Taiwan's Foreign Minister, Tien Hung-mao, has detoured to Macedonia in what is seen as the island's last-ditch effort to retain diplomatic relations with the tiny Balkan nation. Ministry spokeswoman Katherine Chang Siao-yueh yesterday confirmed that Mr Tien had cut short his Latin American trip and was 'on his way to Europe', but she stopped short of stating the purpose of Mr Tien's visit. Mr Tien was accompanying President Chen Shui-bian on a state visit to five of Taiwan's Latin American allies when reports earlier this week said the Balkan state was about to resume official ties with Beijing. Asked how she would rate the fragile Taipei-Skopje relations, Ms Chang said it was technically and diplomatically difficult to describe the bilateral ties as being stable or not stable. She said the Foreign Ministry was doing all it could to enhance co-operation and relations with Macedonia. Taiwan-Macedonia diplomatic ties, established in January 1999 after Skopje broke formal relations with China, have been repeatedly thrown into doubt due to opposition from within the Balkan state and Beijing's efforts to try to win Skopje back. Mr Tien's detour coincides with the return from a China trip by Macedonian Presidential Office Director Zoran Jolevski, who reportedly visited Beijing this week to discuss the possibility of resuming formal relations. 'We are in a process of normalisation of relations with China . . . Diplomatic relations will be restored soon,' a Macedonian Foreign Ministry official in Skopje told Reuters. A senior Macedonian government official said: 'We are interested in continuing our economic projects with Taiwan, but restoring our traditionally good links with China is also important.' Ms Chang emphasised that Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski firmly supported maintaining diplomatic ties with Taipei. On Monday, she said her office would closely watch the contacts between Mr Jolevski and Chinese officials in Beijing, as well as the stance of the new coalition Government in Macedonia. Pro-China Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski and his predecessor, former president Kiro Gligorov, have openly opposed Mr Georgievski's decision to forge ties with Taiwan. Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva recently also said the policy of setting up official links with Taiwan was a mistake. Until now, Mr Trajkovski has refused to accept the credentials of Taiwan's ambassador to Macedonia, Peter Cheng. Mr Georgievski has come under pressure because of Taipei's delay in honouring its aid pledge to Macedonia. There had been talk of Taiwan offering US$1 billion (HK$7.8 billion) in aid to Macedonia, although both governments later denied this.