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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, April 11) - Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Governor Benigno R. Fitial is going ahead with his visit to Taiwan but he will pay for the trip and will only meet with private potential investors.

"Due to diplomatic sensitivities, Governor Fitial will be paying for his trip to Taiwan," Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. said yesterday. "His travel expenses will not be paid for by the Taiwan government. Governor Fitial will not be meeting with Taiwan government officials. He will be meeting with private business people."

According to Reyes, "The changes in the Taiwan trip were prompted by our desire to strictly adhere to the ‘One China’ U.S. policy. Under our Covenant agreement with the United States, we are bound to adhere to U.S. national policy regarding foreign affairs."

Joining Fitial on this trip are his wife, Senate President Joseph M. Mendiola, Covenant-Tinian, and Speaker Oscar M. Babauta, Covenant-Saipan.

The Taiwanese government invited them to visit after the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Legislature adopted resolutions endorsing Taiwan’s bid to be an observer in the 59th annual meeting of the World Health Assembly, the highest policy-making body of the United Nations’ World Health Organization.

China considers Taiwan a "renegade province" and opposes its participation in any international gatherings.

Taiwan, which calls itself as "the Republic of China," has diplomatic relations with only 25 mostly small countries, which include Palau and the Marshall Islands.

Reyes said the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands officials’ trip to Taipei will no longer be paid for by the Taiwanese government nor are they going to meet with Taiwan government officials.

In an interview with reporters, Fitial said he had visited Taiwan in his capacity as House speaker in previous years.

Fitial said he finds nothing wrong with the trips since they were for "economic reasons."

The governor and his delegation will leave Saipan on Asiana Airlines. From Seoul, South Korea, they will board another plane to Taipei.

The governor said the trip will be one strictly related to business.

"We understand the Covenant. We’re not supposed to engage in any political, diplomatic or foreign affairs. This is strictly for economic reasons," Fitial said.

He said his delegation is scheduled to meet with Taiwanese manufacturers.

Mendiola said they are aware of the One China policy and will not do anything to exacerbate the row between Beijing and Taipei.

"We’re not going there to establish any diplomatic ties for sure. We cannot do that," said Mendiola in a separate interview.

"We understand our responsibility and what we can do. Anything beyond economic ties is out of our control. It has to come from the U.S. and we understand that," he added.

In 2004, Beijing granted the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands approved destination status, which allows Chinese to visit the islands as tourists.

April 12, 2006

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