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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Feb. 1, 2008) – Despite earlier statements that he favored ties with China, new Marshall Islands President Litokwa Tomeing delivered a speech strongly supporting ties with Taiwan at his first meeting with its Vice President Annette Lu on Tuesday.

Lu arrived in the Marshall Islands on Tuesday to start a three-nation Pacific tour that includes stops in Nauru and the Solomon Islands. All three nations have had government changes in the past two months.

Lu met with Tomeing, who had virtually his entire cabinet in attendance for the Tuesday afternoon meeting.

After welcoming her to the Marshall Islands, he gave Lu a definite pledge that diplomatic ties between the two nations will continue into the future.

Prior to the Nov. 19 national election, Tomeing told voters that it was time to return to a one-China policy and recognize the People’s Republic of China. But a majority of his party disagree, supporting ties with Taiwan, that is the second leading aid donor to this country of 53,000.

Both Tomeing’s and Lu’s remarks Tuesday were delivered through translators into English.

Using the Marshallese word "promise," Tomeing pledged the Marshall Islands’ commitment to the relationship with Taiwan. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Taiwan-Marshall Islands ties.

Tomeing said that the Marshall Islands will continue to endorse Taiwan’s effort to join the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

He thanked Lu for President Chen Shui-bian’s immediate response to the domestic air service crisis in the country, which has not had flights since early October. Taiwan provided $1 million last week to help Air Marshall Islands get its two planes back in the air.

Lu reiterated her country’s appreciation of Marshall Islands support for Taiwan’s membership in international organizations, and called the relationship mutually beneficial.

Lu and her delegation are expected to depart the Marshall Islands early Thursday morning for Nauru and then spend Friday in the Solomon Islands before returning to Taipei Saturday.

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