nadi from Tuvalu after changing his plans to return to Kiribati and depart from there for Guam on the way back to Taipei, the official news agency said.

On his arrival last night, Chen was whisked away to the exclusive Sheraton Fiji Resort where he reportedly met with Fiji Government officials in closed-door meetings.

Chen's stopover in Nadi was kept under wrap with officials at the trade mission office in Suva saying this week they had not received confirmation from their ministry in Taipei.

Foreign Minister Kaliopate Tavola told Radio Australia that his ministry did not organise the visit and he was not aware of the meeting between Chen and Qarase.

However, Taiwan has expressed interest in buying Fiji's sugar and it is understood that the informal talks centered around that issue.

A Fiji government official was quoted by the Fiji Times today as saying sensitivities surrounding the visit meant the media was not alerted.

"It is a private visit and since it's a sensitive issue because of the one China policy, we did not invite the media to cover the visit," the official reportedly said.

Fiji adheres to the "One China" policy and only has diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China.

Taiwan maintains a "trade mission" in Suva.

May 5, 2005


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