PNG minister admits meeting middleman


PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — A Papua New Guinea government minister has reportedly admitted meeting a key figure in a ailed bid to lure the South Pacific country to officially recognize Taiwan.

The Post-Courier newspaper on Friday reported that Minister for National Planning Paul Tiensten said he met with one of two Taiwanese middlemen involved in the failed 2006 attempt to establish ties with Papua New Guinea.

Revelations last week that Taiwan lost US$29.8 million (euro19.2 million) in a failed 2006 attempt to establish ties with Papua New Guinea have thrown President Chen Shui-bian’s government into scandal. One of the middlemen, Ching Chi-jiu, has disappeared, along with the money.

The Post-Courier cited Tiensten as saying he met the Taiwanese envoy in 2006 when he was the Minister for Trade and Industry. Tiensten said the meeting was intended to strengthen Papua New Guinea’s trade relationship with Taiwan, and he had no knowledge of the diplomatic switch plan, the paper said.

The paper did not name the envoy.

Timothy Bonga, another Papua New Guinea lawmaker and head of the national water company, was reportedly also at the meeting and was quoted by the paper as saying the trip to Taiwan did not include discussions on diplomatic recognition.

“My trip to Taiwan was to look at water plant matters on how we could improve the city sewerage and on water bottling matters,” Bonga was quoted as saying.

Taiwanese officials have said the money was given to two middlemen on the assumption they could induce the impoverished Pacific nation to abandon Beijing. It was intended as economic aid for Papua New Guinea, providing it switched its recognition from rival China.

The attempt was abandoned after only several months, when Taiwanese authorities concluded they could not convince Papua New Guinea to cross over into the Taiwanese diplomatic column.