Surprise Tsai-Ortega talks ease Taipei’s fears of U-turn by Central American ally

Unannounced televised meeting between presidents allays concerns that Nicaragua might cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of Beijing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 11:58pm

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen held talks with her Nicaraguan counterpart Daniel Ortega for close to two hours in a meeting indicating Taipei’s worst fear for her Central American visit has not happened – at least for now.

Tsai met Ortega on Monday, shortly after she arrived in Managua as part of a tour aimed at shoring up support among the island’s Central American allies.

Before Tsai began her trip, concerns rose on the self-ruled island that Nicaragua might cut its ties with Taipei, after Sao Tome and Principe in West Africa switched to recognise Beijing.

The concerns grew as a detailed itinerary of Tsai’s visit to Nicaragua, including whether she would have talks with Ortega, remained unconfirmed before she left Taipei.

Journalists accompanying Tsai on her nine-day visit to the region were surprised to see Tsai’s meeting with Ortega broadcast live on Nicaraguan state television, Taipei-based Central News Agency reported.

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The journalists were not informed of the meeting beforehand although they were in Nicaragua to cover Tsai’s visit.

Even Taiwanese Foreign Minister David Lee said he was caught off guard.

“Not even our embassy had full control of what would take place beforehand,” the agency quoted Lee as saying. “I only found it through the TV when I turned around and watched the broadcast.”

He said the two sides had been unable to work out details about the meeting between Tsai and ­Ortega, but in the end they two talked amiably for one hour and 45 minutes.

In a statement released in ­Taipei, the Presidential Office quoted Tsai saying the island was willing to help its friend “through various cooperation projects … to improve public livelihood”.

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It also quoted Ortega as saying his country would continue to support Taiwan’s participation in various international organisations. No concrete financial aid or funding were mentioned in the statement.

Observers said Taiwan’s worries had eased for the time being, but the arrangements set off a backlash at home.

Taiwanese legislators, including those from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, criticised the government for failing to inform journalists to cover the meeting.

“It is very improper to allow this to happen, given that Nicaragua is our ally,” DPP legislator ­Huang Wei-che said, referring to Ortega’s attempt to make his meeting with Tsai informal.