CNMI GOVERNOR PONDERS TAIWAN INVITE

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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, April 5) - The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands administration is proceeding cautiously with the governor’s plan to travel to Taiwan because of America’s "one China policy," which prohibits official contacts with Taiwan.

CNMI Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. said the planned trip of Governor Benigno R. Fitial and the Legislature’s two presiding officers to Taiwan is on standby pending a legal opinion from the Attorney General’s Office.

The three officials are scheduled to leave for Taipei on April 12 upon the invitation of the Taiwanese government, which will pay for the trip, according to the administration.

"If according to the Attorney General’s Office they are allowed by law, they will go. If they are not allowed, then they will find other means," Reyes said. He did not elaborate.

Reyes said the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands sees Taiwan as a potential tourism market.

"Taiwan is a prosperous market. What is interesting is that…they are a more affluent society than China," he said. "Taiwan is such a small place compared to China but its gross domestic product was actually higher than China not too long ago, which is amazing," he added.

A former Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands official, who declined to be identified, said commonwealth officials cannot attend official Taiwan government functions because the Northern Marianas is an American commonwealth and the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Taipei.

"They have to ask the U.S. State Department about this issue," the former official said.

Taipei’s invitation to Fitial came after the House of Representatives adopted a resolution introduced by Speaker Oscar M. Babauta, Covenant-Saipan endorsing Taiwan’s bid to participate as an observer in the 59th World Health Assembly’s annual meeting on May 22 to 27 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body for the United Nations’ World Health Organization. It meets once a year and is attended by delegations of the World Health Organization’s 192 member states.

Taiwan, which calls itself "the Republic of China," has diplomatic ties with only 25 nations, which include Palau and the Marshall Islands.

China objects to any inclusion of Taiwan in international gatherings.

April 6, 2006

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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