Channel NewsAsia

Taiwan president to head for Central America

Taiwan's president was due to leave for Central America later Sunday to shore up diplomatic ties despite a truce with China after decades of "dollar diplomacy".

TAIPEI: Taiwan's president was due to leave for Central America later Sunday to shore up diplomatic ties despite a truce with China after decades of "dollar diplomacy".

Ma Ying-jeou, who has initiated detente with Beijing since coming to power in 2008, was scheduled to depart around 10 pm (1400 GMT).

He will make a refuelling stop in Hawaii on his way to Panama, where he will attend the presidential inauguration of Juan Carlos Varela, officials at the Presidential Office said.

Ma will also visit El Salvador before returning, via San Francisco, to Taipei on Saturday.

He is expected to meet government leaders in both countries and "exchange views on bilateral an international issues of mutual concerns in the hope of further strengthening official ties", vice foreign minister Simon Ko said earlier this month.

Only 22 nations formally recognise Taipei rather than Beijing, after a diplomatic tug-of-war between the two sides since they split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

Taiwan and China for years tried to lure away each other's allies with generous financial packages, a process known as "dollar diplomacy", until tensions eased markedly under Ma.

But Taiwan still works to retain its current allies.

It expressed "serious concerns" earlier this month over a visit to China by the leader of Sao Tome and Principe, and urged his government to avoid damaging relations with Taipei.

President Manuel Pinto da Costa claimed that he had informed Taipei in advance of the "private" trip to Shanghai to recruit investors, Taiwan's foreign ministry has said.

The move sparked fresh concern over Taiwan's dwindling number of diplomatic allies after long-time ally Gambia surprisingly broke off ties with the island late last year.

After Gambia's defection, Ma in January visited three countries in Africa and Latin America to shore up ties.

China denied it put pressure on Gambia but said support for "the peaceful reunification of China is an irreversible trend".

China still claims Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna