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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Jan. 25) — Taiwan Vice President Annette Lu will kick off a four-nation tour of the Pacific islands next week with an overnight stop in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands.

Lu will be visiting four of the six Pacific nations that recognize Taiwan, three of which have had recent changes in their heads of state. The visit is a move by Taipei to cement relations with the newly elected leaders in these Pacific nations.

She is expected to arrive in Majuro next Wednesday, said Taiwan officials in Majuro.

Foreign Minister Tony deBrum announced the visit to the nation during a session of parliament, saying the country is gearing to host Lu’s first visit to the Marshall Islands.

Lu will also visit Nauru, Solomon Islands and Palau on the trip. All except Palau have seen government changes in the last two months.

This is Lu’s first visit to the Marshall Islands. President Chen Shui-bian has visited the Marshall Islands twice.

As part of Taiwan’s stepped up effort to maintain diplomatic ties with Marshall Islands President Litokwa Tomeing, who in November called for a switch to China, Taiwan Ambassador Bruce Linghu presented a check for $1 million to the government in Majuro to fix the two planes in its national airline that have been grounded for over three months, halting all domestic air service in the country. Chen promised the help to Air Marshall Islands in a phone call to Tomeing two days after his election January 7, and the funds were provided in barely two weeks.

At a brief check handover ceremony, Linghu told the ministers that after he informed Taipei about the dire situation of the airline, and received a quick response, with President Chen Shui-bian promising funds to help.

Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony deBrum thanked the ambassador, saying he knew that it took significant "bureaucratic know how" to get the funding issued so quickly.

The airline is "developing a full recovery plan, which will be provided to the Embassy, so you can see that you are not throwing good money after bad," deBrum said.

"You can count on our commitment and partnership," Linghu said.

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