Tuvalu PM Visits Taiwan
February 18, 2009
TAIPEI, Feb 18 - Taiwan promised on Wednesday to help residents of tiny Tuvalu, one of only 23 allies that recognise Taiwan over rival China, before the island chain is wiped off the map under a rising South Pacific.
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou told visiting Tuvalu Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia his government wanted to work more closely with the archipelago where the highest point is just five metres (16 ft) above sea level.
Tuvalu, covering 26 sq km (10 sq miles) over nine coral reefs, faces inundation as global warming pushes up sea levels. Leaders in the archipelago have sought an eventual haven for their 12,000 citizens as the sea level rises.
"We're an ally, so we will exhaust all options to save it," Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokesman Henry Chen. "I think we'll be working as hard as possible to help Tuvalu's citizens."
China has used its roughly 170 diplomatic allies around the world to assert legitimacy over Taiwan, which has a mere 23 partners, mostly small and impoverished nations.
China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists (KMT) fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.
But since China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May, declaring a "diplomatic ceasefire", the two sides have quit using chequebook diplomacy to try to woo each other's allies.
It was not immediately clear how Taiwan could help save Tuvalu, Chen said. Options could include relocations or specialised infrastructure.
In December, Ielemia told the United Nations that rich countries were blocking funds to help low-lying island nations cope with rising seas that could wipe them off the map. (Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Nick Macfie and Sugita Katyal)
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