MOFA denies report of rift with Panama

By Joseph Yeh, The China Post

The China Post–The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday affirmed that diplomatic ties with Panama remain solid amid reports that the Central American ally is considering severing official relations after Taiwan’s foreign minister allegedly angered the Panama government. According to a Chinese-language newspaper report yesterday, Panama President Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal was offended by Foreign Minister Timothy Yang for allegedly meddling in the ally’s internal affairs.

Yang met with Panama opposition party leader Juan Carlos Varela this January during Yang’s visit to attend the country’s presidential inauguration ceremony, the China Times report claimed. The meeting angered Martinelli, triggering diplomatic retaliation from Panama. Martinelli’s government refused to accept the letter of credence from Diego Chou (周麟), Taiwan’ new representative to Panama, even though he had been appointed and sent to Panama two months ago. The Central American ally called Yang’s meeting with the opposition leader a serious meddling in the internal affairs of the country, the report said. Asked to comment, MOFA spokesman James Chang said yesterday that Chou’s two-month wait for a response is still within “a reasonable time period,” in an attempt to downplay the supposed “retaliation.” Chou presented a certified copy of the letter of credence to Panama’s foreign minister right after he arrived the country, said Chang. Both sides are still negotiating a mutually agreeable time for President Martinelli to officially accept Chou’s credentials, the spokesman added. A letter of credence is a formal letter usually sent by one head of state to another that formally grants diplomatic accreditation to a named individual to be their ambassador.

Until a head of state or his or her delegate formally accepts a letter of credence, an ambassador-designate does not formally have diplomatic status. Chang yesterday also explained that it was Varela, a former Panama foreign minister, who invited Yang for a meeting in January to extend congratulations to President Ma Ying-jeou for being re-elected to his second term. The MOFA has explained the nature of the meeting to Panama authorities and the latter also expressed understanding. Bilateral ties have always remained on good terms and all kinds of mutual cooperation projects are moving smoothly, Chang noted.