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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, April 13) – Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Governor Benigno R. Fitial and Senate President Joseph M. Mendiola have left for Taiwan where they will meet with prospective investors.

Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr., reiterated that the governor paid for his latest off-island trip.

The governor had earlier said that Taiwan would shoulder the expenses, but this could violate America’s One-China policy.

The U.S. and most of the nations of the world recognize the regime in Beijing as the sole legitimate government of China, which in turn, considers Taiwan as its "renegade province."

Taiwan calls itself "the Republic of China," and has diplomatic ties with 25 small countries, including the Marshall Islands and Palau.

"I was informed that (the governor) left (on Thursday). He will be back early next week. I don’t know if he left with the speaker and the Senate president, as originally planned," Reyes said, "The governor’s mission is to meet with private investors and secure investment commitments for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands."

The Tinian delegation office told Variety that Senate President Mendiola, Covenant-Tinian, left this week ahead of the governor.

It could not be verified if Speaker Oscar M. Babauta, Covenant-Saipan, has also left for Taiwan.

The Taiwanese government earlier offered to pay for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands officials’ trip after the Commonwealth Legislature endorsed two separate resolutions backing Taiwan’s bid to be an observer in the 59th annual World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, Switzerland next month.

China opposes the participation of Taiwan in any international gatherings.

The governor’s original itinerary included meeting with key Taiwan officials.

On Tuesday afternoon, Reyes stated that "due to diplomatic sensitivities" the governor and his entourage will no longer meet with Taiwanese officials nor will Taiwan pay for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands officials’ trip.

Reyes said there was no direct instruction from Washington, D.C., prohibiting the governor from seeing Taiwanese officials.

"The governor is merely being proactive and conscientious," Reyes said.

As a U.S. commonwealth, the Northern Mariana Islands has to consult Washington, D.C., when dealing with foreign countries.

April 14, 2006

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