Tonga switch 'shows support shrinking'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 November, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 November, 1998, 12:00am

Tonga officially switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to the mainland yesterday as a Xinhua commentary warned Taipei's 'international space' is shrinking.

'Eleven out of 16 member-countries of the South Pacific Forum and 163 countries in the world have already established diplomatic ties with Beijing,' Xinhua said.

'More would like to normalise relations with us.' It said that during a visit by Tongan Foreign Minister Prince Ulukalala Lavaka Ata to Beijing last week, President Jiang Zemin told him he hoped the mutual ties could be steady and lasting.

'The establishment of our formal diplomatic ties is a logical move of the development of international reality,' Xinhua quoted Mr Jiang as saying.

At a meeting with Vice-Premier Qian Qichen, the prince pledged not to meddle in Taiwan affairs as he considered it an internal matter for the mainland.

The switch followed a joint communique signed on October 26 between Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan and Prince Ulukalala. 'The Kingdom of Tonga recognises that the Government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory,' Xinhua quoted the communique as saying.

As Taiwan's ambassador to Tonga left for home yesterday, more details emerged of the international satellite business' role in the South Pacific island nation's decision.

The new relationship was nurtured by King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV's daughter, who heads Tongasat, the agency that leases Tongan-registered satellite positions to the communications sector, a company spokesman said.

The king allowed Princess Pilolevu Tuita, the company's head, to develop the relationship with Beijing during business trips.

He gave his daughter a mandate 'to continue to develop the relationship into a diplomatic one', said the spokesman.

A bronze statue of the king, a gift from a Chinese satellite company, was unveiled at a royal ceremony marking the new alliance in the Tongan capital.

Tonga was the fourth country this year to be wooed away from Taiwan. It leaves Taipei with only 26 allies, mostly poor countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America.