Taiwan: China Could Steal Its Allies

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Jan 10, 2008

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — China could undermine Taiwan's diplomatic standing in the run-up to key elections this weekend, the self-ruled island's foreign minister warned Thursday, amid signs that two of Taipei's allies were considering switching ties to Beijing.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. In recent years, China's rising political and economic clout has helped it persuade more countries to recognize Beijing instead of Taipei, reducing the number of Taiwan's allies to only 24 — most of them small and impoverished nations in Latin America, Africa and the South Pacific.

China was likely to make further diplomatic inroads at Taiwan's expense around the time of legislative elections Saturday and President Chen Shui-bian's visit to Latin America next week, Foreign Minister James Huang told reporters in Taipei.

"Various signs have shown that China is very likely to sap the morale of Taiwan's people around the time when legislative elections take place or when a top Taiwanese official makes an overseas visit," he said. "We are facing grave challenges on the diplomatic front."

Huang's statement came amid reports that Malawi and the Marshall Islands, two of Taiwan's allies, were considering switching allegiance to China. In his comments Thursday, Huang praised Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika and said Taiwan still has "positive expectations" that the African country will maintain ties.

The foreign minister aborted a plan to visit Malawi last week to shore up diplomatic support because the African ally refused to receive him. That visit was planned after two senior Malawian ministers visited Beijing in what Taiwan feared was a prelude to the establishment of formal ties between Malawi and China.

On the Marshalls, Huang said, China was trying to undermine Taiwan's position there.

"China is still continuing its efforts to turn the Marshall Islands around," Huang said. "We are paying close attention to the matter."

Taiwan's concerns stem from the election of Litokwa Tomeing as the country's president. Tomeing has come out in favor of switching ties from Taipei to Beijing.

Separately, customer complaints forced Gakken, a Japanese company, to recall 10,000 talking globes that labeled Taiwan as a part of the People's Republic of China.

An electronic voice tells users pointing to Taiwan on the "Smart Globe" that the island is part of the People's Republic of China, the official name of the Chinese communist regime, and that it comes under the jurisdiction of Beijing, according to Gakken spokesman Satoru Aihara.

Aihara said the Gakken's Chinese manufacturer refused to produce the educational toy unless Taiwan was labeled as a Chinese region.